A/N: Spoilers through Sunday.
Evidence of Existence
Teyla perched on the sturdiest part of the remaining wall, her shoulders slumping as she brushed the hair out of her eyes and dabbed at the sweat streaking her cheeks. The water from her canteen provided sweet refreshment as she scowled at the binary suns peeking through breaks in a cloudy sky. Living inside a climate-controlled city had softened her to the whims of nature, especially to humidity.
"How much longer is he going to be?" Ronon grumbled.
John slid to the ground next to Teyla and squinted up at their teammate. "However long it takes. I know this isn't the most exciting mission we've ever been on, but none of us need exciting right now, least of all McKay. It's the first thing he's shown interest in since Carson-" He cleared his throat. "-since we got back."
"I know," Ronon admitted, "but we've been here for hours. There's nothing here but rocks with a few carvings on them. No technology, no weapons, nothing we can use." He lifted his face to the sky. "And there's a storm coming."
John shook his head. "Ronon-"
"He's right." Rodney ducked under a stone arch and joined them, leaning against a crumbling pillar and wiping his hands on the back of his pants. "The scanner is showing powerful energy readings in the area, but half the text on the stone is missing. I can't locate the source of the readings or an entrance to a lab." In the shocked silence, he added, "Not without some specialized equipment."
Teyla's gaze swept over her team. They had returned from Earth last week, drinking in Atlantis like thirsty men in a desert. Once back in familiar environs, healing began. For some. Ronon had taken his grief out on four practice dummies in the gym. Rodney had hidden himself in his quarters at first but had recently been spotted in his lab and the control room. But John…. Carson's death was hitting him hard just as he'd feared. He tried to hide it, to push it away, but unconsciously his eyes never left them – in the mess hall, in the rec room, in the gym, in staff meeting. The purple smudges and fine lines around his eyes spoke of insomnia and nightmares, and stress never let the muscles in his shoulders relax.
Sheppard pinched the bridge of his nose then pushed to his feet with a sigh. "Guess we should head back then."
The gate faced the base of a mountain range that was a two hour hike through a gorge away. The gorge was deep, and the small stream that trickled along the floor indicated a large water source nearby. Gathering their belongings, they began a silent trudge back as the air grew heavy and charged, carrying the scent of rain. The trek was difficult, a steep winding trail of small jagged rocks that crunched and slid under their feet. Thunder rolled in the distance as wind whipped around them. They were halfway to the bottom of the ravine when rain began to pelt their faces.
Brushing the water from his face, John turned to them. "What do you think?"
Ronon's eyes narrowed as he scanned the area. "Nothing but rock. No trees, no caves."
"Yeah, I noticed," John replied.
Teyla glanced over her shoulder at the roiling black clouds. "The worst part of the storm is behind us. It would be difficult to return to the ruins."
"Can we go? Getting wet here," Rodney huffed, stuffing his tablet pack under his jacket.
John rolled his eyes but nodded. "Let's pick up the pace a little.
The rain had turned into a downpour by the time they started up the other side an hour later. Teyla raked her fingers through her hair and was rebanding it when Ronon froze suddenly then turned in a slow circle.
John brought his P-90 to bear. "What is it?"
"Don't know yet."
Teyla quieted her breathing and focused on the storm. The wind howled like a prebol in heat while the thunder shook the ground and made the air vibrate. Lightening slashed through the green-tinged sky, spotlighting the clouds that began a lazy swirl to their right. A roaring unlike any she'd ever heard echoed through the chasm as rocks trickled and tumbled past them.
"Tornado?" Rodney shouted.
"Flood! We need to move now!" Ronon grabbed McKay by the collar. "Now!"
Water careened through the canyon, a white-tipped wall of gray bearing down on them, churning furiously. Slippery stone tripped them every step of the way, slicing hands, knees, and elbows as they raced upward.
They almost made it.
The wave hit, and the entire world turned upside down. Teyla was lifted and tossed like a doll, much like she'd been the day Carson died. Plunging under the water, she was lost in darkness, uncertain of which way was up. Battered on all sides by rocks and debris. Lungs burning. Flailing wildly.
A hand caught her hair and yanked. She gulped in water along with precious oxygen when she broke the surface. Gagging, she coughed until her throat burned, but she couldn't get enough water out and enough air in. She kicked, trying to get her head higher. Her vision began to gray at the edges. When something snaked under her arms and around her chest, she struggled with the little strength she had left.
