In retrospect, it only made sense that more than one civilization had been protected by the EM technology similar to what they’d discovered on the planet with all the kids. It also wasn’t all that unreasonable to expect that discovery of such a field would occur when the team was split up, considering how often that happened during their off-world missions. That it had happened during an evacuation of the pitifully small remainder of the planet’s population due to the pressing matter of dangerous solar radiation was, in the grand scheme of things, frighteningly predictable.
The fact that P4B-722’s stargate was situated in space was just icing on the cake. Lemon icing.
The landing hadn’t been too bad, considering the distinct lack of shelter in the surrounding landscape. Rodney had been completely taken by surprise when the jumper started to lose control, but he’d managed to turn the ship toward the ridge of cliffs at the southern perimeter of the desert, landing within fifty meters of the disturbingly familiar energy reading. For her part, Teyla hadn’t objected to his snap decision to steer their rapidly falling ship deeper into the disruptive field, even though he had heard her catch her breath as he’d fought with the unresponsive craft.
There was a heavy silence as Teyla and Rodney looked out of the angled windshield at the spray of dark sand glittering in the first light of sunrise.
“Are you all right?” she asked him, her soft voice echoing in the dim, enclosed space. Rodney realized he was panting for breath, and wondered whether it was from fear at their predicament or excited relief at having landed in one piece.
“Yes. Yes, I’m just—” he traced a circle in the air with one hand, chasing the best explanation for how he felt. “You?” Rodney added belatedly.
“Physically, I am fine, but I am worried about how far we’ve come from the settlement,” she said, standing to lean closer to the thick glass, peering out toward the soft light on the horizon. “I also worry that we do not have time to reach shelter before daybreak.”
“The jumper should be okay for one day at least,” Rodney said, scrambling out of his seat to check the back of the jumper for damage from the rough landing. “Hey, at least we were carrying extra food and water.” He took a moment to rest both hands on top of the stack of emergency supplies that each of the five jumpers deployed for the relocation had all been issued. “You’re right, their sun will be up in less than an hour—and trust me, you do not want to be walking around out there, even with a radiation suit on.”
“How far into the field do you think we have traveled?” Teyla asked after trying her radio and receiving only static.
“We didn’t detect it in our initial surface scans, and these readings seem to indicate it has a pretty small circumference—halfway, maybe? I tried to get as close to the strongest point as possible.” Rodney rummaged in the supply box closest to him and pulled out various MREs until he found a few of his favorites. The evacuation took place during nighttime, and it had been hours since he’d had more than a powerbar. “Would you like…” his voice trailed off mid-offer when Teyla’s eyes grew wide and her mouth twisted slightly. She looked like she was going to be sick, and he set the packages down and went to her, staying at a safe distance but still hovering close by.
“I am fine, Rodney,” Teyla assured him after a minute. She sat down and placed a trembling hand to her stomach, her face pale as she looked away from him. Rodney sank into the seat opposite her and fidgeted for a long moment, hating that he’d been the cause for her discomfort.
“Teyla, I’m so sorry—I know I’m not the best pilot, but you should have said something if it was making you sick! I’d have—I don’t know, concentrated harder, or—”
“It was not you, Rodney,” Teyla said with surprising forcefulness, her tone at odds with the gentle look on her face. He felt something twist in his stomach and recognized the warm weight of repressed longing he usually managed to keep hidden from her. On some levels he’d allowed himself to acknowledge it—she was certainly attractive, as anyone on the base would agree, but there was a deeper intensity to her pull on him that was more than just her beauty and more than just the nature of their friendship. Teyla Emmagan was the only woman he knew who had formed her opinion of him separate from his achievements in science. That she valued his friendship despite this at once mystified and thrilled him.
Some of his musing must have shown on his face, because Teyla’s expression had changed, and when she spoke again there was a thread of persuasiveness in her voice. It was almost as if she wanted to change the subject before it was broached in the first place.
“Truly, Rodney—this has nothing to do with our… landing,” she told him earnestly, one corner of her mouth curling up at the last word. For a long minute, she held his gaze, looking as if she wanted to elaborate, but in the end she turned away again, her voice drawing back into itself formally. “It will pass.”
Rodney swallowed, nodding. She couldn’t have been more clear—it was obvious to him that she’d recognized what he’d been trying to keep from her, and had done her best to indicate that she wasn’t interested. He tried to ignore the hollow feeling in his chest—after all, he’d known he never had a chance that she might look his way, even in passing interest, didn’t he? It wasn’t new, it was just… more final.
