The great city of Smelding, on the planet of Smeldinga, in the solar system of Smeldingopia, sat at the fork of two wide canals. From her first step out of the stargate, Elizabeth had seen the white stone towers looming in the distance, and while Smelding was much smaller than any major city on Earth, John's team had reported it was heavily populated for the Pegasus Galaxy. The walls of the city were also cut from white stone, with pillars every hundred feet or so; on the tops of these rested statues of animals that looked exactly like small, hairless dogs with bat wings. It was more than a little unsettling.
"Those looks like the pet Zelenka's always showing us pictures of," Ronon said. "McKay calls it a 'fugly.'"
"What a beautiful city," Elizabeth quickly told their guide: a short, tanned man who hadn't given them his name. She avoided gazing at the stone creatures as they approached the gate. They did look an awful lot like Zelenka's dog back on Earth, who had the unfortunate name of Félix de Azara.
"Smelding is very special to us," said their guide. "It was established over a thousand years ago, during a time in which many of our people consider our golden era. Before then, Smelding consisted of several separate farming communities."
There was a series of lines carved into the stone pillars. Elizabeth recognized the language as a variant of Ancient, but she could only make out a few words, and none of them were positive. "Please, what does it say?" she asked, indicating the writing.
Their guide said, "It's been there since the founding of the city. 'No witches or other agents of darkness may pass through these gates, on penalty of death.'"
"Creepy," Ronon cut in.
Elizabeth threw him a look. Ronon quirked an eyebrow at her, not looking sorry in the least. "Do you get many... agents of darkness here?" she asked their guide, who smiled at her thinly.
"Not many, but it does happen. Enough for us to feel it's necessary to include a warning to those who might wish us harm. They come anyway, usually through the gate of the Ancestors, but this helps us feel safe. We may not suffer from the Wraith, but we have plenty of other problems."
Elizabeth understood that all too well. She and Ronon exchanged glances as the gate doors slowly began opening. "How do you know if someone's a witch?" Ronon asked.
"Oh, you know," the guide said, waving a vague hand, "a woman who is unmarried, who does too much on her own, who is seen with many men, who has unusual luck -- those are usually the indicators of dark arts."
Beside her, Ronon stiffened. Three of the soldiers accompanying them remained blank, but the eyes of one widened. "Because in your culture," Elizabeth said slowly, more for her benefit than the guide's, "those things are considered bad."
"Mostly they're just an annoyance," said their guide. He grinned again, this time sincerely. "But we still kill witches for it."
The doors finished creaking open. As Ronon passed her, he squeezed her shoulder and whispered, "Stay calm. I promised Sheppard I wouldn't let them burn you at the stake."
Elizabeth blinked at Ronon's huge back as he, their guide, and their military escorts started making their way into the city.
"Well," she murmured to herself, gazing up at the chihuahuas, "this is going to end badly."
Two months after Smelding.
As time went on, the planets started to get stranger and stranger. That was not to say the world with the bald, blue-painted monks from a mission in October had been more weird than the planet with the giant voles in September, but at least the voles hadn't tried to eat them. John still had a scary scar on his leg from where one of the monks had slathered him in marinade and bitten him. ("I'm the only one allowed to call you delicious," Rodney had said while John was on his fifth bath of the day, "and why is the bite mark on your upper thigh?") Needless to say, no diplomatic negotiations were made on that particular excursion.
Nor were negotiations made on the world that freakishly resembled eighteenth century England, the one where they worshiped seagulls, or the one where they lived underground and were starting to resemble rats.
In the past few months, no team had been successful in establishing diplomatic relations with other civilizations. So John wasn't very optimistic when he and his team walked through the stargate and onto P2X-181. Especially when there was nothing but rolling hills as far as the eye could see.
"Do you see any signs of civilization?" Rodney asked, gesturing towards something that may or may not have been a miniature bison. "Because all I see is nature. You know how much I hate nature."
Ronon sniffed the air. "What planet is this?"
John started, "P2X--"
"No, the name," Ronon interrupted.
"It was once the homeworld of the Grogorians," Teyla replied.
Ronon grunted. "While we're here, I need to kill a glaat."
"A who?" Rodney asked, looking up from his life signs detector.
"A glaat," Ronon repeated, pointing to the tiny bison. "I need to make a baby blanket."