"Teyla, stop fighting me and breathe," John ordered. "I've got you."
Clutching John's arm, she relaxed into him, tipping her head back on his shoulder until her face was clear of the water. Taking slow, deep breaths, she forced herself to be still as he steadily made his way to land. When her fingers touched the dirt and shale, she clawed her way out of the water, coughing and gagging until only oxygen remained in her lungs.
John flopped down beside her, panting heavily. "You okay?"
Her throat raw, she chose to nod in answer.
"Good," he said, though the fear in his eyes remained, growing a bit when he reached for a radio that wasn't there. "Do you have your radio?"
Teyla touched her ear, but the comm was gone. Checking her vest, she pulled the hand-held unit out and handed it to him.
Twisting it on, John called, "Ronon? Rodney? You there?"
The radio popped and hissed at him.
"Ronon! Answer me, damn it!" His voice held a hint of panic.
Static gurgled in reply.
"McKay, talk to me." His knuckles whitened around the radio. "Please," he whispered.
Teyla crawled to his side and took the hand-held from him. "They may still be trying to find a safe place to wait. Or they may have also lost their radios."
His face twisted in sorrow. "Or they could be-"
"John," she interrupted hoarsely, "we must focus on finding a more stable piece of land for ourselves. Ronon will be doing the same. I believe the worst of the storm has passed, but night is falling. We cannot search for them in the dark."
John's eyes shuttered as his expression resolved to neutral. "You're right." Climbing to his feet, he offered her a hand up while he surveyed the region. "Still no shelter, but I see a ledge with an overhang that should provide some protection from the wind and rain."
Teyla squeezed his hand lightly then pushed her hair out of her eyes. Again. The climb was arduous, scraping already sliced up hands and knees, but the ledge was stable and the overhang shielded them from most of the elements. Slumping to the ground, she leaned her head against the stone and breathed.
The rip of Velcro caught her ear. Rolling her head to the side, she watched John pull everything out of his vest pockets. She followed suit and ten minutes later they had a recounting of the meager provisions the raging waters had left them. Two half-filled canteens, four soggy PowerBars, waterproof matches, one hand grenade, one P-90 with an extra magazine, antibiotic cream, gauze, and the knife she'd received during her Age of Accountability ceremony.
"Let's clean up some of these scrapes," John said, unfolding the no longer sterile gauze and gently wiping her hands then applying the cream.
"How do you feel?" Teyla asked as he repeated the process on her knees.
John winced as he touched a spot on the back of his head. "Got slammed into a rock pretty hard, and I'm sure my bruises have bruises, but otherwise I'm fine."
"No," he said, "just one hell of a headache. You?"
"I hit my side on a boulder."
"The side you had surgery on?"
"Yes," Teyla admitted, "but I do not believe it to be serious. Just a bruise."
"Let me see."
"It is not neces-"
"Let me see," John insisted.
Gingerly removing her tac vest, she pulled up the hem of her shirt to expose the area in question. He winced at the jagged scar that had not yet faded but did not hesitate to press lightly on the already mottled skin surrounding it. She hissed as he hit a tender spot.
"Sorry," he mumbled as he sat back. "You were right about the bruise, but I can't feel any cracks or breaks."
A huge yawn overtook her without warning. The events of the day and the encroaching darkness were exacting a toll.
"Get some sleep," John said. "I'll keep watch."
Stretching out carefully, Teyla shifted until she was the least uncomfortable, snacking on the PowerBar he handed her. Sleep tugged at her, wet clothes and all. With a sigh, she surrendered to it as the rain continued to fall.
A shift in the air around her and mumbled words jerked her back to wakefulness, and she rose up on an elbow, blinking tiredly. John sat on the lip of the ledge, his legs dangling into the void below, whispering into the radio.
"Ronon? Rodney? Are you there?"
"Damn it," he hissed. "Where are you?"
Sitting up, Teyla called, "John?"
His shoulders hunched when she spoke. "Sorry," he apologized. "I didn't mean to wake you."
"I am certain that they are fine."
"I hope you're right," he sighed, tucking the radio in his vest and tilting his head back to stare at the stars. "The rain finally stopped."
Crawling to his side, she cautiously swung her legs over the side and followed his gaze upward to a clear sky and quarter moon. "The stars are beautiful."
"Yeah," John agreed. "It's been a long time since I've been somewhere without lights to obscure the view."