Teyla forced her breathing to slow, taking deep, measured breaths even as her agitated heartbeat refused to reflect her projected calm. Her nausea had nothing to do with the puddlejumper or Rodney’s flying, but she could see that he did not believe her; the droop to his shoulders and his anxiously twisting hands pressed against her conscience painfully. Something in her mourned the loss of his earlier excitement. Rodney McKay rarely had occasion to be surprised by his own accomplishments, and she had just taken another such incident from him by feeling ill. She wanted to tell him the truth, but to do so felt wrong on many levels, not the least of which was the fact that Kannan himself was still unaware of her pregnancy. She had told no one yet, conflicted as she was about her emotions, both for her child’s father and for what the baby’s existence might mean to him, to her people.
Add to that her increasingly confused feelings toward the man sitting across from her, and it all completed a circle of Elande, irresolvable conflict. ’It will pass,’ she’d told Rodney. The question for her lately had been whether or not she wished it to…
Teyla realized that her introspection was making Rodney uncomfortable and reminded herself that he often found silence distressing. With a yawn, she pulled herself to her feet and allowed a light touch to his shoulder to regain his attention.
“Perhaps I am just tired,” she told him, moving into the rear of the jumper when his grateful smile touched up an answering one on her face. “I suggest we both get some rest, considering there is nothing we can do in the daytime to aid our rescue.” Teyla started to gather blankets from the ship’s storage compartment and emergency supplies.
“Or warn our rescuers,” Rodney pointed out darkly, but he quickly moved to help shift the bulky packages of food and other stores out of the way. Theirs had been the backup ship, loaded up with materials to support any of the Tanle’ers who chose to remain on the planet. The colonel had joked that Teyla was there to gently persuade them to leave, and Rodney was included to explain how stupid it was to stay. She had been proud to see that John had been wrong—it was Rodney who had spoken earnestly to the handful of hold-outs, lighting on the aspect of the Tanle’er culture that revered water as the best way to convince them to enter the unfamiliar puddlejumpers and travel to Atlantis.
He’d tried to explain to her later about some Earth book about a people called the ‘Fremen,’ but as usual, his enthusiasm for his subject matter ended up obscuring the more pertinent details, and she was left hopelessly lost. She’d settled on simply listening to the rise and fall of his voice and nodding when it had seemed appropriate.
“Teyla?” Rodney’s voice brought her out of her reverie, and Teyla was surprised to find that he’d already organized two small pallets in the limited space they’d made, a couple of feet from each other. “They probably won’t be all that comfortable, and there’s not much room, but—”
“Thank you. I did not mean to drift away like that instead of helping. I must be more tired than I thought,” Teyla said, settling gracefully onto the cluster of blankets closest to her. Rodney waved away her protest easily, toeing off his boots and socks as he did so.
“It’s not much, but at least this planet isn’t cold, so we won’t have to huddle together for warmth, or anything,” he said, kneeling down beside the bundle of blankets he’d prepared for himself. His hands froze in the act of bunching together an extra one into a pillow. “Not that huddling together with you would be a bad thing, of course,” he said in a horrified tone, the words tumbling over each other in his haste to explain himself. “I mean, you’re a— What I mean to say is, there’s nothing wrong with—”
“Rodney,” Teyla interrupted, her voice as even as she could make it.
“Yes?” he said in a slightly high voice.
“Go to sleep.” Teyla tried to tell herself that not all of the things Rodney said without thinking were strictly true—he’d never given any indication that he thought she was physically distasteful, nor did he treat her as some of Colonel Sheppard’s marines did, as some sort of exotic commodity. Still, his words had stung, intentional or not, and she settled herself with her back to him, unwilling to risk displaying her disappointment should it appear unguarded in the moments before falling asleep. She’d never been the sort to judge her own worth based on the attentions of others, especially not when it came to her physical self, but with her pregnancy had come a wholly unwelcome thread of uncertainty that Rodney had inadvertently triggered.
“Right,” Rodney said, his voice barely over a whisper.
He was hot, too hot. The air around him was suffocating—the ship must have malfunctioned, allowing the rear hatch to open and expose them to the killing heat of midday. He hadn’t protected Teyla; this was his fault for flying farther into the deep desert instead of trying to land as close to the edge of the field as possible! He would never forgive himself if something happened to her…
Rodney thrashed in his sleep, moaning in fear and worry until, unaccountably, the stifling heat that pressed down on his body like a physical weight lifted. Rodney woke to a hand brushing wet against the nape of his neck and the soft sounds of Teyla’s voice murmuring in another language. He opened his eyes slowly, unsure whether this, too was a dream, unwilling to lose it even if it was.