"Alright," John said slowly. He glanced at Teyla.
"Why are you looking at me?" she demanded.
"No reason," he said promptly. He slipped on his sunglasses, feeling the heat of her glare on the back of his neck.
Rodney nudged him with his elbow. "Well, Colonel," he said in a voice he probably thought was quiet, "looks like Worf beat you to knocking up some space bimbo."
John scowled. "Hey! I've only slept with two women in this galaxy, and one of them was a giant, glowing squid."
Teyla wrinkled her nose. Ronon said, "Gross."
"Don't judge me," John said.
An hour passed, and they still hadn't come across any people. Thankfully, they hadn't come across any other forms of intelligent life either. (John was still having nightmares about voles. And blue monks, but for entirely different reasons.) As they walked north of the stargate, the rolling hills and grass grew into red cliffs and sagebrush that reminded John of New Mexico. Unlike New Mexico, the air here was cool and damp, and there was standing water in a few places. Herds of glaat scattered like scarily large cockroaches as Rodney's complaints echoed through the canyon. Ronon watched the creatures with narrowed eyes.
"This mission bites," Ronon said. John couldn't remember if he'd taught Ronon that word, or if it was the Marines. "Can I go kill a glaat now?"
"No," John said, and Ronon grumbled under his breath. John missed the good old days when Ronon used to do whatever he told him to.
Rodney sighed miserably. "I'm not picking up any unusual energy readings," he said, waving the life signs detector around. "I don't think it's presumptuous to say this planet's uninhabited."
Teyla cocked her head. "According to my people, the entire Gregorian population was culled several generations ago."
"My people used to say the same thing," Ronon added.
"If we leave now, we can make it back in time for dinner," Rodney said eagerly. Ronon grunted in approval.
John glared. "When did you guys get so lazy?"
"When I started noticing a disturbing trend in which planets that appear to be uninhabited usually are indeed inhabited by people who want us dead," Rodney replied, crossing his arms over his chest.
"We met Ronon on an uninhabited world," said John.
"My point," Rodney said.
"I only wanted you dead for a little bit," Ronon said gruffly.
Teyla called, "Colonel."
He walked over to her side. She pointed to the canyon walls. "These appear to be cave paintings."
She was right; the paintings were faded, and in organic-looking red, white, and dark brown colours, like ones he'd seen in history books. Most were of little stick people riding glaats, along with pictures of spears, clouds, and unidentifiable animals. They looked pretty old, but there was no telling.
John glanced over his shoulder. Rodney and Ronon were arguing over which flavour of powerbar was the best, or something. He asked, "Ronon? How'd you happen to know about these glaat things?"
Ronon broke off in the middle of lecturing Rodney on the superiority of raspberry bars. "It's a rite of passage among my people. When a man's having a baby--" Rodney made a choking noise, and Ronon bared his teeth. "--He comes here and kills a glaat."
"Did your people ever happen to mention if they met any of these Gregorians while glaat hunting?"
Ronon gave him a vacant look. "It's not a rite of passage if everyone knows how to do it."
"Right," John said tiredly.
Three months after Smelding.
The day they found out what Ronon's deal was, Teyla caught her laptop on fire, four Marines got stuck in a lower level chamber, and Rodney and Zelenka had some kind of crazy falling out -- something about Zelenka letting it slip to Katie Brown that Rodney and Carson had been referring to her as "Princess Sparklepants" since the infamous dinner date -- all before lunch. John just wanted the day to be over already, but his team still had a debriefing with Elizabeth about their upcoming mission.
Amazingly, Rodney was already in the briefing room when John sauntered in. Elizabeth was there as well, playing Solitare on her tablet. John was suspicious; Rodney was never on time for anything. "You still mad at Zelenka?" he asked quietly.
"That diabolical little gnome," Rodney hissed, clenching his fists where they rested on the table.
"I'll take that as a yes."
Teyla came in next, eyebrows still a little singed. Her hands were bandaged.
"What the hell happened to you?" Rodney demanded.
Teyla's jaw tightened. "No one informed me you should not have a lamp, a fan, a hot plate, a blowdryer, and a laptop plugged in to the same power bar and running at the same time."
"So that's what that power surge was," Rodney said thoughtfully.
