Word count: ~32, 500
Spoilers: None as it's an AU, although there is the occassional shade of actual events from the show.
Author Notes: Okay, there is absolutely no resemblance between this fic and Whispers, but the only detail that jumped out and grabbed me from that ep was the way John twirled his gun and put it away at one point and that, combined with Koschka begging for a western from me, resutled in this beast. Also, I played with the characters ages a bit in this one (and one's name) so that Teyla is probably a few years younger than she is in canon and Halling is a bit older. But, hey, it's AU so I can do what I want. *G* Also, if you want to consider this one of my POV fics, even though it is AU, you're more than welcome to do that.
Summary: Sheppard sights down his Henry rifle where he sprawls atop the bluff beside me, rechecking the approaching gang of men. "Canaan, you hold tight until I give the word. Is that clear?"
The Battle of Canaan’s Bluff
The bluff runs north to south for almost a mile, a scar of gray limestone that puckers up from the scrub oak and hickory lining the stream a couple of hundred feet below us like the healed pink flesh of the wound that runs down the length of my leg. The bluff sits a few miles from the western boundary of my land. On paper, the land belongs to Teyla as her Pa’s sole survivor following an Indian massacre when she wasn’t yet a grown woman. But she says what’s hers is mine, despite the fact she bore me a son and still won’t consent to marry me no matter how many times I ask, and if we work the land together, then we can claim it together. It was Teyla who named this ridge for me. Canaan’s Bluff, she called it because it had held firm against all the time and wind and rain that had come before, it refused to crumble and break no matter what God threw at it.
The trek up the cliff weren’t an easy climb for me by any means given that my leg don’t always cooperate the way it should, but it is well worth the effort. From here we can see the riders coming from miles away, the dust drummed up by their horses signaling their approach long before we would have ever seen them from the homestead. And if all goes as planned, Cowen’s men won’t get within spitting distance of where Teyla is hiding with the baby and the others.
I know Teyla would rather be here than in the root cellar; the woman is pure stubbornness walking the Earth. But, like I told her when she started arguing she was as good a shot as me, if not better− that may be God’s honest truth, and I may be just as good as her at changing diapers, but I ain’t going to sprout a teat and start suckling a baby no time soon. So, if she wanted to keep our son fed, she best just hush up and go hide in the cellar like she was told. Fortunately, Sheppard and the others agreed, else she’d, no doubt, be lying on her belly with a gun in one hand and Torren in the other as we watched the approaching dust cloud filled with horses and armed men grow larger. But for now she’s safe, and I plan to do everything in my power to keep her that way. My woman, my son, and my land… the three most important things in my life and ain’t none of them going to end up lost to a dirty, no-good, land-grabbing cattleman like Cowen.
It might not seem like much to most, only fifty acres of Kansas dirt built with a four-room cabin and barn, but the land is fertile and the water sweet and the wheat and corn will grow when we get it planted in the spring. This ain’t the first patch of land I’ve worked, but one way or another, it will be my last. My Pa lost his farm in 1862 when the Yankees retook Franklin and conscripted half the land and all the men of fighting age in Tennessee with it. That’s how I found myself fighting a war I didn’t rightly care one way or another about. My family weren’t rich, we didn’t own no slaves, all we had was the land we worked and what hadn’t been pillaged by the Confederate forces was taken by the Union to support their troops. So, truth be told, I can’t rightly say who I hoped would win and decided to concentrate on keeping myself alive instead.
I’d managed to do that, but just barely. I’d ended up in a Confederate prison camp with a bayonet slice that had opened up my right leg and owing my life to an odd assortment of men… a Scottish doctor, a Union cavalry officer, a gun maker, and a tracker. I not only owed them my life, I owed them my family, and if this cockamamie plan worked, I was going to owe them even more.
Sheppard sights down his Henry rifle where he sprawls atop the bluff beside me, rechecking the approaching gang of men. "Canaan, you hold tight until I give the word. Is that clear?"
