"Back again, Belgen?" the factor asked. "What this time? Laborers? I've got a couple, but they don't look like they'd last long in the fields. I had a big one, but had to send him to the pit."

"I need a girl for the tavern."

"I have just the thing."

He yanked Teyla's head up by the hair. She glared. Beside her, Sheppard swallowed a sound very much like one of Ronon's growls.

"Small, isn't she?"

"She'll eat less. Of course, this one's pretty, so I'll want a little more for her."

"I'll give you fifty."

"What? This one will easily get me one hundred! Are you trying to put me out of business?"

The Ancestor's Ring on Faeatua stood in a central, cobblestoned circle in the midst of a shallow, normally empty valley. The sky above was a pale, flat blue. For a week, perhaps two, the valley filled with camps, tents, wagons, and temporary corrals. There were  even motorized vehicles from some of the worlds that had held onto their industrial technology through cullings. A constant stream of people moved through the Ring and newcomers drew no attention. All were in one place to trade. Neutral ground. By midday the sun's glare would drive many into the shade of awnings outside tavern stalls or back to the camps that dotted the sides of the valley.

Next year, if the Wraith were not too hungry, the great market would be on another uninhabited world.

Teyla guided Lieutenant Cadman's gate team to Faeatua to trade medicine and low-tech information for raw materials that were difficult to ship from the Milky Way. She had her own reasons for suggesting the gathering of traders from all over Pegasus. A rendezvous to make. Refugees and wanderers regularly found their way to the great market. One more wouldn't be noticed. More than one Balusi caravan would pass through the Ring and rest for a few days, as well.

Animals bleated and squealed from wicker cages, their cries mingling with the rise and fall of voices, shouts and laughter. The air already smelled of too many bodies, sweat and leather, ripe fruit and dust, manure, rough sacks of grains and beans, spilled wine, smoke, and cooking meat. The market was loud by Pegasus standards; crowded and thrumming with tension. Teyla disliked it. Atlantis, with its cool corridors, all glass and metal, always half empty, had not inured Teyla to crowds. And she would never truly enjoy a market again; having been just another trade item.

The valley stank. Teyla expected it, but Cadman's nose wrinkled as they worked their way through the temporary stalls, between carts and tents. Olopoto and Corrigan kept their opinions to themselves. Teyla didn't tell them it would be worse in a few days. It would never be worse than her own memories of the slave market. That had been the stench of human waste and wasted humans, of decaying bodies tossed in a pit to rot.

She guided them to Nainan's stall and let the Lanteans begin bargaining.

The Ring opened again, the shiver and sound clear even through the dinning crowd. More arrivals. A Garzi headman, arms shining with oiled muscle banded with bronze armlets, led a train of loaded killas between the market stalls. The fine chains running from beast to beast glittered and clinked. The sound mixed with the creak of the tack and the shuffle of the killas' toe pads on cobblestone. The long, spiraling horns that curled out from behind their ears and forward to protect their eyes were capped with bright brass. Another Garzi walked at the end of the train, watching that no one approached too close.

Teyla nodded to him as he passed, and he grinned. The gleam of metal at his wrists made her slide her gaze away. It was only ornamentation to the Garzi. The clink of chains reminded her of shackles. She resisted the temptation to rub her fingers over her wrists. There was nothing to feel there. The only scar she carried was on one ankle, where a burr in the ill-fitting metal had scraped over bone and thin skin.

The breeze from the hills kicked up a knee-high cloud of dust: dirt from a dozen worlds tracked through the marketplace. It smelled like hot days and dry journeys and the rank, fresh reek of killa droppings. The big animals tended to squirt when they got nervous and the Rings made most animals nervous.

It smelled better than blood. For an instant, Teyla imagined blood seeping into the spaces between the cobblestones the way it had soaked into the dirt of the slave market. Ficha flies had quickly found it. Teyla had visited hundreds of worlds and there had been ficha flies on most of them. The pests traveled with humans. Insects didn't mind the Rings at all. The flies found the blood, but some were drawn to the slaves, to the sweat and suffering, the fear and anger and despair dried on bare skin under a sun that was three shades redder than Athos' primary. Some of the factors wouldn't let the slaves move even to flick the insects from their faces.

She jerked her head up as a yell somewhere blended with the memory of Ronon's fight with the factor's guards. The thunk of fists and clubs hitting flesh was only in her head.

Anger still burned through Teyla, but she held it tamped down inside; letting it fuel her because she had nothing else left.

A trickle of sweat ran down her back, under the hot weight of her tac vest. Opposite her, Lt. Cadman wiped at her temple and offered a rueful smile. Dr. Corrigan went on bargaining with Nainan for some of the clear sand from Dresta. Dr. Zelenka had requested silicon for glass. The glass of Dresta had a good reputation. Sergeant Olopoto loomed silently, perspiration dotting his shaved head, dark eyes scanning the crowd over Cadman's shoulder.

"It's a hot one," Cadman said. She'd invited Teyla to call her Laura when Teyla joined her gate team, but Teyla never had. Formality let her keep an essential distance.

Teyla managed a half-smile in response to Cadman's and inclined her head. She had never connected with Cadman's team. Corrigan was the only one to have been in the first expedition. Olopoto was a new transfer, though Cadman had assured her he was, "An SGC veteran. He knows how to handle himself offworld." It wasn't the team's fault; she hadn't allowed herself to care much for anyone since Ronon left. She had almost gone with him, sharing his bitterness. But she remained, convinced she could still do more from Atlantis, with its support, than by randomly gating from world to world. She held onto that faith, even after two years.

"Looks like this is going to take a while," Cadman added, with a nod toward Corrigan and Nainan.

"It does." Teyla let her gaze range over the crowds moving among the market stalls. There were men from Tish, fishermen dressed in no more than a swathe of fabric around their hips, farmers in homespun, tinkers and mechanics from a dozen worlds she could name, even hunters from Methmar, sweating in their leathers, selling the lush furs of the predators that haunted their planet's snowy wastes. She watched a blond boy of no more than seventeen seasons draw a drunken Manarian into a tent marked with a stylized pohli flower. Like flies, the prostitutes always found the markets too.