Teyla looked to be on the verge of batting Rodney with her mummified hands when Ronon wandered into the room carrying a lumpy, handwoven sack. He slumped in a chair next to Teyla, slamming the sack -- which actually didn't look much like a sack, now that John looked at it, but rather a bunch of knotted rope -- on the table.
"What do you have there?" Rodney asked, peering at it as if he hoped it was filled with food.
"Baby hammock," Ronon said.
"Ah, yes, I can see it matches the glaat skin blanket," Rodney said hotly. "Who had to die to procure you this baby item?"
"No one died when I got the glaat," Ronon said.
"We barely escaped with our lives!"
John rolled his eyes and glanced at Elizabeth, expecting to see a hilariously confused expression on her face, but instead she was staring hard at the table. "Gentlemen," she said, a little more harshly than usual.
Ronon and Rodney both stopped, blinking at her.
"Teyla," Elizabeth asked, looking up, "do you want to stand down on this mission?"
Only Teyla could appear completely serious when she said, "I do not need my hands to kill."
Rodney's knee nudged John under the table, and John interpreted the look Rodney sent him as a hint they'd continue those private conversations about what he was and wasn't trained to do. For someone who thought the military was full of idiots, Rodney certainly thought soldiers were hot. Or maybe just Air Force officers. "I'm pretty sure I need my hands to kill people," he scribbled on Rodney's tablet, angling it so Rodney could read. A corner of Rodney's mouth curved downwards in disappointment.
Passing notes to Rodney made him miss Elizabeth getting to her feet, so when she paled and grabbed the edge of the table, he barely caught her as she started to drop. Ronon and Teyla jumped up as Rodney tapped his earpiece and said, "Carson? Carson, we need you in the briefing room right now, Elizabeth's--"
"I'm fine," she interrupted. John watched worriedly as she took a deep breath and squeezed her eyes shut.
Rodney was frantic. "When did you last eat? Do you need to lie down? A glass of water? Someone get her a glass of water!"
"This isn't something that can be cured by any of those," Elizabeth replied.
Something horrible fluttered in John's stomach. Was she dying? How long had she kept this a secret? He stared at her, wide-eyed, unable to think of any words that would make this okay.
"Oh my god," Rodney said as they resettled into their seats. He reached across the table and grabbed her hand. "What do you have?"
"A baby," she replied.
"What?" John, Rodney, and Teyla asked simultaneously.
Elizabeth's mouth formed a tight line. "I'm pregnant."
Everyone in the room turned to stare at Ronon, who leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms behind his head, and smirked.
"No fucking way," Rodney said.
Even though John tried his damndest not to think about Elizabeth and Ronon and just how she'd gotten pregnant, it was hard to avoid the elephant in the room. He had assumed Elizabeth and Ronon's relationship began in exactly the opposite way of his own; he and Rodney had gone from post-suicide run arguments to heavy petting on the Daedalus to stealth sex around Atlantis before they realized there weren't many people outside themselves they could actually stand to be around. Rodney's abortive date with Katie Brown did nothing but prove this to both of them, something even John had resigned himself to.
Conversely, Elizabeth was big on learning about new cultures, and John figured Ronon had probably seduced her using some kind of Satedan mating ritual that may or may not have including killing things and flexing his muscles. John saw him do these two things quite regularly, and they were pretty impressive. And by "pretty impressive," he meant "extremely hot."
Subconsciously, John had drawn a line between the two relationships. If his first time with Rodney had been toe-curlingly passionate, Ronon and Elizabeth's first time must've been sweet and romantic. It had probably included rose petals and declarations and mood lighting. Even if Ronon wasn't that kind of guy, Elizabeth was, and John knew the lengths a guy would go to get laid.
In actuality, it went like this:
First, John's team had come running back through the stargate, John shouting, "Close the gate, close the gate!" as soon as all four of them had made it inside. A single arrow had clattered to the floor right as the gate powered down. That in itself had not been unusual; three out of four missions for this team ended in violence or threats of violence or strange alien phenomena that later led to violence. However, during the post-mission debriefing, Elizabeth learned John and Rodney accidentally insulted the king of P1J-45 by laughing in his face, and shortly after that, Teyla had had an "accident" of her own when she kicked one of the king's guards. The head of his guards, in fact, and she had kicked him in the balls because he'd offended her.
Elizabeth closed her eyes. "Tell me you didn't just say what I think you just said."
