Please see first chapter for disclaimer, rating, warnings, pairings, etc.

Part 14/?

IMPORTANT AUTHOR'S NOTE: Whoo! I made it, just 3 days short of it having been 7 months since the last update was posted to Shattered! Again, sincere apologies to everyone who has been wondering if this fic was EVER going to be updated, let alone finished. Please see the author's note at the beginning of Chapter 1 for a fuller explanation of why this has been so long in coming. Also, please, please, PLEASE go back and read Chapters 1 through 13 before reading this newest chapter. For reasons also explained in the aforementioned author's note, if you don't, you're going to be very, very lost. I think I made the right decision in revising this fic. Please feed an author, and let me know what you think, but be kind – no flames!

-Chapter 14-


Teyla made her eyes open. By concentrating very hard, she tried to absorb what she saw, even though her eyes exhibited a disturbing tendency to sag shut again. She fought to keep her eyelids slitted to the merest crack as her gaze drifted from one side to the other of her limited range of vision. And her first marginally clear thought was that the afterlife looked very much like Atlantis's infirmary.

A woman's face seemed to hang over her for a bleary moment, but was gone again before she could make an effort to identify it. She blinked slowly. Perhaps she had only imagined it. Perhaps her waking was equally imaginary, since everything seemed so far away, separated from her by layers of unreality. But real or not, at least it was a change from the dark.

"Teyla. Teyla." A man's voice spoke her name very near her, softly yet insistently. Her head turned ever so slightly toward the sound, but she couldn't see who called her. She realized her eyes were closed once more. How annoying: when had that happened?

"Teyla, luv, can ye hear me?"

Of course I do, she told him, or she thought she did. You are speaking into my ear.

"Teyla," the voice coaxed even as it commanded, "lass, open your eyes and look at me."

In response, her eyelids sluggishly lifted. She blinked confusedly up at an anxious face that, though familiar, was somehow not the one she'd expected to see. Carson. Teyla felt her lips shape the name, but soundlessly. She tried again, and this time her voice made it out of her sore throat as a hoarse croak. "Carson."

Beckett's expression brightened. "Aye, lass. Can ye tell me how you're feelin'?"

Teyla considered his question carefully, though it was hard to keep her mind from drifting back into its previous languor. She felt. . . She felt. . . How should she feel? She looked helplessly at the doctor's expectant face, and said the one thing she was sure of. "I – it hurts to speak." To underscore her words, she slowly slid her right hand from where it rested on her diaphragm, up along her body until she could lightly press her fingers to her throat. . .

. . .And went very still as the world abruptly became much more up close and real around her. She could move her right arm again! She gasped reflexively in surprise, then unconsciously tensed against the agony she expected to follow.

It didn't come. She perceived instead only a deep soreness where before there had been nearly unbearable pain. Her eyes went wide in shock. Cautiously, she inhaled, testing the limits of this rediscovered freedom to breathe.

Carson nodded at her encouragingly. "Aye, we got that beastly bit of crystal out of your lung," he said. "I'm glad to say you're doin' marvelously well, all things considered."

Teyla cocked her head slightly on her pillow. Her earlier confusion returned, as if time had sprinted ahead of her, leaving her to catch up as best she could. All what things considered? she wanted to ask, but never got the chance. An overwhelming flood of memories swept through her mind: disjointed in places, fogged over with intense suffering in most others; yet all holding at their centers a very tall, immensely strong, endlessly patient and loving man. Immediately but injudiciously she tried to push herself higher on the gurney/bed as she wildly looked around for him. A breath-snatching stab of pain made her subside again even before Carson could reach to restrain her. Grabbing his arm with strengthless fingers, she gasped one frantic word, the name she'd clung to in the annihilating dark. "Ronon!"