"Teyla?" Cadman asked. She had picked up Teyla's restlessness and distraction.

"I have several contacts who may be here, Lieutenant," she said. "I should find them. I will rejoin you at the stargate at sunset." The stargate. She used the Lantean's word for it, but it remained the Ancestor's Ring in her mind.

Cadman drummed her fingers against the butt of her P90, but nodded. "Okay. Stay in radio contact."

"Of course," Teyla agreed with another nod, before slipping away into the crowd. She used her elbows when she had to, but mostly found her short stature made it easier to dodge and keep moving. The dark fatigues, jacket and tac vest she wore, along with the P90 and sidearm, added a certain intimidation factor too. She stood out among people mostly dressed in homespun or leather. She headed for the Balusi nomads' camp. Ronon had agreed to meet her there. She hoped that events had not interfered; it had been months since he had last contacted her.

Guilt had driven him out of Atlantis. Guilt for surviving and killing the slave factor in a fit of rage, instead of bringing him to Atlantis as a prisoner. They might have learned who bought their friends and where to search from the factor, but dead men told no tales.

She knew Ronon thought she blamed him for that. She did, but she understood. She understood all too well, the nights she woke choking for breath with the memory of her own escape from Itrios. Those memories kept her searching as well.

"I thought the transmitters would let you find them." Ronon's voice was a ruined rasp. He looked at Doctor Weir and then Doctor Zelenka. The hope in his eyes quickly dissolved.

"The subcue transmitters are only good if we know what planet they're on," Zelenka explained gently. He straightened his glasses and then his shoulders. "We did not want them to be like the tracker the Wraith used on you. We worried an enemy could tap the signal if it was too strong and use it against us. Even if we knew the proper planet to begin searching, sufficient shielding, even of stone or earth, would block the signal."

"Not much good then," Ronon said.

"No," Zelenka admitted. "And less now. The batteries will have died months ago."

No one among the Balusi knew Ronon by name or description. She'd had little hope. When culling survivors joined the Ring nomads, they gave up their old name and home. The Balusi were wanderers, survivors and exiles who were always on the move, forever homeless, offering up manual labor and whatever skills each of them brought from their pasts to their new lives. Their numbers waxed and waned. Some who joined them found new homes, while others were so traumatized they were more burden than use. Many were old or ill or children. None of them remembered Ronon.

He could have been with another group or have left or never joined them. There was no way to know. He'd said to meet him at the great market if she could. In three months, she would visit Doldis and the caravanserai there, as was their back-up plan. She'd stay out of the tavern; stale beer and too many male bodies crowded together could still snap her back to the nights when one of Belgen's customers wasn't too drunk to do more than paw at her before passing out. Three months after Doldis, she would sit at a Garzi fire under an eclipsed moon. If Ronon missed that rendezvous, she would admit he was lost once more.

As lost as Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay still were.

Three months. It was an ironic number. It had taken her three months to convince Belgen she had accepted her fate, short and brutalized as it would be. Three months to gather in hiding the supplies she would need for an escape.

As sure as she could be that Ronon wasn't on Faeatua, Teyla radioed Lt. Cadman that she was returning, and turned back toward the market and the stargate.

The path down the valley passed two other encampments. Teyla glanced at them curiously.

A flash of crimson in the next camp that caught her eye. A man, in flowing robes, striding gracefully from a large tent. A dancer, she thought, then reconsidered. She remembered the rhythms of deliberate seduction. She had smiled at Belgen the night of her escape, deliberate and slow, and swung her hips as she carried the trays of drinks through the tavern common room. She'd brushed against him each time she returned with the empty tankards.  All night, she'd moved like the man in red. She hadn't moved that way since.

The rich red color was rare enough that Teyla slowed her steps to admire. The encampment didn't look familiar to her; its inhabitants came from some world she'd never known. But every year the great market drew newcomers, so this was no surprise. She looked at the tents set up in the second camp with interest, noting the colors and intricate, geometric designs decorating everything from the tents to rugs and the loose clothing everyone wore. The mainland settlements, particularly the Athosians, would be interested in trading with these people. If not for the dye that had created that shade of red, then for cloth and the other textiles she glimpsed.

Her gaze remained on the crimson-clad man as the path she walked curved closer. She could see nothing of him other than a slender build. Crimson silk swathed him from head to ankle. Only his hands and feet were bare, sporting painted patterns and gold rings. Dust coated his feet.Teyla watched him approach and kneel before a seated woman. She admired his stillness and his balance. A second man, in blue, bent over the low table before the woman, working.

The table appeared – Teyla's interest sharpened – to hold several items of Ancient manufacture. Broad, pale hands moved deftly over the pieces. He handed one to the red-clad man and it glowed with sudden energy.

She forced her feet to keep moving, made herself look past the tableau, suddenly tense as a bow-string. Those with the ATA gene were rare, but not unknown. It meant nothing. Not yet. But her pulse stuttered and sped, pumping adrenaline through her.

A guard standing at the edge of the encampment nodded to her and she nodded back, then paused and approached him.

"What?" he asked her.

Teyla ventured a friendly smile and nodded toward the rolls of fabric. "Are you trading those?"

"Tomorrow," the guard replied.

She smiled wider. "I would like to tell my people to look for your trading stall, but I am not familiar with your world."

"Selket," he said tersely.

"Thank you," she told him. "And, perhaps, if I knew what you wish to trade for, so that our traders might offer such goods?"

He frowned. "The Haralim has come in search of the work of the Ancestors."

"I see," Teyla said quietly. She let herself look to the woman and the two men, pretending to be interested in the goods. She couldn't ask about the men. Interest in slaves would be too suspicious. "You would wish only that which is small enough to move through the Ancestor's Ring?"

"Yes," the guard replied.

"I am Teyla Emmagen," she told him. Her mouth was dry. It took an effort, more of one than she'd needed in years, to keep her voice steady. "Daughter of Tagan of Athos." Not Teyla Emmagen of Athos, nor even Atlantis. If the Selketi had heard of the Lanteans, they would not believe she was interested in rugs. Lanteans did not trade the work of the Ancestors; they gathered it in.

