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Summary: AU, after Enemy at the Gate (series finale). The City of Atlantis and inhabitants have returned to Pegasus from their heroic rescue of the planet Earth at the hands of the Wraith. But something is wrong.

Almost completely gen. Mostly-offscreen Teyla/Kanaan, hints of past Jennifer/Rodney, possible John/Rodney. PG-13 rating for language and action-y stuff.

Categories: General, Ship Pairings > Teyla Emmagan/Other
Characters: Jennifer Keller, John Sheppard, Other, Radek Zelenka, Rodney McKay, Ronon Dex, Teyla Emmagan
Genres: Action/Adventure, AU - Alternate Universe, Challenge, Character Study
Warnings: None
Chapters: 3 [Table of Contents]
Series: None

Word count: 16503; Completed: Yes
Updated: 09 Dec 2009; Published: 06 Dec 2009

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2.

Teyla had always loved traveling through the Ring of the Ancestors. She was pleased to find that having a better understanding of the technology (and new phraseology compliments of Rodney) did not dim for her any of the pleasure: the way the entrance welcomed you, the way once you stepped into the static ripple you felt as though you'd turned into lightning, dancing and sizzling toward the ground.

They had radioed ahead, and when she stepped back to firm ground with Keller beside her, Kanaan was waiting for them. He wore a light leather pack and he had Torren against his chest, wrapped in a new pale yellow sling.

"Welcome," he said. His dark eyes were anxious and full of questions, and she felt her heart gladden as she met his gaze and brought his forehead down to hers.

"I have missed you," he whispered.

"And I you." She cleared her throat. "How is Torren -- may I take him for the walk? You remember Dr. Keller."

The way to the village had lengthened, as the Athosians had moved the settlement west of their original site. They trekked on a near-invisible path through thick acres of low-hanging trees and brush, stopping once to wet their throats at a cold stream. Torren pounded Teyla's chest with his fists, and she placated him with ranna fruits and the occasional nose-to-nose flutter.

"I'm afraid you come at a tenuous time," Kanaan said. "I apologize I sent no word. But when we received your hail, Halling thought it best I tell you in person. We have lost several in the past night, and their families are in mourning."

"Lost?" Keller asked. "You mean -- "

"Dead." Kanaan adjusted his pack. Teyla touched his arm, but he would not look at her. "By their own hand."

The trees swayed high and green in the breeze above their heads. Against her chest, Torren gabbled happily. She felt as though a cold fist had lodged in her gut. "Surely not."

"It was hard for me to accept as well. But there is no other explanation. They were each alone in their tents, except for Wex. Three of them. They were recently of age. Liaya took part in the ordeal last year, while the others were slightly older."

"Wait, Wex? Liaya?" Keller asked. "The kids I saw, Teyla. They're dead?"

"Yes." Kanaan took a deep breath. "And another -- "

"This can't be good, can't be good," Keller muttered. "Okay. All right. Ordeal. Is that what you were talking about in the meeting today?"

"It is a rite of passage," Teyla said. Her legs felt unsteady. She stamped them, and tightened her arms around Torren. "Upon a certain age, usually after we reach the age of twelve, we are taken by elders to a certain place and left with only our wits and our strengths to guide us for ten days."

"Ten days? At twelve -- " Keller opened her mouth, and closed it.

"It is dangerous, yes, but we do not coddle our children."

Keller frowned at that. "So Torren will undergo the same ritual."

"Yes, of course," Teyla said, frowning back. "It is imperative. How else should he put into practice the survival techniques we teach?"

Keller didn't answer. Teyla took a deep breath and pressed hard on the tiny curl of frustration at Keller's sudden seeming mulishness, her quickness to cast judgment. Had they not been through this dance every time a part of their people did not enmesh so easily? Or was this emotion coming out over the Athosians in general, people Keller did not know nearly as well as Teyla did -- no, it was nothing new. Surely Teyla had learned to suppress her anger more easily in the past five years.

"Kanaan," she said, "will you tell us of the Serapha?"

"That is an old myth. We have not told the story since I was a boy, and you should know as much as I."

"There may be something I have forgotten."

They walked the rest of the path in time to the recollections of fire and mystery and myriad faces, with Torren burbling against Teyla's chest and Keller silent alongside them.



