Title: Three Brothers
Word Count: 8100
Prompt/Summary: (from briar_pipe) Teyla has 3 brothers: They're all born in Pegasus. When they're still kids, Sateda creates a great alliance across many worlds and exchanges male children between them to cement the agreement. Teyla loses her cousin Kanaan and gains three brothers she never wanted.
Teyla was ten years old when the Satedan Alliance was formed -- the summer that she gained three brothers she did not want.
The Alliance had been in negotiations for years, and Teyla had gained a more intimate knowledge of this process than she really wanted, since she'd been accompanying her mother, Tagan, to many of the summits. She found the foreign cities and colorful crowds fascinating, but the negotiations themselves lethally boring, and the idea that she herself would be expected to do the same thing as Speaker for Athos -- though, hopefully, many years in the future -- made her eyes cross with boredom.
Still, she sat politely, and tried to take it all in, entertaining herself during the dullest parts by imagining that she could instead spend this time exploring the foreign markets with her cousin Kanaan and his sisters. Kanaan had never been offworld -- being a boy, he wasn't allowed on trading trips -- and always asked her many questions whenever she came back.
It turned out, however, that Kanaan was about to get to see more of the other worlds than he'd bargained for, when Athos joined the Alliance and thus joined the Satedan fosterling program.
Apparently it was an old tradition on Sateda: boys spent their adolescent years with other families than their own, usually in other cities, learning trades other than their fathers' which they could then bring back to their home cities and villages. The Satedan Chieftain had suggested expanding this custom to help cement the Alliance -- boys from all of the member planets would travel between worlds and live with families on other worlds, as the Satedan fosterlings did, learning their ways and their knowledge.
Teyla's mother thought it was a marvelous idea. Teyla herself was not so sure, especially after Kanaan, her closest friend among her age-mates, left for Menara and his sisters stopped speaking to any of the Emmagans.
"But why boys? It's not fair," Teyla complained as she helped her mother and Charin peel tuttle root. She wanted to go live on other worlds and learn about them.
Her mother was shocked. "What kind of barbarians would send away their young women, the hope of their people?"
Charin nodded. "It's very civilized ... for Sateda." Most of the Athosians had a rather low opinion of the Satedans, mainly because they only allowed men in their government. Everyone knew that men were less intelligent than women, and lacking in emotional control; one could only imagine a society run by people like that.
Because Athos was small compared to many of the other worlds, they ended up taking in more fosterlings than there were families to take them, which was why Teyla's annoyance was compounded by her parents' announcement that she would be sharing her already small alcove in their house with three new foster "brothers".
The first of Teyla's "brothers" to arrive was the son of the Satedan Chieftain's second cousin. Although Teyla's parents had said that he was two years younger and cautioned her to be polite and to take care of him "like an older sister", he was actually taller than herself -- a gangly beanpole of a boy, with too-big hands dangling on the end of scrawny arms. He was so gawky and thin that he looked like the wind could blow him over.
"Hi," he mumbled. "I'm Ronon."
Teyla ignored him; she'd decided to deal with the whole thing by politely ignoring the new children until, hopefully, their parents took them back. He didn't make a fuss, though; just settled in quietly and ate dinner with the family, poking curiously at some of the dishes that were commonplace to Teyla.
The Emmagans' house was large and spacious, with curtains dividing the interior into various rooms to give the occupants privacy. The corner of the house that belonged to Teyla had been further subdivided to provide separate space for her new foster-brother, with an embroidered curtain hanging between them. That first night, she settled into her bed of cushions and knitted afghans as usual but continued to lay awake, wondering if she ought to say anything to her new brother. The tent-house had grown quiet, all the lamps extinguished, her parents asleep. Gradually she became aware of a soft sound, an unfamiliar sound. Teyla sat up in bed, listening intently. When she realized what it was, her mouth dropped open.
"Are you crying in there?" she whispered in shock, poking at the curtain.
The noise stopped. There was silence. "No," Ronon whispered back.
Nothing but silence came from beyond the curtain, and Teyla felt suddenly, bitterly guilty. She remembered nights on her trips with her mother, lying awake in strange beds on strange worlds, feeling rootless and alone. How much more terrible to be completely alone on a strange world with no hope of seeing your family for years, she thought. And he was two years younger -- just a child, really.
"Did you want to come here?" she whispered.
"I guess," he whispered back after a moment, sounding uncertain. "It's a great honor."
"I thought it was more like a punishment," Teyla whispered, remembering what her mother and Charin had said.
"For not being born a girl," she clarified, a bit diffidently, because it wasn't his fault that he hadn't been a girl. "Nobody would send girls to live somewhere else; they're too valuable."
There was another silence. "No, you got it backward. It's an honor that's reserved just for boys," he said, and this time sounded puzzled. "Everyone knows that. Girls aren't important enough."
