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Written for the 1st SGA Gen Ficathon, theme: AU/Team, prompt: "in my youth".
The Assemblage was, by the Athosian calendar, but three times a year, and Teyla always spent the tenday before in eager anticipation, practicing her fighting and her writing and counting over the various coins and jewelry pieces she might trade. And this, now, was her first Assemblage since her twelfth Turning, the first time she would go as one of Athos, not an unidentified child. She was so excited that two nights before, Charin had asked her anxiously what she had dreamed.
Her father only laughed, though, assuring Charin there were no Wraith coming, and helped Teyla hem the long trim of her new scarlet-dyed espen-wool cloak.
Then it was the day of the Assemblage, and when Athos' sun was at its zenith, she held her father's hand, and stepped through the Ancestral Ring.
As Tagan Emmagan's only child, Teyla went through the Ring many times, to visit many worlds. But she was still young enough to gasp a little at the formless chill of the Ring's waters, the dizzying drowning in starlight. Then they were standing on the other side, where it was only just morning, the few clouds still pink with dawn.
Every Assemblage was held on a different world; this was Teyla's first time to see Greysh's City, and she stared up with wide brown eyes as they strode between the towering granite pillars. Their bases were carved with patterns and whirls like rippling water, but the tops were all broken, like twigs snapped off by a man rushing through forest underbrush.
Charin had told her the stories of the Shattered City, of how the Greyshen had destroyed their own wonders rather than let the Wraith knock them down, a thousand years before. But Teyla hadn't imagined that any people could build something so tall and straight as these columns, even broken far taller than any tree she'd found to climb in Athos' forests, and she clutched at her father's hand like she was a little girl, not a young woman of twelve.
Her father smiled down at her. "I'll have to join the Assembly shortly," he said, "but shall I stay with you until then?"
But Teyla took a bracing breath, withdrew her hand from her father's great warm one and pulled herself up straight, facing the bustling throngs and vividly colored tents spread among the pillars. "I will go myself. You have responsibilities, and I have many things to buy."
Her father smiled wider, teeth bright against his brown face. "Then go, and fare well in your shopping, Teyla of Athos. I'll meet you before the main tent at the midday break."
Teyla nodded, then took a breath, took hold of her satchel, and plunged into the crowds, the people from all the Assembled worlds who always gathered to buy and sell and trade and eat and drink and talk at every Assemblage.
She was still young-seeming such that few asked her to identify herself, but those who did she drew herself up proudly, named herself Teyla Emmagan of Athos. And always she watched the faces going by, the smaller people in the crowd, but though there were many her age and children younger, as there always were, she didn't see those she hoped to see. Three Assemblages now, and perhaps a woman should be wise enough to stop hoping, so she did, and looked instead at all the wonderful goods and wares from all the worlds.
An hour later, she had found a polished hair clip for Charin, a block of ulmus wood for Kanaan to whittle, and a stick of candied redberries for herself. She had finished all but the last of these when someone grabbed her shoulders from behind and yanked her back stumbling, into the gap between two tents, under the shifting shaded colors of the overlapping canopies.
Trained to go off-world, Teyla reacted without thought or panic, bringing her boot's heel down hard on her attacker's foot while simultaneously slamming her elbow up.
He got his foot out of the way in time, but not his face, and her elbow hit his nose with a satisfying crunch.
That proved less satisfying when he yelped, "Ouch! My nose!" Actually it came out more like, "Ows, by bose!" but even stuffy and pained, she recognized the voice.
Teyla turned around, blinking. "John?"
"Hi, Teyla," her attacker said, muffled and sheepish. He had one hand clasped protectively over his nose and most of his face, but his green eyes and especially his wild dark hair were unmistakable.
"John!" Teyla cried gladly, clasping him by the shoulders herself, and he tipped in his head to touch his forehead to hers.
John was almost a year older than her and had always been taller, but to her surprise she found herself nearly eye-to-eye with him today. His nose wasn't bleeding when he lowered his hand, but it was red and starting to swell a bit. "I am sorry," she apologized, reaching for it.
He hastily batted her hand away. "No, it's okay. Sorry I scared you, I've been looking for you all morning."