The settlement was eerily quiet. The dwindling afternoon sunlight pressed orange through the trees and over the roofs of the tents. They walked on the main path through the village and met no one, saw only blank tent entrances and smoldering firepits. To their left, something with wings lit up and away into the trees. Keller jumped, and cursed.

"Sorry. Spooked me."

They passed Kanaan's tent, then Marta's, and Teyla felt a frission in the air. Kanaan had not said anything about the ceremony, but if the youths had died the previous night the rites would be underway, and Teyla had not seen a mourning cot since the death of Charin. They rounded the last row of tents.

The Athosians had gathered around their dead, but they were sitting in absolute motionless silence before the cots. There would be no singer, no general pacing or speeches of memory.

It was as Kanaan had said. There were three of them. They had been laid out as rays of a sun: their heads pointed at the forest, drained-white faces thrust up proudly in the dying light, and their legs stretching back towards the tents. They had no possessions piled by their feet, due the fact that none had yet left their families, but they had been prepared -- probably at Halling's insistence, he would never allow outright sacrilege -- with bright red and purple wraps. The colors seemed to bleed outside the wrapping's edges. Someone had attempted to make a ring of stones big enough to go around all of the cots, but they had run out of rocks a little over halfway through and substituted brambles, bits of pottery, even an oddly squashed bundle Teyla had to stare at before she recognized it as a skirt.

Then she heard Halling saying her name; and Jinto, his face wan, his eyes empty, drew up next to her.

Of course, she realized as she offered her forehead up (up, how he had grown) to his, Wex. Liaya. These are his friends.

She hugged him tightly, and he stumbled against her as though she had sliced an invisible tether. Torren protested volubly.

" -- do not know what to do," he said, his voice muffled against her shoulder. "I -- Wex and I spoke last night. I knew that -- that something was different. He was so strange. He was never -- he was not himself. But I didn't think this would happen. And Liaya. Liaya and I. I have no right to speak of her, but."

"Shhh." Teyla patted his back. "We did not know of this until we came through the Ring. But I promise you we will not rest until we discover why it happened."

He took a deep breath and stepped away from her. She moved on, spoke with Halling for less than a minute to find out what hard facts there were, and then crouched down by the edge of the bedraggled Ring. Almost immediately there was breath against her neck, and Keller's whisper in her ear, loud in the silence.

"I'd like to examine them. May we?"

Teyla pondered. "We can try. But anything invasive should wait until after the ritual." She divested herself of her pack and put Torren down so he could toddle around, and helped Keller unload her laptop and the evidence kit.

"How long will that be?"

"It depends. With three, and a shorter Ring ceremony -- "

"Why shorter?" Keller sounded off, almost angry.

"Because they have taken their own lives," Teyla snapped. She realized she was close to tears and dreadfully sick to her stomach. She was also fiddling with the medical pack. She put it down, and looked up to see that Keller, too, had tears in her eyes. "I am sorry. But suicide is forbidden, no, unthinkable among my people. We have been too long hunted by the Wraith or taken by the whim of others to throw away the gift of our lives."

Keller's mouth tightened. Ancestors, the girl was thinking she was a savage. "We do them no dishonor. It is just that -- we cannot celebrate them because they have made the choice to -- to refuse to live. They have not lived. So their families keep their possessions, and we observe silence, but we cannot rejoice."

Teyla suddenly felt exhausted. Perhaps she was tired, or worn down due to the malfunctions and continual political dancing on Atlantis; but she could not understand or answer this step-by-step discussion. Perhaps she and Jennifer simply needed to get reacquainted on a personal level. Perhaps Jennifer's former relationship with Rodney was bringing out -- no.

"Perhaps it is best to say there are differences in every culture. Let us keep to the task at hand, please."

Keller touched her arm tentatively. It felt like an apology. "It's not that -- it's just hard, I was just talking to them, you know? And suicide isn't considered a fantastic thing on Earth, either. I -- I could tell you stories, seriously."

"Oh." It was as though a breath of cool breeze had wafted over Teyla, and her irritation dissipated. She wondered if she should sit down. Keller looked embarrassed, and then looked away. When she spoke, Teyla had to lean close to hear.

"All the same, Teyla. What if they haven't killed themselves?"

"It is possible," Teyla said. "But Halling has informed me that they all died in the same fashion, and that Wex's mother saw him use his knife." She tried to recall Charin's face as an antidote to the nausea, but it would not come properly and it did not soothe her.