Teyla kicked him through the curtain.
He kicked back. This launched a scuffle that continued until Teyla's father came stumbling over to find out what was going on, hung the curtain back up and told them to go to sleep.
Teyla lay awake for a while, staring into the darkness. At least the muffled crying sounds did not resume. Boys, she thought grimly. She was supposed to spend the next few years of her life living with this?
But Ronon settled in more easily than Teyla had expected. It helped that there were so many new children in the village; he wasn't the only one. And the adults liked him a lot, because he was quiet and polite and helpful, always willing to help dig tuttle roots or carry buckets of water. He wasn't terribly popular among the other children -- they didn't really know what to make of him; they were a little afraid of him because of his size, but he didn't talk much or try to bully them, so in the end they just ignored him for the most part.
Teyla thought that this might not be so bad. She missed Kanaan, but she could generally go about her normal life; Ronon was so unobtrusive that he didn't bother her much. Most of the time she hardly even noticed he was there.
And then John arrived, her second new brother. John was like an anti-Ronon: small and wiry, with wild hair that stuck up all over the place, a devil's grin and no fear at all. He would take any dare, no matter how crazy. The adults immediately branded him a troublemaker, including Teyla's parents, who spent a lot of time giving him despairing looks, especially after he almost burned down the house. (By accident. Really.) He was incredibly popular with the other children, however -- they took to him immediately, wanting him to show them new games and giving him increasingly wild dares, like swimming out to the island in the middle of the lake by himself, or walking backwards on the roofpole of the biggest house in the village.
Teyla was almost a bit jealous.
But there was something very closed-off about John, she realized. With the other kids, he was charming and daring and devilish, but at dinner in their quiet, lamp-lit house, he said "Pass the soup, please" and not much else. It was the family's custom to talk over dinner, and even shy Ronon had begun joining in, telling them little stories about daily life in Sateda. But John's tales were always of things that had happened to him in the village on Athos, never stories of his life back home.
Teyla did not know much of the world he came from, just that his people were horse-riding nomads who lived in tents, and she only knew that much because her parents had cautioned her not to say anything that would make John feel as if his people were backwards or uncultured. (By which Teyla, schooled in the diplomatic arts, assumed that her parents considered them backwards and uncultured, but were trying very hard not to say so.) She learned further, from listening to the adults talking to each other, that John's world was a very flat world, vulnerable to cullings and storms, and that they had lost many people in a recent series of hurricanes. Teyla sometimes wondered if his family had been among them.
Whatever the reason, he did not talk about his home life at all. His life might as well have begun when he came to live on Athos; the only thing to indicate that it hadn't was the beautifully embroidered tunic of soft white leather that he wore when he came to live with the Emmagans, but this had been immediately put away in order to adopt the loose, brown and red clothing of the Athosian children.
In the corner of the Emmagans' house that the children shared, the curtain was moved a little farther into Teyla's space to make a slightly larger space for her two new "brothers" to share. Teyla was a bit nervous about this, since the two boys were so different, but they seemed to hit it off wonderfully. The three children lay awake long into the night, carrying on whispered, giggly conversations through the curtain after the adults had gone to sleep.
The third and last of Teyla's three brothers was named Rodney, and he was a stubborn, glowering, pale boy who sulked into the village being half-carried and half-dragged by two sweating and annoyed-looking Athosian adults. He didn't know how to do anything in the village, but neither had John and Ronon, and they'd both learned quickly. Rodney, though, refused to learn at all.
The adults had loved Ronon, though the other kids were slow to warm up to him; John was distrusted by the adults and popular with the children. Rodney, though, was liked by no one. The adults found him sulky and uncooperative; the children -- including Teyla and her other "brothers" -- took an immediate dislike to him, particularly when he slapped back each friendly overture with a sullen insult. All he could do was talk about the place where he used to live, and how wonderful it had been.
"I didn't want to come to your stupid village. It's so much better at home. We have much bigger houses and we have actual learning, not -- not farming and stuff. My parents are very important scientists."
"Ronon's parents are important too, but you don't see him acting stuck up about it," Teyla said, sitting on a stone wall above the spring and kicking her heels against the sun-warmed rocks.
"The main thing is that I was going to be a very important scientist myself, and now I'm wasting the best years of my life in this stupid mud hole."
"The best years of your life? You're ten," John pointed out lazily. He was stretched out along the top of the rock wall, catlike in the sun. Teyla was still spluttering, trying to recover from having her village called a stupid mud hole.
"And twice as intelligent as any of you," Rodney said haughtily. He dropped the buckets that he was supposed to be filling at the spring, and flounced off to sulk somewhere else.