"I was looking for you!" Teyla said. "But I did not think I would see you—the last two Assemblages I looked, but could not find you, and then we could no longer visit your world." When she had asked her father, he had told her the Genii had not come to the Assembly, so none of the Assembled could go to the Genii to trade.
No one had told Teyla so, but she was old enough to understand what it might mean, that the Genii had not come; had cried to herself some nights, imagining the nightmare of the Wraiths' cold white light flashing over Genii's golden fields. She couldn't help the wideness of her smile, to see John here. "We were afraid—but you are all right, you are well?"
"I was," John said, "I think my nose is broken now." He prodded at it, wincing, then saw her face and quickly added, "But, yeah, we're fine."
At the 'we' Teyla looked around for John's foster brother. As long as she had known the two of them, they were rarely far apart. "So is Rodney with you?"
John nodded. "Yeah, he's here. Hanging out in the Taranian tent, where else?"
"I could not say," Teyla replied, "there are many worlds with technologies, are there not?"
John grinned at that. "But the Taranians have Ancestral stuff, and you know how Rodney gets about that."
Teyla did. Truthfully, she found it hard to understand how Rodney enjoyed living on the slow, peaceful Genii world. His birth world was small and boring, he had mentioned once, but she didn't know how plowing and planting was any more interesting for him.
"Anyway, I was just going to go look for him, when I saw you," John said. "I found this thing," and he dug into his trouser pockets, pulled out a thin silver rod about a hand-span long, with a dull blue stone at one end. "I got it from a kid from Belka who said she got it from a Hoffan guy who said he found it in a box on a culled world or something."
"But what is it?" Teyla asked, peering at the bit of metal.
"No idea," John said, "but look," and he closed his fingers around one end of the rod. The blue stone flashed to life, casting a liquid aqua glow on the close tent cloths surrounding them. "Nifty, huh?"
"It is lovely," Teyla said, "can I?"
John handed the little rod over, but of course when it left his fingers, the stone's blue shine faded, and did not return no matter how tightly Teyla gripped it. She was not surprised; she had seen John perform such seeming magic tricks before. He refused to tell her how he did them—in truth, she believed that he didn't know himself.
Rodney might, but when she had asked him, he would mutter things about chance inherited traits and genetic protein activation and other unfamiliar words, and he'd get so sulky that she'd learned not to ask anymore.
Teyla followed John through the crowds, stopping once along the way at the candy seller's. The Taranian tent was dull beige in color, but raucous, filled with a great many women and men, and most of them arguing in raised voices using strange words that Rodney probably knew. Some of them were waving around odd devices, or books or scrolls.
In one of the six corners, Rodney was glaring up at two large men with beards and big bellies. The men's booming baritones were loud, but Rodney's high boy's voice was louder, soaring over them in strident soprano agitation. "No, no, that's totally completely very wrong, you can't make power just appear out of nowhere, it's got to come from somewhere! You—"
"Psst!" John hissed, just loud enough to catch Rodney's attention, and beckoned to his foster brother.
Rodney stomped his foot, crossed his skinny arms and eyed the two scientists towering over him. "You're really dumb," he pronounced, and marched past them as two pairs of bushy eyebrows shot up over their bearded faces.
"That was nice," John said, as Rodney reached them. "Aren't you supposed to be respectful and everything? We're supposed to be ambassadoring for Genii."
"But they are," Rodney said. "If they keep doing what they're doing on Taranis, they're going to blow themselves up before we do—"
"Hey, shh!" John said sharply, and angled his head toward Teyla.
"Huh, what? And what happened to your nose?" Rodney said, then looked over at her for the first time. His wide blue eyes got even bigger and wider. "Teyla!" he said, and she couldn't help but be gladdened by how his flat mouth opened into a smile when he saw her. "You're here! That's great!"
"Yes, it is good to see you, too, Rodney," Teyla said, smiling back, and she touched foreheads with him. Rodney was her own age and had always been the same height; now she had at least a finger span on him, she noted a little smugly, even if his fluffy dark gold curls made him look taller. "Here, I have brought these for you," and she handed him a stick of candied berries.
