NOTES: Allisnow and I have been playing 'fic-tennis' over on our LiveJournals. I post a fic, she posts one back using a theme I introduce in my story, back and forth. This is story #9 and was prompted by her marvellous fic, 'Unorthodox'.

Always Personal

"Is it just me or are a lot of the women here pregnant?" Rodney asked, twisting his head to watch a blonde young woman walk by. John nearly rolled his eyes; it was always the blondes that did Rodney in, pregnant or not pregnant. Not that the young woman wasn't attractive - just that she was pregnant. And young - as in 'not older than twenty'.

In fact, John noted that most of the pregnant women were very young.

"Repopulation measures," said Ronon, ambling alongside John.

"Well, I suppose when your populace is always being depleted by the Wraith depredations--"

John grimaced. "Rodney, we'll just call it 'repopulation measures' and leave it at that."

"Well, Teyla's people don't seem to take such 'measures'," Rodney protested, rather more loudly than John felt was necessary. This planet was willing to trade, but not exactly friendly - mostly because they thought the Atlanteans were meddling in things that should be left alone.

Of course, they'd be more than happy to be rid of the Wraith.

"As a matter of fact," Teyla said, "Most women of Athos have borne a child before they reach their eighteenth year."

Something about the way she spoke made John look more closely at Teyla. At first glance she seemed her usual serene self, but there was something about her expression... "You haven't been listening to Beckett," he said to Rodney. "Haven't you heard him complaining about there being 'something in the water' on the mainland?"

"Yes, but that's different," said the other man, waving a hand in easy dismissal of the Athosian adolescents. "Teyla didn't do the pregnancy thing."

"And you are so sure of that?" Now her voice had an edge to it - an edge that even Rodney could hear.

Rodney stopped in the middle of the street, his mouth gaping open. "You did?"

Teyla shrugged, but the movement was without her customary grace as she continued walking down the street. "I did." Her tone of voice said everything that needed to be said about the situation - if a man was listening for it.

Rodney wasn't. "What happened to the child?"

"Rodney," John said, intervening in the conversation, "have you ever heard of tact?"

"I'm just asking a simple question!"

"You're asking a personal question," he retorted. "Teyla--"

Teyla turned on the balls of her feet, the about-face light and fluid, although there was nothing fluid about the expression on her face or in the lines of her body. "He was born into the world without breath," she said, her words crisp and quiet. "His father was taken by the Wraith two months earlier, and I had no desire to bear another's child." Her eyes never left the scientist's face. "Does that satisfy your curiosity?"

"I--" Rodney paused, blinking in blatant astonishment that Teyla had responded so fiercely - and, perhaps, realising he'd overstepped. "Yes."

No apology, but then Teyla didn't seem to be expecting one - not from Rodney. Instead, she looked to John. "I will be in radio contact." And she turned once again and walked away.

The men watched her go; then John turned to Rodney. "Good work, Rodney."

"I didn't know she would--"

"It was obvious enough!"

"Not to me!"

"Rodney, nothing's obvious to you until you're smacked in the face with it!"

"I didn't know!"

Ronon rolled his eyes without a word, gave Rodney a plainly disgusted look and began heading off in the direction Teyla had taken.

"No," John said, the impulse taking over his tongue before his brain could rethink the wisdom of it. "I'll go." You can deal with Rodney.

The Satedan shrugged. "We'll bring you back for burial," he said - the Satedan equivalent of 'your funeral'. "See you back at the 'jumper?"

"Yeah."

Rodney was still staring after Teyla, shocked that what he thought of as a simple question had prompted such a reaction. John smacked him on the back of the head as he passed and received a grumble in response.

He'd deal with Rodney later - particularly on the topic of 'delicate subjects and when not to pursue them'. How Rodney had made it to adulthood without being killed was something that John thought would mystify the best mathematicians and behavioural scientists in two galaxies. Simple probability suggested that Rodney shouldn't have survived to age of sixteen with such a lack of perception, let alone thirty-six.