A deep voice said, "I'm here, love." And suddenly he was there – occupying the space Beckett quickly vacated by stepping aside, giving her that quirky little grin he only ever used with her. Teyla's vision blurred: with relief, she thought, until she felt the warm wetness of tears sliding down her cheeks. As if of their own will, her arms extended towards him as she repeatedly whispered, "Ronon, oh, Ronon, oh, my love!"

He reached for her at the same time, easing his big hands carefully under her shoulders as he bent to embrace her. Teyla wrapped her arms around his neck, relishing the solid, warm realness of him, only dimly hearing Carson say in remonstrance, "Steady, lad, steady, ye maun be careful yet of this tubing, and those leads – and the sheet—!"

Teyla felt Ronon's body quiver where it pressed against hers. Though she couldn't be sure, she thought he chuckled the barely audible words, "For a little while longer, at least, my almost-wife," into her ear. As he drew away from her, his lips and beard and dreadlocks brushing slowly across the exposed skin of her shoulder, he added in a louder voice, "I am being careful with the sheet, Doc." Without taking his eyes off hers, he reached up to catch her left hand with his, circumspectly placed her arm across her breast to secure the sheet covering her chastely in place, and winked.

He would have released her hand then, but Teyla held onto his with both of hers, gazing at him as if she needed to relearn his features. It warmed her, heart and soul, to see him in such high spirits. Yet despite the teasingly provocative sparkle in his deep green eyes, she also saw how the sockets around them were shadow stained, the cheekbones below more prominent as well. A half-healed cut centered a yellowing bruise, marring his hairline. Her gaze dropped lower, to where his coarsely woven shirt gapped away from the base of his neck. Beneath the fabric, a smooth, black, snug-fitting alien something showed, curving over his shoulders. Puzzled, she raised her right hand and brushed tentative fingers over it.

Another memory fragment surfaced: firelight flickering across Ronon; waves hissing onto sand somewhere nearby; sharp smells of salt, and smoke, and Earth-made antiseptics prickling at her nose. She nodded and whispered as if to herself, "I remember – you broke your collarbone in the crash. And still you carried me. . ." Her voice quivered and faded at the thought of the pain he must have endured, her eyes once again filling with tears.

Ronon put his free hand on her waist as he bent for a swift kiss. "No way I was leaving you." His eyes darkened briefly before the teasing twinkle returned. "And it isn't broken, just cracked. I'm only wearing this brace thing because Doc Beckett insists."

"It's a figure-eight clavicle splint," Carson corrected genially as he came around a privacy screen towards them; only then did Teyla realize that he'd left them alone. "And ye'll be thankin' me for it later, laddie. Now then, luv," he stopped at the foot of the gurney and scrutinized Teyla closely, "do ye feel up for a bit more company?"

Teyla reluctantly looked away from her betrothed's face. "Yes, of course. Who—?" Beyond Carson's shoulder, she saw Atlantis's leaders peeking around the edge of the screen. Her lips curved into a welcoming smile. "John – Elizabeth."

Elizabeth smiled warmly in return as she came fully into the cubicle, saying as she did, "Teyla, it's so good to have you back with us." John, however, just shook his head sadly as he followed a couple of steps behind her.

"I am shocked," he said on an exaggerated sigh, "absolutely shocked by the blatant fraternization occurring right here in front of me— In front of Beckett— In front of Elizabeth! Where's the discipline, where's the discretion, where's the—"

"Hey," Ronon interrupted as he casually straightened, "I'm just following my commander's example."

Colonel Sheppard grinned and jerked his chin up, as if in acknowledgment of a clean hit, then peered over his wife's shoulder at Teyla. "You look," he paused a second before pronouncing, "better."

"Everyone in Atlantis is very glad to hear how well you're both doing," Elizabeth said. "So many people have come up to us asking for news so often these last few days, we've nearly resorted to giving Ronon and Teyla updates over city-wide. The whole city was very distressed, you know, when we realized Jumper Seven was missing."

