John Sheppard entered a refuge of the Ancestors one morning on an ordinary mission, and Teyla did not see him again until after the Goa'uld destroyed Atlantis.
Teyla listened carefully to Rodney's stammered explanation of the physics behind the trap John was caught in; she could not imagine how terrifying it must be for John to know that for every couple of minutes he experienced, a day passed on the outside. Rodney had left supplies for John outside the cave entrance in case he broke free, and they'd thrown notes to John through the time-dilation barrier on their monthly visits. John was unable to respond, but Rodney said that made sense, due to the nature of time.
"The one good thing about this mess is that we have plenty of time," Rodney said, after two months of failed rescue efforts. "If my calculations are right, we can spend a decade trying to get Sheppard free, and less than a week will pass for him." He had sighed, and given Elizabeth a pained look. "Unless the database coughs up something, all I can recommend are... drastic measures." Teyla thought the Ancestors were irresponsible; when feeling charitable she blamed it on thoughtlessness, but often their mistakes seemed malicious. Teyla's people passed their most important history down from parent to child; she had thought the Ancestors would have been... better. At many things, including documentation. She hoped her silence spoke of her disapproval. "Of course, in ten years I'll be bald, and Atlantis will probably have been turned into a theme park, but -- "
"But life must go on," Elizabeth said firmly, and sent word to the SGC that Atlantis needed an interim military commander.
The man they were sent turned out to be a Goa'uld host. Caldwell had waited until the Daedalus was too far away to come to Atlantis' assistance and then set off a series of bombs that had crippled Atlantis, destroying the ring of the Ancestors, and toppling the entire city off-balance, killing so many of the people from Earth.
Jumpers had ferried survivors and supplies from the sinking city to Teyla's people. In the midst of panic and devastation, Elizabeth had sought Teyla out and asked her for shelter. Elizabeth's people had nowhere else to go, and even though she didn't know he was controlled by their enemy yet, Teyla had been certain that Caldwell wouldn't have given her people a choice about taking in refugees. But Elizabeth understood how important courtesies and manners were in forming rings between such very different peoples.
Teyla had said of course, and Elizabeth's shoulders had slumped with relief.
Caldwell blamed the attack on Atlantis on the Wraith. The soldiers followed his orders, as well as many of the scientists. Teyla was angry, but didn't find the right words for what was wrong until a week later. She had been busy: overseeing the construction of a new latrine facility, cutting qreleh reeds to weave into temporary tenting mats, helping boil and dry the soiled laundry from the injured in the healers' tent, and conducting the ring ceremony for Charin, whose failing health had been overwhelmed by the loss and chaos. Teyla felt badly for assigning the Atlanteans to foraging groups without any training, which was bound to provoke frustration and waste, but there hadn't been time to organize anything better. She was, as Elizabeth put it, stretched thin and close to breaking.
"We didn't allow this kind of thing on Sateda," Ronon said, jerking his head towards the makeshift armory and the soldiers training there. "They all think they're specialists."
Teyla sucked in a breath. "Yes," she said, watching a team move solar energy collectors to follow the afternoon light. Two men seemed to be doing nothing but stand guard over a pile of solid plastic storage units. "John said that was how their wealthy showed their status, by how little they actually knew how to do."
John had been joking, of course, the kind of humor from his world that was more bitter than joyful. But when his people had raised Atlantis from the ocean and settled there, both the labor and the specialties had been divided equally. Teyla hadn't realized it was unusual for leaders from Earth to join the groups cleaning and repairing clothes, as Elizabeth and Aiden did, or preparing meals in the makeshift messhall, as John and Zelenka did. Even Rodney, for all he complained, had spent several hours each day making the Ancestor's long-disused toilet facilities serviceable. As well as the showers.
Rodney came out of Caldwell's tent then, holding a tablet and blinking in the sunlight. Teyla wondered what he would say to her if she asked him about building showers here.
"It's your call," Ronon said, with a roll of his shoulders.
Teyla was embarrassed that she hadn't recognized the problem, and chagrined that she wasn't sure how to resolve it. Caldwell, she thought, had exploited her weakness. Teyla was her people's leader, and Elizabeth controlled the Atlanteans who were not under Caldwell, but there was no explicit treaty and that was a danger. "Where do you stand?" she asked Ronon. As the saying went, to unravel any knot, start at one end. "You said you were a specialist."