The Emmagans' house felt much too small all of a sudden, particularly the corner that the four children were supposed to be sharing. Teyla's little alcove had been winnowed down to a space barely big enough for her sleeping pallet and the small box where she kept special things. The three boys had it worse, though, since they were supposed to be sharing one big pallet (as same-sex siblings in the village normally did) and no one wanted Rodney on his side of the bed. Teyla heard a lot of quiet scuffling and low, angry, hissed conversations on the other side of the curtain, until her father shuffled over to snap at them to shut up and go to sleep. The silence lasted a few minutes before she heard the quiet argument resume behind the curtain.
"Now you got us in trouble, jerk." (This was John.)
"I'm trying to sleep. You're the one who's being a jerk with your stupid cold feet on my side of the bed." (Rodney)
"It's our bed. You're in it." (Ronon)
"Fine!" Rodney hissed. "I'll go sleep in the yard, and I'll catch cold and die of it, and then you'll have to explain to the Emmagans why I'm dead, and it'll be all your fault and you'll be sorry!"
Teyla sat up and whacked the curtain with her pillow, then flopped down and pulled the pillow over her head. Apparently they got the idea, because things went quiet after that. When she cautiously peeped around the edge of the curtain, just to make sure that the other two hadn't smothered their unwanted new brother, she saw that John and Ronon had sprawled out, deliberately, in order to cover as much of the bed as possible. They were snoring. Rodney lay stiff as a board on the thin remaining sliver of bed, teetering on the edge with his pillow clutched to his chest. In the pale moonlight shafting into the house through the window over the bed, she could see that his eyes were open, glowering silently at the other two boys.
"Rodney," she whispered, and the glimmer of his eyes turned in her direction. "You can come and sleep in here. There's not much room, but I don't mind."
"But you're a girl," he whispered back, his eyes going round.
Teyla let the curtain fall back. Fine. See if she did any more favors for him.
She'd almost drifted off to sleep when her blankets were tugged half off her body as something large wriggled its way onto her side of the curtain.
"They kick," Rodney whispered, sounding aggrieved. "And they snore and they squirm. I'm pretty sure they're doing it on purpose. At this rate, I may as well go and sleep in the yard, because I'm not getting any sleep anyway."
"Rodney, please be quiet, or neither of us can sleep. And I want some of my blanket back."
"Oh. Um. Sorry." The tension on the blanket went slack enough that she was able to wrap some of it around her. She could feel Rodney squirming around and settling in at her back. He was very warm. She could feel him flinch away whenever he accidentally brushed against her.
"Are you sure your parents won't mind?" he whispered.
"My parents would be furious," she whispered back. "So please do not wake them up."
He peeped a tiny little "oh", and stopped wiggling. Teyla fell asleep with his warm weight squashing her into the wall.
"Traitor," John said to Teyla. "I thought we were all united in this."
"In what?" Teyla retorted, scattering handfuls of grain for the yard fowl in the warm morning sunshine. She yawned and scratched the back of one calf with the bare heel of her other foot. She hadn't gotten much sleep; every time she'd rolled over, she'd run into a wall of Rodney. "Ignoring Rodney and bullying him? I am sorry, when did I agree to that?"
John pouted. "But he's really annoying, Teyla."
Ronon looked up from coaxing one of the half-wild fowl to take a piece of fruit from his hand. "Really, really annoying," he said.
"Things were better before," John grumbled.
"I know that," Teyla said, "but he is here; he is not leaving, so we should make the best of it."
John sat down in the dust, and joined Ronon in trying to coax the birds closer, reaching out with a fistful of grain. "See, I was kind of hoping that if we ignore him enough, maybe they'll send him back where he came from."
"It didn't work with either of you," Teyla said archly.
The comical looks of surprise on their faces almost made her laugh, except for the sound of the door falling quietly shut behind her. When she looked around, the expression on Rodney's set, pale face chased all thoughts of laughter from her. He'd obviously been listening to them.
"Um, hi," John said. Rodney ignored him, stomping through the little flock of fowl and scattering them. He vanished off in the general direction of the spring.
Teyla threw her last handful of grain, hard, in the direction of the boys' heads.
"Ow!" Ronon protested, rubbing his ear. "What was that for?"
Teyla and her brothers eventually found Rodney down by the spring, being molested by a small group of slightly older children, the twelve-year-olds who worked in the tava fields. Having come down to the spring to carry water to the crops, they'd discovered the smaller boy and were entertaining themselves by throwing handfuls of mud at him to make him squeak, flail and yell.
"Just kneel down and apologize for calling Jemmy a troglodyte, and we'll let you go," one of the girls was saying as Teyla and her brothers came upon them.
"But he is!" Rodney yelled back, and gargled when he got a mud ball in the face.
"I don't think apologizing is good enough," said Jemmy, a big boy from another of the Satedan Alliance worlds. Teyla did not like him much; she'd found him to be slow-witted with a nasty streak. "I want to see him eat those words." He scooped up a palmful of mud from the wet ground by the spring.