The man in red stared at her. His face was veiled, but the dark paint outlining his eyes only made them greener. Eyes that had always reminded her of Athos: of sun dappling through leaves, clear as  spring water tumbling over mossy rocks, dark as a cloud shadow. Her breath caught. It was him. He looked away, lowered his gaze, but she knew him. She knew him. She wanted to shout, to run to him, to take his hands in hers. Let him not be alone, let it be both of them, she thought, elated and afraid at the same time. Let her have found them both, alive and here and within reach finally.

The radio earpiece spat static and then Lt. Cadman's voice. "Teyla? We're ready to pull out. Over."

"Freka Takil," the guard replied.

She smiled widely, unable to hide her happiness completely. Freka blinked and smiled back at her.

"Teyla? Please respond. Over."

She tapped the radio toggle twice, sending two clicks, indicating she couldn't talk. Her hand was almost shaking.

"Are you in trouble? Over?"

One toggle: No. After so long, it was them. She wanted to tell Lt. Cadman to come and help her take them back, but she could see a dozen guards around the encampment. This would take more thought. But they could not lose them now. She would not.

"I will be back," Teyla promised Freka, her voice loud enough it would carry to the woman and the men. The blue-clad man stiffened, but before he could turn, the first man picked up another item from the table.Teyla couldn't hear if he spoke, but the distraction let her go before any connection between them was betrayed. Blue, she thought, and thought of blue eyes, and fought the impulse to raise her P90 and demand her friends' freedom. The breadth of the shoulders beneath blue silk was too familiar, so too the curve of that back: she knew him, too.

She made herself stroll away casually, reaching up and toggling the radio on when Freka was out of earshot.

"Lt. Cadman, this is Teyla. Over," she said. A tremor made her voice uneven. She took in a deep breath to balance out the urgency thrumming through her.

"Teyla. What's up? Over."

"Lieutenant, you must dial Atlantis and acquire back up. We must not leave this world without someone to watch the stargate." She drew in a deep breath. "Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay are here."

The renegades were better armed than they'd anticipated.

Lorne crouched beside Teyla, blood seeping from the scrap on his cheek. They both ducked a little lower as the renegades kept firing. Down the slope from their bit of broken off wall, Ronon was tying off a tourniquet around Sergeant Marks' leg. A fallen column from the temple that once stood, before time or the Wraith brought it down, sheltered both men from any fire from above. The late afternoon sun threw shadows that revealed the grassy slope had once been formed into steps.

She turned her head slightly and caught Ronon's quick hand gestures.

"Major, if we provide cover fire, Ronon will circle into their camp and retrieve our objective," she said.

"What about Marks?"

Ronon was shoving a handgun into Marks' hand. The sergeant was propped against the column.

"Ronon has done what he can for the wound."

Lorne twisted and checked out the situation below. "Okay." He waved to Ronon and circled his hand. "He better bring the guy back alive. We didn't hunt these scum through three gates just because. The idea is to get some intel on the slavers and who they sell to."

"Yes," Teyla replied. She repressed the wish to snap and tell Lorne she knew that because she had proposed this plan. That Ronon knew it very well too and would do whatever he needed to in order to make up for killing the slave factor who could have told them who had purchased the colonel and Doctor McKay. This was the last possible lead. Every other effort, before or since her own escape, had yielded nothing.

She pushed her P90 over the top of the wall and fired blindly, covering Ronon's departure.

She wished fiercely for Ronon and his skill. Cadman was waiting with the marines. She'd wanted to come in with Teyla too, but that wasn't wise. Teyla wasn't willing to take the extra chance a second infiltrator would pose.

The instant the sun dropped below the horizon she had slipped back to the Selketi camp, taking in every detail she could from cover. When the shadows lengthened into near darkness lit only by flickering torches, she'd moved in. The colonel and Doctor McKay were both inside the largest, most elaborate tent, along with the woman. Teyla's observations convinced her that the tent was divided into more than one room, as Athosian tent dwellings often were.

She worked her way inside the encampment, letting the flickering light conceal her movements from the guards. It was the work of a moment to slice her knife through the fabric of the rear of the tent and stealthily snake inside.

A single lamp burned on the same low table that she'd seen outside earlier. Teyla held still, not letting herself rush forward to the man bent over a piece of Ancient technology. She checked the rest of the room in quarters, making sure there was no silent guard waiting in a corner. Gold thread glittered from tassels and embroidery, lush fabrics and dozens of pillows. A brazier filled the air with incense, mixing with a melange of spices and a thread of perfume. Everything was etched in intricate patterns and dense colors, plum and wine, night-blue and forest green, black and bruise-violet. Beyond the tent's partition, she detected movement and two voices, male and female.

A moan and a series of soft cries drifted through the tent. Teyla saw the man at the table stiffen. The light painted gold over the blue cloth stretched over his shoulders. A silver clip glittered along the edge of one ear.

Teyla rose and crossed to him, her steps muffled on the luxurious rugs covering the tent's floor. She thought she was silent, but Doctor McKay jerked his head up and turned toward her before she was half way to him. His eyes dilated in shock when he saw her. She held her finger to her lips, fearing he would make some exclamation, but he remained wordless. His only response was to half turn and dim the lamp.

She studied his face and expression. Weight blurred all his features, and the second chin that had all but disappeared when last she saw him had returned. End of the day beard shadowed his jaw in a familiar fashion and his mouth still slanted to the side. His hair was cut neatly close to the skull but had perhaps receded further. She saw no physical sign of harm upon his features, yet sensed he was terribly changed. All the frenetic movement and energy she remembered was tamped down.

"Doctor McKay," she said softly.

He flinched. "No, no," he whispered. "You can't call me that. Ro'ney. You have to call me Ro–Rodney." He seemed to stumble over his own name. He raised his open hand toward her and she noticed a pattern, perhaps a word, traced over his palm.

