Takes place directly after "Trinity". Huge spoilers for the episode, obviously. Scattered spoilers up to Trinity.
Chapter One: Rift
There was a rift, and Teyla did not know how to mend it. She had gone away with everything intact, and come back to find it all broken, and she wanted desperately to fix it, but could not.
She knew, as few others did, how quickly life could change from one moment to the next. How many loved ones had she lost to the Wraith? How many were yet to be lost? And still, even after all the losses, she found herself walking away each morning expecting that nothing would change behind her, expecting that her loved ones would still be there when she came back, even while knowing that life very often did not work that way.
Perhaps humans could not live for very long with the expectation of continued loss. It wore away at you, ate your soul from the inside. It was much better, Teyla thought, to suffer today's new disappointment and pain no less powerfully than yesterday's -- each loss, each betrayal as fresh and sharp as a knife cut. A soul could heal from a small slash, just as the body could. A soul would not die from a thousand cuts ... at least, she hoped hers would not. The insidious poison of mistrust would rot the soul much, much faster, and leave nothing behind but a blackened husk.
So she walked away one morning with Ronon, knowing, as she always did, that her teammates would still be there when she came back -- knowing, also, in a deeper and more cynical part of herself, that they might not be, for that was the fortune of war. And so, it cut her, but not as deeply as it might have, to walk back through the gate into a charged atmosphere of suspicion and anger. Something had happened while she was gone. Teyla did not know what, and at that moment, so weary and heartsick was she from Ronon's ill-use of her friendship that she could not even summon the strength to find out. She smiled to the gateroom staff, bid a polite but formal farewell to Ronon, and retired to her own quarters for some much-needed meditation.
She did not find out the story of the Arcturus disaster until the next day. And even so, she didn't really understand the magnitude of it at first. Her first thought, in fact, was Good riddance! to the newly discovered Arcturus power supply. Even if it could have helped in the fight against the Wraith, the last thing this war-torn galaxy needed was some sort of superweapon. She did not say so to Elizabeth, but deep down, she was relieved.
But the weapon was only part of it.
Teyla was one of the last people to know what had happened on Arcturus. Elizabeth's very public diatribe at Rodney in the gateroom had spread like wildfire through the city, as any new gossip tended to do in such a small enclosed community with very little else for entertainment. It didn't help that Zelenka was still thoroughly annoyed (not that Teyla could blame him, from what she'd heard) and willing to give his side of the story to anybody who would listen. It was the talk of the mess hall when she came down for breakfast, though at least she'd debriefed with Elizabeth first (giving only the barest details of her trip with Ronon; she was still working through the emotional fallout in her head) so at least she knew the story. Still, the whispers surrounded her as she got a tray and quietly found a table. Destroyed a whole planet ... no, I heard it was a solar system ... weapon that could have stopped the Wraith, and now it's gone ... better than a ZPM ...
The whispers would fade and stop as she walked by, only to resurge after she was gone. Most people on Atlantis recognized her as McKay's teammate, and she could feel curious eyes on her. Well, they'd get through this, she thought. There was always some rumor or other circulating about the group of them. Why, just last week one of the soldiers she was training in hand-to-hand combat had told her there was a rumor that Ronon was a boyfriend she'd brought back from on of the worlds they had visited. Her lips quirked. Hardly, especially not at the moment. She felt a moment of pity for Rodney, forced to live out this particular failure under the watchful eyes of his colleagues. While the man could probably benefit from a blow to his healthy ego, it still must smart. At least she had been fortunate enough to be able to deal with her own problem in private.
Speaking of her problem, here it came, walking through the mess hall in a leather trench coat. She was not sure whether to try to catch Ronon's eye or to avoid him, but the decision was made for her when Sheppard appeared and made a beeline for the big guy, and soon the two of them had descended upon her.
"Mornin', Teyla!" Sheppard greeted her cheerfully. "And how are you on this fine day?"
Teyla raised her brows and dipped her spoon in the current mysterious Earth concoction on her plate. "I am well, John, thank you."
"Good trip?" he asked her, digging into his own food.
"We got the flax seed," Teyla said shortly.
Sheppard shrugged, grinned. "I'm happy for you," he said, and with that, he turned to Ronon and started telling the man a joke, some Earth joke about an Earthman and his mother-in-law. Teyla studied him curiously. She had not been sure what to expect from Sheppard this morning. In her debriefing, Elizabeth had given her the complete story, if slightly abridged, of the time she'd missed, including John's willingness to vouch for McKay's Arcturus plan, and how the two of them had subsequently come very close to dying because of it. She was relieved that Sheppard did not seem angry, but somewhat puzzled by his almost manic cheerfulness. For a moment, she had the crazy thought that he might actually be taking some kind of drug, but pushed the thought away impatiently; it was only her own foul mood that made others' cheerfulness seem suspect. There was no reason why John should not be happy this morning. He had come close to death, and now he was alive; what was not to enjoy?