Canaan, a name my Ma gave me with her last breath while I was mewling in my Pa’s arms and her lifeblood flowed out on the sheets of my birthbed that turned into her deathbed a few minutes later. According to Pa, she was a high class lady, educated and refined, born to a wealthy Nashville family and disowned for running off with a hired hand meant to deflower tobacco, not the boss man’s daughter. What little my Pa knew how to read and write came from her teaching, so for most of my life, I spelled my name with a K like Pa first taught me. Not until I was being tended by that Scottish doctor did I learn the Biblical spelling was with a C, like my Ma intended, and the birthright that came with a name like Canaan. Cursed. The name was cursed by Noah himself. Why in tarnation a man would curse his grandson because the boy’s father saw the grandpappy naked is beyond me. But that is just what Noah did. Got drunk and made a durn fool of hisself and he cursed his grandson and all his descendents to a life of slavery for it. More than that, the Canaan in the Bible spent his life fighting for his land. Sometimes, it makes me think maybe my Ma was blessed with the sight in her last minutes here on Earth when she gave me that name.
But I intend to break that curse and make sure my boy lives free on land of his own that I leave him. So, I nod my understanding to Sheppard, put my sights on the men trying to drive me off that land, and wait for the signal from across the way.
* * * *
"Hold up, Halling," I say, wiping an arm across my brow to sop up the sweat running into my eyes. "I could use some water right about now."
The afternoon is warm for late October, despite the coating of frost we had this morning, not that the work of rebuilding the corral for the horses isn’t enough to work up a sweat. It’s more than enough to have my leg aching, that’s for dang sure. But we need to fix the pen so we can move to the barn repairs next, the latest victim of Cowen’s men and their attempts to run us off our land. We were lucky this time; the fire didn’t take a firm hold before we had time to put it out, so that we only lost the door and part of a wall and not the whole building and the feed stored inside to help get the livestock through the winter.
Halling nods his agreement as he breathes heavily and puts down the next plank he was preparing to hold while I hammer it into place and follows me toward the front of the house. Even though Halling is getting up there in years, he’s still a good hand. If it hadn’t been for him and Charin, I don’t think Teyla would have been able to run the farm as long as she did on her own.
The farm hand can’t help but notice my worsening limp as we walk. "Is that leg bothering you again?"
"When don’t it?" I snort. I suppose the good thing about having a scar from my thigh to my calf is that the Rebel son of a bitch who was the cause missed stabbing me in the belly like he was trying before he went down.
"I’ll mix up some more salve tonight," he offers as he steps up onto the porch. When I wince at the thought of the rancid smell of turpentine and lard, he shakes his head. "If you can survive the wound, you can survive the medicine."
My grin at his reasoning fades as I see dust rising in the distance. "Riders coming," I warn, taking up the rifle leaning against the stoop. "Get the womenfolk to the cellar."
Cowen’s men haven’t come after us directly and they’ve never come in broad daylight before, but their leader, Acastus, is meaner than a snake and as heartless as one could ever hope to be. And I know it’s just a matter of time before he tries something of the like. Halling heads inside and a few seconds later Teyla comes to join me on the porch with the baby in her arms.
"Woman, for once, will you do as I say and get yourself hidden?"
As I suspect, she ignores me, instead staring out at the approaching horsemen and patting the baby’s back when he starts to fuss. "Hush up," she says and I’m not sure if she’s speaking to me or Torren. "Family’s a comin’."
"Family?" I ask in confusion before I can make out that there are only three riders, and I finally understand who she means. "Why did you send word to them?"
"Because we can use the help if we mean to keep what is our as ours," she tells me with a look that dares me to challenge her.
"You owe your life to them, Canaan, as do I."
And I do, the good Lord knows that ain’t no lie. But that don’t make me none too happy to see them.
"Well, hell, I know that." I sigh, lowering my gun as the galloping horses slow to a trot as they approach the house and I can make out the riders. "It’s just that the only thing they have more of than luck is trouble."
Teyla shoots me a look that says I’m the one who’s going to have trouble if I say anything to insult the men she’s adopted as kin before stepping forward to greet them.
The lead rider is dressed in a black duster and hat, onyx-handled revolvers in the holster he wears on his hips, and a Henry rifle on his saddle. "Teyla," he greets with a sly grin as he tips his hat.