"Do they not know who you are?" she asked.

"Slaves only have one name. The Haralim chose." He said it as a matter of fact, without the scorn and mockery she expected, as an accepted truth.

"Who is this Haralim?"

His gaze flickered toward the second part of the tent. The sounds of sex filtered through the fabric wall, guttural moans and the slap of skin on skin, disturbing Teyla as well as providing her answer. The Haralim was their Belgen.

Belgen had never taken her clothes off, just shoved her top up and her skirt out of the way, then unlaced his breeches. The shackles had been in the way. He'd taken the key he wore around his neck and released them, then shoved between her legs. His breath had reeked of darbic root and rot.

He'd grunted as he rutted into her, face gone red and strained, shining with sweat. His eyes squeezed shut when he came.

She'd used the heel of her hand to break his nose and send a shard of bone into his brain. The worst moment was rolling his slack body off her before she suffocated under his weight.

Her hand curled into a fist. The small movement still caught Rodney's attention.

"Teyla," he said.

She bit her lip. The pain grounded her. It let her look into Rodney's eyes.

"We have never stopped looking for you." The almost-lie tasted bitter. She had not given up, nor had Ronon, but the rest of Atlantis? How many of them there now even remembered Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay? Colonel Caldwell commanded now and seldom deferred to Doctor Weir. He said they were at war with the Wraith, as though everyone in Pegasus had not always been at war with the Wraith.

"Teyla. I can't believe it. John said he saw you, but it seemed too good to be true. The Haralim has brought us on two other trading trips and there's never been a chance to even talk to anyone." The words came fast now, more like the man she had known. "Are you all right? Are you alone? You can't let the guards catch you."

His voice had started to rise and Teyla made shushing motions. "Rodney. It is...very good to see you again." She set her hands on his shoulders and leaned in, resting her forehead against his.

After a moment of stillness, Rodney murmured, "You know, in this position, I'm looking right down your top?"

Teyla stepped back and he grinned at her, suddenly so Rodney, she wanted to slap him and laugh at the same time.

A feminine voice gasped, "Harder, harder, mine," from the next room, followed by a deep moan that made Teyla frown. Her frown deepened as Rodney's expression went blank.

"You should get out of here," Rodney said.

"No. Rodney, Atlantis is sending marines. Lt. Cadman is waiting at the gate. You and Colonel Sheppard are coming home."

"Home?" he repeated.

Their faces gave them away as Teyla and Ronon entered the conference room. Caldwell sat to one side of Weir, with Doctor Reinhardt on her other side. Doctor Zelenka held her gaze, apologies glinting from behind his glasses. On Caldwell's far side, Major Lorne looked down at his hands. The raw scuff on his cheekbone from PX5-0D1 looked red and swollen under a smear of some shiny salve.

Ronon must have guessed too. A low sound of disgust escaped him as he sat. Teyla kept her expression serene, but felt a spike of anger so strong she worried someone would see the hairs on her arms standing up.

Weir clasped her hands, letting them rest on the top of the table.  "Teyla, Ronon, thank you for joining us."

Ronon grunted and Teyla gave a nod. She saw Caldwell press his lips together.

"Earlier today I received instructions from the SGC and the IOA when the Daedalus arrived," Weir said. "We have been ordered to discontinue the active search for Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay. In addition, Colonel Caldwell has received official orders to assume command of Atlantis' military forces."

No one at the table showed any surprise. They'd already been briefed. Teyla concentrated on breathing steadily. She could argue, but it would do no good. She was still the outsider, as was Ronon. This was just an after thought, an attempt to mollify two useful, affiliated but unofficial, personnel. She thought of when the Wraith took Ronon back to Sateda. Her gaze settled on Caldwell. He looked back and she thought how satisfied he looked. He'd already taken to wearing the Atlantis military uniform rather than one of the Daedalus' jumpsuits.

"We've lost one man already and nearly lost Sergeant Marks on this last one," Caldwell stated. "Running missions targeted at recovering personnel, who have been missing almost seven months and are likely dead, when there is no reliable intel about their whereabouts isn't going to get them back. "

"Doctor Weir?" Teyla appealed.

"This isn't to say that we've given up," Weir said. The silence and Ronon's stare must have discomforted her. "But no one has discovered anything new in months. If there is news, then of course we would do all we can to recover them...but I feel I must defer to Colonel Caldwell on this matter."

"We don't have the resources to follow up every rumor or phantom, not while we need to be searching for another ZPM," Caldwell added. "I realize you were closer than most to Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay, but the fact is, no one is irreplaceable. Provide me with a lead and I'll authorize anything we've got, but until then I'm not risking throwing more lives away."

"Home," Teyla repeated, trying to make him believe it, realizing he must have given up hope long ago.

"You're not going to kill anyone, are you?" he asked.

It felt like a hole opening inside her. She didn't know. Two years was so long. She meant to rescue them, but what if they didn't want rescuing? What if they didn't want to come back to Atlantis? They could have made new lives in that much time. And now, even if they didn't want to return, the Lanteans were coming and they would have no choice. "Rodney, you do not want to stay with these people, do you?"

Rodney's eyes widened and his mouth fell open. "What? No, no, no. John...John's going to...It's killing him." He rose to his feet, surprisingly graceful, and looked around the tent. "We need – There's dranzi and eiff and the moa, and oh, the paints – " His hands move abortively. "The medical section will need samples – "

"Of paint?" Teyla asked.

"No, the drugs," Rodney snapped. He picked up a carved wooden coffer and fingered through the tiny, colored pots inside it. "Is – Who's the CSO?"

"Dr. Reinhardt."

"That's–that's not good. I don't know him. Her? Carson, I–I miss him. He would have – he would have been better – " Another flashing glance toward the far end of the tent. His expression went smooth and blank in the next breath and his fluttering hands stilled. He picked up a second box, smaller and carved from smooth green stone. He set it inside the wooden one and closed it. A tiny key turned in an elaborately-worked brass lock, then he pocketed it. A length of dark fabric, maybe a shawl, was snatched from a low slung chair and wrapped around the box.