Teyla's chest tightened with affection for these dear friends; and sorrow as she recalled the death of the young Marine who'd been their pilot. "Thank you," she replied. "It is – very good to see both of you again." She paused for a few quick, shallow breaths. "I deeply regret Lieutenant Johnson did not survive as well. I – we," she threw a quick glance up at Ronon, "will always remember him with kindness."

Ronon's fingers tightened on hers. "I owe that young man a lot," he agreed softly.

"Yes, we do," Elizabeth echoed solemnly. John put a hand on her shoulder and sharply nodded once, his expression taking on that sober tightness it always got after the loss of an expedition member. Still looking at Teyla and Ronon, she reached up to cover his hand with one of her own.

"Hey, guys!" The sudden, high-energy intrusion of Rodney McKay into the cubicle fractured the somber mood. Teyla tried but was unable to suppress completely a reflexive wince. "The nurses said Teyla's awake—" He broke off as Elizabeth turned towards him, one hand half-lifted in a shushing gesture, and instantly looked horrified. "Oh, no— Don't tell me—" His voice dropped to a strangled whisper. "She's worse again? When did this happen?"

Out of compassion for the genuine distress in her teammate's voice, Teyla smiled at him reassuringly. "No, Rodney," she said, "I am awake. Carson even says I am doing quite well."

McKay's shoulders sagged in just as obvious relief. "Oh, thank goodness! You are awake! And you look, um, great. Well, I mean, uh, maybe not great, you've looked a lot better, or maybe not a lot better, but—" As if realizing his tact deficiency was showing, he broke off abruptly, seemed to cast about for something else to say, and blurted out, "So, how's your Spidey sense?" He snapped his mouth suddenly shut, going very red in the face as his eyes widened, making them appear even more prominent.

Above her, Ronon cleared his throat meaningfully, the sound very close to a growl. Teyla interposed swiftly, "Thank you, Rodney. But I do not understand your concern for my – Spidey – sense."

John seemed to be making a pointed effort not to turn and glare at the scientist. "We actually hadn't made it quite that far yet, McKay."

Detecting the grating note in his voice, Teyla quickly glanced at Elizabeth, just in time to see her face take on a studied blandness: her "diplomat's mask," as she'd heard John refer to it. At the foot of her bed, Carson stood looking down, his lips pressed together in a tight line. And Ronon's hand, still clasped in her own, was suddenly rigid with tension.

"My Spidey sense," Teyla repeated slowly, trying to comprehend their reactions. "That is what you and John call my ability to sense the Wraith." She looked around at them all again. For the first time, she noticed both John and Rodney wore their tac vests; and while she only had a clear view of the P-90 clipped to Rodney's, she knew from that fact that John would not be without his. Cold dread built inside her as she turned her head to focus her gaze on Ronon's lean waist. Now she was looking for it, she could see under the bottom edge of his shirt the shape of his holstered blaster riding low on his hip.

The pieces clicked together. Teyla shivered as she put the picture they formed into words. "You – believe – there is a Wraith – on Atlantis. And you—" –Are going to hunt it. While I am bound here, unable to share the danger with you. In spite of the old familiar panic roaring up inside her, she managed to seal her lips against the words, but could do nothing to stop her trembling. Everyone's eyes flashed to a point above and to the right of her. Embarrassment mingled with her anxiety as she realized the cause. Of course – she was still hooked up to monitoring equipment which, even though muted, betrayed her frantic heartbeat to everyone around her. Closing her eyes, she tried to will herself towards calm.

Nearby, Carson said briskly, "Ronon, Elizabeth, some help with these, please." A warm weight settled over her, quickly tucked around her by several pairs of hands: heated blankets. One pair lingered after the others withdrew. Teyla yearned for a moment simply to be able to yield to her desire for the comfort and security their touch conveyed even through the layers of wool. But she couldn't do that. She had to be disciplined, to be strong. Even as her body succumbed to the blankets' relaxing warmth, she drew on her deep emotional chill to fortify her resolve. With her inner defenses, though fragile as thin ice, once more in place, she lifted her eyelids.