Gun slingers. I ain’t never had any use for them and don’t reckon I ever will, no matter what they were when they started out in life.
"John," Teyla smiles up at him in return. "It is so good to see you again."
"When you wrote and said there was trouble, I had no idea you meant a baby."
Teyla rolls her eyes and shakes her head at the comment. "As much trouble as this little one is, even I can handle a young ‘in."
John Sheppard had been a Lieutenant Colonel in the 7th U.S. Cavalry when I first met him in that prison camp in Virginia. He’d been schooled at West Point then served nine years in the Indian territories, tracking down the bands of Comanche warriors who were attacking white settlements across the plains. When the war broke out, his division was transferred to fight along the Potomac and he’d been captures three months before me during a skirmish along the James River. Sheppard was a known trouble maker among the guards and spent most of the five months we was prisoners together with a fresh set of bruises for sassing the Rebs. Truth be known, sometimes I thought he was trying to get hisself killed. And if it hadn’t been for the man who was sitting on the horse next to his, I think he might have let them do it.
"Where did you get a baby?"
"I found him under a cabbage leaf in the garden." Teyla looks at Rodney McKay like he’s an idiot child and not one of the smartest, most book-learned men I ever met. "Did your momma never teach you where babies come from, Rodney?"
"Don’t mind him," John tells her. "I reckon he had a nose stuck in a book instead of taking a more hands on approach to his education."
Rodney McKay was a gun maker. To hear him tell it, he practically built the Gatling gun all by his lonesome. He had worked with the 7th Cavalry for almost as many years as John Sheppard had been a member, making the trip from the crowded cities in the east to the open expanses of the western territories several times a year to field test new guns and ammunition from the Colt Company. It was while he was training a regiment on the Petersburg Front on the latest new fangled model that he and Sheppard were captured and imprisoned.
I never could tell which one was to blame for the two men being captured; depending on the circumstances the stories would change. One minute Sheppard would say it was all McKay’s fault for stomping through the underbrush like a one man heard of buffalo and drawing the attention of the Confederate infantry, the next John would claim he owed Rodney his life for keeping him alive long enough for Doc Beckett to stitch him back up. McKay’s stories weren’t all that different. By Rodney’s account, if Sheppard hadn’t tried to rescue him, the colonel wouldn’t have been captured in the first place, so it was really his own damn fault he ended up nearly starving to death in that Confederate hellhole. And if John had hightailed it back to Union territory after he managed to release Rodney, instead of trying to blow the ammo stores in the Southern camp, they would have made it back from behind the enemy lines and Sheppard never would have ended up shot like he had.
Rodney raises his chin so high his bowler hat nearly falls off his head. "I’m just saying I didn’t even know she was in a family way."
The third man, the one with a beard and buckskins, leans back in his saddle and rests his forearm on the top of the tomahawk on his belt. When he speaks, it stops Sheppard and McKay from bickering like an old married couple like they are want to do. "So does this mean you’re a Mrs. then?
Teyla’s tongue is as sharp as one of the many knives I know Ronon has hidden on his person. "A woman can take a man into her bed, Ronon Dex, without taking his name as well."
I’ve heard that same argument more times than I can count, but it don’t stop Ronon from treading into dangerous territory.
"She does if he’s the pa to her baby."
"Why is that? He had the easy part in the baby making. I was the one who had to birth this child out. If anything, Canaan should be taking my name and be proud to have it."
Ronon Dex was a tracker with Sheppard’s Cavalry division back in the Indian territories and then went back east with them when the War broke out. Once upon a time, he had been a fur trapper and married to a Sioux woman, but her entire village had been wiped out by a Comanche tribe and that’s why he took up with the Cavalry in the first place. Sheppard had told me it was downright spooky to see the smile that would come across Ronon’s face when he found a Comanche band and the large man always led the charge when they attacked. He was the one who eventually found Sheppard in the prison camp and busted him out, refusing to believe the Army’s claim that Lt. Colonel John Sheppard was dead. Of course, Sheppard wouldn’t leave the prison without McKay and the Doc had convinced McKay he needed to take me if I had any chance of living.
John shakes his head at Teyla reasoning. "I swear you are as bullheaded as the day I met you."