As they completed their meal, Teyla realized that there was still one team member that she had yet to greet this morning. "Will Rodney be joining us, do you know?" she asked Sheppard.
He seemed almost to flinch. "Haven't got a clue," he said, and went back to his conversation with Ronon.
A little warning bell jingled in the back of Teyla's mind. She stood up and pushed away her tray. "Will I see you for sparring practice this afternoon?" she asked Sheppard.
He looked up at her, and before his eyes skittered away from her face, she knew that something was wrong, very wrong. "Sorry, I can't," he said. "I'm leading a team of new guys from the Daedalus on their first offworld mission. I won't be back until late."
Teyla forced a smile. "Then we will take, what do you call it, a rain check," she said, and in Sheppard's answering smile, she saw a falseness that frightened her -- the smile didn't reach his eyes. She walked away feeling as if she should have said something else, but not sure what. She couldn't even really understand what was wrong ... not yet.
After leaving the mess hall, she went straight to the labs, not even bothering to think up some kind of pretext. The scene she walked into was the typical controlled chaos of the Atlantean laboratory wing: white-coated scientists rushing about, people poking and prodding at odd glowing pieces of technology or lifting bits of alien flora out of Petri dishes with tweezers. In the midst of all of it, as usual, she found Rodney, snapping out orders and turning around to criticize somebody's lab technique.
It was just another day on Atlantis. Just as that morning had been just another morning in the cafeteria. Except that Rodney usually joined the rest of the team for breakfast, and this morning he had not. Except that, as she stood in the doorway and watched the scientists, nobody was meeting Rodney's eyes or coming very close to him ... or, as far as she could tell, really paying a whole lot of attention to anything he said, except to respond to a direct order, but even then he sometimes had to repeat himself. It was strange, as if he occupied his own little personal bubble of space, and no one wanted to enter into it.
He saw her standing in the doorway -- and she saw the oddest expression flit across his face; she would almost say that it was a breaking expression, as if something had shattered and just as quickly mended. And then he spun around and ordered one of the scientists to step away from her computer because she was going about her calculations all wrong. The scientist hesitated, and then stepped away -- and that was wrong too; usually all of Rodney's people, for all they resented his abruptness, would jump to do anything he said. Teyla was an observer by nature, and she had observed the labs often enough to recognize the subtle wrongness beneath the surface. She watched Rodney push a few keys and then stride away to check on somebody's experiment. Behind him, the woman shoved her glasses up onto her nose, muttered something under her breath and returned to her work.
After a few more minutes, it became clear that he was not going to acknowledge her, so Teyla stepped away from the door and made her way over to where he was hovering over a technician doing something to a large crystalline object -- Teyla had no idea what it might be.
"Nonononono," Rodney was saying. "You hook up the cables like that and it'll blow every circuit breaker in this part of the city when you turn it on. Were you born stupid or were you frequently dropped on your head as a child, hm? Good grief, give that to me," snatching a pair of cables away from the aggrieved-looking tech. "Here and here. Don't make me show you again."
And he was off, even more manic than Sheppard had been in the cafeteria. Not that manic was an unusual state with McKay, but this, Teyla thought, was truly ridiculous; she almost had to run to cut him off, intercepting him just as he swooped down on a frightened-looking botanist. "Good morning, Rodney!" she greeted him cheerfully.
He barely looked at her. "Morning, morning. Kind of busy here. My God, are you dissecting one of those venomous slugs from M2R-375? Where the hell is your containment field? If you let loose some kind of contagion into our atmosphere, we're leaving you here to deal with it, understand?"
"Rodney, may I speak with you?" Teyla persisted.
He turned to look at her, and she very nearly took a step backwards. There was a brittle brightness in his vivid blue eyes that she did not like at all. His eyes glittered as if he had a fever, and there were dark shadows under them. She thought he looked as if he hadn't slept in days. "Teyla, we don't have a field mission today and I have a lab full of morons who have almost killed us six times since breakfast. Can this wait?"
"Yes, of course it can wait." She backed down, and watched him berate his underlings for a moment longer before leaving. In the lab there were no whispers, at least not with McKay in hearing range, but she could feel people watching her as she left, and she could feel the pressure of their disdain, even knowing it was not directed at herself.