"Wow, thanks!" Rodney said, sucking the first two berries off the stick and crunching their sugar coating between his teeth. "I'm really hungry, I haven't had anything since breakfast—"
"—Two hours ago," John said, "and you ate a loaf of bread and half a poultrine—"
"—except you stole most of that from my bowl!"
Teyla laughed. She loved her father, and Charin; she had never been lonely for a sister or brother, until she had met John and Rodney.
They left the noisy Taranians to sit in the shade of one of the hugely tall broken columns, a little ways from the tents. Teyla took off her cloak, folded it into a cushion and sat on it. John tipped back his head to stare all the way up to the top. "I wonder how long it'd take to climb up there," he said, running his hands over the carved stone. "I bet I could do it in an hour. You bet I could?"
"I bet I could in fifty minutes," Teyla said, though really she'd only tried to climb the rocky cliffs around the Athos' empty city a couple times. Rock wasn't as tractable under her boots as rough tree bark, and it hurt her hands more when she scraped them. And the carvings on the pillars were deep but smooth. Still, she could curl her fingers into the gaps well enough to get purchase.
"And it'd take both of you eight seconds to get down," Rodney said. "Seven, maybe, and then you'd be dead."
He wasn't even looking up, absorbed by the silver rod John had given him. It didn't light up for him anymore than it did for Teyla, but he'd already figured out how to twist it so that a narrow slot in the side opened, showing a hollow space.
They didn't try to climb, and after a bit John asked, "Hey, Rodney, is it noon yet?"
Rodney, oddly, glanced at his bare wrist rather than the sky, then frowned and shook his head, an irritated little jerk like he had forgotten something, and looked up at the sun. "Looks high enough, yeah."
"Okay." John pushed himself to his feet, dusted off his palms. "I'll be back soon."
"Where are you going?" Teyla asked, also getting up. "I can go with you."
"Nah." John shook his head. "It's just something Genii I got to do. Like, farming stuff. Boring." He grinned, but it was a strange expression, like he was having trouble remembering the right way to do it. "Rodney can keep you company."
Teyla looked from him to Rodney, who was frowning at John. She sat down again on the chunks of crumbled stone. "All right."
John loped off, disappearing into the crowd of traders, all the tall adults soon blocking him from their sight.
"So, um," Rodney said. "How's it going, on Athos and places?"
Teyla looked over. Rodney was hunched over the silver device again, pointed elbows akimbo, poking the fragile blade of a pocket knife into the slot. He had carefully positioned himself in the shade, but the tips of his nose and ears were already pink from the sun, and his brow was as folded and wrinkled as an old grandfather's as he concentrated.
"What?" Rodney said, looking up as if he could feel her eyes on him. "What are you smiling at?"
"I missed you," Teyla told him. "You, and John—I asked Father to come to the last two Assemblages, but you were not here."
"Sorry," Rodney said, hurriedly like he was guilty. "I know we promised, we really wanted to come, we did. John asked and asked, but the Circle had—there were—um, we couldn't. But there's a new Circle chief now, and he wants to trade again, so we could come to the Assemblage."
"Some people thought the Wraith had come to Genii," Teyla said.
Rodney looked stricken. "Oh, no, no, there weren't any Wraith, just stupid—um, no Wraith." He fidgeted, rolling the silver rod between his fingers. "What about Athos? When we couldn't come—we didn't know what was happening on other worlds, on Athos, so John and I, we were...but they didn't come, did they? I mean, it hasn't been a year, and you're okay. I mean, you look okay," and he glared at her as if she might be hiding something.
"I am well," Teyla assured him. "And Athos is, too. It is spring, now, the yumey are blooming. They are my favorite flowers, and very pretty. I would like if you and John could come see them."
"I'd like to," Rodney said, "but I can't, you know, the fostering. The Assemblages are the only time I can go off-world...John could, maybe, since he's getting older, but..."
Teyla had never heard of a fostering that didn't allow the foster children to go off-world, but then the Genii were a quiet people, not given to much travel, for all her father told her they were fine traders and welcomed visitors. Rodney was the only fosterling among them that she knew, and he had never sounded much interested in visiting anywhere before; even when he spoke of his birth world, it wasn't as if he were sick for it. But he sounded sad now, in a lonely way.