“You are safe, Rodney,” Teyla said softly, her voice very close. The fingers that had rested against his neck slipped away, leaving a fresh, light feeling in their wake. He raised his hand to explore the feeling only to be stopped with a brush of sensation against his sleeve. It felt familiar, and his sleep-blurred mind tried unsuccessfully to latch onto the sense-memory, but it faded, and he opened his eyes. Teyla was seated cross-legged a few inches from his head, an open water bottle in her lap. He blinked at her a few times before looking down at where her hand rested on his arm. She didn’t move it, nor did she look away from him, and her proximity mixed with the knowledge that she’d just caressed his neck left Rodney a little breathless and very turned on. He was glad for the blanket that still covered his body from waist to knee, though the weight of it wasn’t doing him any favors, teasing him as it was with light, steady pressure.
“I dreamed we were dying in the heat,” he said, his voice low and dry. He hoped Teyla would simply attribute that to thirst.
“I know—you… You called out my name,” she admitted, a strange look in her eyes before she looked down at the opened bottle in her lap.
“I did?” Rodney asked, blushing. He suddenly felt very vulnerable lying flat on his back with Teyla sitting so close to him, but he didn’t want to move and dislodge her hand.
“I sometimes get nightmares when I am too warm at night,” Teyla said. “Charin taught me a way of cooling the body—”
“Water on pulse points?” Rodney guessed, and Teyla’s pleased look sent a welcome warmth through him, very different from how he’d felt in his dream. He held her gaze for a heady moment before letting his eyes trace over her hair, noting the sweat-damp tendrils at her temples. On an impulse, he slowly pulled himself into a similar position as Teyla, feeling the welcome way her hand lingered on his arm as he sat up. He wondered if it was just the heat, or perhaps an odd kind of loneliness.
“May I?” he asked, gesturing toward the open water bottle. Teyla handed it over readily, and he smiled, knowing he was definitely going to catch her by surprise and hoping to hell it wouldn’t be unwelcome. Dipping the mouth of the bottle toward the two fingers he held against it, he wet them and carefully set the bottle to the side. Then he reached for the hand Teyla had rested against his arm, gently brushing the water against her wrist, careful not to linger too long and leave an impression of warmth rather than wetness. He didn’t trust himself to look at her face, but she didn’t pull away, so he lifted her other hand delicately, and repeated the gesture, unable to stop himself from touching his thumb to her pulse first. Then, he pulled his hands back politely, and sat still, waiting.
“Thank you,” Teyla finally breathed, a strangely uncertain note to her voice that drew his eyes to her face in curiosity. Her lips were parted, eyes dark, and a flush of anticipation flooded through him, washing away his earlier doubts before he had a chance to cling to them. Trembling, he reached for the bottle again, wetting his fingers without breaking eye contact.
Rodney leaned forward, sliding his weight onto his knees and resting his palm beside Teyla’s. Her eyes slid shut as he cupped his other hand to her neck softly, tangling his fingers in the silken weight of her hair.
“Rodney,” she whispered—and there it was again, the gentle sliding touch on his arm, barely there, but worth the focus of his entire body. He shut his eyes, determined to capture it this time, and without realizing it, he swayed ever closer to Teyla as her touch grew more firm and sure against him.
“You—this is—” he started to say, startled as he caught the spicy scent of her hair so close. Rodney’s heart pounded as he realized how far he’d taken a simple desire to reciprocate her giving gesture, and he started to reverse direction, but her other hand caught his shoulder, halting him.
“You should not worry that you failed to protect me,” she said quietly. “You have more than proven your desire to save my life—to save all our lives.” Her hand slid up into his hair at her last words, the residual water on them leaving a trail of coolness behind the fire of her touch. It was her words that caused him to gasp, however, and he opened his eyes, tipping her head up with his broad thumb against her chin.
The words echoed in his mind, a phrase married to a particular feeling linked with a touch, and suddenly he had to know.
“Those words, you’ve said them to me before, I can remember…” Rodney’s voice trailed off at Teyla’s slight nod. “Why—what?”
