It was a morning like any other, so Teyla couldn’t have said why she felt a vague dissatisfaction with everything around her. Business at the Mariposa was already in full swing, the card table was raucous as usual, newcomers streaming in from the train station were purchasing booze and time with her girls, and there was intermittent gunfire out in the streets. Exactly as usual.
She pressed a hand to her lower abdomen – it hurt, though she didn’t know why. And she felt like there should have been a wound there, but again, she didn’t know why. The skin was smooth and unblemished – she’d checked – and she hadn’t had any injuries.
She was distracted by the increasing sounds of a commotion outside the large plate glass window. The shots were coming more quickly and now there was screaming and the pounding of feet as people ran down the wooden walkways past the Mariposa, away from the center of town. Something was going down.
Then the double swinging doors were shoved open and a man walked in. The first thing she noticed about him was that he was big. He was all in black - black trousers, black cowboy boots, and a black leather vest that clung to his chest and emphasized his massively muscular arms. She couldn’t help a surge of appreciation at the sight, even as she saw what he was holding – a shotgun and a rope. That didn’t bode well. And he was followed by a few rough-looking accomplices, also carrying firearms.
She knew who he was then – she’d seen his face on the wanted poster outside the sheriff’s office. This was Ronon, an outlaw said to be highly dangerous. Still, if she kept her cool maybe she could get her people through this and keep damage to a minimum. So she leaned back against the bar with a casual air as the man approached her.
“With all of the banks and trains around here, you choose to rob us?” she inquired mildly.
“Why not?” the man grunted. “You’ve got money, and a lot less security than banks or trains.”
She couldn’t really argue with that logic, so she said nothing. Instead, she turned her head to look at the man as he bellied up to the bar next to her, finding a shot of liquor someone had abandoned and downing it in a gulp. As he tilted his head back to swallow, she saw the locks of his hair move as if in slow motion and heard a buzzing in her ears. She felt the strange sensation that she’d lived this moment before and shook her head to clear it. Her hand went again to her lower stomach and her vision faded to white.
“Why not?” the man – Ronon – grunted, as her vision faded back in. “You’ve got money, and a lot less security than banks or trains.”
She stared. He looked back at her, slightly amused. “Well, it’s true,” he said. She watched as he slammed back a drink someone had left on the bar and then she saw it. A carved figure, tiny but detailed, hanging from a leather thong around his neck. Her breath caught. That figure sent a sickening thrill of dread shooting down her spine. She reached out with a hesitant hand toward it, and was taken by surprise when his hand shot out and grabbed hers.
She moved her eyes to his. Suddenly his robbery-in-progress seemed trivial. This was important.
“What is that?” she asked, amazed that her voice still sounded cool and steady.
He raised an eyebrow at her, but answered readily enough. “A reminder,” he said.
This time when she reached out for it, he let her touch it. The carving was of a person, swathed in bulky white clothing, except for long painted red sleeves extending all the way into gloves, and a red helmet that covered the entire head, with a black square painted where the face should be.
“I’ll give you the combination of the safe if you tell me about this,” she said.
He considered it for a moment and then gave a small nod. She led him up the stairs and into her room, where she perched herself on top of the waist-high safe. He approached the safe, and her. She waited in silence.
“This is a wraith,” he said. “From my people’s lore.”
She closed her eyes for a moment and saw a dozen, a hundred scenes of blood and mayhem and death, her girls lying like broken dolls on the floor of the saloon all around her, then searing pain, falling, looking upward, her eyes still open as she gasped for breath and then saw a blank face in a helmet leaning down over her.
“Sixty,” she forced out of her tight throat, the first number of the safe’s combination. “What are the wraith?”
“They’re said to be the men who walk between worlds. They were sent from hell to oversee our world.”
“Forty-seven,” she said. She felt the pain in her stomach increasing. She’d seen the wraith before, she knew she had. She couldn’t remember, but she knew it, deeper than remembering. And she’d been shot. Then the wraith had come. She placed her hand over the spot on her belly.
“I thought I was crazy, but I got shot, here,” she said, pulling her clothing aside to show him the spot. It was as smooth and perfect as it had been when she looked at it earlier.
“There’s no wound,” he said, but he didn’t seem skeptical. Neutral, maybe. Watchful.
“No, but I was shot,” she insisted. “And this – ” she pointed at the carved figure around Ronon’s neck, “was standing over me. And then it was as if it had never happened.”
“There are some who can see them. It’s said that it’s a blessing from the gods,” he said.
“A blessing?” she asked, incredulous.
“To see the masters who pull your strings,” he said. “Because that’s the only way you have a chance to try to cut those strings.”
“Twenty-three,” she said, the last number of the combination, but he made no move to kneel down and open the safe. It seemed like he was waiting for her. She looked into his eyes for a moment. He was an outlaw, a thief and probably a murderer, but she could trust him. She was sure of it. She motioned at the knife on his belt.
“I want you to cut me, right here,” she said, indicating the spot.
He hesitated, so she reached out to his belt, pulled the knife herself, and pointed it at her belly. Then she took his hand and placed it on the knife. “Do it,” she said. She heard the sound of gunfire and pounding feet downstairs, and knew that the lawmen must have arrived.
He nodded once. Then he pressed with the knife. The pain was instant, overwhelming, so much worse than she’d feared, but she held on, through the initial slice and then the even more sickening feeling of his fingers rooting around in the wound. She couldn’t help it – she screamed.
The door to her room rattled as someone beat on it from outside. Then Ronon’s fingers were gone from her skin and she looked down to see a crushed bullet, covered in blood, in his hand.
“I know you’re in there, Ronon!” she heard the voice of Sheriff Sheppard shouting. “Open up or we’ll fire.”
Ronon ignored this, gazing at the bullet. “What does it mean?” he asked, though she didn’t think he was asking her. She answered anyway.
“That I’m not crazy after all,” she whispered. The pounding on the door increased.
“Come out or we’re shooting,” Sheppard yelled. Ronon turned towards the door and went to cock his shotgun but she put out her hand and stopped him.
“I’m in here, Sheriff,” she shouted. “Please don’t shoot.”
There was a sudden silence. “Miss Teyla? You’re all right?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said loudly. “He’ll let you in and talk to you if you come in alone.” She glanced at Ronon, who scowled at her. “And unarmed,” she added. Ronon still looked distrustful but gave a shrug which she took as tacit acceptance.
There was a pause. “All right,” Sheppard said. “I’m putting down my gun and sending my men back downstairs. Now open up.”
Ronon didn’t budge, so Teyla slid down, pressing a hand to her wound, and made her way to the door. She opened it a crack and saw Sheppard standing alone, arms crossed, looking both worried and angry. His gun was several feet away on the landing to the stairs. She opened the door just wide enough for him to sidle in.
When she’d closed and locked the door again and turned around, Ronon had his shotgun in his hands, cocked, but it was pointed at the floor. The two men eyed each other warily. Then Sheppard’s attention turned to her and she saw him focus on the blood welling out from under her fingers.
“Jesus, Miss Teyla, what did he do to you?” he said, stepping towards her.
“Nothing I didn’t ask him to do,” she said calmly, but made no protest when Sheppard moved her hand so he could see the wound, after which he took a clean handkerchief from his pocket and pressed it to the gash.
He didn’t look like he believed her but let it pass. “We need to get you to Doc Beckett.”
“No,” she said. “It doesn’t matter. None of it matters.”
“What do you mean?” Sheppard asked, eyeing her like he thought she might have been insane. Well, she wasn’t. She was sure of it now.
She looked at each of the men. Then she took a deep breath. “Have you ever felt like there’s something wrong with this world?”