Pairing: John Sheppard/Teyla Emmagan
Disclaimer: This is a transformative work.
Author's Notes: Dear lantean_breeze: I hope you enjoy your story!
Summary: After the events of Enemy at the Gate, Teyla cannot wait to return to her home galaxy, to be reunited with her son at last. Yet that is not all her heart yearns for, and when John proposes a day out to forget her troubles, she hopes that maybe this time things will go differently between them.
"For someone who just found out we're headed back home, you sure don't look all that excited."
Teyla smiled, closing her eyes as she did, the morning sun warm on her face as she listened to the soft thud of rubber-soled shoes against Atlantis's slick floor. She waited until she felt John settle in beside her at the balcony, his shoulder brushing against hers as he brought his arms up, no doubt to cross them before him on the railing, and then she turned to gaze at him.
Surely enough, he was slouched against the rail, forearms crossed, hands dangling. He squinted slightly as he stared out towards the Golden Gate Bridge, deepening the laugh lines she didn't see often enough these days. After a moment, he started to turn his head towards her, and she quickly looked away, back out to the sight that had originally drawn her to this particular balcony.
"I am pleased by the news," she said, rather belatedly. "I was simply taking a moment to appreciate the day."
"Ah." She had known John long enough to be able to interpret that simple syllable as a polite expression of disbelief, but he didn't push her for a more truthful response. He never pushed, unless it was about something that affected team performance. "Well, I can't blame you for that. Carson sure picked a hell of a view."
"I do not believe much thought was put into the choice at the time," she said with a wry smile. "But I cannot argue with the results."
Silence overtook them, neither one of them much for conversation when thoughts crowded in close inside their heads. That was why she had come out here, after all, seeking to soothe her inner turmoil with a quiet place, the soft ocean breeze, and a sight larger and more glorious than anything inside herself. The dense fog that had covered the distant hills was gone now, burned off by the brilliant yellow sun that sat triumphantly atop a high bank of fluffy white clouds. Rodney would probably say that wondrous light was nothing more than something due to the angle of its reflection, but that did not explain why gazing upon it eased the ache inside her so.
When Atlantis had first arrived after defeating the hive ship, it had been rare to find a moment alone at this spot, all of the Earth natives eager to drink in the sight of their beloved home planet. After all these weeks, though, the novelty had worn off, their thirst slaked once they had taken leave to visit with their loved ones.
Teyla closed her eyes again. It wasn't fair of her to resent their happiness. The way Jennifer's eyes had glowed with a spark Teyla had rarely seen in them after her visit with her father, the numerous pictures of his nephews that Evan had shared with her-these were good things, and she was glad for her friends.
But oh, how her heart envied their joy.
"It is not that I am ungrateful," she said, the words bursting out of her. "In truth, I was terrified that the IOA would refuse to allow Atlantis to return. But-." She took a deep, shuddering breath, the depth of her earlier fears truly hitting her, now that it was safe for her to acknowledge them.
"But we're not leaving for another couple of weeks," John said softly. "I get it, Teyla. Hell, I miss the little guy, too. I can't imagine how bad it is for you."
She nodded jerkily. "A few months may not be much time for you or me, but children go through so many changes at Torren's age. So many moments in his life that I will never get the opportunity to witness."
Torren had started taking his first stumbling steps just before Todd had contacted them with his dire information. Surely her son would be running now, little toddling strides that would take him from discovery to discovery. How many joyous smiles had she missed? How many skinned knees and bumped foreheads had gone without being kissed? Kanaan was a good father, and she did not doubt that he would do his best, but....
It had been her decision to leave them behind. It had been her decision to accompany her team as they fought to save this planet. She could not regret the outcome, but perhaps...perhaps her presence had been superfluous. John still would have made his attack run, and he would have succeeded in destroying the hive ship.
Of course, if she had not accompanied her team, Rodney would not have survived long enough to get the team off the ship before it exploded. Evan, Rodney, Ronon, and John, all dead, simply because she chose to stay at her son's side.
"Yeah, that sucks." John's grimace was followed by the awkward look he always got whenever he wanted to help, but had no idea how to go about doing so. "But, hey. Before you know it, we'll be back, and you can have the whole big reunion scene. You and Kanaan running into each other's arms, kissing Torren on the cheek, swinging him up in the air between you, the whole shebang."
Teyla rolled her eyes.
John cocked an eyebrow. "What, Athosian culture not big on movie melodrama?"
She shook her head. "It is not that. Actually, I will probably run straight for Torren. In that, you are not wrong."
"Torren, not Kanaan," John said slowly. "Are you guys fighting or something?"
She hesitated. Not about telling him-all of her friends on Atlantis would know of this soon enough-but about how much she should share. John, though he dearly tried, was not one who enjoyed the role of confidant. Yet she wanted to speak of it. To him, more than anyone else.
"We have had many fights," she said at last. "About many things. Kanaan feels that I do not spend enough time with my people, which is why he was away when Michael invaded Atlantis. Afterwards, we had a terrible argument about Torren's safety."
"Oh, man," John said softly. "I'm really sorry about that."
She nodded. "It is difficult. And I do not expect the fights to lessen, even though we have decided to no longer continue our relationship with each other. Other than as Torren's parents, of course."
"Wait," John said. "You're saying you guys broke up?"
Teyla nodded. "We dissolved our bond in front of the elders before Todd contacted us, but if I am being honest, our relationship never had the chance to be what it needed to be."
John sighed. "Because of Michael."
"He certainly did not help." Teyla shook her head. "But I think it was more than that. We were both looking for something in the other that was not there, and we could not make it be so, no matter how hard we tried."
"I guess I should say I'm sorry, but you don't sound that upset about it."
