Teyla looked around. It was a lovely spot. The small clearing opened up out of the woodlands, surrounding a wider part of the stream that had carved out a clear, deep pool. Although the previous inhabitants had chosen to abandon this planet several generations before to join forces with their best trading partners, they’d left behind a place of striking natural beauty. Ronon went with Rodney to check out the energy readings emanating from the old metals mine, while Teyla and John explored the vicinity downstream of the empty settlement.
John seemed especially taken with the pool. He stopped, a plan clearly formulating, as he walked around the base of a mature tree, sizing up several of its low perpendicular branches overhanging the water. He jumped up and hooked his hands around one branch, hanging there for a moment, bouncing, testing its strength against his weight. Apparently satisfied, he jumped down, dusted his hands off on his pant legs, and looked at Teyla.
“We’ve gotta come back here.”
And come back they did, the very next day, with a grumbling Rodney and silently observant Ronon in tow. Teyla didn’t really know what to expect from what John had announced as a “team outing.” She sat at the clearing’s edge, dangling her legs in the water and watching while John wrapped and tied a length of rope around the branch he’d tested the day before.
“Now, this is going to be fun,” he said, turning back toward them expectantly.
Ronon approached the tree and examined the knot before giving the rope an experimental tug. He nodded, then stepped back, arms folded across his chest, waiting.
Teyla didn’t see where Rodney had gone, until she heard John’s voice, sounding annoyed, saying, “Put the laptop down, McKay! An afternoon off does not mean you and Zelenka texting each other.”
Twisting around, Teyla saw that Rodney was sitting some distance from them, cross-legged on the grass, head bent and concentrating on typing. He looked up momentarily and scowled.
“I don’t see why you need me to show Teyla and Ronon the finer points of backwoods swimming.”
“Do you not wish to join us, Rodney?” Teyla asked uncertainly. She tugged at the straps of the stretchy black costume she’d borrowed from Lieutenant Cadman for the occasion, not sure it fit correctly -- although John had assured her it was awesome.
She wasn’t sure why it bothered her that Rodney was hanging back and ignoring them, but it did. From the moment John suggested the outing, she’d been looking forward to spending some time with her new friends, since she had so recently lost her oldest one. Charin’s death had felt like losing so much more than just one person. It felt like a loss of her entire history. Of course she knew that wasn’t actually so, she still had many friends among the Athosians. But she also knew that not all of them truly understood her decision to join with the Atlanteans in their fight against the Wraith. It was all the more important, then, to have these new friends, and now finally, a quiet and peaceful day when they could simply relax and be among one another. She generally tried not to let Rodney’s sharp tongue or blunt expression hurt her feelings, but this exclusion, today...did.
John glared at Rodney, and he looked guilty, setting the laptop aside.
“No, no, that’s not it,” he started. “I just don’t have the happiest memories of these things.”
He looked down, pulling self-consciously on the t-shirt he was still wearing, better covering his pale torso. Teyla realized that Rodney's recent ordeal on the drowned jumper had surely not been an easy one to get over. He was in the habit of dwelling on his fears, and for such an intelligent man, he could be remarkably simple to read at times. Teyla decided to set aside her own hurt feelings to try to reassure him.
“Perhaps this is an opportunity to make new memories then,” she suggested gently.
“We here to swim, or what?” Ronon broke in. He was standing beside the tree with the rope in his hands, looking eager to give the swing idea a try.
“Oh no you don’t!” John cried, racing over to him, “I go first.”
Teyla couldn’t help smiling as he grabbed the rope from Ronon, took a couple of steps back, and went swinging wildly into the water with a splash. And she laughed as the resulting spray hit her, surprising her with its coldness.
Ronon laughed too, completely unguarded, at the sight of his team leader treading water in the center of the pool with his hair flattened comically down over his forehead. Watching Ronon, just being there, enjoying himself, Teyla felt her chest tighten in gladness that they had found him, that they had been able to rescue him from that unthinkable life on the run and bring him to Atlantis with them.