Keller swallowed, and seemed suddenly very interested in the contents of her pack.

Kanaan approached them, balancing three clay cups. "I made this," he said. "Jaru. It is stronger than ruus wine, but it will not leave the drinker as -- how did John Sheppard put it -- fuzzy?"

Teyla laughed. It sounded too loud, too near the quiet cots. She hastily put out her hand for the cup, and the three of them drank. The jaru was clean and light and fiery going down. All around them, other Athosians were tipping back cups, and the silence smoothed into murmurs, then shifting as people stood. The initial mourning was finished. Now there would be talking and eating.

"Now," she muttered to Keller, and together they stepped toward the bodies.

They looked startlingly young, despite their ages. As Halling had said, they all shared the same wounds: rough diagonal cuts up the soft inside of each arm. Their faces were relaxed, not contorted. Their lips were unbitten. The girl, Liaya, lay as though she were sleeping: her red-gold hair fanned around her head like a flame. There was something, though...Teyla bent close to her hands, avoiding the ragged flesh. Yes. Liaya's fingers, or rather just the tips, were strangely discolored; as though she had dipped them in ash or earth. Teyla rubbed the thumb tip with the cuff of her sleeve. The dark stain did not change.

She did not know the third victim. He (or she? It was impossible to tell) lay still, undisturbed and vulnerable like a pale fall of ash. How could she not know one of her people? Guilt threatened to choke her, and she recalled that Kanaan had not known the third victim, either. An interloper, or an immigrant from another tribe, another planet? She still should have known.

"Teyla, here." Keller was examining Wex's mouth and taking surreptitious samples. A few Athosian men and women had gathered a little ways behind her. They were talking to each other out of the corners of their mouths, their gazes locked on her and Keller, their expressions bleak and taut. Teyla replaced Liaya's hand as gently as she could and came around the cot to see where Jennifer was pointing. She deliberately placed herself between her people and Jennifer and, to her dismay, the murmuring grew louder and she caught snatches of their talk.

"The Burnt Ones...Serapha --"

"...stories of old..."

"Who? I do not know..."

"Serapha, Serapha..."

"Oh, Wex." Keller gestured halfway down the boy's neck. "It's still there. The mark."

The deep impression of a rather jagged leaf, thick and blue-black against the pale dead skin, leapt out at Teyla like a shout. She had a bad moment of dizziness, and there was a sudden inexplicable smell of smoke and there were words in her mind, words that felt stamped there rather than spoken:

Descended into fire, ever burning, ever pure
-- Let me tell you of the Burnt ones,
many faced, many guises
-- Power, more power than they could possibly need --
-- I didn't think this would happen --
so hungry
trapped
Serapha, bringing the world to a burning close
-- Let me tell you --
-- Let me tell you of


Something crashed into the back of Teyla's head. She clutched at her hair and felt stickiness under her fingers. Beside her, Keller squeaked.

"What's going on?"

Teyla breathed deeply, and then in the space between breaths she found herself suddenly kneeling on the ground.

"Teyla!"

Gardani, Wex's elder brother, stood before them, cradling a small rock in his fist. He looked at it in seeming confusion, and flung it away. "I -- Teyla, I am sorry." He stepped back hastily as Keller and Kanaan grasped her arms and helped her up. "I do not know what came over me. You and the doctor -- "

"We're here to help," Keller said, her grip tightening on Teyla's arm. "You didn't have to hit anyone."

Gardani shivered and shook his head. "I did not mean to -- I -- Teyla, forgive me, please."

"You are in mourning," Teyla said, willing her eyes to focus. Her legs were very unsteady. Thank the Ancestors for the jaru and Kanaan, she felt less pain with the liquor. "We should have waited to examine them. I apologize."

She let Keller draw her away from the growing onlookers. Kanaan ran toward his tent.

"Are you nuts?" Keller hissed as she snapped open her pack and rifled through it for bandages. "Here, hold this tight against it while I -- there -- he didn't have to hit you! He could have told us to back off, get away. I didn't even see him coming." She pulled Teyla's hand away and pressed something cold and stinging against the wound. "I don't think it's that bad, actually."

Gardani still hovered by the array of bodies, his angular face screwed up.

"Let me see your pupils," Keller said, pulling her attention back. "They look okay. No painkillers, sorry, not with that jaru. Let me know if the pain gets worse, or you feel drowsy or nauseated or both. And we should run an infirmary scan just in case."