That day had been over ten years earlier when Sheppard’s regimen had come across the burned remains of the cabin that stood on the exact spot as the one I call now home. John, just the rank of major then, was the one who found Teyla, seventeen years old, shivering in the root cellar, with nothing more than her pa’s hunting knife clutched in her hands. The Comanche had attacked while Halling and Charin had gone for supplies in Athos, a day’s roundtrip away by wagon. They had killed her parents and taken her younger sister then burned the house and barn to the ground, never knowing Teyla was even there.
Sheppard and McKay had volunteered to stay with her until the hired hands came back after Teyla refused to desert her family’s land and go with the soldiers back to Fort Leavenworth. Ronon managed to track the band that had attacked the Emmagan family and the 7th Cavalry’s punishment was swift and as vengeful as Teyla could have hoped. Still, all he could do was bring back her sister’s body to bury with the rest of the family in the plot that sat a stone’s throw from our back porch. Over the years, John had made a point of checking in on the young woman he had found, even helping rebuild the house and see that she had the supplies she needed. When we had escaped from the prison camp, Teyla was the first person that came to his mind to nurse me back to health. The Army had declared Sheppard dead, so there was nothing for him to rush back to. Besides, war can change a man, more than that, it can break a man. Just snap him like a dry twig and kindling can’t stick itself back on the tree no matter how much it might want to. The truth be told, I don’t think John Sheppard much wanted to go back to the life he’d had before. And the funny thing is, a dead man can make a new life for hisself easier than a living one any day.
The day we rode up to the house, it was early December, a dusting of white coated the winter-hardened ground, and the horses’ breath lighted slow and icy in air that felt heavy with threatening snow. I was burning up with the fever so I rode behind Sheppard wrapped in an Army-issue blanket since I couldn’t sit a horse of my own. Still, even as sick as I was, I remember seeing Teyla standing there under that gunmetal gray sky, wearing britches and suspenders, her hair pulled back under a wide-brimmed hat, and her arms full of firewood, and I thought, even dressed like a boy, she was the most beautiful woman I had ever set eyes on in my life.
And she said the same thing that winter day nearly two years ago that she says now to Sheppard and the others. "Come down off of those horses and let me have a look at you."
The three do as they’re told and Teyla looks them over like they was a new mule for the plow instead of grown men and I’m almost surprised she don’t lift their lips and check their gums. Satisfied that they’re healthy and whole, she shoos them toward the house, calling for Charin to add another hock to the soup pot for dinner as soon as she reaches the door, which have her and Halling welcoming their old friends warmly. The men’s greeting for me is just as friendly as it was for Teyla and the others, Sheppard asking after my leg, Rodney congratulating me on my son, and Ronon asking if we’ve had any Indian trouble lately.
"The Comanche would be easy compared to Cowen," I tell them, taking a seat at the table while Teyla puts the baby down.
"I take it Cowen is the trouble Teyla mentioned in her letter." Sheppard nods his thanks to Charin when she places a cup of tea in front of him.
Teyla’s ma loved to serve tea in the afternoon, something she had learned from her own ma back in Ireland, and the fancy china cups with the little roses on them that Teyla had inherited were some of her most prized possessions. They was one of the few things to survive the fire, and to this day, they made me a bundle of nerves to use them since Teyla would tan my hide alive if I broke one. But the three men don’t even blink when they each receive one, even though the tiny white cup all but disappears as Ronon wraps his massive hand around it. It’s then that I realize I may have spent the past two years solid with Teyla but the ten years of history these men have with her, no matter that it weren’t nearly as much time total as me, makes them as comfortable as a coon dog in a goose feather tick to be back in this house.
I ignore the flowered cup in front of me, instead sighing in response to John’s question. "He’s that and more. He’s the richest man in these parts. He moved down from Nebraska last year and brung over ten thousand head of cattle with him and now he needs land for them graze on, including our own. He offered to buy us out like he did the next patch of land to the west, but Teyla refused."
Teyla rejoins us then, shaking her head angrily at my tale. "This land is soaked with my family’s blood. We already paid dear for it and no amount of money can buy it back."