"Vai – I mean, yes?"

"You should put on some shoes, we may need to move swiftly. We cannot carry much."

His mouth slanted up. "Teyla, I haven't had any shoes for two years. And I'm not leaving it."

"Very well," she acceded. She'd run from Belgen's tavern barefoot.

The woman on the far side of the tent wall cried out, loudly enough it must have been heard outside the tent, where someone laughed. Teyla cautiously slipped into the shadows. She pulled the Wraith hand stunner she'd picked up on another world and 'forgotten' to hand over to the armory from beneath her tac vest. Cadman knew she carried it and diplomatically said nothing. Sometimes projectile weapons were too loud or caused too much damage. A rustle and a blur of soft voices presaged movement on the other side of the tent wall.

It was John who pushed past the hanging silks and into the main room of the tent, not the Haralim.

He didn't see Teyla; his kohl-lined eyes found Rodney and he sighed, padding toward him, moving with a willowy sway. Every movement gave away the boneless languor of the just fucked. A pair of red gauze pants hung untied and loose on his hips and he glinted with gold, fingernails and manacles, tinkling bells at his ankles and a ring in his navel. He looked exhausted, still breathing unevenly and sweat-sheened, but the pants concealed nothing, not even that he was still half hard. There was a gloss about him, as though he'd been polished and refined until he breathed sex and seduction.

"John," Rodney murmured, his gaze moving to where Teyla stood hidden in shadow, but John smiled and stroked his hand over Rodney's arm. His fingers lingered over the dark-blue braid decorating the cuff of Rodney's loose shirt. Rodney looked at Teyla for another instant, then pulled John closer, letting him lean his head against Rodney's shoulder. "How much did she give you?"

John shrugged without shifting away. He moved fluidly against Rodney, obviously enjoying the contact, murmuring dreamily, "Enough. Feels good." He shifted his hips and rubbed against Rodney, then grazed his mouth over Rodney's neck. "Please?" His hands plucked at Rodney's clothes. Turned away from where Teyla stood, the smooth skin of his back displayed more curling patterns, an intricate adornment of words in Ancient decorating the small of John's back and running dark and serpentine up the hollow over his spine.

"John, is she out?" Rodney whispered against his temple. His free arm curved around John's waist.

"She drank the wine with the eiff." He rocked against Rodney. The shift made the bells at his ankles chime delicately. His shoulder moved, telegraphing an action his torso hid, but Rodney's indrawn breath gave away what he was doing. "Let me – "

"John, Teyla's here."

She saw the shock jolt through John, saw his frame tighten for a microsecond before he relaxed and turned in Rodney's hold, so that he leaned back against Rodney's chest and faced her. With a cautious glance toward the other end of the tent, she stepped forward.

"Teyla," he slurred.

"John," she greeted him in return. She set one hand on his bare shoulder – his skin felt fever hot and damp – but kept the stunner ready in her other as she rested her forehead against his for an instant. Her touch was light, but she felt him shudder in response. She let go and stepped back before he could do more than breathe out and watched with pity as he arched back into Rodney's hold with a soft moan. Rodney's hand rested so familiarly on John's hip, she knew this was not the first time John had come to him like this.

Belgen hadn't wasted coin on drugs. A hard beating kept most of his slaves in line. That didn't make this better.

"It's the dranzi," Rodney said softly. He guided John back to a nest of pillows and sank down with him, petting him, and John leaned into every touch, open mouthed and panting, eyes wide and so dazed Teyla thought he'd forgotten her again. "Teyla, could you just – "

She turned her back and tried not to think of what John must look like as he gasped, "Sorry, sorry, I'm sorry, Ro'ney, I can't," and then, "Vai," and gave out a quiet keen, piercing in the pleasure it conveyed. She only turned back when she heard Rodney moving, saw him wiping his hand carelessly on a pillow, then watched as he poured water from a exquisite glass bottle into a gold-rimmed cup. He  handed it to John, who gulped it down and refused to meet her eyes.

"The water helps it wear off faster," Rodney said. John handed the cup back to him and he filled it again. The absent caress of his fingers over John's when they met on the cup made something clench inside Teyla. It had been so long since she could bear even an innocent touch beyond those she initiated herself and a lover...Taking a lover was unthinkable. Even Doctor Biro's careful touch reminded her of other hands. Too many of them that she dreamed about still.

John drank the second cup of water too and set it aside, then stretched voluptuously. He finally caught her gaze again, watching her through long lashes, something ingrained in him now making that look into a sultry invitation. Then he seemed to shake himself and his mouth, bruised and paint-smeared, stretched into a real smile. "You got away," he said, without even a hint of bitterness.

"Ronon, as well," she told him, because she had always loved his smile.

"Oh, God, thank God," Rodney exclaimed softly. His arms were full of cloth gathered up from a chest. He dropped it into John's lap. "Clothes."

"Is he here?" John asked eagerly. He pulled on an gilt-embroidered vest and then the crimson robes she'd seen him wrapped in earlier.

"No," she said and frowned at both of them. "Do you have nothing less noticeable?"

Rodney went back to one of the chests he'd opened before and drew out two heavy, indigo over-robes. John was already wrapping a length of black silk into a turban similar to what the Garzi wore. A length of fabric draped over his chest until he drew it over his face like a veil. Rodney followed suit, his fingers just as deft as he settled the cloth on his head.

"Ronon?" John prompted as he bent and removed the ankle bells, wrapping them in a scarf that went into a pocket in the heavy outside robe.

"I will explain later. We should go now," Teyla said.

John and Rodney both bowed their heads swiftly.  "Vai, hara," Rodney murmured.

Their quick obedience disturbed Teyla even as it made their escape through the slice in the side of the tent easier.

Heightmeyer looked sympathetic, leaning forward and even extending a hand toward Teyla. She was perfect and false in that perfection, Teyla thought, refusing the offered touch and the implied comfort. She narrowed her eyes. This was why Doctor Weir wished her to speak with Doctor Heightmeyer? She'd believed better of the woman, of both women.