She took a deep breath. "I am sad, after a fashion. I hurt him, and part of me wishes that we'd never started a relationship in the first place-but then I would not have Torren." She swallowed hard. "Mostly, I just want to hold my son in my arms again."
"I'll try to do what I can, but I can't guarantee anything," John said. "If it was about getting under McKay's skin to get him to work faster, no problem. But I can't do much about IOA red tape."
"Ah, yes. The infamous 'red tape.' Tell me, does such a substance actually exist, or is it merely another one of your Earth phrases?"
John's forehead wrinkled, his eyebrows drawing tightly together, and then he gave a rolling nod, as if reaching a dramatic conclusion to the thoughts her question had provoked. "Pretty sure it's real, but there's so much red tape about using the actual red tape that no one's seen it in years."
She laughed lightly, and John flashed her a smug grin. She had rolled her eyes at that exact smile so many times in the past, but today she simply grinned back at him. After a moment, his smugness softened into a true smile, his eyes dark and shining, and for a second she entertained the thought of swaying into his side, perhaps making it clear why she had told him of her parting from Kanaan. Before she could give in to the impulse, he ducked his head, rubbing at the back of his neck as he turned away, face set as if he were determined to decipher the secrets of the universe from the sight of the city in the distance.
Teyla suppressed a sigh. Her heart, it seemed, was as foolish today as it always had been.
"You know, I've got a thought," John said a few moments later. "It probably doesn't help, being stuck in Atlantis for days on end, with nothing to do except miss Torren."
"That is true," she said, more vehemently than she meant to. "I have tried to help as much as possible with Atlantis's reorganization, but Mr. Woolsey made it clear that my presence may become...detrimental. That the IOA might become concerned if I am too obviously involved in 'highly sensitive operations.'"
"Somehow that doesn't surprise me," John said, sounding as disgusted as she felt. "Maybe he and I can have a little discussion about the advantages of getting out from under Big Brother's eye."
"I would welcome the attempt, but as you said, I doubt it will have much effect."
"I'll give it the old college try anyway," John said. "In the meantime, why don't we get out of here for a while? Get our minds off things."
She was amused by his phrasing, by the way he had inserted himself into her troubles, as if that would lessen her burden. In a way, it did. "What do you propose we do?"
"Oh, I don't know," he said, in the way that he had that meant he clearly had something in mind. "I was thinking we take in some all-American culture."
She cocked her head to the side. "Do you mean football?"
"I wish." John let out a heavy sigh. "It's the wrong time of year for it. But baseball's not half bad when you're watching it live."
"Not half bad," she repeated, her tone openly dubious. John had always made it clear that the game of football held first place in his heart, but he'd also shown the team a number of movies in which baseball played the central role. She had enjoyed most of those stories, but she agreed with his assessment that football was just faster paced, you know?
"It's not so much about the game itself, as it is the whole experience," John said. "Whataya say, want to give it a go?"
"I would be delighted." She still wasn't sure that baseball sounded terribly appealing-but she would never say no to a day out with John, no matter how a piece of her foolish heart broke with the certainty that he meant the offer as 'just friends.'
"Okay," John said, his hand a light touch against the small of her back, guiding her towards an opening in the throng of people. "First we grab our dogs, then our beers. And whatever else looks good."
"Dogs?" she asked as she stepped around a family, two women with two young children and a baby between them. She glanced back, struck by the way the middle child was bouncing up and down on his toes, repeating ma ma ma in an effort to gain his mother's attention-but then John was there, stepping between her and them, gently urging her onward.
"Hot dogs," John said, gesturing at the food stand in front of them. "You can't go to a baseball game and not get one."
"Ah." She hoped her dismay was not obvious in her tone. The mess hall on Atlantis served these 'hot dogs' at least once a week, but she had never eaten one, herself. When she'd enquired about the meat, Rodney had vehemently assured her that they were not, in fact, made from actual dogs, as if merely suggesting such a thing had violated a terrible taboo. He had not, however, told her what kind of meat they were made from. Radek had told her it was 'best not to think on'-which had not encouraged her to sample one.
Perhaps these 'dogs' would be different, however. After all, John had promised that this ballpark contained delicacies not to be found elsewhere on Earth. The atmosphere around them was certainly a festive one. The lines for the hot dog vendor and several of the other concession stands were fairly long, and many more people passed by without stopping for food. In some ways, the stadium reminded her of the bustling market on Varikal, which had attracted traders from numerous worlds before the Wraith had burned it to the ground.
"How many people will be attending this game?" she asked, having given up on trying to estimate the numbers some time ago.
John shrugged. "I don't think it was sold out, so I'm not sure. Something like thirty, maybe thirty-five thousand?"
"Thirty thousand," she repeated faintly. She knew that Earth was densely populated-that was why the Wraith were so determined to find it, after all-but to have so many in one place, for one event, was unthinkable by Pegasus standards. "Baseball must be very important to this city."
John snorted. "The team would sure like you to think so, anyway." The person in line in front of them moved aside, and John stepped forward to the counter. "Do you know what you want?" he asked her.
Teyla scanned the menu, which was typeset on a large board above the heads of the cooks working at the grill. Most of the offered items were hot dogs served with different toppings, some of which she recognized, such as cheese and bacon. Others she could not recall having before.
"I have no preference," she finally said. "Please, order what you think is good."
"Two plain," John told the woman behind the counter. He handed her his credit card, and in short order he received two long hot dogs nestled in buns, each in its own basket. Teyla followed as he carried them to a condiment area a few steps away.
"This way you can dress it up however you like it," John said. "You've got your standard mustard and ketchup, though not everybody likes both, or likes them together."