One look into Ronon's green eyes, dark as they were with concern, nearly destroyed her inward balance. But she somehow managed to hold firm, determined not to shame him again with her weakness. "I – apologize," she said first to him, then to all the others hovering near her as she forced her eyes away from his face, "for distressing you. It will not happen again."

"No, no, no, it's my fault, I should be the one apologizing to you, Teyla, I have this big mouth and I tend to just say things, I'm sorry! Really, really sorry!" Rodney's words tumbled out in a rush, his expression totally and sincerely miserable.

"It is all right, Rodney." Teyla seized upon the welcome distraction of soothing the distraught scientist. "I assume I was to be told of this anyway, yes? Though I will confess I expected to hear about a human saboteur, not of a Wraith, being in the city. The shock simply caught me off guard and I over-reacted – perhaps because I have been heavily sedated until just recently."

"That's true," Elizabeth smoothly seconded Teyla's efforts to defuse the stress still vibrating in the cubicle, "we were intending to explain our reasons for calling you and Ronon back from the mainland so close to beginning your wedding preparations." She shook her head and sighed. "I regret now we didn't take that decision earlier. If we had, you would both have been spared a great deal of suffering."

Teyla felt Ronon's gaze on her face, palpable as a touch. She knew he was skeptical of her explanation, even if he was keeping quiet about it. Without looking at him, she said, "I do not know yet why you believe there is a Wraith on Atlantis. But unfortunately my Spidey sense also seems to have been affected by the medications I've received," she glanced at Carson, "because I do not sense its presence."

Beckett looked thoughtful, then nodded. "Aye, that's reasonable. After all the physical trauma you've had, then add the anesthesia plus all the painkillers pre- and post-op, it's likely you'd be a wee bit fuzzy about some things."

John grimaced and rocked on his heels a couple of times. "Well, then," he said wryly, "I guess we jumped the gun in more ways than one."

"It seems so," Elizabeth agreed. Teyla must have looked her confusion, because she went on to add, "He means we didn't necessarily need to overwhelm you with all this the very first time you regained consciousness. But you see," she briefly tipped her head sideways while making a rueful little face of her own, "we all just assumed you would sense the Wraith as soon as you woke up."

"And you did not wish for me to be distressed. Thank you, it was a kind thought on all your parts. But I believe it has all turned out for the best." Teyla carefully drew the deepest breath she could, and took careful hold of the rags of her courage. Making the best attempt she could to sound tranquil and composed, and completely in control, she said, "I appreciate you being here – all of you – but I do not wish to hold anyone back from their duties. . . Though if she has the time, perhaps Elizabeth could fill me in on what has happened here in our absence." Only when the words were out did she dare to glance at Ronon to see if he detected her falsity. His face was utterly expressionless – except for the depth of the questioning pain in his eyes. Caught by it, she couldn't look away, despite the fear of what her own eyes might be betraying to him.

Do not choose me.

Though they remained unspoken now, the memory of those words hung in the air between them. Teyla remembered believing so strongly when she'd first said them that her motives were right; noble, even. She'd intended them for a pledge of her intentions never to be something that now, more than a year later, she wasn't quite sure of anymore.

"Uh, Ronon," John said diffidently as the silence stretched out uncomfortably, "you know Doc Beckett really isn't happy about you going out on the sweep today. Why don't you sit this one out for another day – or two – or three? We've got it covered."

Ronon continued to look steadily into Teyla's eyes as he took his hands off the blankets wrapping her and straightened deliberately. He said tonelessly, "I'm good. We'd better be going."

The ice at the core of Teyla's heart expanded into her soul. She dropped her gaze to hide her own sudden, irrational hurt. After all, wasn't this exactly what she'd insisted he do? Surely she was strong enough – to hold herself together long enough –

"Okay." John spoke again, quiet authority replacing his former diffidence. "Guys, give me a minute with Teyla and Ronon. Alone, please."