“Kirsan Fever,” she said, sounding shy. “You needed my help to remember how to code the delivery system.” Teyla’s eyes flicked down to his lips and back, and Rodney’s breath caught. “I… touched you…”
They had been leaning closer together from the instant her hand had carded into his hair, and though Rodney could scarcely believe it, he couldn’t deny the tension between them. Teyla had practically traced those final three words onto his skin, she was so close, and it was a simple thing to press forward and taste them, taste her, lush and inviting. When their lips met, they both relaxed into the contact, and soon the gentle touches turned passionate, each of them leaving trails of wet heat where their damp fingers pressed and caressed.
When Rodney finally pulled back, it was with regret and a loudly screaming back. He slumped back against the hard metal of the bench behind him, hardly feeling it compared to the pressure of Teyla’s eyes and the memory of her kisses. Rodney’s sense of tact had flown away along with most of his higher brain functions, and when he spoke, it was with a note of sheer incredulity.
“I thought you would never want me to touch you like that,” he said, wincing once he’d spoken at the sheer honesty of the words.
“You’ve never given me any indication of such a thing either,” Teyla said, amused.
“Yes, well, I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable. You’re more than just beautiful, you’re— What? What did I say?” Teyla’s face had turned… the best way to describe it was fragile, and Rodney couldn’t remember ever seeing her look like that. It wasn’t an unhappy look, just a vulnerable one, and instinctively, he reached out a hand and squeezed her knee.
“You said nothing wrong—I am… I am pregnant, Rodney,” she said simply. Teyla rested her hand atop his, preventing him from pulling away as he felt he ought to. His tongue felt heavy in his mouth, and he wanted to apologize for presuming—but she’d wanted him, he hadn’t been wrong about that.
“We have a word whose meaning is complex. ‘Elande’ It means an irresolvable conflict, an impossible situation. The father of my child is a good man, and I do care for him, but—my place is in Atlantis, and he does not see that.” She looked away from him finally, and he could do nothing but turn his hand over on her knee and clasp her palm, encouraging her to speak, letting her know he was there. “At the same time, I have—feelings,” Teyla said, looking directly into his eyes with such dignity and affection that he was completely thrown by it.
“Why?” he couldn’t stop himself from asking. This was Teyla, and he was—
“You are brave and good, Rodney. You must see you are worth caring for,” Teyla said firmly, cutting as she usually did to the heart of his uncertainty.
“So are you, both of you, and if he doesn’t see that—”
“He does not know,” came Teyla’s unexpected reply. Rodney didn’t hesitate.
“You should know that I, well. I have feelings too,” he said, unconsciously squaring his shoulders and holding himself very still. “That hasn’t changed—won’t change. No matter what this other man wants from you, or,” Rodney took a deep breath and lifted his chin. “Or what you want from him.”
“And if I want you?” Teyla asked steadily.
“Then I want you, too. No matter what,” he said swiftly, surprising himself with the sheer truth of the words. “The ‘irresolvable conflict’ thing—we call it a ‘Catch-22,’ after a book that uses it as a plot device. Often referred to as ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” He smiled at her tightly. “Personally, I don’t think this applies, but I’m not the one in the tight spot.” Rodney squeezed their joined hands. “I mean it, though. Whatever you want.”
“I believe you,” Teyla said, sliding over to rest her forehead against his.
He’d also promised her that he would not push for a decision either way, and when she and Doctor Keller had made the terrible discovery that the Athosians were missing later that month, Rodney remained true to his word. Rodney remained Rodney—disbelieving the idea of prescience even when offered proof seen with his own eyes, and there was something so tremendously comforting in that, especially when John reacted so strongly to the truth of her pregnancy. Of her team—of most of Atlantis, really—Rodney was the one who treated her as he always had.
When it was all over—the mind-numbing fear she’d felt for her child and the grief in finding Kannan again only to lose him, mind and body, to the horror of Michael’s experiments on her people—Teyla slept for nearly two days in the infirmary. She woke to find Rodney sitting drowsily in a chair beside her, her son batting cheerfully at his hand as Rodney cradled the child to his chest. He looked up to see her eyes on him, and the smile that crossed his face was brighter than the sun on P4B-722 at its highest point.
He stood up to lean the child close to her so she could brush her fingers gently against his face before Rodney set him down in the crib Ronon and Radek had crafted for him. Then he asked her if she was thirsty, his voice carefully polite, reminding him of her promise without coming out to say it.
“Yes,” she told him, but when he offered her a straw from the metal cup at her bedside, she slid her fingers across the condensing surface and pushed it away. She reached for him instead, painting her answer across the skin of his face, his neck, his heart.