Teyla nodded; she'd had both sauces on Atlantis. Ketchup was delicious on the fried potatoes the mess frequently offered, but she didn't care for it on meat-unlike Ronon, who was determined to use as much of the bottle as possible every time he ate a hamburger. The tartness of mustard suited her tastes better, so she carefully laid a stripe of it down the middle of the dog.
"Then we've got sauerkraut-this white stuff-which is sour, like it sounds. It's pickled, uh, cabbage, I think." John scooped up a large amount of lumpy green stuff from one of the wells and started dumping in on his dog. "And this is relish. Kinda sweet, kinda tangy. You either love it or hate it."
He dabbed a bit of the relish on the corner of the paper lining her basket. She touched her finger to it, bringing it to her tongue for a quick taste that she immediately regretted. She swallowed repeatedly, tamping down on the urge to use one of the napkins to wipe her tongue clean.
John laughed softly. "Guess you come down on the 'hate it' side of things."
"I do not care for the sweetness," she said, though that was only the greatest of the substance's many sins, and he nodded.
"Try the sauerkraut," he suggested, but he caught her wrist when she reached for 'the white stuff.' "Ah, those are the onions.The sauerkraut is this one."
"Ah, yes, I see." She did consider adding some onions, the bite of which she enjoyed on occasion, but a glance at John had her reconsidering. They would be in close proximity this afternoon, and she knew how potently the pungent vegetable could affect her breath. She sampled a bit of the sauerkraut instead, finding it pleasantly sour but not overly strong, and added some on top of the mustard.
"Okay, then," John said as they moved away from the condiment station. "I'll grab us some beer, and we're good to go."
Teyla looked down at the hot dog poking out of both ends of the soft bun. "And this is to be our meal?"
"To start with, anyway." He seemed to see something in her face, because he frowned. "You probably want something healthier, don't you? Something with...." He trailed off, looking around the concession area like he was scanning for lurking Wraith.
"I am sure this will be sufficient," she said, not wanting to dampen his enthusiasm for this special treat.
"No, here," he said, handing her his sandwich. "I know just the thing. I'll be right back."
He darted away, weaving through the crowd until he joined the line at another concession stand. Teyla couldn't help her bemused smile. John had been very attentive from the moment she'd agreed to accompany him to this game, constantly inquiring after her needs and trying to anticipate them. She wasn't sure if he was desperate to cheer her up, or if he was simply trying to make sure she enjoyed the game that was so important to him.
Either way, she could certainly appreciate the effort he'd taken with his appearance. John was always a beautiful man, but in the civilian clothes that flattered him so well, she could barely keep her gaze off of him. The black leather jacket was not his mission-issued one, one she had not seen him wear previously, and the cologne he had chosen was slightly different than his usual, as well.
Must it be wishful thinking to believe that he had made those choices to impress her? She was not blind; many of the people who passed by her were showing obvious romantic interest in each other, some holding hands, some merely gazing at each other with longing. John's clothing would not look out of place when compared to that of many of those men. And yet....
John glanced back from where he stood in line. When he noticed her watching him, he smiled and waved. Teyla nodded and waved back, returning his gaze until the line moved and he turned back around.
...And yet, John confused her to the point of frustration. She did not doubt the fact that he cared for her, but despite his warm looks and sweet gestures, he had never made any attempt to pursue her romantically. Not as he had done with Chaya Sar, all giddy smiles and plans for secret rendezvous.
Teyla sighed and turned away. She needed to set aside such thoughts, set aside her worries about Torren and her own future, and simply enjoy the afternoon. Perhaps if she made more of an effort to participate in the day's adventure, rather than simply standing about while John took control, then she wouldn't continue succumbing to the 'what if?'s.
Her gaze fell upon something that seemed to suit that very purpose, just as John returned.
"I got you some veggies and hummus," he said, holding out a container filled with bread and some kind of beige dip, a few grilled vegetables piled on top. "It's not exactly standard baseball fare, but it doesn't hurt to be a little adventurous, right?"
"I suppose that is true," she said. She gestured in the direction of the concession stand she had noticed, the name Ghirardelli scrawled across the top. "Tell me, is ice cream 'standard baseball fare?'"
John turned, following her gaze. "Ice cream is standard anytime fare," he said. "We should probably come back for it, though. It'll melt before we get through with the dogs."
"That is probably wise," she said, although she was not entirely certain that she wouldn't have preferred to start with the ice cream.
They visited another stand to obtain large cups of beer, before John finally declared that they were ready to find their seats. She followed him into a short passageway that led outside, towards the bright sunshine once again. John started down the concrete steps that ran between the sections of seats, but once he no longer blocked her line of sight, she could not take another step.
A diamond. She knew that was what the green playing field was called, named for its shape rather than any similarity to the gem, yet the sight before her was more wondrous than any jewel. The great bay of the city lay on the other side of the field, deep blue water stretching on until it met the paler blue sky, but that was not what tightened her breath.
People. Row upon row upon row of people. Over thirty thousand of them, if John was correct in his estimation. Happy people, confident in their safety, all gathered here for no other reason than to enjoy a pastime.
A soft touch on her wrist snapped her back to herself, so quickly that she swayed, vertigo overtaking her for a second.
"Hey," John said, looking up at her with worried eyes. "You okay?"
"I am fine," she told him, smiling in reassurance. "Just a bit...overwhelmed."
"Yeah, it gets everybody like that, the first time you step out into one of these big ballparks." He nodded towards the baseball diamond. "Imagine walking out on that field as a rookie."
"It would indeed be very intimidating," she agreed.
He smiled at her, very sweetly, then nodded back at the steps. "So, you ready, or do you wanna wander around some more? The Coke slide is probably pretty packed right about now, but we could head up to the nosebleed section, take in the view."
She arched an eyebrow. "Nosebleed section?"