"All my life, I have given up people to the Wraith," she told Doctor Heightmeyer. "I had to accept that the culled were dead. But I will not accept giving up anyone to slavers." She stood up. "I do not."

"Teyla – "


"Teyla, you've used the search for Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay as an excuse to avoid dealing with what happened to you, but you cannot do that forever."

"What happened to me, happened. I did not conceive, for which I am grateful. Doctor Biro assured me that her exams cleared me of any disease as a result."

"That's true, but you need to face how you feel – " Heightmeyer looked frustrated. "Teyla, I know your culture is different than ours, but you can't endure an experience like that and not be changed."

She walked out of the office and didn't return.

Lt. Cadman was waiting just over the crest of the hill with Olopoto and the rest of the marines just beyond the perimeter of the Selketi camp. Her voice was low, but not a whisper. Whispers were suspicious; guards listened for whispers. "Have you got – " She stopped and stared past Teyla's shoulder.

John was one step behind her. She could feel the subtle difference of another body standing too close: warmth, and the heady scent of incense and spice rising from his robes. Below that, she detected the hint of earthier odors: musk, sweat and sex. The robes whispered and the attenuated light from the torches burning to light the market at night reflected off his hands: ringed, painted, bright with gold. A sleeve slid back, revealing the flash of a polished manacle around his wrist as he drew aside the cloth concealing his face.

Faeatua had only one moon and it was rising, full swollen and marmalade-orange. Its light left much of John's face in shadow, mysterious, and magnified the darkness of his painted eyes.

"Sir," Cadman murmured. She flicked her gaze beyond John, to where Rodney stood, arms wrapped around the coffer, head bowed. "McKay?"

"We must not linger here," Teyla urged.

"We've got two jumpers waiting cloaked at the gate," Cadman said. "But you're right. Colonel Caldwell doesn't want to waste drones or get in a shoot-out if we don't have to."

"These guys got anything besides big-ass swords?" a marine asked.

Rodney's voice was too quiet. "Stunners."

Teyla half-turned. He hadn't even looked up.

"Let's get back to the gate," Cadman said. "Pearce, Maguinis, you've got our six. Williams, Lee, take point. Teyla, you and McKay and the colonel stay in the center with me." She paused, then asked, "Colonel, do you want a weapon?"

Teyla almost stumbled. It hadn't occurred to her to offer John a weapon and it should have. He should have asked for one. He would have, once. She looked at him, standing one step closer to Rodney than she remembered, a slender silhouette, and watched as he covered his face again.

He shook his head, gazing down the same way Rodney did.

She wasn't the only one who had changed.

Cadman looked at Teyla. Her face was unreadable in the dim light. Teyla didn't know what her face showed. She didn't know what she felt, beyond the realization that this rescue wouldn't bring back the men she'd known before.

"Okay, move, people. Try to keep a low profile," Cadman ordered. She activated her radio. "This is Cadman. The packages have been acquired. Returning to the gate ASAP."

John fell into step behind Teyla, again closer than she preferred, with Rodney beside him. Wordless. The rest of the marines surrounded them.

They reached the market itself and were winding their way among the darkened tents and stalls, stumbling drunks, and those that conducted their business better in the shadows or by night. The crowd was thinner than by day, but still forced their group to string out or draw attention by forcing their way through en masse. Teyla kept her hand on her P90, finger lying beside the trigger.

They passed between the closed stalls of the traders, dodged down a darkened alley and into the better-lit, but more crowded cantina quarter. Torch and lantern light blended like the smoke from the cook fires. Musicians played in some of the more elaborate pavilions. Teyla's stomach reminded her she hadn't eaten since morning in Atlantis.

John and Rodney moved silently, their heads down. The robes and hatta hid their faces and bodies well enough, but the temporary taverns and pohli tents were lit with lanterns and candles. Sometimes the light flashed off the gold paint on John's toenails.

Cadman kept them moving. No one paused the admire any of the pohli on display in front of their tents, not even the girl who had found the real, rare flowers to wear in her long hair, dancing to the rhythm of a heartbeat. The heady scent made Teyla break out in a sweat, worrying Garner or one of the other marines would say something coarse and thoughtless again.

"Guy in red, right?" Corporal Garner was lying on his belly in the scratchy grass, watching the Selketi camp through a pair of binoculars as Teyla and Cadman ghosted their way back from scouting the best route inside. The rest of the marines Colonel Caldwell had dispatched were waiting patiently, out of sight on the other side of the low hill. "Man, Harem Boy down there doesn't look like he's hurting."

He lowered the glasses long enough to turn his head and grin at the other men, who, except for Sergeant Olopoto, all chuckled in response.

The afternoon had slipped past sunset into dusk. In the market, lanterns were being lit. The dim light blurred everyones' faces, but Teyla knew what expression Garner would sport. He'd have that salacious smirk on his face. Garner was normally part of Major Lorne's gate team. She always stood one step further away in his presence. She'd joined Cadman's team just to get away from him and his remarks.

He lifted the binoculars to his eyes again and chortled.

"Corporal," Cadman said. Teyla could have told her it would do no good. She'd heard worse from him before.  His words weren't meant as blows, any more than Pearce's ribald comments back in the market while passing the prostitutes' tents had been.

"Sorry, ma'am," he muttered.

Sergeant Maguinis eeled up next to him and plucked the binoculars away. "Let me see."

Cadman crouched next to Teyla. "What do you think, can you get in and get them out after nightfall?"


"Who's the woman?" Olopoto asked.

"We do not know," Teyla said.

Behind them, Garner joked, "Well, if I was tapping that, I wouldn't want to come back."

Pearce giggled under his breath. Teyla stared at Cadman, hoping the lieutenant would rein the men in. Cadman just shook her head. Teyla sucked in a breath and promised herself she would not need to deal with Garner or any of the other men once the colonel and Doctor McKay were home.

"Stow it," Olopoto ordered, nodding at Teyla.

"What?" Garner protested. "Maybe she'll want to come back to Atlantis with us."

Maguinis swatted the back of his head.


"Colonel Caldwell would have our asses, man."