"I hate you all!" Rodney wailed helplessly as two of Jemmy's friends pounced on him. "I'll tell! My parents are very important people! Don't -- Ow -- Help!"
"It'll probably teach him a lesson if we let them," John whispered hopefully. "Uh ... Teyla?" His words faded behind her; she was already marching down the hill towards the spring and the struggling knot of children beside it.
"Who are you going to tell?" Jemmy sneered. "Everyone hates you as much as we d-- ow!" Teyla had come up behind him and punched him in the kidneys.
The others all stared, including John and Ronon, trailing her at what they probably hoped was a safe distance. Little kids didn't mess with bigger kids; it just wasn't done.
Teyla planted one bare foot on the back of Jemmy's neck as he lay groaning, and glared around at the stunned onlookers. "I think you should all be ashamed of yourselves."
"Yeah," Rodney said, muffled, his face half-buried in mud. "Ashamed. Ow!" as one of his tormenters shoved him down a bit harder.
"Rodney," Teyla said, her eyebrow twitching, "shut up."
Though she tried not to show it, she was secretly relieved and gratified when John and Ronon appeared at either side of her, scowling and obviously trying their best to look tough.
Smiling sweetly, Teyla said, "Right now, we are the only people who know about this. You can just walk away."
"Or," John said with a sort of psychotic cheerfulness, "you could take your chances on things getting a whole lot more embarrassing."
John had been in a number of fights already, and word had gotten around: he might be small, but he fought dirty. And Ronon was almost as tall as the twelve-year-olds -- he was skinny, but when he scowled like he was doing right now, he looked really mean. After a moment's reflection, Jemmy's friends gathered up their mud-covered, moaning friend, dipped the buckets of water that they had come to fill, and vanished in the direction of the fields.
Teyla, Ronon and John went to pull Rodney out of the mud. He was uncharacteristically quiet as he sat down next to the spring and began washing the mud out of his hair.
"I lied," he said at last, rubbing at his face.
"Lied about what?" Teyla asked, dipping a handful of water and helping him wash his mud-encrusted ears.
"My parents." Rodney ducked his head and wouldn't meet her eyes. "They're not scientists. They're laborers -- my father works in the quarries outside our city, and my mother washes rich people's clothes at the river."
"But why did you lie about it?"
Rodney stared at his bare toes, curling them into the mud at the water's edge; his whole body seemed to curl in on himself. "So you'd think I was important, and respect me."
"Didn't work," Ronon said. Teyla punched him in the arm.
"I know," Rodney said quietly. "I noticed that. The thing is ... my parents were glad to get rid of me. They couldn't pay school fees for both me and my sister, so now she gets to go to the Academy and study science, and I'm stuck here. All I ever wanted was to learn about things, to be a scientist and find out how the world works. But by the time this exchange program is over, I'll be too old; the Academy won't take me."
Only the sound of running water broke the silence, until John said, "Well, my parents are dead. So it could be, you know. Worse."
Teyla looked at him in shock. For all her suspicions and speculations, she realized now that she had not wanted to know for sure that his close mouth concealed a tragic past.
"I had a scholarship to the best art school on Sateda," Ronon said. "I was going to attend next year."
Teyla felt her cheeks heat, remembering her own frustration that she wasn't allowed to go to other worlds like the boys in her village; remembering her anger at having her comfortable and familiar life disrupted by these strangers, these newcomers. But, of course, their lives were disrupted just as much as her own, if not more so. They were adrift in a strange new post-Alliance world, all four of them.
She stood up abruptly, brushing sand off her knees. "I know a place near here that you might like," she said, addressing herself to Rodney, though her words were meant for the others as well. "There is a lot of cool stuff there -- technology type stuff. And even the adults don't know about a lot of it."
They all looked at her curiously. "Technology?" Rodney said. She could almost see him perk up.
Teyla nodded. "The city across the lake." She pointed, though it was hidden by trees from this angle. "We're not supposed to go over there, but I know a path."
Back at the Emmagans' house, the children filled their pockets with bread and fruit. Teyla told her mother that she was taking the boys to play in the woods, which was ... not precisely a lie. It wasn't harvest season yet, so the work was light and her mother didn't mind letting them have the day to explore.
Teyla had never gone to the abandoned city by herself, but she had no intention of admitting that to the boys. She had gone once with Kanaan and his sisters, however, so she knew how to find the path that snaked around the lakeshore. The path was old, and Teyla thought that the adults in the village had probably used it when they were children themselves.
The nearly invisible path wound through groves of pola trees and dense stands of nutbrush and flowering shikha with its head-high stalks and clouds of small honey birds hovering around it. Occasionally they could catch glimpses of the lake through the trees, glittering in the sun. Ronon taught them to sing traditional Satedan marching songs, which were mostly quite vulgar and made Teyla giggle and Rodney blush up to the tips of his ears.
