Author's Note: This story is the first in the "Have Yourself A Very Spanky Christmas" in which a Teyla/Ronon story is posted every day. Each day also has a word as a prompt to inspire the writer, and my prompt for December 14th was "angel."
I. The Dictator
Ronon brought the axe down on the piece of wood with so much force that the blade stuck into the splitting stump. His breath clouded before him as he yanked the head out of the wood and set another round on the stump to split. His beanie held his loose hair away from his face, but the left side of his head was growing cold from dampness. He'd had to wash peanut butter out of his hair a half hour ago after his six-year-old daughter, Lilo, had decided that the best way to clean peanut butter off her fingers was to whine and shake her hand as fast as she could. When the pungent clump had landed on his head, Ronon knew he was close to losing his temper and was sure to busy himself outside.
The axe cracked through another round and Ronon eyed the small pile of firewood he'd made, knowing he should stop. A light snow began to fall, dusting the pines that fringed the meadow in which he'd built their cabin with downy white. He could hear dishes clanging inside and felt a pang of guilt over leaving Teyla alone to deal with lunchtime, but he knew things would only get worse if he hadn't stepped outside to calm down. The day before had resulted in a headache and nausea from all of Lilo's arguing and yelling, and Ronon hoped that his daughter's bout of challenging her parents on everything would be over soon. It had been three days so far and he didn't think he could take another three. The mere thought of Lilo as a teenager made him decide to split a few more logs before stowing the firewood and braving the indoors.
"Well, that's not how you're supposed to do it," he heard Lilo profess from the kitchen as he stepped inside and took off his coat and boots.
"This is how we do it, Lilo, and if you don't like it, you don't have to decorate them at all," Teyla responded, her voice tight. It used to be that Ronon could gauge his wife's temper by her use of contractions, but after living with him for seven years, she used them as loosely as a native of the Milky Way.
"Fine," was Lilo's curt reply and Ronon stepped into the kitchen to find Lilo marching off with her nose in the air and flour on her red and green apron.
Teyla clenched her jaw and looked at her daughter's half decorated sugar cookies. "When you're in a better mood, you're welcome to finish decorating them, Lilo."
"What's going on?" Ronon asked as he washed his hands.
"Apparently our daughter knows everything there is to know about cut outs and doesn't believe that you put the sprinkles on the cookies before you bake them."
"Lilo," Ronon called without looking over his shoulder. "If you bake the cookies first, the sprinkles will just fall off."
He listened for a response as he dried his hands but didn't get any. Though he couldn't see the top of her head because of her height, or lack of height since she was short for her age, he knew Lilo was sitting on the couch with her arms folded. The oven buzzed and Teyla pulled out a batch of excessively decorated cookies. "Oh, Jack, these turned out so nice."
Their three-year-old abandoned his crayons and ran over on his bare feet. Teyla lowered the cookie sheet so that he could inspect his culinary masterpieces and he grinned then hopped up and down. "I wanna eat them all!"
"You can have some after dinner," Teyla said as she set the sheet aside to cool.
Jack nodded, hugging his round tummy as he gazed longingly at his sprinkle-covered tasties.
"Lilo," Ronon called again. "You wanna come finish your cookies?"
Lilo slid off the couch and marched into her room without even looking towards the kitchen.
"Fine, she doesn't get any."
"Ronon," Teyla warned.
"She doesn't want 'em."
"Can I have them, Dada?" Jack asked.
"No, Jack," Teyla answered. "Lilo will finish her cookies when she's in a better mood."
"So, like, never."
Teyla cast her husband another warning look but couldn't suppress her smirk. Ronon returned it before smooching her forehead and strolling into the living room to see what Jack had been drawing.
"Hey Jack, what've you been working on, buddy?"
Jack wandered over to the coffee table then knelt beside his drawing. "This is a piece of pizza," he said as he pointed out a yellow and red crayon triangle. "And these are grapes and this is a popsicle and that's a whole chocolate cake. A huge, huge one. This big." Jack held his arms out as far as he could reach.
Ronon looked from the colorful, abstract art to his son's jade green eyes. "You just had lunch."
"And you're still hungry?"
"Can I have a cookie, Dada?"