Lost in trying to conceal her uncertain emotions, Teyla barely noticed as the cubicle cleared. But when John took the couple of steps necessary to bring him opposite Ronon, she had no choice but to look up at him.

"Look, kids, I only want to have this talk with you the one time." Even though he kept his voice low, Teyla immediately knew it was Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard speaking now. "If I ever had any problem with the two of you getting married and staying on my team, this is it: One or both of you trying too hard to prove how you'll never put your personal feelings ahead of your perceived duty or responsibility. I hope you noticed how I stressed the word 'perceived' – I did it for a reason." He paused, the intensity in his expression becoming even more focused. "Being too macho can screw things up just as badly, or worse than badly, than being overprotective. And yes, Teyla, I'm talking mostly to you. Do you really want your 'tough guy' act to force Ronon into matching it, or having to always go you one better? Because that is exactly where this is headed. And if it doesn't kill one of you first, or McKay, or me, it will kill your marriage."

Teyla's inner chill spread to every cell in her body until she felt carved from ice. John's words stung her like blows from bantos rods. Many more, and surely she would be shattered by their impact.

Colonel Sheppard was looking only at her now, his thin face once again tight and solemn. "So while we're gone today, Teyla, I want you to take a really hard look at the choices you're making. Then I want you to ask yourself if they're really worth the price you'll pay if you keep on making them. No rationalizations; no glossing things over; just the bare, honest truth." He held her gaze for another long moment, as if to be absolutely certain he'd made his point. With a brief but commanding glance at Ronon, he jerked his head sideways before turning sharply on his heel and striding out of the cubicle. Ronon himself gave her an unreadable look and silently followed.

Teyla stared after them, too frozen by shock even to blink. Only gradually did the burning of her eyes penetrate her numbness enough for her to realize how painfully dry their surfaces had become. It took her an unfathomably long time to decide to close them, since the physical pain was so negligible compared with the emotional agony ripping her to shreds inside.

Time passed, a subjective eternity during which Sheppard's words echoed endlessly, battering Teyla into facing their truth. But just as with bodily pain, she discovered, neither was spiritual pain – even if so intense as to be beyond tears – infinitely sustainable. At some point there had to be a defensive shutdown. Eventually she lapsed into a state somewhere between the waking world and unconsciousness, where actual memory melded into symbolic dream.

She knelt in front of the great doors to the Gateroom, Ronon lying dead in her arms. As before, he faded into nothingness within her desperate clasp, leaving only bloodstains to prove he'd ever existed. But when she turned frantically to look at the living Ronon behind her, he wasn't there. Instead, he was walking away from her, through the suddenly opening panels into the Gateroom.

"Ronon!" she called after him. "Where are you going? Why are you leaving me?" When he didn't acknowledge her, she scrambled to her feet and followed, half-staggering. The blue shimmer of an active wormhole lit the immense space beyond. By it she saw he was moving steadily towards the Stargate, seemingly unaware of how unnaturally empty the room was.

"Ronon!" The scream ripped out of Teyla's throat, and finally he halted, his head cocking slightly back over his shoulder. He slowly turned to face her.

His body bore the same horrific wound that had just killed his future self.

Teyla collapsed to her knees, gasping in shock. Ronon gazed at her silently, his strongly beautiful face extremely sad. Still without speaking, he took a step back away from her, and she realized she could dimly see the Stargate's rim though him: He was fading out, too. She whimpered a denial, a plea for him to stay. In silence, his eyes never leaving hers, he continued to back toward the event horizon as his figure grew dimmer and more ghostly, until there was barely enough left of him to cause a ripple as he stepped through the Gate.

Teyla sprang up, hurling herself recklessly after him, screaming his name. The Stargate closed before she could reach it, taking its light with it and leaving her in utter blackness.