"Just how far is this stupid city, anyway?" Rodney grumbled, and then gasped when they topped a rise and there it was below them: broken towers spearing towards the blue sky, half-covered with encroaching vegetation.
Even Rodney was quiet as the children crept through the narrow streets, picking their way over broken flagstones. A tense and waiting silence lay over the dead city; when a flock of birds burst from one of the ruined towers, they all jumped and shrieked. Teyla had had the foresight to pick up some pieces of charcoal from her family's cooking fire, wrapped in a bit of cloth, and she used this to make little markings on the stones whenever they encountered a crossroads, pointing their way back to the edge of the city.
It didn't take long for the novelty to begin wearing off, as they wandered down one street after another with nothing more to look at than the blank facades of tumbledown buildings with trees growing out of their windows. "You know," Ronon said, "this is kinda boring."
"You said there was cool stuff here," Rodney accused.
Teyla opened her mouth to reply indignantly, but then she shut it and looked around. "Where is John?"
A rock clattered down from one of the buildings, and Teyla, startled, tipped her face back to see John's spiky head appear in a ruined archway, with only the sky behind him. He waved cheerfully, several times their height above them, leaning fearlessly over the drop to the flagstones.
"What are you doing?" Rodney shrieked, flailing his arms. "You'll fall and die and we'll all be in so much trouble!"
"Cool down," John said happily, sitting in the archway and swinging his bare feet over the abyss. "You can see all the way across the lake from up here! This is awesome."
"How did you get up there?" Teyla called up to him.
John pointed down. "There's a door and a stairway over there. Be careful; some of the steps are loose."
Rodney started mumbling about snakes and spiders and falling to their doom when they peeked into the dark interior of the ruined building, but in fact the stairway wasn't as terrifying as Teyla expected. The only scary part was one place where some of the stones had crumbled from the wall to partially block the stairwell; they climbed carefully over, giving each other a hand.
"See?" John said when they joined him on the roof. "Isn't this something?"
It was indeed. Looking around, Teyla could see that there was once another storey on top of the building, but time and age had collapsed it to rubble. Only the archway was still standing. A narrow balcony led to the roof of the next building over.
John followed her gaze. "Yeah," he said with a crooked smile, "I was just waiting for the rest of you," and he darted over and across.
"This," Rodney said, "is a very bad idea."
John waved to them from the next building. "It's perfectly safe! Solid as a rock. Probably 'cause that's what it's made out of. Come on!"
Teyla was inclined, privately, to agree with Rodney that this was not going to end well, but Ronon had already scampered across the balcony after John, so she gave Rodney a little push. "Go on, I will be right behind you."
From rooftop to rooftop they went. They passed through ancient gardens gone to dead sticks in some places and a riotous profusion of blossoms and thorns in others; they walked in wonder through what might have been rooftop temples or summer pavilions, with high roofs supported by tall pillars that let the wind blow through. They found a room full of some kind of machinery, big levers and gears all frozen and dead, and waited for a little while for Rodney to examine it before getting impatient and dragging him out of the room. They paused to eat their lunch in a ruined tower, and John climbed all the way to the top to bring down a bird's nest that he'd seen; the four of them marveled over the delicate structure and the fragile bits of pink and blue eggshell lingering in the bottom. After they were all finished looking at it, John laid it very carefully in the cleft of a cracked windowsill, but Teyla saved some pieces of eggshell in her pocket to add to her special things box.
Teyla remembered to mark each roof edge with a bit of charcoal, but as the day wore on, she started to run low. The sun slanted long and reddish across the lake, bringing a bit of chill with it. "We should probably go home soon," she began to say, but she didn't get past "home" when it happened: a weak section of roof collapsed under Ronon, and he vanished with a small cry.
The others scrambled for the edge of the hole, but John caught both Teyla and Rodney with a hard grip on each of their shoulders. "No," he said sharply, and Teyla had never heard that tense note of command in his voice; it made him sound much older. "Lie flat," and he followed his own advice, laying down on his stomach and wriggling to the edge. After a moment, the other two followed him.
Teyla peered down past broken, rotted timbers, trying to see in the darkness. "Ronon!" she shouted, and her voice echoed in the gloom under the roof. They were high -- maybe three or four storeys, much higher than the tallest building in her village. What if he'd fallen all the way to the bottom? "Ronon!" she cried, and the boys lent their voices to hers.
A thready shout came up from below, and Teyla closed her eyes and curled her fingers around the splintered wood at the edge of the hole, letting out a long sigh.
"What'd he say?" John asked.
"I think he said he's okay," Rodney said, and shouted down into the hole, "No you aren't! Nobody could fall that far and still be okay! Moron!" His voice broke a little on the last word, and because he was right beside her, Teyla could tell that he was shivering a bit.
Ronon shouted something else, which Teyla interpreted as "Mostly okay" and then something about making Rodney shut up.