His brows lowered and he looked down his nose at her. Teyla did not smile, even though when he bristled like this she wanted to call him little brother. "I was. I was a soldier like them." He jerked his head at the tent. "Had to do everything for myself, though, after the Wraith got me."
"Come," Teyla said, and put a hand on Ronon's shoulder. He needed a moment to let himself accept that he could take comfort, but then he lowered his forehead to hers. They breathed in silence together, and then Ronon straightened. "I'll speak with Elizabeth."
"You should have a plan," Ronon said. He flicked his eyes up to the sky in a very Atlantean way. "They like plans."
After the evening meal, Teyla asked Elizabeth to walk with her down to the fields they'd cleared months ago, before the rains came. Now they'd be hard-pressed to make the crops last, even if they ate their seed.
"My people and yours are not Colonel Caldwell's servants," Teyla said when they were comfortably out of hearing range. "He finds it acceptable that we cook, clean, and provide shelter for his soldiers. Or perhaps he doesn't question that they deserve it." She paused, hearing the anger in her voice, and remembered the words of her father: Hold your emotions down and speak slowly. He'd told her that over and over; even now Teyla heard his patient voice reining in his wild daughter who preferred scouting and fighting to learning domestic skills. "We are more likely to starve than to be culled," Teyla went on. "If the Wraith destroyed Atlantis, they must think us all dead, or they'd have been here by now. If the Colonel doesn't realize that, then he's a fool, and if he does... is it really the Wraith his soldiers are preparing to fight?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "He's not going to turn against us. Teyla -- he's a good man, even if he had his differences with Colonel Sheppard."
Teyla sighed. "And if we cease to serve, and instead tell the soldiers to take the washing to the river or pull up weeds themselves?"
"I admit this arrangement's not ideal," Elizabeth said. "But all of us from Earth, we're in shock. We lost... good people. Our way home. Our home here. Even the illusion of self-protection is a comfort."
"The Ancestral rings can be moved," Teyla said; she'd heard Rodney talk about the process before. "Bring one to the land here and use a jumper to dial it. Continue trading off-world, or use the ZPM Rodney has hidden to call your world to ask for help. And Elizabeth," Teyla said, putting her hand on Elizabeth's arm gently, in a gesture of friendship. "This is not something Colonel Caldwell will be in charge of."
"No," Elizabeth said, letting the word stretch long. Teyla imagined this was because the haze of exhaustion and worry had burned off for the moment, and Elizabeth was finding strength in hope. "I should talk to Rodney. I don't want to think about sides, but." She blew out a breath. "If he's on ours, Caldwell will listen to us."
"I do not think we are that divided," Teyla offered. "Not by intent."
Elizabeth laughed. "That's even worse. Did I ever tell you that I minored in American History in university?"
By the time the twilight was finally settling into darkness and they returned to the settlement, Teyla's mind was full of stories from other histories, where societies were ordered by class and skin color and sex, and battles were fought not against the Wraith but for freedom from each other. She said goodnight to Elizabeth outside the cluster of Altantean tents and went to find Ronon, repairing a fishnet with a group of sleepy-eyed children. Teyla shooed them off to bed and took over the work. As always, the needle in her fingers was as hard to manipulate as an eel.
"Mine is a wonderful plan," she told Ronon, slyly secretive, and refused to divulge any details before she'd had a night to sleep with the idea. Ronon laughed at her, and told her that it was a superstition on his world that wishes came true if you turned in three circles in the first light of the sun.
"I've been wishing for Sheppard to come back," Ronon said, straightforward. "Got to work one of these days."
Teyla thought about that the next morning, as she took a break from the treadle-pump that drew water from the river to watch the sun crest over the ocean. She didn't know what she wanted to wish for until she was on her second spin. I want to succeed, she thought. With no fighting. Not modest, she supposed, but hopefully not too much to ask of the Ancestors.
As she stepped back onto the rocking poles, she saw Rodney slip out of his tent, glance around furtively, and then turn awkwardly in place.
