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[personal profile] elementalv
Title: Athos Ascendant
Author: elementalv
Rating: PG-13
Notes: Gen, roughly 4,650 words, Vegas tag. I started this last year, shortly after Vegas aired and finished it when I saw [livejournal.com profile] telesilla’s [livejournal.com profile] sga_santa request post. If I’d finished in time, I would have entered this for SGA Santa Madness, but I didn’t, so here we are.
Summary: Had it not been for Halling’s desire to learn from the inheritors of the City of the Ancestors, Teyla never would have treated with them in the first place.

~*~*~

They emerged from the aircraft into a bright, dry heat, and she had to shield her eyes before she could see much of anything. The buildings were squat and devoid of decoration, the emphasis on functionality rather than form, which was remarkably similar to her dealings with the Terrans over the last five years. They weren’t fond of ceremony and saw little value in the small things that could make trade something more than a simple exchange of goods between groups. Had it not been for Halling’s desire to learn from the inheritors of the City of the Ancestors, she never would have treated with them in the first place.

“First Minister Emmagen.”

The title was another Terran affectation. Athosians never bothered with such things before, and Teyla would prefer not to deal with them now. Unfortunately, she had little choice in the matter if she wished to maintain any level of authority in the Terrans’ eyes, so she wore the facial expression that seemed to get the most respect from them and waited until the man reached them before acknowledging his greeting with a nod and, “Are you Doctor McKay?”

“I am. And this is —?”

She glanced at the man beside her then said, “This is Specialist Ronon Dex de Hoff olim de Sateda. But you already knew that.”

“Yes, well, I was just trying to be — You know what? Never mind. That’s not important.” He turned and indicated one of the buildings. “Perhaps we should go inside. It’s a bit warm out here.”

“As you wish,” she said.

Dex said nothing, which wasn’t surprising. In the time they’d spent traveling together, she’d found he was a man with no need to fill silence with words. It was a small comfort to her, one that helped alleviate some of the stress of spending many days aboard a space vessel. The crew members were invariably polite to her face, but she heard what was said when they thought she was elsewhere. She knew that the civility was, for some, little more than a thin veneer over a hard core of ignorance and hatred of anyone not from Earth. Given what little she knew of the Terrans’ history with people on other planets, she could hardly fault them for their fear. She did, however, wish they would at least learn to segment it, to acknowledge that not all non-Terran humans were evil.

She bit back a sigh and concentrated on walking with confidence rather than the expectation that there was an ambush waiting for her. Though she had no reason to believe the Terrans would deliberately provoke her, Teyla decided she would continue to walk with her head held high, no matter what awaited her.

It was just as well she stiffened her back, because once inside the nearest building, it was all Teyla could do to contain her reaction to the corruption and filth crowding against her mind. None of the Terrans knew she was sensitive to the Wraith, and she had no intention of explaining it — not here, not so far from the safety of her family and people. Instead, she followed McKay to a sparsely furnished room — a table with food and only a few chairs — where he said, “If you’re hungry, help yourself.”

“Perhaps it would be best if first you explained why, without ever having met either Specialist Dex or myself, you ordered us to present ourselves on Earth,” she said.

“That’s not exactly true. I’ve met you — a version of you,” McKay said. Teyla waited, her eyebrows raised, and McKay continued, “Our reality isn’t the only one. There is an infinite number of universes that exist alongside our own, and in each of those realities — or, more likely — in most of those realities, we have counterparts.”

“What’s that have to do with me?” Dex asked.

“Several months ago, there was an accident on Atlantis, and I ended up traveling to one of those alternate universes. While I was in that version of Atlantis, I met your counterparts.”

For all that he appeared to be calm and collected, she could hear a fine undercurrent of emotion in his voice. Whatever had happened in that other reality had clearly shaken him, and badly.

“Yeah? So?”