"That’s when we started having problems," I continue. "The creek was damned so we weren’t getting no water. After we cleaned it out, one of the milk cows was shot, after that the wind mill was burned down. It was just two nights ago that they run a herd of cattle through and tore down the corral and tried to set the barn afire."
"They have even scared the store keepers in Athos into not selling us any goods," Teyla tells them. "Every time we go into town, his men follow us intimidating everyone they come across. And their leader, Acastus, struts around like the head rooster in the hen house."
"What about the law?" McKay asks, dumping two large spoonfuls of sugar into his cup. I can’t say as I blame him; Teyla brews a strong cup of tea.
"The sheriff don’t want no trouble," I say. "He says we should take the deal since it’s good money."
"I think he has some of Cowen’s good money in his own damn pockets," Teyla accuses angrily.
"Has he threatened any others?" Ronon asks.
"He bought out the Grodin farm in the spring," Teyla tells them. "And I heard talk in town the Caldwells’s to the east of us had a fire about a month ago."
"The Lorne’s lost two horses," I add. "I don’t know of nobody else, but we don’t see people too often."
"Would anyone else be willing to help?" Sheppard asks, leaning forward to rest his arms on the table.
I suppose I knew this was coming but it don’t make it any easier. "Help with what exactly?"
John’s lip curls cockily in the way that usually meant he’d be sporting fresh bruises by nightfall in the prison camp. "Well, I’m not entirely clear on the details myself, but I have a notion it will include guns and possibly an explosion or two thanks to McKay here."
"My specialty." Rodney smiles smugly as he flexes his knuckles.
"How is blowing up our land going to help us?" I challenge.
"Technically, it would make the plowing easier," McKay offers with a raised finger, one that I’m surprised he still has considering how he likes to play with gunpowder and armaments so much.
Seeing that I’m none too happy with that suggestion, Sheppard steps in. "We aren’t talking about setting off explosives in your backyard, Canaan."
"Then where? In Athos? In Cowen’s house? How’s my land going to be planted if I’m hanged for murder?"
"Canaan," Teyla tries to calm me, but I jerk out of her hand on my shoulder.
"Dead is dead, Teyla. I might as well let Acastus shoot me on my front porch for all the good their plans will do." I push my chair back and head for the front door, too angry to stay sitting in their company. "Hell, I might as well let Sheppard pull those fancy Colts on his hip and shoot me hisself."
I ignore Teyla’s plea for me to sit myself back down and move as fast as my aching leg will let me to reach the front door. When Sheppard speaks behind me, I’m standing out staring off across the land I’d come to love almost as much as the woman who had led me to it.
"They aren’t Colts."
I don’t look back, just lean against the bark of the old sycamore tree and look up at the spread of deep orange leaves over my head. I planned to hang a rope swing for Torren here in a few years. Hell, I’d already picked the branch to use before Teyla’s belly was even showing she carried a baby inside her.
My silence doesn’t stop Sheppard from continuing on. "It’s a common mistake, though, seeing as McKay learned his craft from old Samuel Colt himself."
I take the gun John offers from around behind me, feeling the weight, but more than that, the balance of the weapon in my hand. "Rodney made this for you?"
"Yep. Back about seven, maybe eight years ago now. I couldn’t carry them when I was an officer, so I kept them here at Teyla’s… until that night we brought you here. Been wearing them ever since."
"Seven years ago?" I flip open the cylinder in wonder at what he’s told me. "But they ain’t ball and cap."
"I know. First of their kind." There’s no denying the pride Sheppard has in the guns. "It was just a couple of years ago I could start finding ammunition for them that wasn’t special made by McKay."
"Any special reason he made them for you?" Aside from them using cartridge ammunition years before any other guns did, I could tell just from the feel of the gun it was a high quality piece of work and no doubt cost a pretty penny.
"He’d been out on maneuvers with part of my regiment and wandered off to take a piss and ended up captured by the Arapahos. When the men came back without McKay, I went out, against order, to look for him." Sheppard pats the trunk of the large tree in admiration. "He really wasn’t that hard to find, which made me think the men hadn’t looked mightily hard when he went missing."
