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Where the Sea is Sharpest

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But the sea is sharpest there

where it joins the land — it leans

sometimes into a small shadow of itself —

it sounds like a cane tapping

in an empty meeting room.

- "The 'There' There" by Paul Gibbons

 


 

I. 

 

the ocean sounds / like a field of slow wheat

 

Ronon grew up on the outskirts of the capital city, where the wind whispered through the tall golden-green grains in the fields and knocked gently against the window of his bedroom. At night, after his mother had tucked him and his brothers into bed, he would creep to the window and open it, let in the night's scent of nearby greenery and sometimes smoke from a bonfire or someone else's chimney. Most nights he fell asleep to the plaintive cries of the black-winged langris as they called out for love and companionship, the calls following him into his dreams and giving him wings. 

When he stood on the balcony of his quarters in the City of the Ancestors, all he could smell and hear was the sea, the taste of salt filling up the back of his throat and making his eyes sting. Back on Sateda, in a city that was only ashes now, he would have had to travel three days in any direction to reach the sea. One of the strangest things about being on Atlantis (out of the many strange and wondrous things) was the fact that the city is itself an island. 

For the first few weeks in the city, even when confined to his quarters and guarded by two blank-faced soldiers, Ronon avoided looking out at the endless stretch of sea and sky. When he did let himself look, he inevitably felt the ground undulate beneath his feet, as though the city had lost its stagnancy and now drifted aimlessly like a makeshift toy bobbing on a lake. He was not frightened, exactly-- the years of running had carved all emotion from his heart except rage, and fear (like love or hope) was an emotion he hadn't remastered yet. But the tricks his imagination played on him were frustrating, and so he did his best to shun windows until his body and mind adjusted. 

He took to running, to figuring out the paths and corridors of Atlantis by tracing their lengths. Most days, the only sounds were his own breathing, and the pounding of his and his guards' feet against the floor. Sometimes the footfalls would grow louder, and Sheppard would come up behind him. Sheppard would never speak; instead he was silent like a steady shadow, following Ronon wherever he ran.

Most times, Ronon would ignore him. Other times he would push himself to his limit, just to see how long Sheppard could last before his footfalls faltered and he'd have to stop and lean against the wall to catch his breath. 

One morning, maybe a week or two after Sheppard had invited Ronon to join his team and make a place for himself in the city, Sheppard joined him again in his running. This time, though, Sheppard ran ahead of him, and it was Ronon who followed after. He wondered for a moment where Sheppard was leading him, but it didn't really matter. There was only so much space in the City of the Ancestors before you ran out of city and skirted the edges of the sea.  

Sheppard led him to another balcony, one that was so close to the ocean's surface that the occasional eager wave splashed against their ankles and soaked their boots. Ronon rested his hands on the cool, slick railing, let the salty wind brush against his face. If he closed his eyes and didn't taste the salt spray on his lips, he could almost pretend that the waves were actually takal grains swaying and bending in the fields back home, that if he opened his eyes he would see the silvery ears brushing against the pale blue sky. 

Just another moment, and his mother would be scolding him for leaning against the window's ledge rather than paying attention to his studies, and his brothers would be laughing at him for daydreaming. 

Sheppard shifted next to him; a small movement, but it drew Ronon from his thoughts. He opened his eyes. All that lay before him was the green and foaming sea, and Sheppard's quiet profile. On Sateda, all the takal fields were now no doubt burned or overrun by weeds. 

Sheppard just looked at him, and Ronon knew he was going to say something stupid, like "How are you liking it here on Atlantis?" or "Has anyone been giving you a hard time?" or "Are you thinking of leaving?" He was almost surprised when Sheppard leaned against the railing and said, "I didn't live by the sea on Earth. Well, unless you count Antarctica, which I don't, since that's just a lot of ice and snow, but." He shrugged. "I sort of like it here." 

There was a pause. It was only when Sheppard frowned a little that Ronon realized he was expected to reply. He tried to think of something to say, but any attempt to speak of Sateda would scrape his throat and sear his tongue. In the end, he just shrugged. All the words about home and loss and how it felt to spend seven years running with death on his heels cluttered his chest, but he didn't think he had enough breath to say them, would just be mute and frustrated if he tried. 

"I'll get used to it," he said instead. The salt on his lips tasted like spilled tears.

 

II. 

 

the dream I am having has such / narrow fingers, just enough to reach / into morning

 

Even now, after almost two years in the city of the Ancestors, Teyla sometimes forgot that there was an ocean between her and her people. She would wake from a dream of her mother, clutching at the fragments of a smile and a voice, and rise to her feet, seeking the outside of her tent and the company of Charin before she remembered that Charin was a few hours away by puddlejumper. 