Once again, she appreciated Dex’s brevity. Had she been alone, she would have had to phrase her questions in the terse diplomatic language the Terrans preferred, and it was unlikely she would have found her answers anytime soon. As it was, McKay appeared to be taken aback by Dex’s direct approach, which, as far as Teyla could recall, was the first time she’d ever seen a Terran truly flustered by anything. Every other Terran she’d met had projected a flat competence and expectation of automatic deferral to their might.

“Yes. So. That other Ronon Dex and Teyla Emmagen held positions of prominence within the city. They were, in fact, members of the premiere gate team.”

“Gate team?” Dex asked.

“Yes. They, along with the city’s military commander and, uh, my counterpart, regularly went offworld to explore, trade, cement alliances —”

“Whatever. I still don’t see why Emmagen and I had to come to another galaxy.”

McKay blinked. “No one explained?”

“Colonel Caldwell said only that you required our expertise with regard to the Wraith,” she told him. “He didn’t go into further detail.”

“And based on that, you just — came?” McKay asked, his confusion all too real.

“He can be fairly persuasive,” she said, only just avoiding bitterness. While the Terrans were truly useful allies, their arrogance and high-handed behavior had won them more than a few enemies among the Ring Worlds. Athos might eventually have become one of those enemies were it not for the fact that Terrans prided themselves on their honor. Once they made a bargain, they kept it, even if it meant losing some of their own people in the defense of Athos. That honor was the reason Athos had learned to come running when the Terrans called.

“Oh.” For some reason, McKay seemed disappointed, which was yet another curiosity in a day that seemed filled with them. He looked at Dex and asked, “Why did you come? I know the Hoffans still aren’t speaking to us. I was surprised when I heard that you came on the Apollo.”

“Beckett talked me into it.”

“You know Carson?” She was astonished to see McKay’s smooth façade crumble. “How is he?” Dex just stared at McKay and didn’t say anything. The silence was about to become uncomfortable when McKay finally snapped, “Well? How is he?”

“Why do you care?” Dex asked.

“Why do I —? Carson’s my friend. I haven’t seen him in four years. Not since he — he —” McKay’s face turned an alarming shade of red, and he took a moment to regain his arrogance. “Why do you think I care?”

“Friend, huh?” Dex, apparently in an effort to be as insulting as possible, scratched his armpit and said, “Friends like you, I guess Beckett doesn’t need too many enemies.”

Before McKay could say anything to that, a woman came in to whisper into his ear. He visibly gathered the reins of his temper and said, “I’m needed elsewhere at the moment. Until I return, enjoy the hospitality of the base.”

He left, and Teyla heard the slide of a lock. Dex immediately went over to check the door and found it wouldn’t open. He hit it with the side of his fist, and she asked, “Did you expect anything else of them?”

Dex let out a bark of laughter. “No. Not really. Carson warned me.”

“Did he warn you of anything else?”

He glanced at one of the corners of the room, and after half a beat, said, “Yeah. A few things.” Teyla nodded, satisfied that neither of them would say anything of particular interest for the Terrans who were no doubt listening.

After a moment, she decided on a relatively safe topic. “How do you know Dr. Beckett?”

“I was a runner.”

“A runner? I’ve heard rumors, but I never gave much credence to them,” she said softly.

Dex shrugged and said, “Beckett and Purna were on a salvage trip they found me. He dug the transmitter out of my back and took me to Hoff. Been there ever since, helping their military.”

Teyla nodded then asked, “How is Dr. Beckett? I haven’t seen him since the birth of his daughter last year.”

“He’s good. Purna wants another one, but Beckett’s worried.”

“She told me of the trouble she had with her first child. I’m not surprised that he’s worried,” Teyla said quietly.

Dex sat down at the table, his posture seeming to be relaxed, though Teyla could see the tension in his muscles. “So, you know him pretty good?”