She turned back, surprised, to discover that Dr. Zelenka had followed her out of the lab and was now chasing her down the hall. "I wanted to apologize," he said, panting slightly, "for that arrogant bastard in the lab back there, and his behavior towards you."
This must be the peculiar Earth custom called "chivalry", which she still did not fully understand. "You do not have to apologize for Dr. McKay to me, Dr. Zelenka," she said, and forced a smile. "I believe that you and your fellow scientists are having a much worse time than I am."
Zelenka sighed. "You don't know the half of it," he said wearily. "Today already we have had one lab tech suddenly announce that she had earned a nursing degree in college and will be transfering to Dr. Beckett's division, and two more have requested that they are returning to Earth on the next trip of the Daedalus. At this rate, we will have no one left by lunchtime."
He fell into step with her, walking down the hall. Behind them, Teyla could faintly hear Rodney in another tirade. It faded out and then there was only silence until Zelenka spoke suddenly.
"I am apologizing for him," Zelenka said, "because at this rate, the stupid zkurvysyne will have no friends left at all, and he needs friends now, though he does not seem to realize this."
Worse and worse, Teyla thought. "What did happen, Radek?" she asked gently. "I have spoken to Dr. Weir, but I do not understand how it came to be so bad."
"That's right, you were gone." Zelenka rubbed his upper lip, thinking. "He made a mistake," he said finally. "He made a very bad mistake, but who among us has not done that?" He paused and then said, "He apologized to me yesterday, do you know? I believe it is the first time I have ever heard him say that he is sorry since I have known him. He had accused me of attempting to ... prevent his mistake due to professional jealousy. And other things were said. In any case, he did apologize for it."
"That sounds good," Teyla said cautiously.
"It is good," Zelenka said, nodding. "I understand that he went around the city, attempting to make amends to people he had wronged. Dr. Weir, the Colonel. That is all good. And then, he throws himself into his work, loses himself in his work. It is how he copes, you see?" He cast a glance over his shoulder at the lab. "It is now most likely close to two days since he has slept, and he is going a bit crazy. That is what you see."
"Is his health in danger?" Teyla asked, worried. "Should we speak to Dr. Beckett?"
"I would prefer not to involve the doctor unless we must, if only for his pride," Zelenka said. He stopped and leaned against the wall, staring at nothing. After a moment he looked over at Teyla. "Rodney is a man driven by pride," he said quietly. "He is determined to be the best at everything. I do not know why he is like this, but that is how it is. Making a mistake of this magnitude ... it is a failure for which he cannot easily forgive himself. He would not admit this, of course. And the greatest thing he would not admit is that he believes that he has not just failed himself, but the rest of us."
He took off his glasses and cleaned them on his lab coat as he spoke, not looking at her. "He is a complicated man, our Rodney McKay. He does not trust people easily, nor easily allow people to trust him. He has now hurt those who trusted him, and all he knows how to do is to be angry -- angry at himself, mostly." He gave a small laugh. "He already has my forgiveness, of course. I was never truly angry at him; I am not angry now. I understand what it is like to lose yourself in your work. I understand him, I think, better than most people here, even yourself."
He turned and looked at her. Without the glasses, his eyes looked strangely naked, as if his heart was now open to her. "I am a little bit afraid for him," he said quietly, and seeing her alarm, he added quickly, "Not physically, I mean. He is certainly in no danger of working himself to death. He is not sick. When he truly needs sleep, he'll sleep. No ... what worries me is that he is hurting, very much, and will not let anyone close enough to help him. And the one person whose forgiveness he needs the most, other than his own, is the one person who seems unwilling to give it."
"Sheppard," Teyla said softly, remembering Sheppard's manic cheerfulness at breakfast. He was hurting as well, she realized now. If anything, Sheppard had even more trouble letting his heart show than McKay did. Rodney, at least, wore his emotions on his sleeve. John, though ... Teyla remembered watching Sheppard, with a smile on his face, shoot the person he believed to be his dead friend, on that fake dream-Earth they had visited. Sheppard, she realized, would have done exactly what Ronon had done to the friend who betrayed him. He probably would not have used her, as Ronon had ... but yes, he would have done that.
It made her feel a little better about Ronon. Worse about John and Rodney, though.
"Is there anything we can do?" she asked.
Zelenka had put his glasses back on, and was looking away from her. "I do not know," he said. "I'm only a scientist." He looked back at her, and smiled. "But ... if I think of anything, I will let you know. Please, will you do the same?"
Teyla smiled. For all the hurt and harm in the universe, it was still a good universe, to contain such loyal friends. Rodney did not know how lucky he was. "I will," she said.