John floundered adorably, like he always did when he realized his references were outside her ken. "You know. You get nosebleeds from the altitude, because the seats are so high up."
"I see," she said, smirking slightly. It was clearly another one of the colorful expressions that his culture was so found of. "I think I would prefer to go to our seats now. Perhaps later, after we have eaten, you can introduce me to more of the park."
Once they'd managed to get settled in, she took a long look around, realizing that they were not that far above the playing field compared to the rest of the seats in the park.
"Am I correct in assuming that these are the 'good seats?'"
"Well, we're not exactly sitting in the owner's box," he said. "But yeah, behind home plate is always good. I lucked out this morning when I called the box office."
"A promising sign of things to come," she said, though she had to tell herself not to read too much in his soft smile. "What is next on our agenda?"
"Now, we eat." He grinned and hefted his hot dog in an informal salute. "Bon appetit."
He used both hands to pick up his sandwich, one to guide it into his mouth while the other performed a complicated maneuver that she could tell was an attempt to keep the toppings from spilling into his lap while he bit into it with great gusto.
Teyla sighed and looked down at her own hot dog.
"You know you don't actually have to eat it if you don't want to."
"It is not that," she said. "But I must admit I have some qualms."
"Ah." He rubbed at his mouth. "If this is about the name-"
"It is not," she said, rolling her eyes. "My people rarely have the luxury of being squeamish about our food, but even so, there are things that we will not eat. I know this is not from the animals you keep as pets, but what do they contain that is so offensive none of your people will speak of it?"
John choked. He shook his head, bringing his hand up to his mouth as he coughed hard enough that his eyes watered. Teyla set her hand against his back, rubbing lightly until he recovered his breath.
"Oh, man," he croaked before taking a long gulp of beer. "Sorry about that."
"No, I am sorry. I should not have brought it up."
John laughed lightly. "No, don't worry about it. Somebody gave you the wrong impression." He looked down at his hot dog, then grimaced slightly. "They're regular meat. I think these are supposed to be beef, but, uh, they kind of use whatever parts they've got on hand."
"Oh!" she said, understanding at last. "A scrap sausage! They are very common in the Pegasus Galaxy. On Athos, we do not usually put them in casings, but boil them until they are similar to the Spam that Major Lorne likes so much."
"Remind me to let him take point the next time you guys have a harvest festival," John said. He frowned down at the remainder of his own hot dog. "You know, I can just dump these in the trash. I shouldn't have pushed you into getting one in the first place."
"No, you should not have," she said, winking at him, inordinately pleased by the smile that climbed his face in response.
It was easy to take a bite of her hot dog now, and, to her surprise, it was every bit as good as John had initially promised. The tangy combination of the mustard and sauerkraut complimented the slightly smoky meat perfectly. After a couple bites, she took a sip of the beer, and found it better than any beer than she'd had on Atlantis, as well.
"Okay over there?" John asked, a bit tentatively.
"It is good," she told him. Soon, she was finishing the last bite. She had some appetite to spare, so she tasted the hummus that John bought her. The vegetables were fine, but the dip itself was much like tava bean paste, which reminded her too strongly of the Genii to be tempting.
She looked over, surprised to see he hadn't eaten any more of his dog. She hesitated; she would indeed enjoy just a bit more of the sausage, but-
"Here," John said, pulling another napkin from his stash. He used it to wipe all of the relish off and into the empty side of the container, leaving the dog mostly plain. "Better?"
"Yes, thank you." She glanced down at the unpalatable hummus. "But are you certain?"
"Definitely." John leaned in, close enough that she could smell his aftershave, close enough that his breath prickled the hairs on the back of her neck. "Don't tell anyone, but I like hummus a lot better than hot dogs."
She laughed softly and exchanged the dip for his sandwich. She wasn't entirely certain that he was telling the truth, but he began to eat without any hesitation, so she followed suit.
Shortly after they finished, the announcer ordered them to rise to their feet for the anthem. John placed his right hand on his chest, as did the people around them. Teyla clasped her hands in front of herself. Sometimes it was best to copy a culture's gestures, and other times it was best to simply observe respectfully. It had taken her many years of trading to get a feel for which was called for when.
A woman in the middle of the field began to sing, her voice greatly amplified, but soon the entire crowd joined in, nearly drowning her out. The words were indistinguishable to Teyla, but they seemed to have great meaning to all the people around her.
The anthem ended, and the announcer shouted "Play ball!" The energy of the entire stadium changed, people calling out with raucous enthusiasm and shifting about in their seats, some waving large foam hands or colorful bits of cloth.
"It's too bad we weren't here for the season opener," John said as they returned to their seats. "The teams get the military to do a jet flyover for special games. It's pretty damn impressive."
"Those are the planes you flew?"
John tipped his head back and forth. "Some of them, yeah. I never did get to do a flyover at a game, though. All I wanted was the Super Bowl, just once, but I never was good at kissing the right ass to get the job."
"Surely they would allow you one of these flyovers now, after the great service that you have given for your..." She paused. "For your country."
John opened his mouth, then shut it again, looking startled. "You know, that's a thought. Although, if I'm going to start cashing in favors, I've got a few other things on the list that need to be addressed first."
She laid her hand on his forearm, giving him a quick squeeze of gratitude. John's jaw worked, like he was gathering the nerve to say something-but the announcer broke the moment as he began introducing the players entering the field.
"Ahh, here we go," John said. "You've got the basics down, right?"
Teyla nodded. "The two teams take turns attempting to score points-"
"Runs," John corrected.
"Attempting to score runs," she continued, sending him a side-eyed smile, "by hitting the ball and then circling the bases without getting out. Is that correct?"
"That's pretty much it in a nutshell," John said. "It's different from football in that there's no time limit. They play for nine innings, however long that takes. You know, like in the movies when they show the scoreboard, and they hang another run up for one team or the other as the innings go by."