“Dr. Beckett?” At his nod, she said, “No. I’m better acquainted with Purna — she visited Athos shortly after Dr. Beckett sought asylum on Hoff to ask me to intercede with the Terrans on his behalf.”

Dex gave her a sour look. “Heard about that.”

She nodded in acknowledgement of her failure to help and then dismissed the matter. There was no sense in going over it again, and Purna had told her long ago that she was grateful Teyla had even attempted to intercede. She shook off the memories and said, “I wouldn’t have met Dr. Beckett at all if not for Dr. Weir’s request that I go to Hoff and speak with him.”

“Weir? Isn’t she the Terran emissary?” Dex picked up a fruit and held it out to Teyla. She took it and sniffed it cautiously before answering.

“Yes. I work with her when it’s time for them to open negotiations with a new people.”

“Hm.” Dex looked her over and said, “Is she the reason you’re dressed like them?”

Teyla grimaced in acknowledgement. The outfit she wore was, at least, an improvement over the last one Dr. Weir had gifted her, if only because slacks were easier to deal with in a fight than a tight skirt.

“She suggested that one reason Colonels Sumner and Caldwell didn’t take me seriously was because of my clothing. Apparently, they saw the millia leather and wrote me off as uncivilized.” Dex grunted and started to bite the end off the yellow fruit — banana, if she recalled correctly — before Teyla stopped him. “The skin is bitter. Peel it from the stem,” she said.

“Thanks. Now that you dress like them, do they treat you any better?”

She shrugged. “They seem to listen more carefully when I dress as they do.”

“Figures.” With the fruit peeled, Dex took a bite and nodded in approval. “Why’d Weir want you to meet Beckett?”

“His mother died, and she asked that I tell him so.” Dex’s eyes moved toward the corner he’d glanced at earlier, and Teyla added, “Dr. Weir was very nearly sent back to Earth for initiating contact with him, but in the end, she told me that General O’Neill convinced her people that her request was a humane one, not treasonous.”

“You seen her since?” Dex shoved the rest of the fruit into his mouth, which made Teyla wonder for whom he was performing — her or the Terrans.

“Yes, just before we came here. She told me that she had ordered additional outfits for my time on Earth.” Teyla rubbed the sleeve of the jacket she wore and added, “This is called Anne Klein, after the woman who designed it.”

The look on his face spoke volumes about what he thought of a people who would name their clothing for a person, and Teyla didn’t disagree. Still, she couldn’t help but admire the quality of the fabric and stitchwork. For all the advances of the Hoffans, not even they were capable of workmanship this fine or detailed, though Teyla thought they might approach that quality in a few generations — assuming they had a few generations. With the Wraith just starting to wake up, thanks to the Terrans’ activities and willingness to fight, it was even less likely that the Hoffans or anyone else would have the time necessary to create something as frivolous as pretty clothing for daily wear.

McKay came back in with a dour look on his face — even more so than it had been when Ronon questioned his motives with regard to Dr. Beckett. He grabbed a sandwich and took a bite before saying, “Those others I met, in that alternate universe, the fourth member of the team was a man named John Sheppard.”

Teyla frowned. “You said the team comprised we three plus the military commander. That would be Colonel Caldwell, would it not?”

“In this universe, yes. In that other one, it was John Sheppard.”

“I have met no man by that name,” Teyla said.

“Of course not. The John Sheppard in this universe was kicked out of the Air Force just before we discovered the — look — never mind. Just — he never made it to Atlantis with the rest of us.” McKay took another bite of the sandwich, devouring nearly half of it at one go. The sight of it made Teyla sick, though Ronon looked a bit in awe of the accomplishment.

She clenched her jaw against the faint nausea she felt and said, “What does this John Sheppard have to do with the reason you had us brought here?”

“You’ve heard about the hive ship that came here, haven’t you?”

Teyla and Dex exchanged a look, and he shrugged, leaving it to her to decide how to answer. “Colonel Caldwell mentioned a recent battle when he told me Colonel Ellis would bring us here. He didn’t explain further.”