She felt a headache coming on when John gave her one of his innocent, wide-eyed smiles. "She slipped."
"And when you punched the other guard in the face, that was just you 'slipping'?"
"No, that was on purpose," John said.
She sucked in an exasperated breath. "Need I remind you, Smelding is one of the few civilizations we know of which the Wraith have left completely untouched?" she demanded. "Did you even get around to asking them how they accomplished this before attacking them?"
"I managed to get a few energy readings, but there wasn't anything significant about them," Rodney said with a careless wave of his hand. "Although they were pretty open about what they thought kept the Wraith away."
"Oh, and what was that?" Elizabeth asked.
Rodney huffed. "Just your garden-variety, god-fearing fanaticism. They believe their relationship with their gods keep them safe. Unlike the planet run by Peter Pan's Lost Boys, M7G-677, there was nothing on P1J-45 to indicate they're employing a shield or cloaking device of any kind. Truthfully, I think they're holding out on us."
"And now we might never find out what's keeping the Wraith at bay," she said tightly.
John lowered his head. Rodney crossed his arms over his chest and stared icily at his laptop. Teyla managed to look both ashamed and dignified all at once. Ronon picked his nails with a knife. Not for the first time, she looked at the four of them and saw why Colonel Caldwell hadn't believed her when she'd first told him this team saved Atlantis on a regular basis (although Caldwell had been quite rude about it; "Major Sheppard's the guy with the funny hair, right? The one who tried to blow himself up?"). She knew they all took the Wraith very seriously, but sometimes she felt like the only adult in the city.
"Maybe we can go back," Ronon said. Elizabeth frowned at him. Surely she hadn't just seen him slip the knife into his dreads.
"If you return, it will be without me," Teyla said stiffly. "I do not appreciate their views on women. It is demeaning."
John leaned his elbows on the table. "We don't like it either, Teyla." He looked at Elizabeth apologetically. "They're kind of... old fashioned."
Rodney snorted. "Like seventeenth century old fashioned."
"It wasn't that bad," Ronon said to Teyla. "You and McKay make a good couple."
John, with a pinched look, said, "No one's marrying anybody, Ronon," just as Rodney said, "Ha, I should be so lucky," and Teyla hissed, "I am not interested in becoming a tool for the patriarchy." Elizabeth was fairly certain the last part was a repeat of something she'd told Teyla a few weeks ago, after Teyla had made the mistake of referring to Simon as Elizabeth's "former husband."
"Enough," Elizabeth shouted. They fell silent. "I'll see if I can get the king to re-open negotiations."
John started, "Elizabeth."
"No." She held up a hand. "This is not open for discussion. If Smelding has technology to keep out the Wraith, we need to find out if they're willing to share it. And we can't do that by kicking the king's guards in their-- in their private parts."
Teyla frowned. "I did not kick him in a private part, I kicked him in the testicles. Besides, he deserved it. He said Dr McKay was a poor choice for a husband."
"That cad," Rodney agreed. Both John and Ronon rolled their eyes.
Elizabeth wasn't stupid; she knew there were things -- a lot of things -- they left out of their mission reports. It had stopped making her angry when she had realized there were just some things she didn't want to know. She ignored this comment much like she ignored Teyla's apparent marriage to Rodney. The explanation probably wasn't worth the pain.
"Okay," John said finally. He raised his chin stubbornly. "We'll go back and see what we can do. I think the king was starting to like me; maybe I can convince him kicking someone in the junk is just our way of saying hi."
Arching a brow, Elizabeth said, "Actually, no, John, I'd rather you not be there. I'd offer suggestions to your diplomatic methods, but frankly, I think you'd end up sleeping with ambassadors, or their brothers, or husbands, and then we'd have an incident on our hands."
"That would be very unfortunate," Teyla agreed. Ronon looked almost perplexed.
John's forehead wrinkled. "Amba--" he cut off, then slowly, slowly turned his head to glare at Rodney.
Rodney scoffed, "P4X-55? I'm just saying."
"That was over a year ago," John growled.
Before John and Rodney could start at it, Elizabeth opened the door to her office. She called, "Chuck, please radio Lieutenant Miller and tell him to prep his team for contact." This would take every skill she'd ever cultivated at the UN. She squared her shoulders. "And bring me my red lipstick."