"I understand. Our fires on Athos hid some of the stars from our sight although we knew they were there. Many things can be hidden from sight, but evidence of their existence still remains."
She paused, searching for something comforting to say, a bit of wisdom from her father or Charin that would alleviate his pain. His body was so rigid with tension she feared he would turn to stone.
"Today is my mother's sixty-fifth birthday," he said into the silence.
Is. Not would have been. Teyla blinked in amazement. "I thought you didn't have any family." She knew immediately it was the wrong thing to say, had not meant to say it, but the words were out before she could stop them.
The walls slammed into place, the distance between them as large as the chasm they stared into.
And just as suddenly, it was gone.
His shoulders slumped, his entire body wilting before her eyes. "There's family and then there's family."
Teyla had been trained since childhood to read people, to see their strengths and weaknesses in their expressions, body language, speech patterns. She had excelled at it, joining her father in trade negotiations before her fourteenth summer. Few people were able to hide their thoughts and feelings from her – the cues were there if one knew where to look. John was no different. He hid himself beneath a cheerful exterior and cocky comments, but the fine muscles in his face tightened when he was angry, he scrubbed the back of his neck when he was frustrated, his eyes turned stormy when he hurt and became flat when he was cornered.
But in the three years Teyla had known John, he had never opened himself up emotionally to any of them, had never been totally vulnerable, not even on board the Daedalus when they were searching for Ronon. It simply was not John's way. Yet when he turned to face her, the mask had crumbled completely, his expression a heartbreaking mixture of pain and fear.
"I have a biological family like anyone else," John began, "but that's all they are. What I told you before was true – you guys are the closest thing to a real family that I have."
"And now you've lost Carson."
His hands clenched, his BDUs bunching in his fingers. "Of all the people…. I mean, we face dangers everyday, but he was a doctor. He was supposed to defeat death not surrender himself to it."
"Death claims us all eventually, John," she reminded him quietly. "You cannot prevent that."
The trembling started in his arms but soon spread to the rest of his body. "I know," he whispered. "That's what I'm afraid of. I'm not sure I can lose one more person I care about much less two."
Placing a hand on top of his, she curled his fingers around his palm and stroked his knuckles with her thumb. "Nor I."
"I've lost people before, people I cared about, but this is different somehow."
Teyla sighed, leaning against him as the cool night air combined with her damp clothing to chill her through. "I have spent my life watching those around me die, whether by disease or culling or accident. Each time, I thought the grief would be less, but instead it was more. Our experiences shape who we are, how we think, what we feel. When we lose a loved one, we cherish those left all the more. When my mother and sister died, I thought no pain could equal it. Then my father was culled."
John was quiet for a moment, his mask slowly reforming. "You had a sister?" he finally asked.
She smiled sadly. "Terrena."
"Older or younger?"
"She was older. By eight minutes. We had just celebrated our sixth summer when she died. Monsof fever."
"I have a brother," John confessed haltingly. "Dave. He's three years younger than me."
"Were you ever close?"
He shifted uncomfortably, staring straight ahead. "Not really."
"It is alright, John. You do not have to-"
"My mother left when I was seven." The tension was back, worse than before. "One day she was just gone." He sighed, shaking his head. "I spent a lot of years thinking it was my fault." His jaw tightened, and he tossed a loose stone into the night.
"Surely you know now that is not true."
"Yeah," his mouth said. 'No,' said his eyes.
"What did your father do?"
"Hid himself in his work."
Teyla had always thought that nothing could be more painful than losing a parent to the Wraith. She'd been wrong. Selfishness was worse. "The loss did not bring you closer together," she surmised.
John snorted derisively. "Hardly. My father was already a difficult man to get along with, and with her… gone we were three strangers living in the same house."
"And your brother?"
"David craved our father's attention and approval, would do anything, anything for it; all I-" John paused, releasing a shaky breath, "all I wanted was to live my own life."
"What happened between you?" she asked softly.
"When I refused to join the family business, my father, um, he kind of disowned me. Dave sided with him. I haven't spoken to either of them in over ten years."
"Is there no hope of reconciliation between you?"
John's mouth twisted bitterly. "I don't think so. My father told me to get out and never come back. Dave and I, well, we never had much in common anyway. If you can't make a lot of money from it, he isn't interested."
"And your mother?"