“Yes, well. We won. Obviously. But there were problems.” McKay finished his sandwich and said, “We fixed it with the help of John Sheppard.”

Dex shrugged and said, “Yeah. So?”

“So the point is that if John Sheppard could help this much with barely any knowledge of the Wraith, I thought the four of us working together could pretty much fix anything.”

“Dr. McKay —”

“Rodney,” he interrupted. “Call me Rodney.”

She hesitated a moment before continuing. “Rodney — I do not see how that will be possible. The Terrans allow no one who is not from Earth to enter Atlantis.”

“I know that,” he said, impatience coloring each word. “We would have to work here. On Earth.”

“No,” she said abruptly, not even pausing first. “That is impossible. Colonel Caldwell promised I would be gone no longer than a season.”

“But — oh. That’s right,” McKay said. “You have a child. Little boy named —” he snapped his fingers and said, “Torren. Right? Named for your father.”

“I have a daughter, Tagaan, named for my mother,” she said, her voice as cold as her heart.

She’d never once spoken of her father to the Terrans, nor had any of the Athosians, and they wouldn’t, not with the secret of her family at stake. More than anything else, McKay’s comment went a long way toward convincing her that he spoke the truth when he talked of this other universe, and it frightened her — no, it terrified her that he might know more about her than she intended any Terran to know.

“Oh,” McKay said, his confusion evident. “I guess — it makes sense, I suppose. In this universe, you never left your people to come exploring with us, so —”

“Regardless,” she said firmly, “I cannot possibly remain on Earth. Not with my husband and daughter at home.”

McKay blinked a few times then started to snap his fingers at her. “We can bring them here. Your family, I mean. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? They’d be safe from the Wraith.”

“And what of my people, Dr. McKay? Would you bring the entire population of Athos here to Earth?”

He let out a short burst of laughter. “Of course not!”

Teyla stood up abruptly, and Dex shifted — whether to help her or to keep her from attacking McKay, she didn’t know and didn’t care. “This conversation is over. I demand to be returned to Athos at once.”

“What? Wait!” McKay’s face softened into an all-too-human distress. “I — okay, bringing the population of Athos here won’t work. You know that. But why can’t you let us just bring your husband and child here?”

She took a deep breath as she processed the fact that his insult was unintended and one he regretted, even as it was clear he didn’t understand what he’d done wrong.

“I am the sworn leader of Athos,” she said slowly. “My place is with my people, and yes, they are my family.”

“But this is important, don’t you see?”

She spoke as gently as she could. “Tell me, if it were the leader of your people — President Hayes, I believe?”

“He’s not my leader. Canadian here.” At Teyla’s blank look, he shook his head. “Never mind. I understand what you meant. Continue.”

“Tell me — would it be acceptable for President Hayes to go offworld for an indefinite period of time with no hope or expectation that he would ever return?”

“But you’re not —”

To his credit, McKay stopped himself from saying whatever damning thing was ready to come out of his mouth, and he apparently did so without once looking at Dex, who seemed ready to throttle the man. Instead, he blinked a few more times, and then a faint look of horror crossed his face.

“Oh my god. I — Oh. Oh god. I’m — I’m so sorry, First Minister Emmagen. I didn’t — I didn’t think.” He stood up and sidled to the door. “I should — I’m sorry. I need to — to — I’ll — I’ll be back. Soon.”

He left the room quickly, and it was a long moment before the lock snicked into place.

~*~*~

“I think they forgot us,” Dex said. He looked morose and bored, neither of which was a surprise, considering how many days they’d been sitting inside with only the bare minimum of activity required to move from their sleeping quarters to their small common room. Though she refused to show it, Teyla herself was growing restless and irritable.

“Surely not,” she said as serenely as she could manage. Teyla wished she felt as confident as she tried to sound, though truthfully, she was certain that McKay would return before too many more days passed.