She reached out, touched his hands twisting the silver rod. His quick fingers stilled under hers. "Perhaps if I asked my father, to ask John's father," she suggested. "Then maybe he'd let you come? For just one day?"
Rodney shook his head hard. "No, I don't think that's—it's okay, Teyla. It's not like I'm in trouble or anything, it's just—it's dangerous, going off-world. I have to be careful, I'm too important—"
"It is not so dangerous on Athos," Teyla said, a bit crossly. It wasn't as if the Genii world were so safe, after all; they lived in their little cottages and didn't even move with the seasons, so the Wraith would always know where to find them. "The Wraith do not come that often, and when they do, I know it. Several of us do, and we give warning."
"Have you really seen Wraith?" Rodney asked, eyes as wide as a little boy's. "They've only come once to Genii, and I was under—um, it was far away, where I was, I didn't see them."
They had never talked about the Wraith before; John would always make jokes when they did, and start talking about other, more pleasant things. Teyla had never minded; she didn't like to speak of them, didn't like to remember the chill feeling of their coming, so much worse than the cold of going through the Ring. The Ring's freeze was bright and clean as first frost, but the cold of the Wraith hurt, like the pond water she had choked on when she had fallen through the ice last winter.
"I have seen them twice," Teyla said. "Or their ships, at least—I have never seen them, only their shadows. But their ships, they make this sound like a thousand flies buzzing, and a white light, like moonlight but it hurts your eyes like it does when you look at the sun. And when it touches you, you are gone, taken..."
The sunlight was warm on her face, but she shivered. Rodney leaned forward, to put his hands over hers as she had put hers over his. "I'm sorry," he said earnestly. "I didn't—I know they're terrible, the Wraith, everybody knows that. It's just they don't seem real, always, and then I wonder about what I'm doing...but you don't have to be scared, Teyla. Because if the Wraith took you, John would get you back—that's what we decided, when we came to this Assemblage. If we couldn't find you here, we'd find you wherever. John said that even if you were on a Wraith ship, I'd be able to figure out how to find you there, and I would, too—"
"Rodney," Teyla said, shaking her head, because Rodney was smarter than anyone she had ever met, and yet could be as silly as Holling's toddling son.
Then, as she looked up, she saw the figures behind him, and gasped, "Rodney!"
"What—" Rodney began, too late. The tall boy who had crept up behind him shoved him hard, knocking Rodney off his seat on the broken stone onto his hands and knees.
The silver rod flew from his hands, chiming as it scattered pebbles some distance away. Scarcely had it fallen than grasping hands snatched it up. "I've got it, Torrell!" exclaimed this boy, to the taller teen who had pushed Rodney down.
"That is not yours!" Teyla cried angrily, launching to her feet. "Drop it!"
There were five of them, all boys, in dark trousers and sleeveless vests. The youngest of them was still older and taller than Rodney and herself, and he waved the rod about triumphantly. "This is it, Torrell," he said, laughing a horrid honking laugh. "I saw it when the other kid had it, it glowed all blue. Bet we can trade it for lots!"
"It is not yours!" Teyla said again, and charged at that boy.
Before she reached him, he threw the silver rod, spinning through the air, to the tallest boy, the teenager. He caught it in one hand, grinned with his teeth white and vicious. "It's ours now, looks like," he said.
"You're idiots," Rodney said, picking himself up off the ground. His trousers' knees were torn and dirty, and his hands were scraped bloody by the sharp rocks, a flash of red as he clenched them and glared up at the teen. "You can't use it anyway, it won't do anything for you."
The teenager sneered at him, squeezing his fist around the silver rod. He frowned as nothing happened, the blue stone remaining dull and quiescent. "What's wrong with this?"
"It works, Torrell," the smaller boy said anxiously. "I know it does, I saw it."
Teyla tried to rush the teen Torrell, but before she could, two of the other boys stepped before her, blocking her from him and Rodney. They were both tall and pale, and their shoulders were almost as broad as grown men's.