I can’t help but grin like John does at the thought of trained Calvary offers discussing whether or not they should go look for the missing man who could make a grown man cry for his mammy with a few scathing words or take advantage of the good luck they’d fallen into and skedaddle out of there quick as they could. "McKay sure don’t make it easy to call him friend, does he?"
"To hear some men tell it, no he doesn’t." John reaches around me and takes the gun from my hand. "But I’m not one of those men."
There are some folks born into families what mean more than life itself and there are others who find those families along the way. I’d found mine thanks to a leg I’d nearly lost in the war and the angel of mercy who took me in and tended me through the winter of 1865. John Sheppard had found his piecemeal along the way, and Rodney McKay was more brother to him than anyone of his own blood.
"So, how did you set him free from the Arapaho?"
"Ends up Rodney had convinced them he was a mystic, and by the time I arrived they were in a sweat lodge in the middle of a peyote ceremony." Sheppard leans closer and lowers his voice. "Truth be told, I think the old chief and his men were a might frightened by what they were witness to. McKay had painted mathematical computations up one side and down the other of two elders, and by the time I dragged his drunken ass out of there, he was babbling all sorts of nonsense about energy and mass and how fast light travels."
"Light traveling?" I ask, having no idea what he might be talking about.
Sheppard straightens from the tree and takes to admiring the gun instead. "Eh, I wouldn’t put much credence in it. He sure the hell wasn’t in his right mind at the time. I thought I was going to have to hogtie him so he didn’t go running off hootin’ and hollerin’ into the night once I made camp. Didn’t figure it was such a good idea to take him back to the Fort like he was acting. Eventually, he fell asleep and slept like the dead for ten hours straight."
I laugh lightly. "Bet you was pretty popular around the cook fires after that. Probably had some right humorous tales to tell once you got back."
"Actually, you’re the first person I ever told that story." With a twirl of the gun before he reholsters it, he tells me, "These guns weren’t a gift of thanks; they’re a sign of trust." He hitches his head back toward the house. "Those three people in there, I trust them with my life, just like they trust me with theirs. I don’t take that lightly, Canaan. Teyla called to us for help. You know as much as me that for her to do something like that means she’s scared… although the devil will be throwing snowballs from his porch swing before she would admit that."
I nod silently, knowing he speaks the truth.
"Me and Rodney and Ronon would do anything to keep her safe… her and her family and that includes you Canaan. She trusts us to do that, and I don’t intend to let her down."
"You live the life of a hired gun, Sheppard. It’s not that I ain’t grateful of all you’ve done for me and for Teyla, because I truly am. But what happens when you and those fancy guns of yours leave again? Teyla won’t never leave this land, not even when she’s put in a pine box, and I won’t never leave her."
John turns to look back at the cabin behind us. "I helped build this house, nearly sweat myself dry framing it out in the July sun. Ronon probably still has the blisters from chopping down half the trees in the woods for the roof. Hell, I think McKay may have even stopped pointing out what we were doing wrong long enough to hammer a few of the planks for the porch."
I give a small grin at the thought. "That would explain the squeaking."
John shrugs and grins in return before sobering. "The point is, this feels as much like home for the three of us as any place ever has. No matter where we take work or bed down for the night, we know this place is here waiting… squeaky planks and all. And I’m not letting someone take our home away from any of us." With a pat to my shoulder he vows, "I have no intentions of leaving this job half done, Canaan. You have my word."
I don’t answer him back, just keep staring out across the golden brown prairie grass that spreads to the stands of red- and orange-topped trees in the distance. I’ve looked out across this exact spot time and time again. Early on I sat weak and sickly on the porch while I was wrapped in a quilt Teyla and Charin had made from the scraps of what remained from the fire that had destroyed most everything they had. And as pretty as that quilt is, nothing can compare to the one that spreads out across this land and changes with each season. Brown grass, silver-tipped with frost, with a grey sky backing and bordered by the black of the tree trunks in winter becomes a green so pale it’s nearly white, smack a dab with wildflowers in red, yellow, and purple in the spring. In summer there ain’t nothing but green as far as the eye can see, the grasses so thick and high they rise and tumble like waves when the wind blows across them. And now, in fall, this land has become a patchwork of gold and orange and red that blazes like a fire when the late afternoon sun sits low on the horizon.