Teyla shook her head, and managed not to wince. "Kanaan will have gone to get a numbing agent we use. You may apply it before you clean the wound. And we cannot leave, not yet."

"What?"

"You were right. Before Gardani struck me, I heard something. There may be Serapha here." She let Keller draw her head down and part the hair around the wound. "I am somewhat worried that -- well -- do you have paper and something for writing? I want you to take something down."


****


Three additional cups of jaru later, Jennifer Keller was less concerned about a possible attack from fiery Athosian deities, and more worried about a potential problem patient. Then again, since they still knew nothing about the Serapha, it was also possible that the two could combine. Oh, and she felt pretty drunk. That was certainly helpful.

Teyla was giving her the stone face and pacing. Her pupils looked fine, and she said she felt no pain. So she said. Apparently there was something about Atlantis that instilled stoicism, or maybe drew stoics in.

"So you heard these words." Jennifer shook the paper. "And had a feeling -- "

"Similar to the way I feel when linking with the Wraith, yes."

"You had a Wraithish feeling when you heard the words and saw the mark."

"Yes." Teyla frowned. "But it was different. There was tangible hunger, but not cold. There was nothing that felt like Wraith, or a hive, or a Queen, only -- the linking itself. I have not heard anything in our myths regarding the Serapha and telepathy."

"But we don't know anything for sure."

They had been sitting where she'd bandaged Teyla for nearly an hour now. Shouldn't they be radioing Atlantis? Maybe they could get a jumper escort back, it was getting dark. Teyla was still talking.

"All dead from their own hand, the knives found beside the bodies."

Jennifer stowed the kit and zipped her pack shut. "As far as we can tell without doing a complete autopsy, yes."

"All with the same mark, the same brand. All with stained fingertips."

"Yes. Look, Teyla." Jennifer found another brimming cup of jaru in her hands, and tried to ignore it. "Unless we do a complete autopsy, I won't know anything for certain. I didn't even get a sample of the branded skin, or even a better look. And unner -- under the circumstances and the jaru, I don't think that's such a good idea right now."

The sun had set, and the sky had dimmed considerably. The Athosians had covered the bodies and moved the cots into an empty tent for protection against any night beasts, and were going through the motions of what Jennifer supposed were their evening habits: they lit fires, they started cooking dinner, delicious smelling dinner of meat and mashed tuttleroots and fresh bread and whatever else Athosians ate on a regular basis.

God, she was starving. Come on, you're the doctor. You have the diploma and the anxiety medication to prove it. Be the doctor.

"I would like to stay," Teyla said. "See if I can summon this feeling again."

"And I'd like to get you back to Atlantis for that scan. Whatever you felt could be a medical complication from your burly buddy."

Teyla sighed. "I have been hit much harder in the past, Jennifer. Gardani is -- well, let us say he is less than adept at hand-to-hand."

"I'm sure. But I want to be sure you're all right before you try anything psychic. And although we're not far from the gate out here -- "

"Jennifer, I am well."

"Are you qualified to make that decision?"

Teyla looked amused. "I should hope so, considering that I inhabit this body on a daily basis."

Jennifer puffed out a breath. "I should so pull medical emergency rank on you."

"You could." Teyla picked up her own pack. "But it would be inadvisable. May I suggest you wait until we return to Atlantis, tomorrow, to do so. We could request a jumper escort, to transport the bodies back for further study."

"Fine."

"Excellent."

"Great."

They walked in silence to Kanaan's tent, and Jennifer sighed again.

"Okay. Should I bunk with you and Kanaan tonight?"

Jennifer regretted the words as soon as they left her mouth. They didn't seem to bother Teyla, who smirked and lowered her lashes -- two expressions that regularly induced two feelings in Jennifer: one, that she was still in another galaxy and completely out of her element, and two: she had never understood her own womanliness nor would she ever. Hell, hell, hell. She felt like she was back in college, too young and flat as a board versus the sorority girls and the actresses and the women in literary theory and public speaking and an-phys, the women. Self-dissection of her own physical attributes hadn't been fun ever.

Teyla was speaking, something about beds. "...and I believe Marta offered?"

"Right. Gotcha. That's fine." Jennifer liked Marta, she was straightforward and tough. She hoped that she herself had been half as strong at 18. Yeah, she doubted it. The empty jaru cup was still in her hand. Wait. Had it always been empty? "Gah. I need to eat something. Can we?"

