A soft breeze rustled the leaves and the unripe pears, twisting the weathervane slowly around to the south before winding its way along the wall to tangle playfully with the soft dark of feathers, the tousled black hair, the bare toes.
Chin in hand, John stared out over the city.
Ronon watched him from the foot of the wall, half in shadow from the setting sun. John was like a statue of contemplation sculpted in three-quarter relief over the door to some crumbling cathedral, ancient and heretic. He was bathed in dying light, while down here all was cool, gray stone and the shimmering of temporary warmth in the air that could disappear with a breath into the chill evening. True summer, that brief flash of endless days, had not yet come to the north. Ronon wondered if it were a myth here.
With a shift of his shoulders, he resettled his sword along his back and let his wings drape over it, a camouflage of brown laced with amber, flashing like gold where the sun broke through. The sword didn't hang straight. Nothing felt quite right, not since they'd come in through the city gates. The great ebony crossbars creaked shut like a cage every night, echoing in his mind. Even this wall on which they sat, ringed with the larger city, had its own gates that rattled and clanged when the bells rang sundown. Whenever Ronon walked down the street, strangers watched him furtively, eyes on his back. He had seen only a handful of Southerners here, folded in on themselves and draped in cloaks like beggars or thieves. As if that would hide their difference from these people of the Ancient Empire. These wingless creatures, this crumbling Empire, that still lived inside an echo of its faded glory.
Ronon held his head high wherever he went and tried not to let echoes of his own cloud the air.
A rush of wings from along the wall caught his ear. He tracked the sound until the figure burst into view, bronze against the pinking clouds, her hair blown back in shivering waves.
He watched as she caught an updraft and settled on the wall beside John, touching his shoulder briefly with her primaries. Accident or caress, it startled John into breaking his pose; she captured his falling hand in hers.
Her voice carried clear, like a dove's cry piercing the silence. "We have not yet searched the West."
John sighed, his head falling forward.
"No." Her voice was fierce and gentle, her hand on his cheek firm as it lifted his eyes to hers. "We have not lost. We will not."
"Three years-" John whispered.
"A thousand days or ten thousand, Rodney waits for us. You know this."
Ronon bent his legs and launched, beating hard against the air until he could catch a thermal rising off the white-capped city below. Twisting with slow grace upwards, he landed two-footed on the crumbling wall beside them.
"C'mon," he said, offering his hand as John had once offered his, so many years gone. "Palace guard says there's a crazy guy up north of here, lives in the mountains, builds stuff out of string and wax and his own feathers. Figured we'd check it out."
John's eyes lit, or perhaps that was the sun, but he reached for Ronon's hand anyway. Behind him, Teyla's wings shuddered and stretched wide to match her sudden smile.