"Can you climb out?" John called down.
Ronon called back: something something something stuck.
"I think he said his leg is stuck," John murmured, and shouted back, "Stuck how bad?"
Ronon shouted back up to them, and Teyla's mouth fell open. "Did he say there is something stuck in it?"
"You said you were fine!" Rodney yelled down the hole.
Ronon yelled back something that sounded like an emphatic "Mostly fine!"
Teyla bonked her forehead on the edge of the hole. Boys. Then she raised her head and looked at the other two. Rodney's eyes were round and scared; John's were squinty and green and determined.
"It'll be dark soon," Rodney said.
"They will soon wonder where we are and come looking," Teyla said, with more optimism than she felt. All the children knew they were supposed to stay away from the abandoned city, and she'd said they were going to the woods. Her parents trusted her. It would be a long time before anyone looked here.
She drew a long breath, and then admitted, "One of us needs to go for help."
John looked over at her for a long, quiet moment. The two of them were more or less evenly matched in foot-races. Teyla's legs were shorter, but her stamina was better. In a place like this, though, she did not even have to wonder if John would be faster than she would; her caution would slow her, while John would fling himself from one rooftop to another, taking chances. And maybe falling and breaking his neck, she thought.
Their eyes met and held; then John said quietly, "Be careful, you guys. I'll follow your charcoal marks, Teyla, and I'll be back as soon as I can."
He squirmed away from the edge of the hole until he could stand up safely.
"Uh, wait," Rodney began. Teyla shushed him. John gave them both a smile and then turned and ran away, into the red light of sunset.
Teyla swallowed and closed her eyes, then looked back down into the hole. She wished that she'd told him to be careful, too, but she knew it wouldn't do any good.
"It'll be dark," Rodney said again. "He can't, I mean -- what if he falls?"
"He will not fall," Teyla said, forcing her voice to be firm and confident. "He is John. He never falls."
Rodney fell quiet and looked back down into the hole. "Neither does Ronon," he said in a small voice.
Teyla could see nothing in the gloom under the rafters. How terrible, she thought, to be trapped and alone, unable to control what was happening to you. "We cannot leave him down there by himself," she said, and began looking around for a way to climb down.
"What -- what are you doing?" Rodney's voice rose a squeak. "You'll fall too! There's nothing to hang onto!"
"I am the best climber in the village," Teyla said. It wasn't bragging, just simple fact.
"Okay, maybe, but -- this isn't a tree! Seriously, you can't climb if there's nothing to climb on!"
He was right; there was nothing beneath the rafters but empty space. "Then perhaps I can jump," Teyla said, leaning out as far as she dared. If only she could see what was directly beneath her, but all she could see was darkness. She would hate to land on Ronon and hurt him even more.
"What? You're crazy! Am I the only sane one here?" Rodney wriggled away from the hole, then pulled himself clumsily to his feet.
"Where are you going?" Teyla asked him. For a minute she thought he meant to follow John and leave her there by herself.
"To find a ... a rope or something. There must be something around here we can use. I can rig up a pulley to let you down; it's just simple geometry." He poked around in the piles of rubble in the room. "Well? Help a little?"
"Ronon, we will be right back," Teyla shouted down the hole, before following Rodney.
Eventually, the best thing either of them could find was a tangle of vines that seemed to be tough enough to hold Teyla's weight. She and Rodney anchored them to a pillar, and Rodney wrapped a length of vine around another pillar so that he could let her down gently -- It should be me, because I'm lighter, she'd said, and he hadn't argued with her.
She tied the free end of the vine net around her waist and looked over her shoulder at Rodney. He was very pale, clinging to his end of the vine.
"I, um, don't know if this is such a good idea," he said. "What if I drop you?"
"You will not," Teyla said. "I trust you." And she was surprised to find that it was true, just as she trusted John to run through the darkness without falling, and to bring back adults to help them.
"Oh. Um. Thanks, I guess." His pallor didn't improve, but he looked a little less miserable. "I mean, really. Thanks."
Teyla nodded and gave him a little smile, and sat down on the edge of the broken rafters, then allowed herself to slip gently off the edge.
Her descent was slow and jerky, but sooner than she expected, her feet touched something solid. Teyla tapped around with her feet to make sure that the floor would hold her before she shouted up to Rodney, "I'm down!" and peeled the vine from around her waist.
As her eyes began to adjust to the dimness, huge chunks of debris and sections of heavy beams materialized out of the gloom. Ancestors, she thought, and called softly, "Ronon? Can you hear me?"
"Over here." In the darkness, Ronon's voice sounded as small and young as he really was. Teyla followed the sound of it, picking her way through the debris, and peeked around a chunk of the ceiling. She couldn't stifle a gasp when she realized what she was looking at: Ronon, lying on his back with a splintered section of rotted wood jutting up from his legs. The dark stuff everywhere could only be blood.