"Teyla." A familiar female voice spoke her name calmly but firmly. Hands too small to be Ronon's gripped her shoulders, holding her down against a semi-yielding surface. "Teyla, wake up and lie still. You're going to pull out your drainage tube and have to be taken back into surgery if you don't – stop – this."

Teyla's eyes flew open. Breathing in rapid, shallow pants, she looked around wildly, almost expecting to see the Gateroom. As she slowly absorbed the reality of the infirmary, she yielded obediently to the pressure on her shoulders. Only then did she realize it was Elizabeth bending over her, her forehead creased with concern.

The other woman drew back slightly, watching her closely as she asked, "Teyla, has your pain gotten worse? Should I call Carson to check you? You were tossing around so much before I woke you, I'm afraid you may have dislodged something."

Feeling lost between her dream world and the real one, Teyla didn't answer at first. When Elizabeth lift a hand to activate her headset, she mustered enough coherence to say faintly, "No, please, I am—" –fine. Her voice failed on the last word, because it was a lie, albeit a polite lie, and she couldn't make herself say it. Her eyes filled with tears as, with difficulty, she admitted instead, "My physical injury does is not beyond bearing. But the pain of knowing how I have hurt Ronon, how I have failed him. . . And not just Ronon. I have disappointed Colonel Sheppard as well." She restlessly worked her arms within the disarranged cocoon of blankets, crossing them over her chest as if that would ease the pain consuming her from the inside out.

"Careful, Teyla, please be careful how you move. You really don't want to pull anything loose." Elizabeth quickly turned the blankets down halfway and untangled Teyla's IV line from them. Straightening the covers again, she left them untucked this time, allowing a little more freedom of movement, before she settled on the edge of the gurney. Careful not to shake it too much, she shifted her awkward weight until she could face her friend comfortably, and said matter-of-factly, "I know John has had some concerns about how you were coping with what happened. And I do think you hurt Ronon by seeming to push him away sometimes as if you don't really need him – oh, yes, John and I both have seen you do that, as recently as this morning. Even Rodney has noticed. But why do you think you've 'failed' Ronon?"

Teyla made no attempt to hide her misery as she replied, "Because I am not strong enough to – cope – as the rest of you are doing."

"Not strong enough?" Elizabeth cocked her head as if startled, her eyes narrowing. "Teyla, you are one of the strongest people I have ever been privileged to know! Maybe you just expect too much from yourself."

Anger flashed through Teyla, temporarily negating her inner coldness. "How can I not expect much from myself?" she demanded hotly. "I am the leader of my people. I must look out for their welfare, provide them with an example to follow—"

Elizabeth quickly shook her head at her, interrupting her. "I said 'too much,'" she corrected gently. Raising a hand to tuck a strand of her dark hair behind one of her ears, she sighed deeply before continuing. "I can only dimly imagine, you know, what it must be like to grow up in the Pegasus galaxy. For most of my life I thought it was bad enough growing up on Earth under the threat of nuclear or biological holocausts, energy crises, school or workplace massacres, sniper shootings, terrorist attacks— But here, knowing how at any time you, your family, your friends might be swept up in a culling; with little or no warning given, and no real way of protecting any of them from an unthinkably terrible death— And also knowing it's not just a possibility, but a virtual inevitability." She shook her head, slowly this time. "I'm not ashamed to confess to you I'm not sure how I would have responded to that pressure. Maybe, to protect my mental and emotional health, especially if I knew the kind of responsibilities I'd sooner or later have to carry, I'd strive to be as self-sufficient as I could make myself. And perhaps, even in my closest relationships, I'd try to hang on to just a little emotional distance – as a buffer against future loss."

