She ended up settling him on Thola, a rocky atoll that was locked in ice and blizzards for seventeen months of its twenty-eight-month year. The Kalagardia people came to Thola to hunt seals in the spring, but it was summer and the seals had departed for more northern waters. So Teyla came by every day or two, bringing food and news of the Council's deliberations.
"You people like talking about stuff, don't you?" Clean, rested and wearing fresh clothes, Ronon looked vastly improved from the dirty, thin survivor that she'd first met on Athos. He was starting to fill out a bit, and his wing seemed to have recovered; she hadn't seen him fly yet, but he was carrying both wings folded tidily against his shoulders.
"All important decisions must be made unanimously," Teyla said. "We value elocution and verbal eloquence. If one cannot convince others that one's position is the best course of action, then perhaps it is not the best after all."
Ronon put a hand on the butt of his gun suggestively. His lips twitched.
"I do not think that would help."
Ronon grinned and sat on a rock overlooking the ocean. "How's your friend Halling doing?" he asked, sobering.
"He is getting better. The healers have been working with him, and he was not possessed long enough for his mind or soul to be permanently damaged. He was just very badly shaken, and the trauma is not easy to leave behind." Teyla tried not to imagine the tortures that Halling must have experienced, even in such a short time. The Wraith tore apart their victims' minds looking for information, and used their deepest fears to drive them to terror and despair, drinking down the negative emotions. It made her wonder all over again how Ronon had managed to remain the man she'd been getting to know over the past weeks, after all that he had experienced and survived.
"Good to hear." He shifted on the rock to make room for her. Teyla leaned against it, enjoying the sun's warmth. "So," Ronon said, not looking at her. "How's all the talking coming along, anyway?"
"Most of my people think that you would be welcome in the village, should you wish to settle there." Teyla glanced at him, but he gave nothing away. She still wasn't entirely sure that he actually wanted to live on Athos. But he'd expressed his gratitude to her and Charin for freeing him from the Wraith-taint, and he seemed to have nowhere to go; there was nothing for him now, with his world gone, but to wander between the worlds and try to find one to take him in. It may as well be Athos, where there were at least a few people who regarded him with kindness.
"But?" Ronon said.
"But there are still some holdouts. I was considering that I might offer a possible ... test."
"Test." Ronon's face was blank.
"When our young people become adults, they visit the City of the Ancestors for a brief ceremony. It is coming near the time for my regular trading visit to the City, so I was thinking about suggesting to the Council that you be permitted to make this journey as well. Some of the more traditional among my people believe that if a person is unworthy, they will not be permitted to pass through the portal to Atlantis."
"Portals don't work that way," Ronon said.
Teyla frowned at him. "Yes, well, it is the most traditional among us who have put forth the strongest opposition to your presence on Athos, so they are the ones most likely to be swayed if you visit the City and return safely."
"You trust me in your sacred place?"
Sometimes he broke her heart. "Yes, of course. You fought the Wraith beside me, and you have given me no cause to believe that you are not a friend to us. Besides," she added, "if the Wraith were still able to find you, they would certainly have come to this world already."
The corner of Ronon's mouth quirked up. "So you're not a total idealist."
"I am occasionally motivated by practical considerations, yes," Teyla said, and then her struggle for self-control cracked enough to let a smile slip out.
The Council agreed to Teyla's plan -- not without quite a lot of argument, but she prevailed in the end. With a bag slung over her shoulder and a large basket in her arms, Teyla stopped by Thola to pick up Ronon.
"If we're having a picnic, don't think even I can eat that much," Ronon said, peering over the edge of the basket. "Or are you planning on leaving me there?"
"Just for that, you can carry this," Teyla said, shoving the basket into his arms. "No, as I believe I already mentioned, this is a trading journey as well. I make regular trips to bring goods for the Waystation keeper."
"Waystation keeper, huh? Somebody lives in this City of yours?"