Up until now, when I’d survey this land, my biggest worry was how to clear enough to plant the crops. Now I worry if I’ll even get a chance to harness the mule to the plow in the first place. I’m still pondering that long after Sheppard leaves to go back inside, long after the sun has set and the stars are shining down from a sparkling clear sky and that same quilt Teyla used to wrap me in on the porch lights on my shoulders.
"You missed your supper," she tells me with only a hint of accusation as she puts her hands on her hips and stares up at the twinkling heavens herself.
"I weren’t all that hungry." I wrap my arms around her from behind so that she’s bundled in the quilt with me and kiss her cheek when she leans back against my chest.
"It sure is a sight to behold," she exhales and I can make out the white puff of her breath in the chilly air.
"That it is," I agree wholeheartedly, speaking of her as much as the view.
When I kiss her neck she wiggles slightly in my arms. "There will be none of that, mister. Seeing as you happen to be in my bad graces at the moment."
I know she means how I acted with Sheppard and the others, but since she’s still resting here in my arms, I reckon I can’t be in too much trouble. "Maybe you should be in my bad graces for fetching them here without telling me a word of it."
"I only did it because you are the most stubborn man who ever drew breath and I knew I had no chance of making you see reason unless they were already here."
"Well, we must be a good match seeing as you’re the most stubborn woman I ever did meet, not to mention the sneakiest." I tighten my hold on her and kiss her neck again, this time she stays put.
"Then we should have a good, long life together… that is if we can keep from killing one another."
"I think I can resist the temptation if you can."
She grins and snuggles in closer. "You have not proven capable of resisting temptations in the past."
"I suppose it depends on what’s tempting me." I raise a hand to cup a full breast and Teyla closes her eyes and lets her head fall back so I can move my lips lower down her neck.
Inside the house, I hear the baby start to cry and Teyla slumps against me with a sigh. "Sounds as if someone besides you wants to make use of my breast."
"For him, I’m willing to share," I tell her with a final kiss.
She takes my hand and heads back toward the house. "Come to bed and you can have your chance in a bit."
I follow for a few steps then stop, still gripping her hand so that she has to pause and turn to look at me in confusion. "Do you really think they can help us?" I ask.
"Would they be here if I thought any different?"
When I nod my understanding she smiles and squeezes my hand. "Come on, before your boy wakes the company."
"With the set of lungs on that young ‘in, I think it’s too late for that."
But when we walk in house, at least one of the men bedded down in front of the fire is still snoring… Ronon, of course. It ain’t so much that he can sleep through the Kingdom come but that he can dismiss a dangerous noise from a safe one even in his sleep. McKay has his blankets pulled up over his head and makes no move to acknowledge we walked in the house but I can just imagine what he had to say before we came inside.
Sheppard lifts his hat from over his face enough to ask, "Everything all right?"
"Everything is fine, John," Teyla assures never letting go of my hand. "Go on back to sleep."
John raises his eyebrows. "You two don’t plan to raise more of a ruckus than the little guy, do you?"
Teyla tries her best to give Sheppard a disapproving look for his teasing. "That is none of your concern."
Sheppard settles back down, grumbling, "It is if it keeps me awake."
Teyla smiles fondly at him, at all of them, and leads me on into our room where she sets to nursing Torren. I sit in bed and watch her, watch the lamplight flicker across the tanned skin of one bare shoulder as she hums softly to our son, watch as she looks up to smile at me as Torren’s tiny hand flexes open and closed around her finger, watch as his wide brown eyes finally give up the fight and slide shut, watch as she places him back in the cradle I made for him with my own two hands. I watch until she blows out the lamp and I can’t see her no more, but I can hear the way her gown slips to the floor and feel warm skin as it slides next to mine in our bed. And if the ruckus we make keeps Sheppard awake, he makes no mention of it in the morning.
* * * *
"So, what do you think?" Sheppard leans casually over the horn of his saddle as we scrutinize the area he’s chosen for us to make our stand against Cowen’s men. When his horse skitters at the sound of a hawk screeching overhead, splashing in the shin-deep water of the creek, he pats her neck. "Easy, Jumper."