She honestly didn't know what to think of the Athosians, as she stood with Teyla and Torren and Kanaan and a line of others, all of them balancing wooden bowls filled with mashed root and generous slabs of roast beast and thick crumbly brown bread still steaming from the hearths. It was so similar to the sort of post-funeral buffet stuffings she'd grown up with, the same sounds of appreciation and silence. Though you didn't usually see Earthers punching anyone in the head as they leaned over the casket. What the hell, seriously?

She could tell Teyla was frustrated with her. Hell, Jennifer was frustrated herself; a headache had been radiating under her eyes since they'd stepped through the gate, the unexpected bodies had been awful especially in light of their investigation, and then the Athosian custom toward suicide, and Gardani's violence, had baffled her.

No, it doesn't. Be honest with yourself. It didn't confuse her. She was a big girl, a real universe traveler. She could accept different cultures. She could accept the dangerous ritual of the young, not with any real comfort, but she could.

She could accept that suicide might be taboo here. It had been hard to look at the jagged lines and the still faces. It had been hard to look at her mother, too, with her arms hidden under blue silk -- and Dad had never said outright, never would say out loud what everyone had been thinking at the funeral, what Aunt Evelyn had started to say before the other sisters dragged her out to Irish coffee and tears in napkins and embalmed sympathy. But she couldn't look away from it or call it forbidden. It was choice. Didn't everyone, in the end, have the right to choose their life, if nothing else? Would the Athosians refuse to acknowledge one of their people who, if finding themselves cornered aboard a hive ship, stepped away from a gaping Wraith hand and into air?

No. No, she was over-interpreting, exaggerating now. Damn Pegasus hard liquor anyway. She hoped she hadn't been too offensive. She hoped -- ah, what did it matter? She'd hoped for a lot of things in this assignment. Just because something didn't come to you when you called, or didn't work out the first time...she willed her mind to shut up.

They ate and drank, and Jennifer avoided as best she could the repeated outstretched offering hands, more jaru, more dizziness. She walked back to the gate with Jinto to radio Atlantis while Teyla fixed the sleeping arrangements with Marta, and then she followed her hostess into the warm well-lit tent, ending up with a comfortable squashy cot in the corner of the main room.

Warm and silent though it was, Jennifer couldn't sleep.

She tried counting sheep, but she got lost somewhere after eight hundred and, in the ensuing irritation, realized she'd made it all the way to eight hundred with alert eyes and brain. The walls of the tents appeared to be on par with those at her last Earth apartment complex in comparison to Atlantis' sound-muffling architecture. The soft, rhythmic sighs emanating from Kanaan annd Teyla's tent were not conducive to somnolence.

The Athosians seemed to have a very oral culture. And Teyla had not recognized the phrases, though she had thought they sounded ritualistic, some of them. Could the words have been something missed throughout the years, or something the Athosians had chosen not to pass down?

She thought of Wex and the way his eyes had glazed when she touched the brand under his ear back on Atlantis. She thought of his slashed wrists, his cold blue eyelids, the strange unidentifiable smell around his body she'd passed off as Athosian funereal ritual. It was almost like sulphur. Fitting, if these Serapha things were all about fire and brimstone.

A scraping would be quick. Two minutes, tops, if she checked all the bodies.

Jennifer threw back the blankets (quietly as a guest should) and jammed her bare feet into her boots. She pulled on her jacket and grabbed her kit.

"Let's go," she murmured to herself, and then felt ridiculous for the pep talk. She stepped outside.

The night of New Athos was bitterly cold, the sky clouded and starless, and Jennifer immediately revised her opinion of Athosian tent construction. Shivering, she stepped gingerly around Marta's lampfire and onto the general path. She stomped her feet in an attempt to drive off snakes, or worse, damn her photographic memory, creepy underground squid things.

The tent with the bodies was in the middle of the settlement, and it loomed dark and unencumbered alongside its lamplit neighbors. Jennifer swallowed, and went up to the front flap. Entering the enclosure of suicides probably broke fifty Athosian taboos, and although she didn't see Gardani or any other relatives hovering around, it was pretty flipping dark.

This was really stupid. Why was she doing this?

She put her hand on the string and parted the flap, just a crack. A soft hiss of sulfurous air greeted her, and Jennifer recoiled. Come on, now. She steeled herself, flung the flap open wide, and stepped inside.

