Earth both is and is not as Teyla expected it to be. The clothes are roughly the same as she’s seen on the movies and TV shows (she wondered at first about the strange sounds the earthers would occasionally use instead of recognizable words, until John explained—tried to explain—acronyms to her. She still thinks they are strange, but she has come to recognize and, on occasion, use them herself) John’s shared with the team. But everything else seems utterly foreign to her, so that she, leader of her people, and skilled trader since she was heart-high to her mother, is hard-pressed not to clutch at John’s sleeve like a gawking child. She has been to many worlds, but few boasting of such casual and profligate use of high technology. And none so full of people or with so carefree a culture.
No one looks to the sky except to watch the clouds; no one hides except the lawbreakers, who are swiftly and emotionlessly hunted down by the lawkeepers of the place. Children play in an open lot, clambering up scaffolding that has no purpose except amusement, shrieking joyfully all the while; a few adults sit nearby, but they read or gossip together, and listen for nothing more than the cry of a child who has skinned his knee.
She looks over at Torren, who is strapped to John’s back, sound asleep, and thinks of letting him play in such a manner and place when he is older. It nearly terrifies her. And suddenly she feels like a dwarkin stuck in among a herd of kattin, the only one aware of danger.
There is none. She understands this in her head, but in her bones she still feels the need to beware, and a single knife—pressed into her hand by Ronon before he left with Teal’c to visit Chulak—seems scant protection. John looks naked without even his pistol. That is the way of this place: she understands this, but it makes her skittish, and angry that she should be so. The anger is better, she thinks.
They stop at a shop, where John orders them food, handing over a wad of the paper tokens his people use. The man behind the counter makes some comment that causes John to laugh, but Teyla is too weary and bewildered to force the words into anything coherent. Instead, she strokes the soft skin of Torren’s legs and tries not to get in anyone’s way, tries not to look as out of place as she feels. When a woman walking by says hello, Teyla smiles in return, but the expression is forced, and crumbles as soon as the woman has passed.
Finally, John is handed a white bag that rustles as he walks away: noisy, as is everything born on his world. The bitterness with which she thinks this shocks her, and she half-reaches for John’s hand before realizing that she does so. Instead, she touches Torren’s dimpled knee once more and silently follows John down yet another street and around a corner.
And finds herself standing a small field, half a dozen steps away from a tree with a trunk nearly as wide as she is tall. The shadow it casts is marred by gaping holes of sunshine, scars such as come only with long-living. Deep in the shade, John has already begun unpacking the contents of the white bag, Torren still strapped to his back.
The houses surrounding the field muffle the sounds of the city, so that when she closes her eyes she might almost be home—Athos, New Athos, the mainland that had been home until the Ancestors had sent her people away like trespassing children, like fruit thieves discovered in a garden. (Atlantis sounds like the sea, which sounds like leaves in the wind, and like people laughing, despite the ever-present echo of death; Atlantis is not home. It is something else, a thing without a name or likeness.)
John hands her a sandwich identical to those served by the marines, although it seems less real, somehow. Dust instead of flour, perhaps. She’s had food prepared by strangers before, and she does not remember it being so flavorless. Dust and ashes, she thinks, putting the sandwich down, half-eaten, but that’s not right. Ashes are bitter.
“Not hungry?” John mumbles around the last of his ‘bee-el-tee’.
“No,” she says (lies), and wishes suddenly, fiercely, that Rodney were here to complain, to distract. To comfort. Rodney’s words are like the ocean’s waves, ceaseless and reassuring. Most of the time. He’d spent an entire day listing all the things that could go wrong during his visit to Jeannie; John had hit him (as if the two were kin, and children still) and told him to stop worrying, and he had. At the time Teyla had appreciated the brief near-silence, but now she wishes fervently that he were not so far away.
Her son will only ever know uncles, and only uncles-of-the-heart, not blood, for Kanaan’s family has become now almost as Teyla’s own, as all her people’s families are, thanks to enemy and ally alike.
She does not want to be bitter, but she is, and cannot but be so, any more than can the sea, or the tears she refuses to weep. What would they accomplish, save to make her eyes and throat as sore as her heart? And then she couldn’t even pretend any longer that she is not bleeding out from some invisible, unreachable wound.
The sun-warmed grass fans soft between her fingers, as she closes her eyes and listens to the close-but-distant rushing of the city surrounding her, like a busy oyster around a misplaced grain of sand. Birds coo and flutter nearby, and she refuses to envy their ability to simply flap their wings and leave; she cannot accomplish that, even walking.
Torren makes some vague murmur, and Teyla has turned and opened her eyes before thought has a chance to occur; here is her tether, her leash, both comfort from and reminder of her deep hurt. But he sleeps yet, only burrowing a little against John’s chest, ignorant and innocent of his mother’s fiercely-denied distress.
[An older woman walks by, makes a comment about John & Torren, to which Teyla responds hesitantly in English. Woman puts that together with John’s Air Force togs and assumes he brought Teyla home with him from wherever, but lack of rings suggests he might be taking advantage of her. “If he promised to marry you—” Teyla is confused, so the woman tries again: “Not your husband?”
“My husband’s dead,” and Teyla bursts into the tears she’s been holding onto ever since Kanaan died. “John is a friend,” she finally manages to explain.
The woman gives her info for a local group of mothers in similar situations before leaving.]
“I didn’t know he was your husband,” John says quietly from his place beneath the tree. He doesn’t sound hurt, just curious.
“He would have been if we’d lived in a place like this.” She doesn’t turn to look at him, almost can’t bear to: he would be holding Torren easily, as though he is father and not merely name-giver. (But that ‘merely’ dishonors him and she does not think it.) The Teyla she’d been before meeting him would have been pleased by this; as she is, though, she feels mostly a dull near-resentment that John has taught her hope—even anticipation and expectation.
John and the expedition, Atlantis, have given her this, but have also taken Kanaan from her, however indirectly. But what almost choked her now was the thought that she wouldn’t trade the one for the other, couldn’t believe Kanaan was more important and necessary than John and Rodney and Ronon. She loved them equally, each in his own way.
[Teyla asks why he pretended to be asleep.]
“Well, you needed to cry on someone, and obviously I wasn’t that person and apparently she was. Are you going to go?” They’ll still be in city the date of the meeting.
“Maybe.” She thinks about it, about Kanaan and John and Torren and what it means to keep living. “Yes.”
['Vacation' is just the document name, as I never came up with an actual title. Don't really have any other comments about it--I'm not sure where it came from, and it's not a story I would likely read if someone else wrote it, which is probably why it never got properly finished.]