Though Elizabeth's words lacked the stinging force of Colonel Sheppard's, they shocked Teyla no less. She said reluctantly, "You – are very accurate in your perceptions." Her shallow breathing quickened then as. No longer trying to deny anything to herself or anyone else, her next words burst fiercely straight out of the agony in her heart. "But how am I supposed to 'cope' with knowing he has already died once to save me from death? How to accept I may not be able to prevent him from doing so again? He cannot – he must not – ever have to make that choice again! I am the one who should be dead. He was meant to live!"

A long moment passed as Teyla's words echoed passionately between them. Finally Elizabeth's light green gaze lowered to her own hands, splayed over her stomach as if to protect and support the child she carried. Teyla's eyes automatically followed. Feeling suddenly remorseful, she gasped, then stammered, "Elizabeth, I am s-sorry, I d-did not mean— I was n-not implying—"

Elizabeth looked up quickly. "It's all right, Teyla," she said, smiling faintly. "I know you didn't mean it that way. You haven't said anything I haven't thought in regards to John and myself many, many times over – especially at night. The fact is, we all were scarred by the timeline being changed the way it was. I know John is afraid I might die having this baby, with there being no way he can prevent it. He's never said so, of course. But he knows as well as I do women my age are not supposed to be having their first child. And while my fears for my John are very similar to yours for Ronon," Teyla saw a shiver ripple through her, even though her face remained composed, "at least I didn't have to watch that other John Sheppard die."

Teyla worked her left arm, the one without the IV, free of the blankets and lightly rested her hand on the older woman's knee. "No," she said softly, part of her pain changing into sympathy for her friend as she remembered what she'd later heard of that other's ordeal, "you only had to listen while seeing in your mind's eye everything occurring with him. I do not think either of us had it—" she hesitated over the word "—easier than the other."

The corners of Elizabeth's eyes crinkled as she tipped her head in acknowledgment. "All right, I'll concede to you on that. But I think in all of this, you have overlooked one very important fact." She laid a warm hand on top of Teyla's. "The John and Ronon who chose to come back in time had each lived through the death of his Elizabeth, his Teyla. Having experienced life without us, they decided it was worth whatever they had to do, even to the point of dying themselves, to keep our deaths from happening." She leaned forward the slight bit her pregnancy allowed, her eyes glowing earnestly. "I struggled with that, Teyla. I've cried myself to sleep many times over it. It is humbling, even uncomfortable, to be loved that much. But," she squeezed Teyla's hand for emphasis, "it is also very, very glorious. And however difficult it makes things for you and me – after all, it is their choice."

Unable to look away from the burning sincerity in Elizabeth Sheppard's face, Teyla sensed a tiny spark of answering warmth flare deep within her. "Yes," she said very quietly, thinking the words out even as she spoke them, "it is. And if I do not allow Ronon that choice, then I kill a great part of what makes him the man he is. I see now it would be an act of selfish pride, not of love, and our marriage would indeed not survive." She smiled tremulously, marveling at how her acceptance of that truth fed the thawing of her heart and spirit. "While it is true I have wasted much time and energy being unfair as well as unrealistic, I will not make those mistakes again – thanks to you and John."

"I'm very sure you won't." Elizabeth's smile turned impish, deepening the dimple in her cheek. "Besides, it does help us, knowing that our guys are very good at what they do."

Teyla started to laugh, until a sharp reminder from her ribs made her decide against it. "Yes, yes. they are." She glanced down, then up again. Testing her rediscovered inner balance, she said, "So, do you have time to tell me about this Wraith Ronon and John are hunting? And what about the person who sabotaged our jumper? What exactly has been going in the city while we were gone?"

"I may move back to my chair first," Elizabeth suited actions to words as she slid off the gurney. Wincing, she put one hand on her lower back while still supporting her abdomen with the other as she eased herself down. "We'll have to compare notes after you get pregnant – I really don't want to believe all these aches are solely due to my advanced age! Now then, where's the best place to begin? So much has happened in such a few days, it seems. . . By the time the lab exploded, we thought you were already safe on the mainland—"

-To Be Continued-