"Gimme my glasses back."

Maguinis shoved them into his hand and crawled backward to where Cadman crouched with Teyla and Olopoto.

"I thought we were rescuing some POWs, not picking up fucking

Behind them a stunner fired. The crackle-buzz of the energy weapon sent a flash of adrenaline through Teyla.

On the common radio channel, Maguinis said liltingly, "We've got company coming up on our six, Lieutenant."

"Close up formation," Cadman responded. Now they did push hard through the wandering traders and revelers. They began garnering curses, too, from those they shoved aside. There were shouts and a scream from the rear. Cadman picked up her pace to a fast trot. "Move, move."

Teyla glanced at John and Rodney. They were keeping up easily. She worried for their bare feet, though.

Cadman toggled her radio again. "Jumper Four, dial the gate now. I want you in steady radio contact with Atlantis. Over."

"Roger that, Lieutenant. Over."

Two stunner blasts sounded. Much closer this time. A spat of P90 fire answered.

Rodney flinched at the noise, looked back and stumbled over a basket of some sort of tubers. He fell against Olopoto's arm. Before Teyla or Olopoto could react, he cringed away, ducking his head and bringing his shoulder up, staggering and still off-balance. Teyla gritted her teeth, but before she could force herself to reach out to him, John had a grip on his arm, ringed hand pale against the dark cloth, moving smoothly between him and Olopoto, steadying Rodney and pulling him into a run.

"Faster," Cadman urged them all. "Atlantis, this is Cadman. Drop the shield! Over."

They broke into a run.

"On your mark, Lieutenant. Over."

Teyla glimpsed the blue light of the Ring between two tents.

A stunner bolt, red and crackling with energy, passed over her head, to dissipate against the hide wall of a Methmar tupek. Two hunters scrambled out, half-dressed, but with both spear and knife in hand.

"Mark!" Cadman yelled. "Decloak the jumpers!"

"Shit, Pearce just got stunned!"

"Olopoto, help Maguinis get him," Cadman ordered. "Teyla, make sure the colonel and Doctor McKay get through the gate."

Lee and Williams reached the gate and took cover behind the Ring itself. The two jumpers hovered on each side above it, rippling blue light illuminating their undercarriages. More shouts, of fear now, because many people associated any aerial vehicles with the Wraith, echoed from the camps and market stalls surrounding the Ring. People were beginning to run away.

Stunner bolts mixed with P90 fire. Teyla heard one scream. She half turned to look back and glimpsed Olopoto dragging Pearce, while Maguinis fired over the heads of the crowd trying to get away from the Ring. Selketi guards were mixed with those trying to get away, fighting their way forward. She glimpsed flames from a fallen torch eating their way up the oiled hide of the Methmar tupek.

Cadman fell back in parallel with her as they reached the area bared by each wormhole initialization. "Pull back through the gate," she shouted. "Someone help Olopoto – "

"I've got him, LT," Olopoto insisted, pausing just long enough to heft Pearce into a fireman's carry, barely breaking his stride.

The marines went through in pairs, looking back at the chaos spreading through the market. Rodney was faltering now. His breathing had gone ragged and harsh, whistling in and out. The marines were outstripping him without realizing it. Teyla slowed and moved closer. John stayed on his other side, fingers wrapped around Rodney's wrist. Cadman took one look and eased her own pace.

"Lee, Williams, you're tail-end charlies on the ground. Jumpers, you come through after we've cleared the gate," Cadman continued. "Everyone keep moving so we don't get run over in the gateroom. Move!"

Rodney couldn't keep the pace with the rest of them, but he didn't complain. He kept moving and Teyla started to think they would go through the wormhole without further incident.

Instead, three steps from the Ring, from freedom, John stopped, turned, and looked back. Rodney took one more step and stopped too. Cadman skidded to a halt, looking worried, and turned to provide cover for the last of the marines. Teyla tightened her hands on her P90 and dodged to keep from running into John, catching herself before momentum took her through the ring without him. He looked like he was about to go back and she couldn't imagine what he was thinking. She didn't know what she would do if he did.

His gaze caught on Olopoto, Maguinis and Pearce, staggering over the last stretch, then lifted toward the end of the valley where the Selketi were camped. He moved aside as the three marines reached the Ring and passed through.

"Williams, Lee, go," Cadman called, worried and impatient, waiting just before the event horizon. "Colonel!"

"John," Rodney added and caught John's wrist in his hand, tugging him backward.

"Vai," John murmured. He seemed to search the night for something or someone, then followed Rodney through the event horizon. Teyla backed through the wormhole, followed by Cadman.

She stepped into the gray downpour of a winter rain, the afternoon already dark, and froze. Five marines faced her, weapons aimed.Teyla waited, sucking in deep breaths. Her ribs ached and a shooting pain ran up her left arm. Finally, Sergeant Graham recognized her. Except for the guards who had responded to the stargate's activation, the Alpha Site appeared empty of anyone who didn't need to be out in the steady drizzle.

"Anybody on your tail, ma'am?" Graham asked.

Teyla lifted a hand still wet and red with another dead man's blood. It mingled with the rain, dripping off her fingertips to the muddy ground. "No."

Graham's eyes flickered and he gave a grim nod.

The stargate disengaged. Graham lowered his P90 and stripped out of his jacket. Rain had already darkened the shoulders, but Teyla took it gratefully, drawing the heavy fabric close around her. She had no real body modesty, but the skimpy top and skirt Belgen had dressed her in offered little protection from the dreary chill. The jacket smelled like soap and sweat and something... Aftershave, Rodney had called it. A pleasant scent that mingled with the rain. The jacket was still warm from Graham's body heat.

"Clane, dial Atlantis," Graham said. A tall Marine peeled away and went to the DHD. Graham stayed a careful, kind distance from Teyla. Rain drops beaded on his buzz-cut hair, silver on gray. "Ma'am, have you any news about Colonel Sheppard? Specialist Dex? Doctor McKay?"