Teyla grinned to herself, and kept filling buckets.
She didn't expect Caldwell to oppose her when she discussed the mission with him over the midday meal. Rodney knew of two Ancestral rings nearby which orbited uninhabitable worlds -- one had been a mining site, the other a colony that failed due to poison in the soil. Elizabeth proposed teams of three for the two jumpers, an Athosian civilian, a scientist, and a soldier: an opportunity, she said, to repay some of the Athosians' hospitality by providing practical technical training.
Caldwell said fine, whatever, and the mission was executed perfectly. The ring had to be left in orbit because they lacked a stone dias, which was an inconvenience, but Teyla knew her people were already thinking of leaving Lantea. The Wraith had destroyed Atlantis, therefore this world was not safe. Once normal trade relations were re-established, Teyla would ask Elizabeth to help her find a place where all their people could live together, with a ring on the ground, accessible to all.
Teyla did not anticipate Caldwell and a handful of his people trying to steal a jumper, the first night after the new ring was in place and properly connected to the Pegasus network. She was alerted to the danger by Evan Lorne, who came into the unmarried women's tent to find her and nearly had his neck broken when he was caught by the Genii Sora.
"It's not right," Lorne repeated, face twisted with conflict. "He says... we have to go get help from Earth. And we do, but -- "
"If he wasn't ashamed of his actions he'd wait for the light," Teyla said, arming herself.
To her surprise, Sora agreed, finally letting Lorne go. "Isn't desertion a crime in your army?" she asked, tone mocking, and slashed her hand across the air when Lorne tried to answer. "Get Dex. Tell him."
The jumpers were lined up in rough rows in a meadow between the settlement and the river. Caldwell kept sentries there, ostensibly in case the Wraith came, but Teyla had to wonder how far back the tendrils of his duplicity ran. In the darkness it was easy enough for her and her people to take out the guards, and then wait for Caldwell.
He tried to fight them when he realized he'd been betrayed, and in the darkness his eyes shone bright and gold, inhuman. Teyla froze at the sight, but Ronon fired his gun from behind her. It took two stunner blasts to make Caldwell stop moving.
"He's Goa'uld," someone said, voice high with fear, and Teyla stepped forward, turning on her hand-held light.
"Can he be saved?" she asked Lorne as she ran the light over Caldwell. She used a bantos rod to knock the gun from his limp hand, and felt Ronon relax his stance just a bit.
Lorne swallowed hard, straightening as he became aware of the quiet radiating out from their tableau. "On Earth," he said. "Back home, yeah."
"Then," Teyla said, as Sora produced a strong length of cord and began trussing Caldwell up, "returning him there will be a priority." She looked around, meeting the eyes of the soldiers and of her people. "But now that we can leave this world, there is someone we will not leave behind."
Many hours later, when the sky was lightening and the first birds were starting to leave their nests, Teyla was still seated in conference with Rodney and Elizabeth.
"You're turning into quite the leader," Rodney said, and stopped talking so suddenly that he went red in the cheeks. "Well. I mean. You are, of course." Elizabeth handed him another cup of tea. Teyla missed coffee; she'd been up all night -- they all had, after that -- and the Goa'uld in Caldwell would not stop screaming threats that made her want to stun him herself. Rodney looked equally disappointed in the tea, but he sipped it, eyeing Elizabeth and Teyla in turn. "I have a ZPM," he started, lowering his voice to a near-whisper and leaning forward over the tea-table. "Yes, I should have told you before, but I was right to be cautious, I mean -- " and he waved his hands in the air -- "who knows what the Goa'uld would have done. It was pointless to say anything when we didn't even have a gate, but now. Theoretically, we can dial Earth. And also in theory I can use it to drain enough power from the time dilation field to make it weak enough for Sheppard to dash through. In practice, of course, everything might go boom."
Teyla sighed, longing for her bed, just for a short while. "I have faith in you. Nothing's gone boom so far," she murmured, and bit back a yawn.
In the end, Elizabeth was the one who made the decision. "I think we can count on the Daedalus to come looking for us eventually, even if we don't send out an SOS," she said, and put both palms on the table. "John never was one to leave a man behind. We should return the favor."