"Ah, yes. What Rodney always calls the 'completely predictable filler montage.'"
John chuckled, and she winked at him before returning her attention to the game. A runner had already reached one of the bases while they were talking, and he was creeping out into the ring of dirt that demarcated his territory, the pitcher glancing between the runner and the next batter.
"The differences between your sports are very interesting to me," she said after watching for a while. "Football is much more about direct conflict, a struggle based primarily on the tactics of the team as a whole. I do not yet understand the tactics employed in baseball, but it is apparent that the skill of the individual players is even more important than it is in football."
"Yeah, I guess you could say so," John said, tipping his head from side to side. "It's kind of like comparing apples to oranges."
"They are both fruit, are they not?" Teyla nodded towards the field as the pitcher threw out the runner attempting to steal third. "From what I have seen of these sports, including hockey, they are all based on the attempt to take and defend territory. I am curious if the different approaches are reflections of your varying warrior societies. Are Marines more inclined towards football, for instance? Does basketball have more similarities to air campaigns?"
John opened his mouth, then shut it again. "You know, that's an interesting thought. Maybe we can start a study. I'll see what I can dig up from ESPN Classic and we can make notes on strategy and stuff."
She smiled. "Will popcorn be involved in this study?"
"What kind of question is that?" John pulled an affronted face. "No scientific study is valid without the inclusion of popcorn. You can even ask McKay about that."
Teyla laughed softly, and John grinned back at her. They both settled back into watching the game, John occasionally commenting on a play, explaining why it was used or why it didn't succeed, sometimes giving her background information on a player or the team or baseball itself. She enjoyed his conversation, as she did when they watched movies together, and the game itself was interesting, but after a few innings, she found her attention wandering.
The crowd attending the game was mixed, from the very young to the very old. Her gaze kept falling on the family groups. She tried not to focus on any of them, but a couple sitting to the right of her, a few rows down, drew her gaze. They had a young boy who couldn't be more than six months older than Torren. He was quite active, interested in the crowd around him, as young children of that age are, clambering across his parents' laps to play peek-a-boo with a slightly older gentleman behind them. The couple seemingly paid his antics little mind, but Teyla took note of their hands gently guiding and guarding him as he bounced around and the quick smiles they shared at one of the child's high-pitched giggles.
She glanced back at John. He had been so nervous with Torren at first, uncomfortable as he always was with things that required delicate handling-such as emotions. But she'd seen the way he'd held Torren when she handed him to him before making their escape from Michael's hive ship. She'd seen the softness in his eyes, the way he'd gently brushed the back of his finger over Torren's downy cheek. It was not a lack of caring that made him awkward. With practice, he would be as casually competent as the couple she watched.
"Are you getting bored?"
Teyla blinked, breaking away from her fixation on the young family. The crowd was starting to shift, people getting out of their seats, and she realized they'd reached the end of one of the innings.
"No," she told John. "But I must admit I find our surroundings just as interesting as the game."
John snorted. "Hey, I told you it was all about the experience, didn't I?"
"You did indeed."
Whistles and laughter sounded from the crowd, drawing her attention to the gigantic television screen above the crowd. The display showed a man and a woman, seated in the stands, hesitating for a moment before leaning in toward each other for a kiss. Their show of affection drew raucous cheers before the screen shifted, returning to an advertisement for baseball merchandise.
"And that would be the kiss-cam," John said dryly. "Baseball, basketball, hockey...apparently people really get off on watching other people kiss."
"And these are all couples?" Her heart was starting to quicken, a shadow of an idea flitting through her mind. "How do they know who to choose?"
John shrugged. "The camera people watch the crowd, look for people who are affectionate with each other. Sometimes they get it wrong, but those are usually the funniest ones."
"I see," she murmurred.
"Hey," John said, clearing his throat. "You interested in that ice cream now? I could go grab something."
"No, I am good for now," she said, somewhat distractedly. There were so many people here; how would one go about gaining the attention of those mysterious camera people? "Thank you, though."
"All right. Let me know if you change your mind."
Teyla nodded, then went back to studying the people around them. The more she looked, the more couples she could pick out. Some were openly affectionate, while others looked like they would prefer to be with anyone else. Perhaps the camera operators would choose one of the disgruntled pairs to be funny, but if she were in charge of that decision, she would pick a pair who would clearly enjoy playing along.
Such as the pair across the aisle from Teyla. The young woman smiled up at her partner as he returned to his seat. He handed her something that looked like gooey popcorn, and then they kissed.
"Actually," Teyla said. "I believe I will have some ice cream."
"You want your usual? Or-"
"I will get it," she said, stilling him with a hand on his forearm.
"Okay." A slight frown furrowed his brow. "Are you sure you can find it on your own?"
She arched an eyebrow at him. "You are questioning my sense of direction?"
"Hey, my sense of direction is just fine," he said. "I just...get a little confused about which direction I'm supposed to be going in sometimes."
"Which is why I will go get the ice cream," she said. "After all, I would not want it to melt before we can eat it."
"Well, if you wanna be logical about it." John winked, which did not help her fluttery pulse at all. "See if they've got anything with caramel, would you? The smell of that popcorn has been driving me crazy."
"As you wish," she murmured, rising from her seat and slipping out the aisle before she could dwell on the odd look he gave her in response.
The view as she stepped out of the tunnel did not catch her attention this time, her thoughts wholly dedicated to her plan. Not that said plan had much to it.
Teyla huffed. Clearly, she had become unmoored after being away from her son and her people for so long, for this was as ridiculous a notion as she'd ever come up with. Yet when a glance at the scoreboard showed only one out left in the inning, she began hurrying down the stairs, determined to follow through on her idea. Ridiculous it might be, but she needed to know for once and for all how he felt about her.