Torrell grimaced at the wand. Then his lip curled and he grabbed Rodney by the collar, hauled him up onto his toes and shoved the rod into his face. "Tell me how to make it work," he demanded.
"I can't," Rodney said, almost spitting in the teen's eyes. "I'd tell you why, but you're too dumb to understand, so why should I bother?"
Torrell's ugly face became even uglier. With one hand still gripping Rodney's collar, he drew the other back, fist closed around the rod.
"Stop!" Teyla cried. When the two boys tried to stop her, she kneed one in the crotch, slammed the heel of her hand into the other's chest to knock the wind from his lungs and the strength from his limbs. They both dropped to the ground, and Teyla bounded over them.
She was too late to stop Torrell from landing the punch; Rodney's head was knocked back with a muffled whimpering sound. He flailed weakly, trying to twist away.
Torrell's lip curled and he shoved Rodney again, towards Teyla. Unprepared, she couldn't quite catch him, and they both fell. Rodney whimpered again when his scraped palms hit the ground, and Teyla gasped herself as her tailbone struck a chunk of stone with a dazzling flash of pain.
On top of her, Rodney jerked and yelped again as Torrell kicked him in the side. "Let's go," she heard the teen say over them, and Teyla blinked back stars and tears, cried out, "No, stop!"
"Ow, ow," Rodney moaned, rolling off her to prop himself up on his elbows among the rock, panting. His face was red and his eyes were squeezed shut.
"Are you all right?" Teyla asked him urgently.
Rodney nodded, blinking hard, liquid caught on his long lashes. "Yeah—are you?"
"I am fine."
"But the device—"
"I will get it back," Teyla said, rocking to her feet and ignoring the aching bruise at the base of her spine.
"Teyla, wait, there's too many—!" Rodney tried to argue, but Teyla was already running.
The boys had scattered, the two uninjured helping the other two she had hurt, but she didn't care about them, only Torrell. He was tall enough that she could see him even when he had plunged into the Assemblage crowd, and she dove after him, her teeth gritted. Torrell had struck Rodney, and stolen John's gift, and she would not allow him to get away.
Torrell was taller, but Teyla was still small enough to twist and cut between the gathered adults, swift and nimble. She kept her gaze locked on his dark-haired head. He kept looking back over his shoulder, saw her in pursuit and went faster. He was big enough to shove smaller women and men out of his way, though he had to dodge the bigger knots of people.
But his legs were long enough that he could jump over low barrels and carts that Teyla had to go around, and he was gaining distance—if she lost him, it would be difficult to find him again, not before he sold or traded away John's gift. Her lungs were aching and her legs burning, but she could not slow down. She had almost lost sight of Torrell—
Had lost sight; he turned a corner around a tall green tent, and then she could not see him at all, everyone around her with the wrong color clothes, the wrong color hair. Teyla turned about in every direction, staring up at all the many shades of thronging people, searching. "Come back here, thief!" she shouted.
Then she heard an outcry, like the squawk of a startled wild poultrine, and the crowd parted like water flowing off a raised river stone, everyone backing away. There was a figure rolling in the dirt between two tents—two figures: one in Torrell's dark maroon, now gray with rock dust; and a rather smaller one, who was difficult to make out with the way he was squirming and thrashing. The child had apparently knocked Torrell on his rear by slamming his head into the teen's stomach, and now was trying to hold him down by sitting on his chest.
Enraged, Torrell snarled and tried to beat at him, but the boy kicked him back. The teen managed to get an arm around him, only to squawk again, as the boy clamped his teeth down on the tender skin of his forearm.
Torrell jerked upright, raised his arm with his fist clenched, but before he could land this blow Teyla had grabbed him by the wrist and wrenched his arm back. "You will not hit a child," she said firmly, as Torrell gasped and whined, more pathetic than the noise Rodney had made. The crowd, seeing the fight was ended, began to flow past the tents again, leaving them alone in the space between.
The little boy climbed off Torrell and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "I'm not a child!" he said, in a high, sweet voice quite at odds with his vicious battle technique. Then, "Here, this is yours?" He thrust out the silver rod in his hand.
"Yes," Teyla said, nodding courteously, with no free hand to accept it; Torrell was bigger enough than herself that she wanted both hands to hold him. "Thank you."