“We’ve been here almost a week, now, and we haven’t seen McKay since the first day.”

“I know, but —” She considered her words carefully, ever mindful of who might be listening. “Dr. McKay seemed —”

“Yeah. Right,” Dex said when she was unable to continue speaking. “Think you nailed it, Emmagen.”

Before she could answer, the door opened, and McKay came through, talking quickly. “All right, I’m sorry I left you alone for so long, but I’ve been trying to find an answer to this, and it — well — it’s not happening the way I hoped.”

Teyla said, “Dr. McKay?”

“Rodney. I told you to call me Rodney,” he said, twisting the gold band on his finger. “Look, they’re willing to bring your family here, but not, obviously, the entire Athosian population, which means I have to send you back on the Phoenix — wait. They renamed it the General Hammond — so if we’re going to work together, it will have to be in Pegasus.”

Teyla relaxed so suddenly it was all she could do to remain upright. Until that moment, she hadn’t realized just how worried she was that McKay would keep her on his world against her will. “We’re going back, then?”

“I just said so, didn’t I? I don’t like it, but you’re right. I can’t take you away from your people like that. So we’ll work together in Pegasus.”

“I don’t think so,” Dex said.

“But you — why not?” McKay looked so bewildered and hurt that Teyla wanted to comfort him the way she comforted Tagaan after a nightmare.

“Don’t think I want to work with anyone who has a price on my friend’s head.”

Teyla smiled briefly at Dex before adding, “As well, it is difficult to work with people who do not trust you.”

“I trust you,” McKay said too quickly.

“You might, but your people do not,” she said, settling easily into the rhythm of opening negotiations. “When Colonel Sumner was the military commander of Atlantis, he allowed our scholars limited access to the City of the Ancestors. Colonel Caldwell put an end to that when he took Colonel Sumner’s place. It is, you must admit, a clear indication that there is no trust between us.”

“There’s trust,” McKay protested. “It’s just — the Manarians. And the Genii. And others.”

“Others,” she said delicately, “who are not Athosians. My people have never broken faith with yours, yet we’re treated as if we had.”

After a moment, McKay said, “Okay, fine. I’ll see what I can do to get you access.”

“If you allow us access to the city, I will be happy to work with you,” Teyla said.

McKay looked at Dex. “What about you? What do you want?”

“Take the price off Beckett’s head.”

“No, no, no. No can do. He committed treason, and —”

“He tried to help,” Dex interrupted. “He only wanted to help. And your people tried to stop him, called him a criminal.”

“To be fair, he did steal equip —” McKay broke off at the look on Dex’s face. “I don’t think I can get them to drop the charges.”

“Fine.” Dex scratched his armpit. “Doesn’t matter to me one way or another.”

“I’ll see what I can do, but I can’t promise anything. For that matter, I can’t even promise that Sheppard will go to Atlantis,” he added sourly.

“Dr. McKay —” She held up a hand when he started to protest and said, “Rodney. I understand what you are trying to do, but how can you be certain that the four of us will work well together?”

“In that other universe, we were friends. We were a team,” he said.

“We are not the people in that other universe,” Teyla said. “Our experiences have been very different, and there is no way to be sure that we would work together as well as our counterparts do.”

“But it’s worth a chance,” McKay said. “It’s worth it, because they did so much. You can’t begin to understand how important this is. If the four of us work half as well as those four did, then we have a real chance of figuring out how to get rid of the Wraith for once and for all.”

Teyla waited a moment to see if Dex wished to respond, then she said, “We aren’t scientists. I don’t see how —”

“We’ve made mistakes.” McKay loosened the cloth around his neck then undid the button underneath. “My people, we’ve made mistakes with the populations in Pegasus. Elizabeth is doing what she can to fix it, but it isn’t enough. If the four of us start going out together, I think we have a chance of getting everyone in Pegasus working together to fight the Wraith.”

