Chapter Two

------------

Eight Hours Eariler...

Ronon, in spite of the run that he had been having putting young, cocky kids in their places (it was like sparring with Sheppard), jumped on Halling's request to come with him to inspect the weapons cache. Teyla was coming later that day, and he couldn't really focus on teaching anymore; he just kept remembering his sparring match with her the day before. He needed a new distraction; or at least, some place where he could think of her in peace. The long walk to the weapons cache would do just that.

At least, that had been his reasoning when he'd agreed. One thing he'd forgotten was that given the right subject, Halling was quite a talker.

"Thank you for coming," he said after they'd been walking for a few minutes. "Everyone has been eager for you to come, to see what you can teach us. My boy, Jinto..." and he had gone off on a tangent about his son. A typical father, but Ronon couldn't focus. He checked out and withdrew into his memories...

Flashback

Ronon grinned as the door slid shut behind Sheppard.

"He did the right thing," he said, grinning at Teyla. She smiled back radiantly at him, sending shivers up his spine.

"Since we now have a few more minutes..." the mischief in her eyes was contagious. Acting as fast as he could, he tried to tickle her again, and their war continued.

After another ten minutes or so of chasing each other around the gym, they both agreed to another truce, their game having exhausted them as much as any sparring match.

Ronon smiled at her as she took as sip from her water bottle.

"That was impressive, Warrior Emmagan," he teased. "You are a worthy opponent." He hoped that she would play along, and he was not disappointed.

"As are you, Warrior Dex," she answered. "Though you still have much to learn."

"Does the student know more than the master?"

"If you are the student, no."

"Hey!" he protested, laughing in spite of himself. Teyla shrugged.

"I speak only the truth," she said, before turning her back and kneeling to look through her bag.

"Teyla, this is just a game; you're kidding, right?" No answer. "Right?"

"I've never known you to play games, Ronon Dex," she said coolly. Ronon's smile fell. Maybe he had actually insulted her?

"Teyla, come one, you know I was kidding; I was acting stupid. I just wanted to make you laugh..." Apparently she already was. She turned to him, a dazzling smile on her face and her shoulders shaking with barely contained mirth.

"Ronon, I know! Am I not allowed to tease you back?" Ronon realized what she had been doing then, and his face reddened even as he spoke.

"Okay, okay, you got me; can we not worry me anymore now?" Still laughing softly to herself, Teyla nodded.

"Very well," she said. Ronon sat down beside her, but still at a wary distance just in case she changed her mind suddenly about the truce. Teyla seemed oblivious to the fact, though; she was already talking again.

"I've never seen you like this before, Ronon. What has changed?"

"I don't know," he shrugged. "It's just good to be back here, doing all this stuff again; especially after that whole thing with the ancients and the replicators... It's nice to be able to relax with you again..."

End Flashback

"Ronon?" Halling was looking at him nervously. "Are you alright?" Ronon reluctantly pushed the memory out of the front of his mind.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Sorry," he said. "I was just remembering something. Sorry." The worried look left Halling's eyes.

"I see," he said. They walked the next few moments in silence.

"You love her, don't you?"

Ronon blinked.

"What?" he began. "Who---?"

"Teyla," the Athosian said earnestly. "You love her, I can see it; she is what is distracting you so." Ronon searched for an appropriate answer and found none. Halling took his silence as the "yes" that it was.

"I always suspected..." he trailed off, shaking his head and smiling a little. "You know, if you ever decide to marry her, you have my permission." That comment made Ronon stop in his tracks.

"What?"

"I am her last protector," Halling shrugged. "Her parents, her family, and her other two protectors are gone. Charin would have been the only other person that would have had the authority to grant you permission, but she is dead, too. I am all that is left." he paused. "It is Athosian custom that you ask someone in the family, or a protector. I am her protector, and I give you permission if you wish it."

"And if I ever did decide to ask about something like that... what would you say after I asked?"

"To find that out, you will need to ask," Halling said, a secretive smile on his face. Ronon pretended to lose interest.

"Thanks," he muttered; and started walking again.

Shaking his head, trying not to laugh, Halling matched his pace with the Satedan's.

They reached the weapons cache, and over the next two hours the two men systematically went through each weapon, making sure that they were clean and loaded and ready. Halling sang softly while they worked, but they talked little. Which was just fine with Ronon; he was still trying to figure out if what Halling had said before was a joke or not.

Eventually, they had reached the last of the weapons, and Halling saw something odd that had been hidden underneath the rest of the weapons. He picked it up.

"What is this?" he wondered out loud, holding it up and squinting at it. Ronon looked up to see what he was talking about... and the thing exploded in their faces.