“Seems easy enough,” Ronon said, shooting John a challenging smile. He grabbed the rope and threw himself even more enthusiastically into the water than John had, executing a perfect dive at the end.
“Show off!” John complained from the center of the pool, but Teyla had the suspicion he’d planned things this way all along.
Teyla decided to take her own swing then, and it was an exhilarating rush, a fast, cool sweep through the air, followed by a bracing splash into the water where John and Ronon waited for her. She came up grinning, and feeling lighter than she had in as long as she could remember.
It was Ronon who finally managed to get Rodney into the water.
“Careful you oaf!” Rodney yelled as Ronon climbed out of the pool, went up onto the bank, and marched over to where Rodney had resumed typing determinedly on his laptop. "This one isn't waterproof!"
“Come on, McKay,” Ronon said in his direct way, which Rodney didn’t seem to know how to refuse.
“Just one time, Rodney,” John called from the water. “Jump once and I’ll get off your back.”
Rodney was looking both stubborn and lost -- torn between wanting to try, wanting to belong, but not wanting to be shown a fool.
“Rodney, we would never allow harm to come to you,” Teyla called to him, willing him to believe he wouldn’t be mocked for trying. Not by them.
Ronon added a large knot to the bottom of the rope, to give Rodney’s feet something to grip onto, which would make using the swing much easier. Rodney’s face softened when he seemed to realize what Ronon was doing, and he came over to the water's edge at last. He took the rope reluctantly in hand, and Teyla could see him trying to gather his confidence.
When he finally swung out over the pool, it was not an act of grace, but of sheer will, and Teyla couldn’t help smiling as he splashed down beside her, wearing a look of genuine surprise. He came up laughing, and Teyla squeezed his shoulder.
“That was better than yours, Sheppard!” Ronon yelled from the bank. Rodney hooted triumphantly, and the swimming had truly begun.
Later, when they all pulled themselves out of the water, dripping and skin-wrinkled, sun-kissed, and smiling, Teyla wished the day never had to end.
Sam Taylor Park, Lagunitas, CA. Four years later.
Teyla watched Torren toddle unsteadily down to the edge of the creek, wading into the pebbly shallows. He made a delighted sound then squatted there on his chubby, sturdy little legs to swish his hands across the surface of the water. Then, growing bolder, he slapped his palms down, laughing at the resulting splash.
“He’s a natural,” said John’s voice over her shoulder.
He was dripping wet from his own swim, and Teyla made a show of shooing away the water droplets he threw off when he came around to sit beside her on the trunk of a fallen tree.
There were many trees in this place, thick and majestic, stretching up impossibly tall toward a blue and untroubled sky. After the hectic energy and human density of San Francisco, it was easier to breathe somewhere a little more reminiscent of home.
Strains of what Teyla now recognized as a Mahler concerto carried on the warm breeze along with the scents of the elaborate barbecue Mr. Woolsey was directing from the picnic area. Carson’s clone was casting for fish farther upstream.
“This was a wonderful idea,” Teyla said, laughing softly as she watched Kanaan cautiously making his way toward Torren at the water’s edge on tiptoe, pausing every few steps to hitch up his newly acquired surf shorts.
“Hey,” John said, stretching legs still dripping with water into a patch of sunlight, “planets may come, planets may go, but Team Swimming Day is not a tradition to mess with.”
Just then, a shout from Rodney drew Teyla’s attention, and she looked out to the center of the pool where Ronon was now making a show of chasing Rodney around in circles in waist-deep water to shrieks of laughter from Jennifer and Amelia who were scrambling to get out of their path.
“Stay away from me you maniac!” Rodney yelled, while Ronon followed, making exaggerated grabbing gestures with his outstretched fingers.
Teyla smiled and looked back warmly at John . “And some things will never change.”