"Hey," John said, smiling up at her as she approached. Her stomach jerked at the way he seemed so happy to see her, as if she had been gone far longer than the fifteen minutes it had taken to use the facilities and then visit the Ghiradelli stand.
She proffered the dish of ice cream, the twin scoops of vanilla only slightly melted from the hot caramel topping. "The portions were quite large, so I thought we could share."
"Works for me," John said, "as long as you promise not to cheat in any spoon fights that might happen."
"I will promise," she said as she scooped up her first bite, "if you promise not to instigate any such fights."
"Where's the fun in that?" John grinned, then dug in on his side of the dish.
Despite his threat, he made no attempt to tangle his spoon with hers, or to even steal more than his share of the ice cream. She was still considering whether to initiate such a fight on her own when John sat back and stuffed his spoon into his empty beer cup.
"I'm good," he said. "You can have the rest."
So much for her attempt to bring them into even closer proximity. She continued eating the rest of the ice cream as the inning came to a close, keeping a watchful eye on the television screen, but she and John did not make it on to the 'Kiss Cam.' By the time play resumed, she was beginning to feel the effects of the ice cream, her body temperature lowered enough that the constant ocean breeze brought goosebumps to her skin.
Perhaps her plan was not lost, after all.
Teyla snugged her arms across her chest, then, ever so casually, pressed her shoulder against John's. If this was a scene from one of the romantic Earth movies they'd watched together, he would lift his arm and wrap it around her shoulders. She was not so naive to believe that any of those movies were an accurate representation of real Earth customs, but John should understand the gesture.
After a moment, she allowed a shiver to pass through her, rather than pushing the urge down as she normally would.
"Are you cold?"
She rubbed her hands over her bare upper arms. "It is somewhat chilly."
John grimaced. "Damn it, I should have reminded you to bring a jacket."
"It is all right," she told him, because he looked genuinely distressed, and it wasn't as if she hadn't suffered through far worse conditions. She did dare to lean into him more, pressing her shoulder firmly against his. "I will merely steal some of your warmth."
Their connection lasted only a couple of seconds before John leaned forward and began stripping off his jacket. "Here," he said, handing it to her as he stood up. "This should keep you warm until I get back."
"I'll only be a few minutes," he said, already threading his way past the other patrons' knees. "Enjoy the game!"
He was quickly gone from view. Teyla sighed, then slumped backwards into her seat. Obviously, her plan to get closer to him was not working. The camera operators would certainly find other couples far more enticing. Perhaps it was time for her to accept that John did not share her interest.
If only he would not look at her the way he did sometimes, as if she was the most amazing woman he had ever met.
Someone behind her touched her shoulder. Teyla looked back, to find an older woman with bright magenta hair leaning towards her.
"First date?" the woman asked.
Teyla opened her mouth, then sighed and shook her head.
"Ahhh," the woman said, lips sliding to the side. "One of those. You know, sometimes men are just that dense. You can drop a lead bucket full of hints on their heads and they still won't notice a thing."
Teyla snorted. "I am afraid it will take far more than a bucket for John to understand."
"Then smack him in the face instead." The woman shook her head. "I know it's not very ladylike, but sometimes you have to tell them straight up what you're looking for. Take it from me, honey. It'll save you a hell of a lot of frustration."
"That is good advice," Teyla murmured. "Thank you."
The woman smiled and nodded, then settled back in her seat. Teyla watched as she tugged on the arm of the older man sitting next to her until he turned away from the game, gave her a kiss on the cheek, and then settled his arm across her shoulders.
The woman winked at Teyla. Teyla grinned back at her, and then turned to face the game again, though she did not pay it any attention. She would love to take the woman's advice. Many times in the past when she had imagined knocking John down during one of their sparring matches and turning things more....heated. Or even going to John's quarters and taking matters into her own hands. But she had been the aggressor with Kanaan-and look how that turned out.
She pulled John's jacket more closely around herself, overlapping the lapels, drawing the collar up towards her nose. It smelled like leather and his cologne, a scent she felt she'd be happy to wrap herself in forever.
"Hey," he called as he threaded his way through the aisle, his progress slowed by the huge shopping bag he was forced to heft above the other fans' heads. He barely had room for both himself and the bag once he regained his seat. "Sorry about that. Took a little longer than I thought it would."
"Please do not tell me that is more food."
John chuckled. "Nah," he said, reaching into the bag and withdrawing a dark grey item of clothing. "I hope I got the right size. I can exchange it if it doesn't work for you."
"You purchased this for me?" she asked as she unfolded the hooded sweatshirt with the word 'Giants' in black script across the chest.
"I know it's not really your style, but I figured it'd at least keep you warm for the game."
"I did not intend for you to do this." Guilt surged up as she ran her hand over the soft knit fabric. She looked up in time to see his face fall, and immediately knew she had made another mistake.
"If you don't like it," he said, and Teyla had to press her fingers to his lips just to stop this ridiculous cycle.
"Thank you," she said firmly. "I should have said that first. I am simply sorry to have made you go to such trouble on my account."
John shrugged, but the tension in his forehead had disappeared, and he smiled playfully. "I stood in line for a few minutes. I wouldn't call it taking fire, but if you want to owe me one, feel free. Maybe next time we practice, you could go easy on me."
"I believe the appropriate phrase is 'you wish.'" She laughed softly at his pout, then turned her attention to her new apparel. She regretted having to remove John's jacket, but it was a necessary evil if she wanted to appreciate his very thoughtful gift. The inside of the hooded shirt was even softer than the outside, caressing her skin like one of Torren's blankets.
"Does it work for you?"
