Teyla has broken camp many, many times before, and often with the specter of death over her. There is no reason, she tells herself, that this time should be any different.
Standing at the bed, she fingers the pot, her lip curling ruefully. Halling had given it to her after the shuttle accident and his quarrel with Dr. Weir, his look as pointed as such a gentle man's could ever be.
"Your father had no opportunity," he had said, and she knew she could not reject such a gift. Truthfully, she would as soon not take it with her now. But she has so little of Athos left. She does not have the luxury of abandoning what does not suit her.
The door chimes behind her. It is very late, but of course everyone is preparing for the evacuation. She has heard hurried footsteps and fretful voices along the corridor all evening. "Come in," she says, but does not turn around.
She knows it is Sheppard because he stops, carefully, a few feet inside the door, until she acknowledges him. His presence is not prepossessing, but it is definite. She feels it, always. "Major."
He looks tired; his eyes are shadowed and there is faint stubble along his jawline. She remembers his careless charm on his first visit to Athos. When he had known nothing of their troubles—did not even know he shared them. "Packing?" he asks, moving to her side.
"I am almost finished."
He looks at the bag. "You're not taking much."
"There is not much here from Athos," she says, glancing around the room, with its trinkets from other planets she had never had time to learn to care for. "If you carry little, you have little to lose."
As he says it, she feels sure that he brought little from his own home. She wonders whether he has come to love anything from Atlantis enough to take it with him. "How is the evacuation plan proceeding?"
"Surprisingly smoothly," he says. "Elizabeth chased me off to get a couple hours' sleep. She wants me alert when we're establishing security on the alpha site."
"That seems reasonable," she says. "None of us have slept well lately."
He winces slightly, and she regrets the remark. She had not meant to allude to their dispute earlier. Wraith presence or no, she knows she will not be sleeping tonight herself. He says nothing, though, but simply stands there, rubbing at his chin and looking everywhere in the room but at her.
The silence stretches out between them until she says, "I am sorry, did you need some—" and he says at the same moment, "Come take a walk with me?"
They smile a little, and look at each other. She sets the pot down gratefully. "Of course."
The anxious noise of the inhabited sectors grows soft behind them, replaced by the soothing liquid rush of the aquariums scattered at intervals along the deserted hallways. Teyla has often wondered why the only living vegetation in Atlantis is in those aquariums. She has missed living amidst the green. Now she asks herself how quickly she will forget the ocean.
She has never been in the gymnasium at night. The moonlight flooding through the colored glass gives the room a cooler, bluer tint, its dimness making the room larger. Teyla had wondered why he was bringing her there when neither of them had sparring equipment. The last time they had been there, matters had not gone well. But she had trusted it would become clear. She looks at him, letting her eyebrows rise slightly.
He takes a deep breath. "This was one of my favorite places in Atlantis. Very...peaceful."
"For me as well." It had felt like stepping out of time to spar here; all her other concerns could fall away in the ebb and flow of their motion.
"I know we've hit a couple of bumps lately, but I just..." He makes an awkward gesture. "I'll miss this. This was good."
She folds the words carefully in her memory. She knows how much Sheppard normally relies on how little they need say to each other. But, truly, she could not face down a Wraith with a man against whom she held a real grudge. He should know this. "You did not have to tell me this."
"I know." The corner of his mouth curls with some private irony. "That's kind of the reason I wanted to. You don't...ask for a lot."
She thinks of that night on Orrin's home planet. "Sometimes I feel I ask a great deal."
His eyes show that he is remembering the same thing. "You were right about saving Orrin."
"It was not Orrin's welfare alone I was thinking of."
He turns and takes a couple of steps away. "I know." He pushes against the window frame. "We never did get these windows open. It would've been nice to practice in the open air instead of the climate-control."
She wonders if she has presumed too much. Sheppard pretends to an easy cosmopolitan manner, but she has watched him, and he is as reserved and proud as any Athosian warrior could be. "Major—"
"That pot thing," he says casually, "that thing you were packing when I came in. What was that?"
"It is used in a ritual of my people."
"Elizabeth told me once about some—"
"Yes," she says. "To prepare oneself, when death is imminent."
"It's very important?"
"Some of the Athosians are discussing whether they should carry it out now."
"But not you," he says, turning back to her.
She has told herself for years that she is not an unbeliever, that rather she tries always to be prepared for death, but she recognizes now that that has not been true for months. Her mind has been unsettled since Halling had led the strangers into her tent, and one of them had truly seen her.
"No. I do not accept that my death is inevitable."
"But some of the others do."
He leans back, folding his arms. "Still think it was a good idea to join up with us?"
It is not for winning that we practice, she had told him once in this very room. For her people lose and lose again, always lose: the history of humankind in the Pegasus Galaxy is a history of unbroken defeat. The struggle has always been to remain standing until the last possible moment. To sacrifice nothing without a fight.