She shook her head. "Ronon...Ronon may be dead." The flash of memory made her stomach roll. The factor's guards had beaten him down, over-powered him with numbers, and she had not helped him. Nor had Colonel Sheppard. They'd both known all they could do at that moment was wait and not end up limp and bloody on the ground, kicked until their bones broke too by the men holding them prisoner. That hadn't made it any easier. It still didn't. Ronon's blood had speckled the dirt dark and his head had thumped against the ground as his body was carelessly dragged away. She'd hoped to return to news that the others had escaped or been found and rescued already.

Her fingers tightened on the edges of Graham's jacket. They left bloody stains. The teeth of the zipper dug into her fingertips. "We were taken by slavers – "

"Motherfucker," one of the marines close enough to hear interjected.

"Mathis, shut it," Graham warned.

" – in an ambush," Teyla went on. "And brought through the Ring to be sold. Ronon was beaten unconscious for attacking the guards. His body was taken away." She straightened her back and lifted her head, ignoring the rain running down her face. "I was sold and taken through the Ring. Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay were still at the market at that point."

The wind picked up, swirling dead, sodden leaves over the mud and grass, pushing drifts against the foundations of the 'temporary' buildings the Lanteans had built haphazardly around the gate. The rain came down harder, drifting sideways.

"Sonovabitch," Graham said as the stargate whooshed open.

She turned toward the rippling blue light of the wormhole as Graham started talking on the radio. Raindrops suck-plinked into the event horizon.

"Atlantis, this is Alpha Site, Sergeant Graham. We've got Teyla Emmagen here." Graham paused, listening to questions from Atlantis through his earpiece. "She's beat up. Yeah. Okay." He met Teyla's gaze. "Shield's down, they're waiting for you, ma'am."

She shrugged off Graham's jacket and offered it back to him. He took it and gestured to the stargate. "You made it. Go on. They'll take care of you. Once they've got you fixed up, you can debrief and stand down."

She shook her head. "No, once I have told Dr. Weir of what has happened, I must find the rest of my team."

She stepped through, chased by the rain, onto the damp gateroom floor.

The passage from Ring to Ring took no discernable time, could not be expressed, but Teyla always experienced something: a rush of brilliant vertigo, something ineffable. It was always over before she could grasp it. No time and no thoughts, but the feeling lingered as she found herself once more in Atlantis.

The marines scattered from the gateroom floor, while Cadman urged John and Rodney up the steps. Teyla caught up with them. A glance up showed her Doctor Weir and Colonel Caldwell waiting at the control room overlook and she glimpsed Doctor Zelenka and Major Lorne behind them.
The medical team always stationed on stand-by with the marine guards was rushing to Olopoto. He lowered Pearce onto the gurney. "Stunner hit, took it in the chest," Maguinis told them from beside him.

The steps beneath John and Rodney's feet flared brighter than they had in years. They left dirty, blood-smeared foot prints.

Behind them, Jumper Four slid through the event horizon then rotated and began lifting into the jumper bay above. Jumper Six followed.

Doctor Weir brushed past Caldwell and met them on the landing beneath the stained glass window. Lorne and Zelenka came down behind her, a little slower.

"John! Rodney! I can't believe it – " Weir exclaimed. She extended her hands. Teyla wondered if she meant to take theirs or hug one of them.

As they reached the landing, John and Rodney shrugged out of the concealing outer robes, then both sank to their knees. Rodney set the cloth wrapped box to the side, before he and John bent forward, bowing until their foreheads rested against the floor, arms folded behind them, fingers laced together and palms out. The patterns on John's palms seemed to swirl.

Only the late afternoon light – so different from Faeatua's fire-shot night – lit John and Rodney. Amber and green light streaked over the curve of their backs and their bare, bleeding feet where they knelt. Their stillness seemed to ripple outward, slowing Lorne and Zelenka to a stop on the steps behind Weir, freezing Cadman, turning Teyla's limbs to lead. The gateroom darkened abruptly as the wormhole collapsed and the bustle and noise of a returned mission fell away into silence.

Weir looked helpless and horrified, staring down at the two men on the floor.

Someone tittered and then there was laughter from the control room, an uncomfortable wave of it that made Teyla jerk her face up and glare. Doctor Zelenka recovered first, stepping around Weir to crouch beside Rodney. "McKay...?"

Rodney shuddered and let his fingers unlace, then sat up. John remained face down and Teyla realized with a jolt he was waiting for a command, for someone – for Weir – to release him. "Tell him to get up," she snapped at Weir, who still looked stunned.


"Tell him he can get up," Teyla hissed.

Weir looked down and closed her eyes briefly.

"John, get up. Rodney, you too, both of you," she said, the words spilling out in a rush, "get up. Please."

John sat up then rose to his feet, head still bowed, murmuring, his voice hoarse, "Vai, hara," while Rodney scrambled up gracelessly.

The laughter had stuttered to a stop. Everyone stared. They should have come back in a jumper and not been subjected to this, put on display for all of Atlantis. She remembered her own return and the cold, vulnerable moment when she'd realized everyone was looking at her. Everyone could see what she'd done and all that had been done to her.

With a soft curse, one her father would have been horrified to hear from her, Teyla scooped up a robe and draped it back around John. He flinched away from her.

"You're safe now," Weir said. "You're home."

She wanted to weep.



  • Summary: Teyla makes her way back to Atlantis. Getting home is harder.
  • Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
  • Rating: explicit
  • Warnings: rape, violence, death
  • Author Notes: no sexual genre is included because I refuse to recognize rape as sex, but it is too much part of this story for it to fall within what's accepted as 'gen'.
  • Story Notes: Companion piece to In the City of Seven Walls
  • Date: 18.1.07
  • Length: 9584 words
  • Genre: not applicable
  • Category: angst, adventure, drama
  • Cast: Teyla Emmagan, Ronon Dex, Steven Caldwell, Elizabeth Weir, Radek Zelenka, Evan Lorne, Laura Cadman, Rodney McKay, John Sheppard, Supporting and Original Characters
  • Betas: enname and icarus_ancalion
  • Disclaimer: Not for profit. Transformative work written for private entertainment.

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