"You can draw a cookie."
"Okay." Jack dejectedly settled down and grabbed a new piece of paper to set to work.
Where Lilo could oftentimes be independent and stubborn to a fault, like her mother, Jack was much more like his father. Ronon knew he was widely recognized as a warrior, but seeing Lilo for the first time changed all of that, and from the moment she opened her eyes onwards, Ronon was determined to quit the dangerous life he and Teyla had lived in Atlantis. They'd found a beautiful, wild place for a home on the mainland and settled. Ronon was content to live in peace and sit around and watch Emeril Live and eat, which was what Jack liked to do best. In fact, Jack liked to do it a little too much. As he watched his son wield the bulky tips of the crayons to deftly color in sprinkles on his drawing of a cookie, Ronon started to worry that his son's relationship with food was an obsession.
"Are we going to decorate the tree this afternoon?" Teyla asked, brushing her bangs out of her eyes as she stepped into the living room.
"Sure. I'm ready when you guys are."
Jack was too absorbed in his art to respond. Teyla ventured down the hall towards Lilo's room. "Lilo?" she began outside her door. "If you want to come finish your cookies, we're going to decorate the tree afterwards."
"I'm not coming," was Lilo's muffled reply.
"It's going to be really fun," Ronon called then sighed as Lilo ignored him and tension made Teyla's shoulders stiffen. "Come on, Lilo." There was still no response.
Teyla abandoned her daughter's door and stepped back into the living room, resting her hands on her lower back. "I guess we'll have to wait."
"Teyla, if she doesn't want to decorate her cookies then we'll just do the tree."
"No, Ronon, we're not doing that."
"Why not? It's her choice."
"I know it's –"
"The only way she's going to learn consequences is by making choices and sticking to them like –"
"She's only –"
"She has to know she can't boss you around like that then still get what she wants. Then she has all the power and will only get worse."
"I know that, Ronon," Teyla sharply cut in. "But she is six and by tomorrow, she's not going to remember if she won this one argument or not, but what she will know is that everyone will have cookies and she won't because she didn't finish hers."
"Like I said, it's her choice. She has to learn."
"Not when it means she won't have any cookies."
"I'm just saying –"
"I know what you're saying, Ronon. You've made your point very clear and normally I would agree but right now, I think you're acting like you're six, as well, and I know she's driving us both crazy at the moment but sometimes being a parent means conceding a battle."
It wasn't until Teyla stalked off down the hall that Ronon realized just how quickly his heart was racing from his wife's heated words. When she re-emerged with Lilo a few minutes later, he sat down with Jack and watched him color some more while Teyla helped Lilo onto her stool and let the little girl divulge her reasoning for her point of view. "Sprout told me that if you bake the cookies first then you get to put frosting on them," Lilo said, referring to Carson and Cadman's child by the nickname Ronon had given long ago. "And I want to do that."
"Well, we don't have any frosting, Lilo, and it wouldn't be fair if you got frosting and your little brother didn't."
"Well, Jack doesn't have to know about it."
"He'll see you when you're eating them."
"I'll hide when I eat them."
"No, Lilo. You're not hiding and eating cookies." Teyla pushed some of the sprinkles towards Lilo.
"Why not? Daddy does."
Teyla looked over at Ronon, who had immediately dropped onto the floor behind the couch at the claim and was nowhere in sight. Teyla narrowed her eyes and looked back at Lilo with a fake smile. "Well, Daddy's obviously not a very good hider if you saw him. And Daddy shouldn't be doing that because then Daddy will get fat."
"Daddy already is fat."
There was so little truth to the statement that Teyla let it slide and set the rest of the sprinkles in front of her daughter. "You can use as many as you like."
Lilo raised her brows imperially before quietly setting to work on her cookies.
"What'cha doing, Daya?" Jack asked, getting down on all fours beside Ronon who was lying on his stomach behind the couch.
"Shh, Jack, Mommy will –"
"Get up, you walrus."
Ronon looked up to see Teyla standing over him with a wooden spoon in hand. "I don't want a beating."
A light laugh colored Teyla's words. "Go get the tree ready."