It wasn't difficult to get the king of P1J-45 to change his mind. An apology here, a compliment there, the mention of the fight against the Wraith, and Elizabeth (via Corporal Smith, who'd carried a laptop and a webcam all the way to Smelding) was invited to dine with the king.
"I don't like it," John said. "There's something wrong with that planet. We met with over ten different people, and none of them gave us their names."
She said, "Yes, John, let's blow them up for not telling us their names. That's a wonderful idea."
He lit up for a second before he slumped down in his chair, defeated. "Fine, but I'm going with you."
"Absolutely not," she ordered.
His eyes narrowed.
A day later, their nameless guide led them through winding, cobblestone streets. The few people out and about about ducked into buildings as they passed; Elizabeth wondered if they were afraid of all strangers, or just them specifically. The witch comments from earlier were making her apprehensive, but Smelding was an impressive city, she had to give them that. Even Miller's team looked awed at the markets and the fruit trees and the fountains, and they'd seen much more of this galaxy than her.
But the palace... the palace was amazing. It was like every fantasy she'd ever had as a little girl, playing princess. It was hundred-foot ceilings and lavish carpets and gorgeous paintings and winding towers. If there were ponies, Elizabeth might lose her cool.
The guide's tour of the castle was interrupted by the approach of an eggplant-robed man. "This is the head servant," said the guide said as an introduction. No names, Elizabeth noted. "He is preparing your meeting with the king."
The servant bowed his head. Elizabeth wasn't sure if she was supposed to reciprocate the gesture, but she did, just to be safe. "How many rooms will be necessary for tonight?" the servant asked.
There was something in the way both he and the guide were looking at her that made her pause. But she didn't have to make a decision; Ronon took a step forward and sideways, so he was standing in front of her, and said, "Two soldiers per room, and one room for her and me."
"This is your husband?" the guide asked her, sounding surprised.
"Yes," Ronon growled.
Elizabeth did a double-take, but Ronon sent her a pointed look. "Yes," she said, turning back to the guide, glad her shock wasn't evident in her voice, "I'm sorry, I should've mentioned it from the beginning."
"You didn't bring her with you last time," the guide said to Ronon, frowning.
"My wife's too important to come on first contact missions," Ronon said flatly, slowly crossing his bulging biceps over his chest.
Threatened, their guide took a step back. "Ah, yes, I see."
Elizabeth wasn't sure what her face looked like, but the expression on Miller's was almost comical.
The servant bowed again and trotted off. Their guide went back to his lecture, but Elizabeth lingered behind.
"What are you doing?" she whispered to Ronon.
"Remember what they said earlier?" he asked out of the side of his mouth. "When Teyla said she wasn't married, they thought she was a witch. McKay had to pretend to be her fiance so they wouldn't kill her."
Suddenly that part of the conversation from the briefing room made more sense. "I bet that was fun," she muttered.
Ronon snorted. "Yeah, right. I was the one stuck sharing a room with Sheppard. He spent the whole night complaining about how McKay doesn't appreciate him. I had to pretend I heard something outside just to get away."
She had to chuckle at that. When the guide turned to look at her, she covered it with a cough.
Not long after, their guide stopped them at a closed door at the end of a long hallway. "This is where I leave you," he said. He bowed to her, and to her surprise, to Ronon too. "I will return to escort you back to the gate of the Ancestors when it's time to leave. Unless you're a witch, in which case, I will see you again at your execution."
Elizabeth let out a surprised laugh. Ronon muttered something under his breath.
The doors opened to a room that was completely bare except for a grand throne, on which sat a chubby, dark-haired man who may have been in his early fifties. Much to her disappointment, he wasn't wearing a crown and cape, but instead a wreath and a long, yellow toga. There was a haughtiness in his eyes that reminded her of every UN delegate she'd ever negotiated with, the kind of look that said, "You may be the richest and most powerful nation on Earth, but we have nuclear weapons and we're not afraid to use them."
"Hello, Dr Elizabeth Weir and guests," he said grandly. "I am the king of Smelding."
She stepped forward. "Thank you for agreeing to meet with us, King..." She waited for him to give her his name. He just stared at her. "Um, King."
"Thank you for properly punishing your insubordinate soldiers for insulting me and harming my royal protectorate," he said.