The arrival of the expedition had suddenly made her hope that this might change—cherished so long against such opposition that it had become more like a dream—tantalizingly real. It had given her joy so great she could express it to no one. She had not hesitated to put aside her old life to join the strangers, and she had not regretted it. Still, there at the cusp of what might well be their final defeat, she cannot deny that she feels anger towards them, as well. If they had never come...
But John Sheppard is a good man, and no mind can bear so much guilt alone. She can hardly bear her own part in it.
She breathes in, clearing her heart, and steps closer. "You could not have foreseen what would happen."
He frowns. "When you're looking at whole planetary populations being wiped out and this city being blown to smithereens, I don't think it really matters whether it was foreseeable or not."
"Major," she says, and takes his shoulder, looking up at him, "before you came, our worlds cowered before the Wraith and our deaths achieved nothing. I joined Atlantis because I would rather live in hope than die in fear. You are a warrior. I know you feel that as well."
She feels his arm tense and then relax under her touch. His eyes settle on her face, gradually filling with a banked hunger. He has not looked at her in this way since those moments in the cave on Athos before disaster had overtaken them all. His lips part, and she can see his pulse trembling at the base of his neck. But he still does not move. She can feel the strength of both his desire and his self-restraint, and it makes her a little dizzy. She tightens her fingers on his arm and nods.
"Teyla..." His hand against her throat is gentle, his kiss tentative but sweet. She answers him warmly, to reassure him that he need not fear hurting her. When he lets her go, he rests his forehead against her hair, exhaling slowly. She hears the soft slide of wood against wood, and a sea-breeze brushes her cheek.
There is no ritual here, no prayer, but the wisdom of her people can still surprise her.
They stand together for some time, luxuriating in simple touch, before he strokes his hand with slow but unmistakable intent down to her hip.
"I cannot give you absolution, John," she tells him, keeping her fingers curled against the back of his neck. She cannot even fully forgive herself.
"I know," he says, and she is sure that he understands. "But maybe you could keep me company?"
The bench is narrow but more comfortable than it looks. There is an echo of some ancient warmth in its touch against her bare legs. They are only half-undressed, but their movements are slow and unhurried, unfolding with the mutual pretense that there is enough time. They have never needed to speak much, and they do not need to do so now, as he leans back against the side window and she slides down over him. He takes in a sharp breath and his hands cradle her hips. She braces herself against his shoulders, feeling their muscles beneath the thin cotton he is still wearing, and looks down at him.
His eyes are half-closed, his expression languid, but then his brow furrows. "I didn't bring—"
"I have seen Dr. Beckett," she assures him.
"Oh. Nice to know Earth science is good for something," he murmurs.
She chuckles softly, brushes a kiss against his temple, and lifts her weight. They manuever together, easily, naturally, until he is inside her. She throws her head back as they move, savoring the pressure, the fullness, gratified by the sound of his gasps beneath her. It has been so long since she has been able to take pleasure in this way, and she has always put thoughts of this man firmly to one side. She only wishes that they had more time. It is too brief, like this—
He moves one hand from her hip to stroke her, and she bites back a gasp of her own and brings her head forward sharply. He is smiling at her, eyes glinting and more than a little wild. Her movements atop him become less controlled as she surges into his touch. The city drops away around her; there is nothing but John's body, John's hand, the heavy rhythm of John's breathing over the long slow roll of the sea. She comes with a little cry, letting the waves break through her. John lasts only a few breaths longer; she feels him jerk up, his spasms counterpointing hers.
He shifts forward, nuzzling into her breasts, and she lowers her face to his hair, feeling both of their bodies slowly quiet. She is reluctant to open her eyes, but finally does. There is sweat on John's brow, and he smells good, as if they had just had an enthusiastic spar.
He tilts his head and smiles up sweetly at her, a glimpse of John from long ago, a John who had never tasted war or death or defeat. The man she will never know. "Thanks. That was really nice."
She pushes his hair off his forehead. It springs back almost at once. She smiles herself. "Yes, it was."
He hesitates, then drops his gaze and says quietly, "You should know. This wasn't just an adrenaline thing."
"I wish..." He lets it trail off.
"As do I."
There is nothing more to be said, so she remains where she is, leaning against him, stroking his hair. After a while, she notices a glint behind his head; at some point, he must have managed to knock a small pane of the side window loose. It is swinging very slightly in the breeze.
"What...?" He twists his head around to see, and the corner of his mouth twitches up. "Oh."
He reaches an arm back and tugs at the pane. Surprisingly, it comes loose. He holds it up. The rich colors of their sparring afternoons gleam from it, though diminished in the moonlight. He puts it in her hand and closes her fingers over it. "Here."
The glass is smooth and cool against her skin. She thinks ruefully of her words about travelling light. "John..."
He appeals to her with her eyes, almost the look of a little boy. She knows what he is thinking. She bites her lip, then nods. "I suppose I could find room in my pack."
"Good," he says, and rests his head on her shoulder. "Good."