The boy shrugged. "He stepped on me, running away," he said, sullen. "And then you said thief. So."
"You are injured?" Teyla asked him, noticing red at the corner of the boy's mouth.
He shook his head, grimacing, spat into the dirt and wiped his mouth again. "I'm okay." His skinny arms and legs were tanned, though not as brown as Teyla; his hair was thick and black, and his eyes were a clear forest color. His collared shirt and cuffed pants, though dirty and torn now, were of the neat cut and precise stitching of machines; a child of one of the more technological worlds, then.
"Are you Olesian?" Teyla asked, before she thought to consider that this child was too young to be identified to her grown self. "Or Hoffan?"
The boy shook his head. "No, Satedan." Which explained something; Sateda's military prowess was famous. "What're you?"
"Athosian. I am Teyla Emmagan of—"
"Teyla!" Rodney ran up, bumping into walking people right and left; he was pink-faced and panting for breath. He had her espen-wool cloak draped over his arms. "Are you okay—did you—"
"It is all right, Rodney," Teyla said. "I was helped. He stopped Torrell, and I have him stilled, now." Torrell tried to say something, but broke off with a strangled whine when Teyla bent his arm a little further back.
The Satedan boy eyed Rodney suspiciously. Rodney stared back at him. "What, he stopped him? But he's what, seven years old?"
"I'm nine!" cried the boy.
"But you look seven—you're just a little kid—"
"And you can't even run, you're panting like an old man—what are you, eighty? Is that your real hair or a wig?"
"Rodney," Teyla began, trying not to laugh—it wouldn't be a mature thing to do, even if Rodney's shiny pink face was turning redder than candied berries—"he was a great help, and he is not so much younger than we are—"
She wasn't paying as much attention to Torrell as she should. Her father would scold her for taking her eyes off an opponent before he had surrendered, but it was too late already—the teen surged up, bucking to break her hold. She could have grabbed him again, except that at that moment someone grabbed her from behind, not by the shoulders as John had, but by her hair.
Teyla screamed, unable to help herself, her head wrenched back. Through teary eyes she saw the pale, grinning moon face of one of the boys she had struck before, standing above her—the one she had kneed, she thought, and the other one was in front of her with his fists balled.
Behind her she heard Rodney struggling and cursing at the other two boys, only to be choked off with the thump of a punch to his stomach. And Torrell had stood up and grabbed the little Satedan boy, hooking his arm around his throat and dragging him up off the ground. He was tall enough that the boy's feet were dangling around his knees. The boy kicked out, furious or frantic, but was too small to land any solid blows.
The boy behind Teyla was still gripping her hair. "I'll teach you not to do that again, btich," he snarled, and she saw a flash of metal—not the silver rod, but an unsheathed knife. He raised it up to bring it down on her hair, to shear her like an espen.
"Let them go."
Teyla didn't recognize the voice at first, forced low so it almost sounded like a grown man's. But the person who crashed into Torrell, knocking him to the ground, wasn't tall enough to be a full-grown adult.
The Satedan boy squirmed free immediately, and took advantage of Torrell's position on the ground to kick him in the ribs, hard. Remembering how the teen had done the same to Rodney, Teyla felt no sympathy.
The boy holding her hair had slackened his grip in surprise at the attack, and Teyla ripped herself free—sacrificing a few auburn strands, but not all of her locks. The boy was still bruised and tender in places already vulnerable; it did not take nearly as hard a blow to fell him, and then his friend was as easily brought down again.
By the time she was done with them, Rodney was already free. He stood over one boy, lying in the dirt; and John stood over the other—John in the same shirt and trousers he had been wearing an hour before, but the set of his shoulders under them was stiff and his back straight, like a different person was wearing them. When he raised his head his green eyes flashed gold in the sunlight between the tents. He was not smiling, not even the strange false smile; he looked angry as her father could look angry—never with her, but with people in the Athosian council or at the Assembly at times.
"John?" Teyla asked, softly.
"We should get out of here," John said, still not smiling. "We don't want to get in trouble, and someone might've called a guard by now."