Ronon pretended to listen to Fehr as he recited the story and explained the limits of the trial; and he watched Teyla distractedly. She wouldn't look back at him for more than a moment, but his eyes refused to stray from her face. He was desperate to know her thoughts; whether or not she believed his plea. He had been completely honest when he'd promised that it hadn't been him and he didn't know what exactly had happened or why. But in a matter like this, he wasn't sure if Teyla would take his word against that of her people.

But as hard as he looked, he could guess nothing from her face except deep, rooted sadness. He didn't know whether that was good or bad. Her neutral leader's mask was painted on thick, and even he who knew her best could not read her.

Fehr finished his speech, and the clamor of protests that followed captured some of Ronon's attention. Apparently, they were not pleased with the boundaries that the man had defined.

"Silence!" he roared in his surprisingly resonant voice. No one dared to disobey. "This is a trial, not an execution. If and when the time comes for us to do justice to the guilty, the punishment and its manner will be discussed." Ronon found a bit of hope in Fehr's wording; he had not called him guilty---at least, not directly---yet. Maybe there was a chance that he could find an ally in this man.

After responding to several more similar outcries from the people, Fehr resumed his seat and gestured to Teyla. She rose slowly once more, spreading her arms until everyone was silent. Then she looked up.

"This trial will be open," she said firmly. But her voice lowered for her next word. "Begin." She sat back down, and Ronon had about three seconds to wonder what an "opened trial" was before one of the again-noisy Athosians was taken from his place and brought to the clearing, where he bowed respectfully to Teyla and her council before turning to face the people.

"My friends!" He had to shout to be heard over the ccried of his people. "I stand here today to speak against this man, this traitor, who we once thought to call an ally." The people were quiet now, but still the man shouted as he spoke against Ronon.

"We took him in! We gave him food, shelter, anything tha the asked for while he was here. We trusted him with our children, and this is how he gives us thanks?! Luring away one of our leaders into a trap and trying to kill him?!

"Halling, of all people, trusted him! He has spoken for him before in the past; and he is the one who now lies deadbecause of this man's treachery!" Ronon was shocked; Halling was dead?!

He saw Teyla shoot to her feet angrily, and he hoped past his regret that she was going to defend him now. But her words were not for him.

"Halling is not dead," she corrected the man firmly. "Do not give crimes to him that have not yet been committed."

"But Halling will die!"

"No, he will not! The healer is with him now, and Dr. Beckett is on his way. Halling is not going to die." Maybe it was just because Ronon knew her so well; but to him, she sounded like she was trying to convince herself as much as her people.

Her telling the man off didn't seem to deter him much; he bordered on fanatic, and continued to spout of lies about what was happening with Halling, or things that Ronon had done in the past. He was constantly being corrected by either Teyla or Fehr, but it was clear that they were both tiring. Ronon wondered how much longer Teyla would let him speak; if she was allowed to limit him.

It was Fehr who finally stopped him, though from the look on Teyla's face, they had come to some silent agreement that if the man didn't, she would. Ronon took a moment to enjoy the image that came to mind of Teyla quieting the man.

One of his guards detached from him, and went to escort the man away; and a new witness was called up.

Ronon recognized the woman slightly, though he couldn't remember why. But as she spoke, it slowly began to come back to him.

She had been part of a hunting party that he had assisted once; there had been four others, and they had gone out for a week to track a herd of a deer-like animal that the Athosians favored. She had been a good hunter, he remembered; and she had also seen him at his best, what he could do.

"...I've never seen him burn someone before," she said, "but I have seen him with many other kinds of weapons. I do not know if it was by his hand that Halling was injured, nor do I know if he used any of his conventional weapons; but I believe that he does have the skills that it would have taken." It was not a wonderful testimony; but at least she wasn't outright accusing him of being a murderer.

When she had finished saying her piece, she stood silent and unsure in the middle of the clearing until Teyla nodded that she could return to her place. With a bow, the young woman did as she was told.

The next person to testify was little more than a child; he had been one of the students that Ronon had been teaching just a few short hours ago, before all of this crazy mess had happened.

"I think that Ronon is a good man," he said. "I do not know if he caused whatever it was that burned Halling or not; but I do not believe that he would have intentionally done it, even it is somehow his fault. He didn't hurt any of us, I do not think that he would hurt Halling." Ronon wanted to speak up and thank the kid; but he knew that he'd only get whacked again if he did. So he remained silent, giving him an encouraging look as he passed him on the way back to his place.

The next three people were more fanatics, and Ronon started tuning them out, letting his focus be consumed completely by Teyla. She was listening with a slightly pained look on her face---a look that he doubted any of her people would notice, because it was one that she only wore when he was in trouble. It wasn't much of an indicator either way, but at least it gave him some clue. It may have been that she was just sick of the over-zealous speakers, but he chose to believe that it was because she was not happy with the situation; the fact that he was on trial. He took it as a sign that she believed him.

That thought gave him the tiniest bit of hope, and he clung to that as the accusations continued.