"Ah, yes," she fibbed, "I'm very sorry for what transpired here earlier. As I said before, we've returned because we believe you may have something to help us in our fight against the Wraith."
He looked down his nose at her. "Of course. Smelding would be happy to assist in any way we can."
That was suspiciously easy. Elizabeth smiled tightly. Ronon said, "Hmm."
Dinner went smoothly. In typical diplomatic fashion, Elizabeth and the Smeldingian king discussed the weather, gossiped about their mutual allies, complimented each other's wealth, and didn't mention how John's team had beaten the royal guard and then had been chased back to the gate, screaming. Graciously, Elizabeth asked the king to give the cook their regards, even though both the food and the water had a strange penny-like aftertaste. Ronon made a face every time he took a bite, and Miller's team barely touched any of it, but Elizabeth made sure to eat enough so as not to cause offense.
It was over an hour before they came back to the subject of the Wraith. Elizabeth mentioned some of the problems they'd had (sieges, hive queens, turning into bugs); the king brought up cullings he'd read in history books.
Elizabeth said, "Please tell us why the Wraith don't cull your people."
"It's because of the Instrument of Eternal Life," the king boasted. When he grinned, there was a blueish line along his gums.
She wasn't familiar with that term. She glanced at Ronon to see if he recognized it, but his face was blank. "The Instrument of Eternal Life?"
The king stood, beckoning them to follow. "Come, I'll show you."
The Instrument of Eternal Life was not a musical instrument. It wasn't a computer, or a machine, or a large weapon with which to take down Hive ships. Rather, it appeared to be a small, curved blade with a black handle. It sat on a white stone dais in the centre of an empty room not unlike the king's audience chamber, a light shining down on it like it was a priceless museum artifact.
Elizabeth found her voice. "How does this, uh, Instrument keep the Wraith away?"
"We stab people with it," replied the king.
"I stab people all the time, and the Wraith still come," Ronon said.
Elizabeth winced, but turned it into a smile as the king turned to her. He held a finger in the air. "Ah, yes, but the Instrument of Eternal Life isn't simply a knife. It's a gift to our people from the god of Oblivion; in return for protecting us, he asks we use the Instrument to keep the city free from the influence of evil."
"Witches," Elizabeth stated. She didn't have a good feeling about that. She had teams who'd been to plenty of misogynistic worlds where women were oppressed; it wasn't all that uncommon among civilizations less advanced than their own -- even though she hated to use the term "less advanced," because no matter how advanced the society, there were always men who hated women somewhere, in every galaxy. One thing her line of work taught her was that the differences between the beliefs of the majority of the Pegasus Galaxy and the Atlanteans' own customs weren't necessarily bad or good -- they were just different -- but it still made her blood boil, knowing there were people who looked down on women, down on her, for no reason other than gender.
The king nodded sagely. "Thanks to this agreement, we haven't suffered from the Wraith in eight hundred years."
"How often do you have to use it?" she asked, eyeing the knife. It looked ordinary to her.
The king's face darkened. "More often than I'd like, I'm sad to say. Why, just last week, a young woman from the north end of the city was caught using the dark arts."
"What did she do?" Elizabeth asked, not quite sure she wanted to hear the answer. She wouldn't judge. She wouldn't judge. She wouldn't--
"She learned math," the king said.
Elizabeth stared, open-mouthed. "How... awful for you," she said coolly.
The king didn't seem to notice her anger. "Yes, it was very tragic."
Thankfully, before she said something she might (or might not) regret later, one of the king's brightly-dressed aides trotted up and whispered something in his ear. The king bowed his head at her. He said, "Your rooms are ready for the night. I know you've had a long walk from the ring of the Ancestors to my palace. My servant will take you to your quarters."
"Thank you, your majesty," Elizabeth said, but as soon as they were out of earshot, she muttered to Ronon, "Remind me to never invite these people to Atlantis. What do you think?"
"The king's an idiot," Ronon grunted. He looked down at her, face smooth and serious, and she felt some of the tension uncoil from her shoulders. "Everyone knows witches are men."
Two months after Smelding.
Deeper into the canyon, and still nothing. That funny feeling John had started to get in the pit of his stomach at the sight of the paintings didn't go away, but he couldn't justify it, either.