Despite those bittersweet mornings, she didn't consider herself lonely. She was the representative of her people on an alien planet, among alien born, true, but she was too busy to be lonely. She had alliances to forge and Wraith to kill, and a whole city of men and women to try and understand. If she sometimes longed for Charin's warm presence and Halling's calm voice unmarred by radio crackling, well, she could always visit the mainland during her rest days, providing she could coax someone with the Ancient gene to fly her there. 

A few weeks after the incident on Belka, Ronon came to her with a half-sheepish look that softened the lines of his face and made him seem almost young. He ducked his head, not quite meeting her gaze. "I hear you're going to the mainland," he said, and Teyla raised an eyebrow. In her time getting to know the Satedan, she had come to learn that Ronon had tended towards bluntness -- sometimes to the point of near-rudeness, but she would not, could not begrudge a man who lost seven years to the Wraith a little impatience now and again -- and this was almost dancing around the topic. 

She decided to spare him the verbal dance. "Anyone who wishes to accompany me to the mainland is welcome, Ronon," she assured him. Teyla watched the sheepishness ease from his features. "We leave in two hours." 

He nodded and walked away, leaving her to watch after him and wonder at his sudden interest in the mainland. Then again, perhaps he just needed to get away from the city. There were days when she too felt the urge to escape, to find herself among people who had known her since birth, who had watched her take her first steps and sing her first hymn to the Ancestors. Today was such a day, when she felt such a restless longing in her blood that she half-thought she would have dived into the ocean and tried to swim its entire length, if no gene-carrier had stepped forward to fly her to her people. 

Ronon was already in the jumper bay when she arrived, the weight of her gifts pressing against her shoulder-blades as she walked. Medicine from Doctor Beckett, Belkan spiced candy for the children, a shawl she had gotten as part of a negotiation on Laza that she thought Charin would like. Ronon's hands were empty, but his stance was eager, and he almost frowned at the flustered young sergeant who hurried into the jumper bay a few minutes later, apologizing for running late. 

"It is all right," Teyla assured the sergeant, and directed a sharp look at Ronon when he opened his mouth. He shut it, shrugging at her. 

It seemed to take forever to get to the mainland, but Teyla knew that if Rodney were here he'd mutter about relative time and how the trip was taking the same amount of time it always did. Still, when the mainland at last came into view, Teyla felt a tension ease from her shoulders that she hadn't realized was there. Some of the relief must have reached her expression, because Ronon looked at her for a moment and frowned like he wanted to say something but couldn't. 

Halling's forehead was warm against hers as they greeted each other, and Teyla felt the last of the tight muscles begin to loosen at the sight of him and Charin and the others clustered around her, smiling their hellos. "Halling," she said with a smile. "Everything is well?" 

"The tava fields are beginning to grow," he said, pride and contentment obvious in his voice. "You must see them before you return to the city." 

"I will," she promised, and then pulled the bag of Belkan candy from her bag. "Now, I have a present for the--"

"Is that spiced candy?" exclaimed a husky voice, and Teyla found herself staring into rather than down at Jinto's delighted expression. When had he gotten so tall? Her fingers felt numb on the bag suddenly, and she didn't resist when Jinto tugged the bag from her grip. "Thank you!" he added, and then flushed as his voice broke halfway through, hunching up his shoulders like he expected Teyla or his father to laugh. 

Teyla nodded, too distracted by the awkward way Jinto moved, like he had awoken one morning to find he'd grown a hand's length taller in the night. He hadn't been this tall during her last visit. Surely not. She looked around and felt a knot of something she couldn't define settle into her stomach. Charin seemed faded now, smaller and older than Teyla remembered. She wished she'd brought a warmer shawl for her. Even Halling had changed-- there were more lines on his face than before, and Teyla thought she spotted a silver hair or two. 

She tried to think when she'd last been able to visit the mainland. No more than three weeks had passed. How could anyone change so much in such a short span of time? She was still thinking this when Halling touched her shoulder. When she looked up, he smiled. It didn't quite reach his eyes, which were calm and knowing. "Jinto will have his coming of age ceremony in two weeks," he told her. "Will you be able to attend?" 

"I," Teyla began, throat closing. John had told her once, about how his people had technology that could take a man's broken heart from his chest and replace it with a healthy one. She hadn't been able to imagine that, but now, seeing Jinto's hopeful look, the lines on Charin's face, she thought it felt like this: your rib-cage cracked open and your chest empty of everything but loss. From the corner of her eye, she could see Ronon watching her, his expression unreadable. 

"I will do my best to come," she said at last, and offered a quiet, hopeless prayer to the Ancestors that they would let her keep that promise.