So a week later Rodney flew Teyla, Ronon, and the ZPM to go bring John home. Ronon said it was about time, and he was going to wake John up before dawn every day for the next half a year. Elizabeth had made a token protest about risking the ZPM for just one person; Teyla let her speak the words because she knew that was Elizabeth's responsibility as a leader, just as her responsibility was to listen, despite each knowing how the other felt as an individual. They did not leave in the dark of night, and they carried with them tokens of luck from many people.
They landed the jumper as close to the cave entrance as they could. While Rodney and Ronon unpacked the equipment from the jumper, Teyla ran ahead to alert John. She threw in Elizabeth's travel alarm clock first, buzzer sounding furiously, and then tossed the stiff sheet of paper through the barrier and watched it disappear from view. John had been asked before not to go too far away from the barrier; hopefully he was close enough to hear the alarm and get the message, and ready himself to push through to the outside when the time came.
Turning Rodney's equipment into a machine capable of disrupting the time dilation field took nearly a week. It felt very strange to have such a sense of urgency and uncertainty, and then to imagine John moving so slowly that for him, he'd been home on Atlantis the day before. At night, around the fire, they didn't talk much about John, or the things he needed to be told. Teyla wondered if she looked older, now. Her hands were rougher, and her stomach was readjusting to the pinch of hunger.
When the machine was ready, Rodney slid the ZPM into the cradle at the center and attached his computer with wires, and then showed Teyla and Ronon a brave-looking smile. "You might want to go wait in the jumper," he said, and his mouth twisted. "Just in case."
"You're our pilot," Ronon pointed out, and leaned over the display, one hand reaching out. "What turns it on?"
Rodney smacked him away, gave them one more anxious look, and then tapped a series of buttons. Lights went on, and Teyla felt the hair at the back of her head rise, as if lightning were about to strike. Glancing at Rodney, she saw that all of his hair was standing on end.
The barrier over the cave entrance shimmered iridescent, like a soap bubble, and blurred, and sparked where it brushed against stone. For a very long moment Teyla despaired, thinking they'd failed. And then she saw a dark shape press against the barrier, and start to slip through. Ronon was around her in a flash, grabbing a handful of black material and hauling back hard, and Teyla moved quickly to join him. She caught John's sleeve and reeled him in like a fish, glad for the hard work of doing laundry and pumping water because it had made her stronger.
Finally, in a shower of glittering white sparks, John fell forward and out. Ronon dragged him back and then shook him, hard.
"Come on, Sheppard," Ronon said, shaking him again. "Breathe."
Teyla's own breath caught in her throat. She had imagined John's return as easy as waking from a deep sleep, not as something that might kill him.
But one of John's hands came up to bat at Ronon's arm, and then Teyla saw John's chest rise as he sucked in air, and then his eyes opened.
"How," John started, and then doubled over coughing. Ronon lowered him to the ground, and Teyla rubbed small ineffectual circles on his back, wishing she'd thought to bring medical supplies. "How long?" John got out, panting as if he'd been chased.
Teyla saw Rodney straighten and open his mouth, as if about to tell John everything. She cut him off with a shake of her head.
"Not too long," she said. "Long enough to be missed."
"Worst day of my life," John said, and raised his head to look at each of them in turn, taking in Rodney with his cobbled-together machine, Ronon's grin, and Teyla, who probably looked equally joyous and relieved. "Let's go home."
"We redecorated," Rodney said, warning in his voice, as he pulled out the ZPM and settled it back in its foam-lined case. "Well. Teyla did. She's... the reason we're all still here, really."
"We have a long flight," Teyla said. "There will be time to tell long stories."
Ronon snorted. "The best stories are told around festival fires. With a decent feast," he added. "Not those crappy Earth meals in bags."
"Once upon a time," John said, pushing to his feet with Ronon and Teyla's assistance.
"There's no way you're not the princess in that scenario," Rodney warned.
John took a deep breath, and gave Teyla a wry smile. "I have no problems with that," he said, and then braced himself visibly for words that came hard. "Thank you. It means a lot to me that you..." He waved his hand, looking embarrassed.
Teyla leaned forward and pressed her forehead to John's. "Welcome back," she said, and smiled. "I have so much to share with you, now that we have time."