"Perfectly," she said. The fit could not be better, which had her glancing at him out of the sides of her eyes. Either he'd been lucky in his choice, or he'd observed her body very carefully in the past. "I am much warmer, thank you."
"Well, good. I guess my terrible sacrifice was worth it, then."
She laughed again, then brushed her fingers against the shopping bag. "Did you purchase one for yourself, as well?"
"Ah, not exactly." John rubbed the back of his neck. "They have kid stuff. A lot of kid stuff. I might have gotten carried away."
She swallowed hard. "You purchased gifts for Torren?"
"Just some baseball junk," he said as Teyla reached into the bag. The first thing she pulled out was a plush animal, similar to those she had received as presents for Torren's birth but larger, more suited to a toddler's hands.
"I know how much the little guy loves his BooBoo," John said. "And it's starting to look a little ratty, so...."
"It is perfect." She could see other things in the bag, small items of clothing and a child-sized baseball mitt, but she couldn't bear to pull them out. Instead, she closed her eyes, trying to breathe away the sting of tears.
"Way to go, John," he muttered. "Real good job with the whole distraction thing."
"Do not apologize." Teyla grabbed hold of his wrist, squeezing tightly-to emphasize her point, to hold onto something real, to remind herself she was not alone on this overwhelming planet. "Not for this. Not for any of the kindnesses I have seen from you, so many times."
"Hey," John said softly, and that was when she knew that some of her tears had escaped her iron control. She let go of his wrist to swipe at her cheeks, but she could not stop the wetness from leaking out. She did not sob, but her only child was in another galaxy, so far away that she had no way of knowing if he was well, if he even lived, and apparently John's sweet gesture was the last drop that the cup could hold.
"Here." He handed over several of the soft napkins. She wiped her cheeks dry, then covered her face with the wet mass, trying to hide her breakdown. John was very kind, but he was never comfortable with emotion, his own or others'.
"Hey, no," he said, and then, to her surprise, he wrapped his arm around her shoulders, drawing her in towards his chest. "It's okay," he said, lips close to her forehead. "It's just us here. Let it on out."
Perhaps she should have held herself back, should have tried harder to gather herself, but she was so tired of fighting for everything in her life. As she let herself relax into his embrace, it was as if she had been filled with a great, grieving sadness, as if her only purpose was to feel the depth of the universe's pain, and then to allow that pain be cleansed by her tears.
Some minutes passed before that sadness finally receded. She lifted her head slowly, the afternoon sunlight distorted by the film of wetness remaining on her eyes.. John squeezed her shoulder, then slowly pulled his arm out from behind her. "Feeling better?"
She nodded. "Much, actually. Thank you." She wasn't quite ready to break the feeling of safe intimacy between them, however, so she brushed her fingertips over the tear-soaked spot on his tee-shirt. "I am so sorry."
John snorted. "I know I'm not good with, uh-"
"Emotions?" she said, just to see his eyes narrow with mock offense.
"Tears," he said emphatically. "But I won't melt if you get some on me."
"That is good," she said, drawing her hand away. "After all, I know there is no crying in baseball."
John let out a great honking laugh-and that was when she noticed the attention of the people around them, waving and yelling to look up.
The 'Kiss Cam' had found them.
"Oh, no," she said softly, which caused John to follow her gaze. She could see the panic widen his eyes, the emotion magnified for everyone to see. It's just us here, he'd told her moments ago, pulling her close despite his usual reluctance for such things, guarding her tears from prying eyes.
She had no thought of fulfilling her previous fantasy. Instead, she murmured, "do not worry," as she leaned towards him. She brushed a kiss across his cheek, much as she would do with Torren. John let out a soft sigh of relief as she eased back.
"Do you want to get out of here?" John blurted. "We can stay if you want, but-"
"I believe I have gotten the most that I can out of the experience," she answered quickly. "I am ready to leave, if you are."
"I can tell I'm twisting your arm." John stood up, offering her his hand. "Let's blow this popsicle stand."
Teyla curled her fingers against his and followed behind him, carrying the bag of gifts in her other hand. She looked behind her, making sure she was not hitting anyone, and saw the red-headed woman smiling and giving her a big thumbs up. Somehow, Teyla managed to return the woman's smile, even though she was sure she now had the answer to her question of whether John was interested in her or not.
"You were right," Teyla said as she stared at the blue-green waters of the bay spreading out before her. "This is incredibly beautiful."
The hike up to this point had been a welcome change from the close press of people at the stadium, and the exercise had drained away the bloated feeling that had come from eating the baseball food, and from the crying, as well. Teyla took a deep breath of the crisp air, feeling more refreshed than she had since arriving on Earth. John's idea to get away from Atlantis had been a good one, even if the day had not gone completely according to his plan.
Or hers, for that matter.
"I thought this might be more to your taste," John said. "I have to admit that it's nice to get back outside. I've been going a little stir-crazy on Atlantis, myself."
"I am glad that you shared baseball with me," Teyla said. "But it has been good to stretch our legs as well."
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the head-dipping smile that flashed across his face.
"What is it?"
He shook his head. "That's an Earth expression."
She frowned at him. "We also use it in Athosian. Particularly after a long winter, when we have been confined to our camps for many months."
John held up both hands. "Hey, I wasn't questioning your Athosian-ness or anything, I swear."
Teyla sighed. "No, of course not. I am afraid I'm sensitive about such things lately."
"Such things?" John asked softly.
Teyla tugged the cuffs of the Giants sweatshirt up high on her hands, playing with the texture of the ribbing.
"You don't have to talk about it if you don't want."
"I do want to talk," she said. "But I am not entirely sure where to start."
His mouth went flat and tight, like he was holding himself back from saying something.
"What is it?" she asked.