The filtered light from the neighboring tents followed her in, and Jennifer was glad, because she could see a little and it was less spooky. The bodies lay arrayed on their cots as they had been in the open air, looking shrunken and lost amidst the swathes of cloth. But something was odd. There were the cots. Bare feet poked out like they were reaching for her, but they were visible only on two of the cots. The third looked curiously flat. The air was thick and choking, but not with the smell of rotting flesh. Wex, the biggest, on the far right, looked rather humped and thicker than he had outside.

Jennifer reached into her bag for her small penlight and the Ancient knife from the infirmary, and as her fingers closed around the smooth roundness of the flashlight the humped part of Wex shivered and straightened away from his body into a separate figure: a stooped craggy shape that stayed bent over Wex's neck.

Oh sweet Jesus. Did the Athosians have grave robbers? That makes no sense, her mind chided, because these teens had nothing to steal.

"Stop right there," Jennifer said, and was surprised to hear how clear and strong her voice sounded.

The shape did not move. It was hardly visible in the murkiness, and Wex's body was furthest from the door. But the outline of the thing loomed wide and tall: taller than Jennifer, taller than Wex had been in life. She could feel it looking at her.

"I don't know what you're doing in here, but these are not your bodies." She winced as the words left her mouth. She hoped it wasn't Gardani.

The shape made a hissing, coughing sound. It sounded like choking, or a rattling old car, or -- laughing, and it did not stop, it just grew louder and more awful. Jennifer could feel perspiration starting under her arms. Not Gardani. What the hell was it? The smell...

"Look, I'm not afraid of you," she said.

And it stopped making the noises, and it drew itself up in a smooth graceful flow like water. She could see now that it had eyes. They were cold pale things, milky and dull as buttons on a coat, and all the hair pricked up on Jennifer's arms and the back of her neck. She let go of the flashlight and felt around for the knife. Her fingers found it and gripped the hilt, but she couldn't draw it out of the bag. Her hand wouldn't move properly. The thing flowed around Wex's bare feet, trailing a hand -- or arm, or whatever it was over the pallid ankles.

Holy shit get out get out and she ripped the knife out of her bag and held it up as she eased back toward the door flap, toward the lights. The thing stopped and pulled back.

"Stay where you are." Her hand was shaking. God. Never mind. Get out and get some backup, anyone. "Stay." Her foot hit the tent flap and before Jennifer could react, it fluttered closed, cloaking her in complete darkness.

She could hear it breathing. She could still see its eyes like little sunspots, lit without the aid of firelight. The choking stench of sulfur insinuated into her nose and mouth and throat. She gasped for breath.

It muttered something at her, and for a second Jennifer's fear dropped away. "That's Ancient."

There was a sudden soft crawling sound. The odor of sulfur and ash intensified to a truly unbearable level, and Jennifer felt light, flaky bits powdering her face. She looked up. The roof of the tent was ablaze.

Then with a whump, the white-hot fire rippled down and enveloped the grave cots.

The heat blasted against her, and she tried to hold her breath as she flung herself back. Jennifer clawed at the door flap. The tent walls were igniting like paper, and the canvas and leather smoked under her scrabbling fingers. The thing was still in front of her -- she could still see it looking at her -- but as in the blackness, she still couldn't see it. It blended and blurred into the rage of flame and heat like it was burning with the tent.

The roof was going to fall in and kill her, smother her. Her lungs ached. The knife was gone somewhere. The flap would not part. The cloth burnt her hand. The smells of burning flesh and hair and fabric were thick in her nostrils, and she tore at the door flap, got it open even as sparks rained sizzling into her scalp and her hair caught fire.

As she lurched out a blistering iron grip caught her ankle. Jennifer fell hard on her face. There was cold dirt in her mouth, dirt on her chin, her legs were trapped, trapped, she could feel them burning. Someone was screaming. Oh good, they all woke up. Maybe someone would come and knock her out, or hell, maybe lay her down so she could finally go to sleep. No, idiot, stay awake. Who else is going to fix you but you?

She felt a hard jerk on her ankle, and shrieked at the pain. She could feel its fingers on her, trickling flame over her and through her, and who cared if it didn't have hands? It had something. It was -- she was -- oh, hell --

And then there was a cool grip on Jennifer's arm, and it yanked her out of the fire, wrenching her ankle in the process. She howled. The pain and the light went away for a moment, and then she was looking up into Teyla's clear brown gaze.