He clapped Rodney on the back, and Teyla took the Satedan boy's hand, and they ran. A few tent-lengths away, John clasped the boy's other hand along with Teyla, so they were almost lifting him off the ground as they dashed through the crowd. Rodney ran just behind them, panting and with his head down, but keeping up. He was still clutching her red cloak.
They finally stopped between two of the tallest broken pillars, near the Ancestral Ring. Rodney dropped to the ground, legs outstretched, and the Satedan boy collapsed beside him. Teyla crouched with her hands on her knees, pressing her elbow into the stitch in her side.
John leaned against the pillar and put his hands in his pockets, relaxed, but his forehead was shiny with sweat. "Everyone okay?" he panted.
"I am," Teyla said, rubbing her scalp where her hair felt sore at the roots.
"Yeah," the boy said.
"No," Rodney said. "My lungs hurt and my chest hurts and my face hurts and—"
"Good," John said over him. He sounded like himself again, though Teyla couldn't see his face clearly in the column's shade.
"So did they get the wand thing?" John asked after a moment.
"This?" the Satedan boy asked, and held up the silver rod.
John leaned forward, grinning—a real grin, Teyla was relieved to see. "Yeah, that. Great."
"So what is it?" the boy demanded, turning it around in his hands, poking at the blue stone.
John shrugged. "Don't know. Rodney'll figure it out, when he catches his breath."
"Think it's a tracking device," Rodney puffed, still drawing breath in deep gasps. "It can find various materials, elements—like a dousing rod, kind of, only one that works. At least if a person with unnaturally and coincidentally lucky genetics uses it."
"Huh," the Satedan boy said, and shrugged. "Sounds stupid," and he tossed the rod into the air.
Rodney screeched and scrambled to catch it, fumbling. He glowered at the younger boy. "Be careful with that, it's important!"
"Worth getting beat up over?" the boy asked.
"Hey, it's not like I wanted those dumb thugs to attack us—"
"He's right," John said, looking from Rodney to Teyla. "More of them, and they were all bigger than you. You should've just let them have it. I could've found another one, maybe."
"Like you wouldn't have fought them for it!" Rodney protested.
"They were bigger," Teyla said, "but not better fighters, even with greater numbers."
"You could have waited until I got back, at least," John said. "Evened the odds, a little."
"We did not know when you would return," Teyla said. "The device might have been lost."
"But two against five, you still—"
"It's not like we got that hurt," Rodney said. "Unlike one of us, I don't have a broken nose...from Teyla, no less," he ended in a mutter.
"Besides," Teyla added, "we had three," and she smiled at the Satedan boy.
"Two and a half, maybe," Rodney mumbled.
Teyla elbowed him in the ribs, though not hard and not on the side Torrell had kicked. "He fought well."
"Yeah," John said, and grinned again. "I saw."
The Satedan boy hunched his shoulders and glared around up at them. "Not that good," he said. "I couldn't take more than one."
"But they were much larger than you," Teyla pointed out.
He just looked at her, unappeased. "What is your name?" she asked him.
For a moment he only stared; then he muttered, "Ronon. Ronon Dex of Sateda."
"Well, then, Ronon Dex of Sateda," Teyla said, and put her arm around the boy's small shoulders. "I am Teyla Emmagan of Athos, and I was grateful for your help."
"Right," John said. "Great job, there."
"Yeah, um, thanks," Rodney added.
The boy was silent for a moment longer; then he burst out, "I'll be better next time! Even if they're bigger, I'll be better!"
"There shouldn't be a next time," John muttered.
"I am sure you will be," Teyla told Ronon. "And someday you may be as big as any of them."
Rodney snorted. "Not likely, if he's that small at nine—ow!" as John kicked him in the shin, not nearly as carefully as Teyla had nudged him.
"Look at it like this, Rodney," John muttered to his foster brother, "considering how he fights now, even if he only grows up a handspan more—whose side do you want him on?"
"Hmm," Rodney said.
"So are we friends, to fight together next time, Ronon Dex?" Teyla asked.
Ronon took the time to study her face, to look around at Rodney and John. Then he nodded once. "Yes," he said, seriously.
John grinned at the boy. "Cool!"
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