"I haven't seen her since she left." He ducked his head. "But I traced her during the weeks we were reassigned to Earth. She's been living in Miami, uh, that's a city on Earth, for the past twenty-five years."
A mother abandoning her child was not unheard of in Pegasus, but it was very rare. On Athos, life was considered sacred and family was prized above all else. The loneliness that John must have felt broke Teyla's heart.
"You have a new home and a new family now, John. We will not abandon you."
"Maybe not on purpose-" John smiled ruefully as he lifted his face to the stars again. "I think I've spent too much time around McKay. I seem to be picking up his pessimism."
Teyla thumped him on the ear.
"Hey! What was that for?"
Amusement danced in her eyes. "If you are McKay then I get to be Ronon."
"You are too short," John pronounced.
She laughed. "And you have too much hair."
"McKay will have-"
Static hissed and popped from his vest. John ripped open his pocket as the radio squawked.
"Sh… ard… there? C… hear me?"
"Rodney!" John screamed into the radio. "Where are you?"
"Sheppard? You there?"
"McKay! Can you hear me?"
"Oh, there you are. I told you it would work."
"What would work? Is Ronon with you? Are you okay?"
"Yeah, Ronon's here. He's been yelling at me for the past four hours while I tried to cobble together a radio with parts of two broken ones without any tools. You have no idea how hard-"
A dull thud sounded, and muttered curses in three languages came through.
"The next flood we're caught in, I get to be stranded with someone other than McKay," Ronon huffed. "Is Teyla with you?"
"She's here. We're fine. We're on a ledge about twenty feet above the waterline. I'm not sure which side of the gorge we're on though."
"I think we're on the stargate side about halfway to the top."
"The terrain is too treacherous to stumble around in the dark. As soon as it's light enough, we'll find each other and get out of here."
"Suns should be up in a couple of hours."
"A couple of hours then. Try not to kill McKay in the meantime."
Ronon snorted. "No promises." Rodney's protests were silenced when the radio went silent.
John grinned happily at the hand-held then slid it in his pocket with a pat. "They're okay."
Teyla beamed at him. "So it would seem."
"You're not going to say 'I told you so' are you?"
She blinked innocently. "Would I do something like that?"
"Are you kidding?" he asked, rolling his eyes. "You live for stuff like that. Don't think I don't know that you were the one that posted that photo from M2Y-483 on the base intranet. I can't believe I fell for that tribal custom routine again."
"That skirt showed off your legs so well," Teyla giggled.
"The microphone in Ronon's shower?"
"Who knew he had such a wonderful singing voice?"
John cocked his head to the side. "How did you get the trumpet fanfare to play every time Rodney entered a room?"
She grinned slyly at him. "A woman never reveals her secrets."
He studied her for a minute, his shrewd eyes suddenly widening. "Elizabeth is in on it with you, isn't she?"
Arching a brow, Teyla shrugged. "I have no idea what you are talking about."
"Of course you don't."
Scooting back with a laugh, she curled onto her uninjured side, pillowing her head on her arm. "Are you going to get some sleep?"
"Not sleepy. I think I'll watch the suns rise."
Two and a half hours later, they were on the move. Based on the location of the sunsrise, John determined they were also on the stargate side of the ravine. A strange game he referred to as Marco Polo led them to Rodney and Ronon thirty minutes later. When they reached the top, they found two squads of Marines heading toward them.
"Good to see you, Sir," Captain Wilkes greeted, saluting.
John returned the salute with a grin. "It's good to be seen, Captain."
"Yes, yes. You're timing is impeccable as always," Rodney groused. "I'm cold, wet, and starving. Can we go now?" He glared as Ronon flicked his ear.
Teyla bit back a smile as John met her eyes with a chuckle. A weight had lifted from his shoulders when they had first spotted Ronon and Rodney. John's step had lightened the closer they got to the stargate and home. New lines were permanently etched on his face, and while the storm in his eyes had not passed yet, it was beginning to die down. Patting her shoulder lightly, John nudged Rodney with his elbow and slapped Ronon on the back as he passed, leading the way to the gate.
"Let's go home."
Written for madjm for the John & Teyla Thing-a-Thon. Prompt: stranded, stars, reflection, laughter. Thanks to kristen999 for the beta. She made everything better. All faults are mine.
This is the last entry for these one-shots. Coming soon: One-shots Part 2 which will include S5 spoilers. Thanks to all of you who have read these stories. And HUGE HUGS to those who have reviewed. I love hearing from you.