"Long ago, Atlantis was a trading station between our galaxy and a planet called Earth," Teyla told him. "It was closed for many reasons, but the people of Earth still post someone to guard and maintain the city." She thought about trying to warn him of the current Waystation keeper, but couldn't even imagine where to begin, let alone how to explain the whales. He'd just have to find out for himself, as she had.
As soon as she stepped through the portal, Teyla could feel the whales' presence; it was a slight pressure on the back of her sinuses, like a very mild impending allergy attack. Atlantis was beautiful as always, sunlight streaming through its high windows and filling the portal chamber with vivid colors: rich brown, warm gold, verdant green.
"Where you want me to leave this?" Ronon asked, his head tilted back, drinking in the view.
"Just leave it there for now; that's all right." Normally Teyla would go down the stairs that would take her to the ocean, but this time, she went to a wide set of doors that opened onto a balcony. She'd been up here only a few times before, but she thought that Ronon, with his affinity for high places, would like this view of the city.
Salt wind brushed her lips and tugged strands of hair free of its braid. The look on Ronon's face gratified her: wonder and longing, his face for once as open as a child's, as he looked down at the city spread at their feet.
"It's like Sateda," he breathed, his words tinged with a bittersweet pain. "Like it used to be, I mean. The towers --" And then he broke off, and spread his wings, stretching the recently healed one with special care.
Teyla stepped back to give him room to launch himself. Instead, he turned and held out his hand to her.
"You want to fly?"
Teyla blinked at him. "I -- do not know." She had never imagined doing such a thing.
"Please." She'd never imagined that she would hear that word on Ronon's lips. "I want to," he went on, awkward but sincere. "You and your people, but especially you -- I wouldn't have --" He broke off, drew a breath. "You gave me back more than just my life. I want to give you this."
Reluctantly, Teyla took his hand. "My people are heavier than your people. Can you lift me?"
"I think I can. For a short time." Ronon circled his arms around her, bringing her closer in an almost businesslike embrace.
"I can make myself lighter. I've sometimes done it when climbing trees or swimming." Teyla focused on the sigils at her wrists and ankles, pouring energy into them. She felt it working when the next gust of wind hit her body, almost blowing her off the balcony.
Ronon beat his wings in a powerful downdraft. For the first time, Teyla realized that there was magic involved in his ability to fly, because she could feel it wash over her along with the wind -- a current as strong and powerful as deep water. Then her feet were no longer touching the balcony, and she gasped in spite of herself, her fingers tightening on Ronon's arms.
"Look down," he said softly, his breath moving the hair over her ear. "Look down, Teyla of Athos."
"I am endeavoring not to," Teyla said between her teeth. But she couldn't help cracking her eyes open enough to peek. She caught a glimpse of towers under the toes of her boots, and her stomach swooped in a very unpleasant way. But the glitter of the sunlight on ocean waves caught her eye, and she cracked her eyelids a little further, because now the city was spread out beneath her, and it was, it was --
It was glorious.
Teyla's breath caught in her throat as Ronon swooped and circled above the highest towers of the city. She'd occasionally seen high views from mountaintops, but always misty and blue with distance. This was so brilliant, so immediate, and everywhere she looked, there was something else to see -- another bright spire of the city, another decorated archway or carved pillar. As Ronon circled higher, she could make out the snowflake shape of the city, and beyond it, the sun's glittering path on the water, and the tiny spouts of Rodney's whales breaching the waves.
"Oh, Ronon," she whispered. The wind caught her words, snatching them away, but she could see him grinning, and she thought that words were unnecessary now. Anything that she might say, he already could see on her face.
Ronon's circling began to develop a bit of a wobble. "Gonna have to set you down," he said, and Teyla hastily poured more energy into giving herself a little more lift, leaving her as exhausted as if she'd run a footrace. "You care where I put you?"
"Not really -- no, wait. That pier there." She'd caught a glimpse of a tiny figure sitting on the edge of it, impossibly small from this high.