“It’s a fantasy, McKay,” Dex said. “We don’t stand a chance of getting everyone on board, not with the Hoffans dead set against you.”

“I know it’s a long shot, but we have to do something,” McKay snapped. “If I can get the price off Carson’s head, will you work with me?”

Dex gave him a long, considering look before saying, “Do that, and yeah. I’ll work with you.”

McKay turned to Teyla and said, “If I get access to Atlantis for your people, you’ll work with me?”

“Yes,” she said without hesitation.

“All right,” he said. “All right.”

~*~*~

Teyla moved slowly and carefully through their tent. Tagaan had finally settled down for her afternoon nap, and she had no desire to do anything that might wake her up. Given how heavy she was with child, she needed to move carefully so as not to knock anything down — again. She was about to sit down when Marta came inside, breathless and excited.

“Teyla, Terrans have just come through the Ring. Kanaan sent me to tell you they’re bringing them here.”

“I do not recall having an appointment with them,” she said, moving to her chest of clothing. She’d avoided meeting with anyone from Earth once her baby grew past the stage where she could comfortably wear the clothing Elizabeth had given her, and it was the first time she’d regretted not knowing she was pregnant when she’d visited Earth. Otherwise, she could have found appropriate clothing to bring back, because she didn’t think she had anything she could wear that was remotely close in appearance.

“You don’t,” Marta said. “ Their leader, Dr. McKay, I think, actually apologized for coming here without notice.”

“Dr. McKay? He apologized?” That — that was unusual. She couldn’t recall anyone other than Elizabeth offering conciliatory words for anything short of the death of an Athosian.

“He did.” Marta tugged on Teyla’s arm to pull her away from her chest of clothing and toward the opening in the tent. “He brought two other men with him. One is Satedan, and the other is from Earth, but he isn’t a soldier. He’s dressed like Dr. McKay. Teyla, they didn’t bring any soldiers with them. They just came on their own.”

“Marta, please don’t tug,” Teyla said once they were outside and on their way to the meeting tent. She didn’t know what to think about the fact that McKay didn’t bring an armed escort. It went against the Terrans’ usual rules about civilians traveling offworld and showed a remarkable and unexpected display of trust.

“But it’s exciting, don’t you think?”

“Perhaps.” Before she could say anything more, Kanaan led McKay and Dex to her. The other Terran walked behind, looking around in sincere wonder and amazement.

McKay came up to her and held out his hands before tilting his head down to her. “Is this right? The anthropologists said this is how you like to greet people, but I don’t know if I’m doing it right.”

He wasn’t. In fact, he was offering a gesture that was far too intimate for their level of acquaintance, but Teyla could hardly refuse to touch her forehead to his, not when this was the first time anyone from Earth had made an effort to acknowledge that the Athosians’ traditions were as valid as their own.

With a warning glance at Kanaan, who looked ready to object to Rodney’s forward behavior, Teyla said, “This is correct, Rodney.”

“Great,” he said after the barest of touches. “Okay, here’s the deal: the price is off Carson’s head, and thank you for that, Dex. It means I might actually get to see him again one day. Also, the IOA approved visits by your scholars, Teyla. You just have to give me a list of names. And now that that’s taken care of —”

“Rodney,” she interrupted. “Who is this other man you brought?”

“What? Didn’t I — of course not. Sorry. This is John Sheppard. It took me four months to convince the IOA and SGC to let him come as a civilian consultant, but I think it’ll be worth the effort.”

With the precedent having been set with Rodney, Teyla approached John Sheppard and held out her hands before tilting her head. He was a bit awkward, but he managed the greeting and said, “Hey. Nice to meet you.”

“And you as well,” she said, stepping away. “I look forward to getting to know you.”

Sheppard shrugged. “Not much to know. I like, uh, ferris wheels and, uh, college football, and, uh, anything that goes more than two hundred miles per hour.”
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