He managed to give her a shaky grin. "It's not as bad as it looks."
"That ... that is good," Teyla said weakly. She knelt down by his legs. The beam had splintered and one of the shards had pierced his thigh, pinning him down.
"I tried to move it," Ronon said. She could tell that he was struggling to sound tough and brave, but there was a lost, scared note in his voice: a child, hurting and trapped and afraid. "It won't come loose, and ... I don't think I want to try again."
Teyla sat down next to him and wrapped her hand around his cold one. "John has gone for help, and Rodney is up top, keeping watch," she said. "The adults will be here soon, and you will be fine."
"Teyla?" Rodney's voice drifted down to her from above. "Are you okay?"
"We are both all right," she shouted back, squeezing Ronon's hand and wishing that it was so.
"It's getting dark up here," Rodney called down to her. "And it's cold."
"It is dark and cold down here, too, Rodney."
"Oh," he said. "Oh, I guess it is."
They kept calling back and forth to each other, their voices a lifeline stretching between them as the darkness settled around them. And eventually, the darkness was broken by the flicker of torches, and Teyla heard adult voices talking and shouting above. Closing her eyes in relief, she lay down and curled around Ronon, who had stopped talking some time ago, and rested the side of her forehead against his, quietly petting his hair while she waited for the adults to rescue them.
They were all, as Teyla had feared, in very much trouble. The worst part was that her parents didn't even yell at her; they just gave her gloomy, disappointed looks, and forbade her to leave the village without an adult. And they talked a lot, in private, and when she walked in, they'd stop talking and give her the gloomy looks again.
No. That wasn't really the worst part, not at all. Her parents' shame and disappointment hurt her, but what hurt even worse was that they didn't allow her to see her brothers. Ronon was kept in the healer's tent, and John and Rodney had been sent to sleep with Kanaan's sisters, where Teyla imagined that the snobbish girls would make their lives miserable.
Teyla had no free time at all. Her parents found a million small tasks for her. She was sitting in the house shelling tava beans when a voice whispered, very near her, "Psst! Teyla!"
She jumped as John crept out of the shadows. "What are you doing in here?" she whispered back. "If my parents catch you --"
"They won't. C'mon." He tugged on her arm. "Rodney and I figured out how to sneak into the healers' tent. Well, me, mostly, but Rodney helped. Anyway, we've been going to see Ronon, and he's finally awake. Want to come?"
"My parents..." Teyla protested faintly. But the temptation to see Ronon was too great, so she left the bowl of beans half-shelled, and slipped around the side of the house with John. He lifted up a corner of the healers' tent, on the back side towards the lake, and Teyla crawled on her belly under the rough fabric.
The interior of the tent was dim and gold, lit by sunlight filtering through its cotton walls. It smelled of medicines and incense. Rodney was sitting next to a lump on a bed-pallet that must be Ronon. When he saw them, Rodney flinched violently and then jumped up, hissing fiercely, "Where have you been? I thought you got caught!"
"Sorry," John whispered back. "I had to wait until her parents weren't around."
Teyla realized that a silly grin had broken out on her face. She squeezed Rodney's arm and then crouched down at Ronon's side. His golden-hazel eyes were open, blinking at the ceiling, though his face had a grayish pallor and his hair was matted to his forehead. "How are you?" she asked quietly.
He gave her a brave little smile. "I'm okay. I'll be good as new in no time." His voice was thready and small.
Teyla slipped her fingers into his, and sat next to him. "I can see that." Looking up at the other two, she asked, "And how are you?"
"Awful," Rodney said grimly, and shuddered. "Those girls ..."
"They're a nightmare," John said. "They hate us."
Teyla had rather suspected that, because she found Kanaan's sisters somewhat awful herself, but she couldn't help teasing them a bit. "And I'm sure neither of you have done anything at all to bother them."
The two boys shared a guilty look. "Nothing much," John said.
"Nothing that won't wash out," Rodney added. They shared another look, this one the conspiratorial satisfaction of a prank well done, and then sat down on either side of her, casting nervous glances towards the door.
"We were wondering..." John began, and trailed off.
Rodney's fingers worked nervously, plucking at a loose thread in his trousers. "Have your parents said anything about, uh ..."
"We wondered if they're sending us away, to some new world," John said. "Because of, um. This."
"I don't think so," Teyla said, and they both relaxed. "It would be an awful disgrace for Athos if we did. But I don't think they're planning on letting you stay in our house anymore." Her stomach twisted as she said it.
Rodney whimpered. "You have to talk to them! I can't take those annoying girls anymore."
"Teyla, please," John begged. "It's only been three days and they're already driving us crazy. You have to get your parents to take us back."
Teyla's head snapped up at a sound from outside the tent. "John, Rodney --" she began, trying to disentangle her fingers from Ronon's, but it was too late -- the curtain over the door opening of the tent drew back, and a very startled healer and acolyte looked in at them.