He didn't know exactly where Teyla would go, but he followed the general direction where he'd last seen her, mentally keeping track of the stalls and shops he passed, landmarks to guide him back to the main thoroughfare. And Teyla probably wouldn't want to be near people right now.

Just past a spice stall, there was an alleyway that led out past some gardens, and instinct guided John down the alley, past the boxes and barrels that lined the walls of the buildings, empty now, waiting to be filled.

He found her at the farthest edge of the gardens, her hands resting on the the smooth wood of the railing around the garden. She was staring into space as though unaware of her surroundings; John knew better.

"I said I would be in contact."

"Yeah, about that..." John tried to think of something to say. Other than apologising for Rodney's bad manners - which weren't John's fault anyway - nothing came to mind. "You okay?"

Dark eyes measured his concern. "I am fine, Colonel. You need not be concerned."

"No," he agreed, resting his hands on the railing alongside hers, "But I still am."

He didn't say anymore, didn't ask the questions he wanted to ask, just stood there and let her take the time to accept his presence. John wasn't the most cluey of guys - he thought he did better than Rodney, but that wasn't saying much - but he guessed that, right now, Teyla mightn't be up for talking, but she didn't mind company.

At least, he hoped she wouldn't mind company.

After a moment, she exhaled and went back to staring at the field, seeing something he didn't. John let her stare and just waited. He quieted the restlessness he felt, the urge to be moving, heading back to Atlantis, and stood still - for Teyla's sake.

Beyond the field and the garden, on the other side of the houses and shops, the sounds of the town were muted, as though the sunlight acted like a sound dampening field. So when Teyla spoke, her voice seemed very loud in the afternoon quiet.

"Have you ever lost someone you truly cared for?"

John shrugged. "Yeah." Then, because the question demanded a more extensive answer, he added, "My mom. Friends. A...woman I...cared about."

"How?"

"An accident," he said, feeling his throat choke up and wondering if he was ready to talk about this. Eight years had passed and it still hurt. "Car. Drink driver..." None of which meant anything to Teyla. "She died." He stared fixedly at the plants she'd been studying before, willing his expression not to change, but feeling the clenched fist in his gut.

He hadn't thought of Amy in years now, blocking her carefully from his memory.

"Were you bonded?"

John glanced at her, letting his eyes rest on the familiar, tanned features of her face, so different to Amy's delicate paleness. "Married? No. Didn't get that far." Although they might have if there'd been time; he hadn't found anyone who drew him in so easily - not until he came to Pegasus. He glanced at her. "You?"

"No. Bonding for such reasons takes place when a child is six months old."

"And you never--" John cut that question off. Not his business and as bad as Rodney's question before. "Never mind."

"No," she said simply. "I never."

After a moment, he saw her hand reach out to touch his, fingers resting lightly on the back of his hand. The unintentional caress sent a shiver down his spine, and pure impulse made him turn over his hand and close his fingers around hers as she spoke. "I am sorry for your loss."

He shrugged and met her eyes. "It was a while ago. And it wasn't as...personal as yours anyway."

"Loss is always personal."

John shrugged again. It was true, but he still figured she had the better claim to grief. It had to be hard to keep losing people you cared about - especially to the Wraith.

They stood in silence for a little while longer.

When he felt her begin to pull her hand from his, he let her go. "You ready to go home, now?" John asked, using the question to mask the odd sense of loss he felt at her withdrawl.

Her smile was brief and slightly self-conscious. "Yes."

The walk back to the jumper was silent, and the trip back to the city subdued.

But when he turned to follow Rodney and Ronon to the guys' showers, Teyla's fingers caught his sleeve. "Colonel."

"Teyla?"

"Thank you. For earlier."

He shrugged. "No problem. You listened, too."

But when he turned away, her hand touched his cheek and drew his face down for a brief brush of her lips past his cheek - a friendly kiss.

Then she was gone to the showers, without a look behind.

- fin -