Ronon circled downward in tight, stomach-clenching spirals, taking the last stage in a steep glide. He landed with a hard bump, but set her down very gently, and Teyla let the energy drain out of her runes with relief. "Are you all right?" she asked. Ronon had gathered in his good wing, mantling it above his back, but the tip of the other trailed on the pier.
"Yeah." He flexed it, stretching out the feathers. "Just overdid it a bit. I'll be okay."
"What the hell," said a voice from behind Teyla, and she turned her head to see Rodney approaching, her friend since childhood. As usual, he wore nothing but swim trunks; the runes she'd painted on his skin made bright traceries of purple and red on his suntanned arms and legs.
"Ronon, this is the keeper of the Atlantis Waystation, Rodney McKay. Rodney, this is Ronon; he is a friend of Athos."
"Huh." Rodney jerked his head back reflexively when Ronon stretched both of his wings high above his head. Teyla was fairly sure that he was just showing off now. "You've got wings," Rodney pointed out.
Rodney turned a frown on Teyla. "You never told me people in this galaxy have wings!"
"Not many do." She caught one of his flailing hands and turned it over, squinting critically at the trail of sigils on the underside of his wrist. "Your runes are wearing off. Sit down and I will repair them for you."
Rodney sat, dangling his bare feet over the edge of the pier. A gray, mottled whaleback breached the water beneath his feet, and then sank out of sight. "No, it's a person," Rodney said over the side. "A person with wings, so the bunch of you can stop nattering about giant birds and how interesting that is. You know ornithology isn't one of your better disciplines."
Rodney usually talked to the whales like somewhat dimwitted relatives -- that is, when he wasn't praising their intelligence and claiming that humans weren't half as smart. Teyla had no idea how intelligent the whales actually were, though Rodney was certainly doing something when he talked to them.
She spread out her runeworking kit, and Ronon joined the two of them, crouching on the edge of the pier. He began to preen one of his wings in an absentminded way, smoothing the feathers and tucking them into their proper places. "So you live here," he said to Rodney.
"Very important responsibility, hello," Rodney retorted. Teyla watched Ronon out of the corner of her eye as she laid out her brushes, but he didn't seem to be taking offense. Rodney had an extremely negative effect on a lot of people.
"What? How long have I been here, you mean? Does he do more than three words at a time?" Rodney asked Teyla in a loud whisper, then without waiting for a response, carried on to Ronon: "I grew up here, if you really must know. Swimming in the ocean, learning math from whales, pretty dull really. Went to Earth, hated it, came back."
"Earth, huh?" Ronon said.
"Right, you do know this is a Waystation, yes? That's what's on the other end." Rodney illustrated this with a sweep of his hand, smearing Teyla's brush across his skin. She scowled at him; he put his hand meekly in his lap.
"As I said on Thola, Earth is a world in another galaxy, far from here," Teyla said, carefully delineating the arc of the rune on the soft underside of his forearm. "That's where Rodney and his people come from."
"So your family guards this place," Ronon said.
"No, it's just a job," Rodney said impatiently, moving to gesture again, but Teyla caught his arm in time. "My parents had the job, and brought me and my sister with them. I got it after they retired because, well, first of all I convinced the Magic Division to take me --" Teyla smothered a grin at this; she'd seen Rodney's version of "convincing" people, which involved a lot of yelling. "-- and second, there weren't really any other applicants. We aren't exactly a high priority for Earth right now. Atlantis, I mean. Which is kind of nice. The whales hate noise and bustle." A gray, water-slick expanse of whale rolled out of the water and then disappeared beneath Rodney's dangling feet. "Yes, and so? No one asked for your opinion," Rodney said to it.
"This was a bustling trade hub once." Teyla sharpened the point of a fresh brush between her lips and set to work on the runes at Rodney's throat. "My people had the trade concession with the Atlantis people, which is why we still bring supplies to the Waystation keepers."
"And a good thing, too," Rodney put in. "If I had to wait for the shipments Earth sends me, I'd starve. Well, not starve exactly, but I'd be living on fish, and I like fish, but I can't eat it every day. Speaking of food, did you bring any fruit?"