"Hi," John said weakly.
"Do your parents know you're here?" the healer asked.
"They have probably guessed by this point," Teyla said in a tiny voice.
Her parents didn't scold her when the healer dragged her back to her house, though. Her mother gave her another of those familiar, gloomy looks and then took her into the house to begin preparing dinner.
The evening meal was a very quiet one. After three days, Teyla had still not managed to become accustomed to the absence of the boys' bickering. Her parents asked her about her day, and she answered quietly and politely, as she always had. She used to look forward to the evenings, a peaceful and contemplative time to spend with her parents. Now it just seemed much too quiet, much too peaceful.
Finally her mother laid down her soup spoon. "Teyla, your father and I have been talking." She glanced at her husband.
"We're concerned about the effect that these, er, new brothers have been having on you," her father said.
"You never used to do anything like this before," her mother picked up where he'd left off. "We're very worried that you're, uh -- what is the term that the Satedans use?"
"Acting out," her father said.
Her mother nodded. "Teyla, we know that you're used to being the only child in this house and you didn't want to have to share your home with other children. I hope that this behavior isn't supposed to be a lesson for us. We'd thought much better of you than that."
Teyla's mouth dropped open as her father continued, "But we've also realized that you're nearly a woman, and it was unfair of us to make decisions about your future without giving you a voice. What we're trying to tell you is that if you feel that strongly about it -- Kanaan's mother has said that she can take in Ronon, as well as the other boys, once his leg is healed. And we'll also consider talking to their parents and perhaps having them placed in other villages."
Her mother reached over and patted her hand. "Teyla, we had no idea that you felt so strongly about --"
"No!" Teyla finally found her voice. "You cannot make them stay with Kanaan's mother! They're miserable there. And -- and they cannot go away."
Her parents glanced at each other again, one of those inscrutable adult looks. "But you were miserable with the boys here," her mother said. "We're your parents; we do notice these things."
Teyla looked down into her congealing bowl of tuttle-root soup. "At first," she admitted quietly. "But that was before. Please don't make them go away." Please don't stop me from being able to see them, she thought, but wasn't able to get the words out past the lump in her throat.
"Teyla, are you sure?" her mother said.
Teyla nodded vigorously, and swallowed hard until she was able to speak again. "Please, just please do not make them leave."
"I need to talk to your mother," her father said thoughtfully.
Teyla cleaned up the dishes while her parents talked outside. They hadn't said if she was supposed to come outside when she was done, so she went and laid down on her sleeping pallet, after a sad look at the big pallet next to it -- she'd left everything just as it had been when her three brothers had lived there. Eventually looking at it was too much, so she pulled the curtain and curled up with her box of special things: mostly things that she'd picked up offworld, pretty rocks and exotic flowers that she had pressed and dried; a moth's wing; a snail shell. Very gently, she added the bits of pink and blue shell, forgotten in her pocket in the hustle and bustle of events since their adventures in the lost city.
Ronon had found a quartz crystal by the lakeshore and shyly given it to her to add to the box. She poked at it gently. And here was the intact snake's skeleton that John had found in the woods for her. She wondered if Rodney would eventually have brought her little treasures of his own: little machines, maybe...
"Hey stranger," said a familiar voice, and the curtain whipped back; John grinned brightly at her.
Teyla sat bolt upright on her pallet. She'd hoped -- but she hadn't wanted to believe -- "Do my parents know you're here?" she asked.
"They came and got us," Rodney said, leaning around John. "Thank the Ancestors! If we'd had to deal with your cousins any longer, I don't know what I would have done. Your folks talked to your cousins' parents and then they just brought us back here and said that we'd be living here again, and then they laid down a whole bunch of ground rules for everything that we're not supposed to do with you."
"Pretty much everything interesting," John said with a sigh. "It sounds like we're going to be stuck around the village for a while."
"But ... here," Teyla said, her smile growing. "Did they say anything about Ronon?"
Ronon came home two evenings later, his leg heavily swathed in bandages, along with detailed instructions from the healers on changing the bandages and giving him nasty concoctions in wooden bowls that made him sleepy and absent-minded. The other children fussed around him, getting him propped up and surrounded by cushions until he could barely move. He squirmed a little bit and then promptly fell asleep.
John lay down on one side of him, Rodney on the other. Teyla didn't bother to draw the curtain between their pallets; in fact, she pushed it back all the way, and wrapped a blanket around herself so that she could spill across, half her body on her bed, and the other half draped across John's legs. Warm and snug, she listened to her brothers: Rodney talking about some kind of invention that he thought was going to improve the pump that drew water from the lake to irrigate the crops, and John inserting silly questions just to make Rodney flail indignantly, and Ronon's soft snoring; and she thought that she had never been so happy in her life.