He plucked a stalk of tall grass and began twisting it between his fingers. "It's pretty obvious you're torn up about Torren. If this is you trying to say you need to leave the team, go back to your people, well. I get it."
For the second time that day, tears pricked at her eyes, but this time, at least, she could hold them back. "Is that what you think I should do?" she asked in a carefully controlled voice.
"I don't think anything," John said, just as carefully. "I'm saying I understand your reasons if that's your choice, and I won't try to stop you from doing what you need to do."
Teyla rolled her head back, her jaw tightening before she could release the words. "Of course you would not."
John took a step towards her. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means-" She shut her mouth. This was not going as she had intended at all, and her defensive temper would not help if she let it take control. She took a few calming breaths. "It means that I should explain myself better, if that is all right with you."
John nodded, still looking wary. "Go for it."
She crossed her arms across her chest. John's gift served well enough to keep the ocean breeze off her skin, but still she was chilled to her spine. "Ever since I had Torren, I have questioned whether I am doing the right thing by placing myself in danger as part of your team."
John's jaw worked. "Like I said-"
"Will you please let me finish?"
"Sorry. Go on."
"Part of me thinks that I should do as you suggested, return to New Athos and be the best mother that I can be. I know that is what Kanaan wanted from me."
John took a step towards her. "I'm sensing a 'but.'"
She snorted softly. "But-that is not what I want." She bit her lip, looking down at the fabric that had found its way between her fingers yet again. "Torren will always be the most important part of my life, but is it wrong that I want to continue to fight to keep him safe from all of the things in the universe that would see him dead?"
"I would never think that," John said. "But it sounds like one of those questions you need to answer for yourself."
She nodded. "And I thought I had answered it, until the point on the hive ship when it became clear that we must sacrifice ourselves to succeed. All I could think about was whether Torren would have any memory of me at all."
John had the grass knotted around his fingers now, his jaw working like he wanted to spit out a hard truth. Probably to tell her yet again that she should make the choice for her child, so she pushed on before he could do so.
"When I saw all the people at the stadium today, I knew I had made the right decision, even if I had died that day. Perhaps that makes me a terrible mother, but I cannot see how I can make any other choice."
John blew out a breath, then shook the grass from his hand before turning towards her.
"The people on this world are not the only ones we saved that day," she continued. "Can you imagine how powerful the Wraith would become if they had Earth and the rest of this galaxy for their feeding grounds?"
"Unstoppable," John said, voice hoarse.
She nodded. "Yes. So I know the answer to the first part of my question. It is worth fighting, even if Torren loses me someday."
"I'm going to do my damndest to make sure that doesn't happen."
"As will I. But there are no guarantees, John. You know that."
They were silent a moment, accepting the truth of that statement. Teyla closed her eyes, gathering her courage. It should be simple, compared to facing the Wraith, compared to leaving her son's side, but the difficulty in finding the right words to overcome the years of inertia between them almost made her give up yet again.
The red-haired woman's encouraging smile came back to her, urging her on.
"It is a deeply ingrained custom among my people," she began, still with her eyes closed. "So deeply ingrained that it borders on taboo, I suppose. From a young age, we are taught that those in position of power should not make romantic advances towards those who might not be able to say no."
"That's a pretty good taboo to have, I'd say."
She opened her eyes and gave a half-nod. "Considering the terrible abuses I have seen on other worlds, I would agree, for the most part."
"It's supposed to be the same way here, but way too many people take advantage of their power to get what they want. Guys, mostly." He shrugged. "Sexual harassment is a good way to get your ass court-martialed in the military, but there are still way too many assholes who get away with it."
Teyla huffed out a laugh.
John's eyebrows quirked. "Something funny about that?"
"No, of course not." She could not keep her smile contained, however. "It is just that I finally realized something."
"Are you going to fill me in?"
She took a step towards him, confidence loosening her muscles. "We are both leaders, John. We have both trained ourselves to hold back our desires out of concern for others."
His eyes widened.
"Teyla," he said, his voice hoarse.
"If you only care for me as a friend, then I hope you can forgive me for overstepping," she said, as determined now to see this through as if she were facing down a Wraith with only a scrubby twig in her hand. "But you have changed my world, John Sheppard, and though I know you doubt this, it has been for the better."
"Teyla." He took a step forward until no bare ground lay between them, until she ached to lay her hands on his chest and take what she wanted, but there were still words to say.
"I do not know where the future will take me, but I know two things: That I will do the most that I can to see Torren safe and happy, and that-" She swallowed. "That I want you by my side."
"Teyla." He cupped his palm under the base of her skull. "I want that, too."
Then, finally, at long last- He kissed her.
The kiss he had stolen when he was infected by the Iratus bug had only hinted at this one. His lips were far more gentle, yet his passion was just as consuming, as if he had been yearning for this moment for as long as she had. He pulled back slowly, resting his forehead against hers.
"I thought I'd missed my chance with you," he said. He brought both hands up to cradle her face, brushing his thumbs over her cheekbones. "If I'd ever even had a chance at all."
"You have been blind, but no more than I have." She pulled him down for a kiss that was better suited to a far more secluded place than where they were standing. After they broke the kiss, she clung to him for a moment, unwilling to be parted from him yet. "We would have missed yet another chance if I had not taken it upon myself to change that."
"Hey, now," John squawked. "You only told me about the break-up this morning. Give a guy the chance to get up to speed."
"I suppose you are right," she said. She took a step back, finally breaking their embrace, and arched her eyebrow in a dare. "Perhaps we should return to Atlantis, and I will give you many more opportunities to make up for those we missed before."
"I'm not going to say no to that," he said. "But you have no idea how many baseball metaphors I'm holding back right now."
"Come on, then," she said, laughing with a lightness she had not felt in a long time. "I would very much like to make sure I understand how the bases are run."