"In my bag, but I must finish your runes first."
"What do they do?" Ronon asked, folding his wings behind him and leaning forward to take a closer look.
Rodney started to answer, but Teyla, working from long experience, spoke over the top of him -- Rodney's "explanations" were often worse than nothing, and could take hours. "They protect him and help with his swimming. If he sinks underwater, he can breathe for a short time. They keep away minor predators as well." She smiled over the top of Rodney's head at Ronon. "I would be happy to do some for you, should you wish it."
"Don't need help swimming."
"Protection, you dolt," Rodney said, and Teyla smacked him in the head without losing her grasp on her paintbrush. Ronon knew what she meant, she could see, and was trying to demure politely -- well, politely for him. Perhaps someday he would trust her enough to allow her to give him the same gift she gave Rodney, but that day was not here yet.
"Be careful! My brain is very important," Rodney snapped, rubbing his head and glaring at her.
"The whales would still like you without a brain, Rodney." Ignoring his complaint of "Yes, but they wouldn't respect me!" she stood up and brushed off her pants. "There; stay out of the water and try not to smudge them until they are fully dry."
Rodney rose and stretched. "So, I don't mean to pry, but ..." He waved a hand at Ronon, and Teyla braced herself for questions about Ronon: who he was, why he was here -- questions she was not quite sure she or Ronon wanted to answer. But, of course, Rodney being Rodney, what he said instead was, "Have you ever gone swimming with whales?"
"It looks as if your wing has healed nicely."
He'd been flying when she came through the Thola portal, a small winged shape circling against the sky. Teyla had found a place to sit, the same sunny rock that Ronon seemed to like, and waited until he noticed her and circled down to join her.
"It's doing good. Been out spear fishing," Ronon said cheerfully. He held up what appeared to be a homemade wooden spear, with a pair of fat spinefish impaled on it. "Diving, you know. Good wing exercise."
"It sounds very pleasant." Teyla pulled her legs up onto the rock, folding them neatly under her. "I came to tell you that the Athosian Council has finished deliberating, and you are welcome to live in our village on Athos if you would like."
She hadn't been expecting backflips of joy, but maybe a little bit of warmth would have been nice. Instead, Ronon sounded skeptical and wary.
"If you would like to, of course," she added.
"I guess so," Ronon said, looking away. "Your people don't seem to like me much, most of them."
"They do not know you yet," Teyla said. "You must understand that your background is unusual, and the idea of someone who can be tracked by Wraith is frightening to many. Charin has spoken on your behalf, and her word carries a great deal of weight, but -- what is it?" He'd turned his back on her, looking out to sea. "Ronon, listen to me. If this is not what you want, you are under no obligation to live on Athos. You can go somewhere else."
Ronon was silent for a moment, then he set down the stick with the speared fish, leaning it against the rock. She could see the frustration in his tense stance. "Been on my own for a long time." He didn't look at her. "With the Wraith after me, I never bothered thinking past tomorrow. Couldn't think past tomorrow. Now I have to make those decisions again. It's ... hard."
Teyla started to reach out to him, then let her hand drop to her side. "Moving to Athos is not an obligation to stay there forever. If all that you need right now is a place to stay while you make up your mind, you are welcome among us. Well ..." In the interest of fairness, she added, "It will be an uphill road. You may always face some distrust from certain individuals. But more hands to help with the harvest are always appreciated."
Ronon shrugged, which was an interesting effect on him: when his shoulders bunched and lifted, a ripple passed through his wings, all the way down to the barred tips of the long flight feathers. "Don't care what most people think. As long as they don't bother me." He looked over his shoulder at her, and he was smiling -- a hesitant smile, but a genuine one. "Maybe having a challenge ... it'd be good for me, after all these years -- I don't know what to do with myself if I've got nothing to do."
Teyla held out her hand. Ronon looked at it, and then took it, his strong brown fingers closing around hers.
"Then let's go home," Teyla said, and smiled back at him.