"Daya's a walwus," Jack giggled as Ronon climbed to his feet and hoisted the pine from the entranceway to the living room. While he hadn't grown up with the exact tradition of adorning a tree in his home, every winter solstice, Ronon's village had decorated a large evergreen that grew near the town center. The green life amidst the cold and darkness was adorned with lights and gifts for the birds, who Ronon's people believed to bear the voices of the dead. The tree served as a reminder of the renewal of life in the spring, the coming light of longer days, and the nearness of those who had passed away.
Ronon hadn't yet tried to explain the meaning of the tree to his children, but watching as Lilo climbed off the stool and hung her apron up while Teyla put the batch of cut outs in the oven, Ronon thought that now might be the time.
"Okay, is everyone ready to help decorate the tree?" Teyla asked, taking off her apron. Jack had his nose pressed his drawing of a cake, as if fantasizing about eating it, but scrambled to his feet at the announcement. Ronon set out the box of ornaments they'd collected over the years, including a clay lump that Sheppard had made in an enrichment class, claiming that it was the Puddle Jumper.
Ronon couldn't help but smile at his cubs as they began to quietly decorate the tree. Teyla snaked her arms around his back and hugged him from behind, kissing the back of his shoulder. He rested one of his hands over hers and leaned into her warmth. "Do you guys know why we decorate a tree every year?" Ronon asked, but Jack and Lilo ignored him.
"I want to know," Teyla said.
"It's because of something very special. Remember how Mommy and Daddy weren't born here?"
"Yeah," Lilo said, searching for a thick branch on which to hang Sheppard's heavy lump.
"Well, the planet where Daddy came from had a very bad thing happen a long time ago, and lots and lots of people died. By decorating the tree with birdies and things, we remember the people who died so that it's not so sad, and they're –"
"Jack, that doesn't go there," Lilo interrupted as Jack dared to hang an ornament near his sister.
"Yeah it does."
"They can go anywhere you like," Teyla corrected.
Lilo's lips formed a tight line as she hung up the ornament in her hand.
"Anyway," Ronon said. "When we celebrate birds, it's the same as celebrating –"
Jack let out a wail as Lilo snatched the ornament he'd hung in a place she didn't approve of and placed it somewhere else.
"Lilo!" Ronon shouted.
Jack whined and batted at his sister's hands, trying to get the ornament from her but Lilo held it out of reach. "It doesn't go there!"
Jack began to cry. Ronon took the ornament from Lilo and handed it back to Jack.
"Lilo, look at your little brother, you've made him cry," Ronon said as he scooped Jack up. Lilo stuck her nose in the air and continued to hang more ornaments, and her indifference to her sibling's suffering made Ronon clench his jaw. He rubbed Jack's back as the toddler hugged his neck, whimpering into his shoulder. "It's okay, buddy. Here, look how high you can reach."
Jack reluctantly stopped crying and peered out at the tree from his new height. Ronon handed him the ornament and Jack sniffled as he hung it towards the top of the tree. Teyla had remained suspiciously silent throughout the little quarrel and Ronon suspected that it was now her turn to take a break before she snapped.
After twenty more minutes full of intermittent lectures from the dictator, the tree was finished. Ronon set Jack in his high chair, not because he needed it, but because it provided a comfortable, high vantage point from which he could watch the going ons in the kitchen as Ronon prepared dinner. Teyla slipped out for a run, despite the falling snow, and Ronon could see Lilo out of the corner of his eye, sneakily shifting the positions of ornaments she found displeasing.
Ronon held Jack on his hip as the spaghetti boiled and gave Jack the spoon, letting him help stir the noodles. The refuge of his peaceful toddler's company was a welcome balm to the irritation Lilo could cause. He kissed Jack's chubby cheek and couldn't resist snuggling him before setting him back in the high chair.
"Daddy, I'm bored," Lilo called from the living room.
"Why don't you draw a picture?"
"I don't want to."
"You could go play with your horses."
"Do you wanna help me make dinner?"
"Then I don't know what to tell you, Lilo, other than you're making yourself bored."
"I hate you, Daddy. You don't let me do anything." Lilo marched into her room and shut the door.