Ronon uses a hand to shade his eyes as he looks up at the bluff rising high above us, his long hair tied back with a strap of leather to keep it out of his face. "We should be able to see riders coming in for miles from up there."
"Teyla says you can just make out Athos from up there," I tell them.
John looks over at where I sit my own horse. "Never been up there yourself?" I pat my leg in answer and he grins with a shrug. "That might change here soon. Hope you aren’t afeard of heights."
My look of dread just has Sheppard grinning wider as he yells back behind us at McKay who is walking his horse in circles in the water. Rodney trots his horse back down the creek, sending water flying as he rejoins us. Now that his pants legs are wet, the morning chill has him buttoning his wool coat up to his chin. "Well, it definitely has potential. That is if we can get them to cooperate and come this way."
Ronon nods and waves his arm to take in the narrow space the stream runs through. "If we can, we’d have clear shots down on them in here and still be protected up on top. Put two more men down here and there’s no way they’d get through."
"That’s a big if, especially considering it’s an easier ride to go on the west side of the bluff."
McKay’s right; there’s a more direct route to the house from Athos and Cowen’s ranch on the other side. But John don’t seem too concerned.
"Remember when we took that job running cattle back last spring?" Sheppard asks.
"Remember?" Rodney grimaces at the memory. "As much as I’d like to block it from my mind, I can’t. Who knew steaks were so damn smelly and irritating while they were still on the hoof?"
"Well, if nothing else, Rodney, you should have learned what it takes to get a bunch of unruly, uncooperative critters to go where you want them to go."
McKay frowns at Sheppard’s comment. "I hardly think whooping and shouting, ‘get along little doggies’ is going to run Cowen’s men into a trap."
"I don’t know," John considers, "if you were to whoop loud enough they would." With that said, he nudges his horse into a canter down the middle of the creek.
The rest of us follow along, stirring up the streambed and sending the red-tail hawk screeching into flight from where it’s perched on the top of a nearly leafless hickory tree eating a field mouse. During the summer, the leaves would be so thick the sun would barely reach the thick moss and ferns that line the banks of the creek during the warm season. But now the leafy greens are gone and the branches close to bare, so that anyone riding down the stream would be as easy prey to someone up on the bluff as that mouse was to the hawk.
When we reach the point where the bluff ends, the ravine widens into open grassland to the east. We follow the water further as it cuts around the end of the ridgeline and into the dense trees. It’s here on the west side of the bluff that the trail that leads back south to our farm crosses the creek and hugs along the back side of the bluff.
Sheppard finally stops and looks up the gray cliff face towering up above us. "Think you could make a nice loud whoop right about here, McKay?"
Rodney follows John’s gaze before turning back with a cat-eating-the-canary grin. "I don’t know about a whoop, but I could sure make a nice loud boom." He looks back behind him into the trees and asks, "How far does the rock slide need to go into the woods do you think?"
"Far enough they won’t want to risk the men who’ll be waiting in ambush in there," Sheppard says.
McKay gets that look, that look that says don’t bother me now I’m thinking, and he rides off into the trees without a word. John hitches his head to Ronon, "Go after him and make sure he don’t wander in too deep and get himself lost."
Ronon rolls his eyes and follows after Rodney and I tell Sheppard, "We only have four men… five if you count Halling, but someone should stay back with the women. How do you plan to have us covering the ridge, down in the creek, and in the woods all at the same time?"
"We won’t have to cover the woods as long as they think there might be somebody back in there."
He tells me no more and a few seconds later, Rodney and Ronon rejoin us. "There’s some good hiding spots about fifty yards in," Ronon tells us.
Rodney is back to staring up at the rock. "I’m going to need some supplies if I’m going to do this right."
"Then it sounds like we need to make a trip into Athos," John notes.
"Cowen’s men will be there," I warn. "Acastus ain’t stupid. He’ll know we’re up to something."
"Oh, I’m counting on that," Sheppard assures me with a wicked grin before clicking his tongue and turning his horse toward home.
* * *