"Teyla."

"I have you. Remain calm -- "

"Oh. That's good. Just make it let go, huh?" She gestured at the thing, but when she looked down she only saw her boots and long twin trails her feet had left in the dirt as Teyla dragged her. Her boots were smoking. She wished she couldn't feel her feet. She tried to organize her thoughts. Ow. Did my brain burn? Teyla's mouth was moving. She struggled to hear. Teyla was kinda...naked. Damn it. Some restful evening. This was...embarrassing...

"...bag...any painkillers?"

Jennifer tried to shift. "Under me. My bag. Teyla."

"Do not try to talk."

"Teyla -- it was, I think -- I saw it. Serapha."

Teyla frowned down at her. The grave tent collapsed in on itself. The fire roared, a huge, hungry orange blur in her rapidly dimming vision. It sounded, Jennifer thought as she passed out, like glee.


****


Teyla cradled Keller's head in her lap. Halling knelt beside her and she handed him the small snub-nosed scissors.

"Be careful. They are sharper than they look. Jinto?"

"Gone for the Ring to radio Atlantis. Marta with him." Halling bent his head and cut at Keller's sleeves. "We will have to get her leggings off as well."

"Let me do that." Teyla gently pulled the cloth apart. "Go and wake Thet. Have her bring compresses, water and herbs. We have no guarantee how quickly Atlantis will respond to our summons, so we must keep her stable."

She took a deep breath and focused on the burns (Keller's -- Jennifer's burns), and then on the remedies and the careful removal of more clothing and gentle applications to the wounds, and the next thing she knew there was a hand on her bare shoulder -- John Sheppard. Ronon was there behind him, and some infirmary techs coming out of the jumper parked in the middle of the settlement. She had no idea how much time had passed. Worse, there was a niggling feeling deep in her gut that she had missed something, something critical. What?

"Come on now." John helped her up and away so that the techs could ease Keller onto their stretcher. He was studiously avoiding looking at her. Ronon, on the other hand, gave her an appreciative, one-sided grin that made her want to remind him just how unnecessary clothing was to her ability to knock him out. But then Kanaan came up beside her with his sleep robe held out in one hand and her clothes neatly bundled up in the other. She slipped her arms into the soft brown sleeves, and willed herself to stay in the moment.

One of the techs placed an oxygen mask over Keller's mouth and nose, and Ronon shifted closer.

"Stupid," John said. He looked angry and tired. "I wasn't needed for jumper duty, not really. Should've come along."

"You are here now," Teyla said. "That is all that matters. And Rodney?"

"Cleaning up the last of the problems in the city systems. Nothing too serious. He thinks we finally have a handle on things." John scrubbed at his face and left a streak of ash on his forehead. "Woolsey's using the down time to help with the Serapha research."

"He wants you to report as soon as we get back," Ronon said. He kept his gaze on Keller and his hands in his pockets.

"After you go to the infirmary for your head," John added.

Teyla touched the forgotten wilting bandage. "Now? But surely -- "

Ronon shrugged. "I know. But I don't think he has any plans to sleep. And hey, it's not like you're going to. I know I'm not."

"On one, two, three -- we need to go now, Colonel."

The techs lifted the stretcher and hurried past them into the jumper. Ronon half-turned to follow it, shook himself, and then stooped to pick up Keller's forgotten pack.

A pack -- her pack that she had brought -- was pressed into her hands, and Teyla turned to see Kanaan again. His hair was mussed and ridiculous.

"Where is Torren?"

"He is still asleep." Kanaan squeezed her shoulder. "I know you must go back. Help her. I will keep investigating here and radio you should anyone else become...infected with this madness."

"Be careful," she said. "I will be back."

"I can only hope." He gave her a sad, ironic little smile. "We will be waiting." He turned and walked back toward his tent without embracing her.

Do not think on it, she told herself, suppressing the hurt that threatened to boil up. Later. Later. The fire was dwindling, but the heat still made her head ache. She embraced Thet, Jinto and Marta, and let Halling stoop down last to touch her forehead with his.

"I will be back tomorrow," she said.

Halling frowned. "Is that wise? Your injury, and Dr. Keller --"

"What a foolish question." Teyla smiled to take the bite out of her words. "At first light. You need not send anyone to greet me."