Ronon stood, rooted to the spot, unable to look away from where she'd disappeared down the hall. A sense of dejection and failure tried to take over the voice that reasoned that his daughter was just angry over being cooped up from the snow and taking out her aggression on him, but he knew a part of him would always fear that she meant it.
Ronon turned back around to see Jack pointing to the sauce, which was boiling so hard that the popping bubbles were sending sauce all over the stove. Ronon hastily turned down the heat and was so lost in the numbness washing over him that he didn't remember finishing cooking the meal, or anything Jack may have said in the meantime.
Teyla returned from her run and asked where Lilo was. Ronon told her that she was in her room and for a moment wanted to share that what else Lilo had said, but he couldn't find his voice and Teyla had already headed off to shower. Ronon realized that he should have a talk with Lilo before bed and tell her that it wasn't okay to say such rude things, but the thought of giving her even more reason to hate him made him blanch.
Dinner resulted in Jack getting sauce all over his face, hands and shirt, but was otherwise a much calmer affair than lunch. Ronon bathed Jack in one bathroom while Lilo took a bath in the bathroom adjoined to he and Teyla's bedroom while Teyla read on the bed. Before long it was goodnight kisses and answering all of the random questions Jack would ask as he fell asleep.
When at last Ronon climbed into bed with Teyla, he felt as if he'd run a marathon. "I don't know how much longer I can handle this," he confessed.
Teyla lolled her head to the side to look at him. "Why do you think I have her baby pictures everywhere? To keep me from strangling her."
Ronon laughed but his laugh soon morphed into a groan as he curled up around his wife and she hugged his head with a smile, running her fingers through his hair.
"Maybe we should visit Atlantis soon. A change of scenery might help."
"She'll just corrupt Sprout and the pestilence will spread to Laura and Carson."
Teyla giggled then kissed the top of his head. "Goodnight, Ronon."
His only response was a grunt as he nestled his forehead against her neck, wishing they could remain in each other's soothing warmth for weeks.
Ronon cracked open his eyes only to be met with darkness.
The voice was coming from behind him and he detangled himself from Teyla enough to roll over. Lilo was standing beside the bed, small and huddled in the moonlight, her eyes big with fear. "Lilo, what's wrong, sweetie?"
"I saw a monster and it chased me to our house and it tried to eat you and fell on the ground and didn't move." She shivered as she spoke.
"Oh baby, that was just a bad dream. Come here, sweetheart." He pulled the covers back and helped her crawl into bed beside him before snuggling her to his chest and combing his fingers through her hair. "It was just a nightmare, honey." He kissed her forehead and felt her small arms hug him. "Everything's okay, sweetie. Mommy and Daddy are right here. We'll protect you, okay?"
Lilo nodded and he rubbed her back, trying to warm her small frame, wondering how long she'd been waiting for him to wake. He could feel her heart beating against his chest and kissed her forehead again, wanting nothing more than to calm its racing. Trying to remember the day to see what had triggered her dream, Ronon recalled the frustration and anger. But holding her now, any fears that she didn't love him or need him melted away, and he felt his throat tighten.
When Lilo had first opened her eyes, so had he. He knew that more than Teyla's love and support, it was Lilo's birth that had truly healed him, endowing him with a newfound lust for life. In the quiet and security of their cabin, through the joys of brushing his little girl's hair, watching her sit up for the first time, making her belly laugh, and catching her as she learned how to walk, Ronon felt the chains that had formed from his life as a Runner and a soldier slip away, and he became more and more of the boy he once was before witnessing war: goofy, easy to please, and a little lazy. All welcome changes to the cold that used to haunt his every footstep, mocking him for the way of life that he'd lost.
"I love you, Daya," Lilo whispered, and Ronon felt tears welling in his eyes.
"I love you, too, sweetheart. So so so much." He gently squeezed her, feeling warmth restored to her body, and again kissed her forehead, adoring the mingled scent of sweat and shampoo that clung to her scalp. "Go to sleep now, okay?"
Lilo nodded, and though she was lying on his arm, making it go numb, though he knew she would kick him in the night, though he knew she would most likely go back to being a dictator again in the morning, he also knew that she was more than he could ever ask for, and that his little brown-eyed girl had saved him more than she would ever know.