No one else seemed to feel the way he did. Usually, when something was wrong, Teyla or Ronon would feel it too, or Rodney would sense he was agitated enough to shut up and be more careful. But Ronon and Teyla seemed to think the mission was already over; Ronon was deciding which glaat to aim for, and Teyla had let her P-90 hang idly against her chest.
"And just how, exactly, do you plan on killing a, ah, glaat?" Rodney asked.
Smoothly, Ronon slipped on a very familiar-looking military standard pair of aviator sunglasses. "With my gun."
"Hey!" John exclaimed. "Those are my spare sunglasses."
"You left them in the jumper," Ronon protested. He took a few steps closer to John and bumped John's chest with his -- he actually bumped John's face with his chest, and John tensed. He didn't like feeling small, but it was Ronon, and therefore an inevitably pointless battle.
"Well, you know what they say, finder's keepers. They look better on you anyway," John drawled.
Ronon grinned and stepped back. Without warning, he stripped off his long jacket and vest and dipped his fingers in the mud, streaking it across his cheeks like army paint. "Whoa, Sitting Bull," Rodney said, "is that really necessary?"
"I like hunting," Ronon said.
"You'd think your seven years as the Wraith's play thing would've made you a card-carrying member of PETA." John jabbed Rodney in the stomach with his elbow. "Ow! Not play thing play thing. You know what I mean. I'm just saying, if it were me, I'd become a vegetarian."
"Well, I'm not you," Ronon said, sounding irritated.
As soon as the first glaat went down, the trembling started. John spread his feet for grip, looking around wildly. If this was an earthquake, it was a damned convenient one. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Rodney wobble and fall; Teyla and Ronon braced for a fight.
The ground stilled. John gripped his gun tightly.
Over the edges of the cliffs, a dozen male heads poked out, spears aimed down at them. Before John could even raise his P-90, a second dozen encircled them, pointing spears and arrows directly at his team. They were covered in mud, with red lines on their faces and feathers in their hair, and they were each wearing little leather loincloths.
For several heartbeats, no one moved.
Reluctantly, John lowered his gun. A second later, his teammates did the same.
"How," John said in greeting. The spears edged a little closer. "Let me guess, you're the Gregorians."
"Who is your leader?" one asked. This man had the longest spear of the bunch; John's informal lessons in alien anthropology suggested this guy was their head honcho.
John smiled winningly at him. "That'd be me. Is there a problem here?"
"Why have you attacked the sacred glaats?" He stepped closer, waving his enormous spear in John's face. "Hector has not given you permission."
"Calm down, buddy," John urged, leaning away from it. "Who's Hector?"
"The god of the hunt," another one replied in a tone that was disturbingly close to one Rodney often used.
"Naturally," Rodney said in the way he usually did when people mentioned gods or religion or any beliefs in general. (One time, just to fuck with him, John had told him he was a practicing Jew. Rodney had refused to speak to him for a week before showing up at John's door with a menorah. It had been August.) "Maybe Hector did give us permission. Have you asked him yourself? No? Then we'll just be on our--" The natives directed their aim towards Rodney. He gulped and ducked behind Teyla.
"Look," John said. He gave them another smile, all friendly-like, "we didn't know these animals were important. We didn't even know anyone lived here. We're just traders."
He attempted projecting let us go at the nice people with pointy weapons. The tip of a spear brushed his cheek and he held himself very, very still.
"You must repent for what you've done," the leader said.
Three months and a day after Smelding.
"So," John said brightly, "a baby."
Back on Earth, he'd known a few people who had babies, and the women had all been glowy and smiley. Elizabeth looked more like she wanted to run screaming from the room. Or brain him with her tablet. "Yes, John, a baby. A baby and a man who wants to marry me, no thanks to a bunch of people who eat lead paint."
"You got pregnant while Ronon was protecting you in Smelding?" John asked incredulously. He gaped at her for a second before, temper rising, demanded, "Weren't you the one to lecture me on five separate occasions on why having sex offworld is a bad idea? 'I don't want to tell you how to lead your life, John, but.'"
Anything could've happened while she and Ronon were having sex. He was suddenly absolutely furious at both her and Ronon's sloppiness.
Elizabeth seemed to find her game of Solitare very fascinating. "I know, but he's just so-- so--"
"Half your age?" he seethed.
"Hot," she finished. Her eyes narrowed. "John, please. I know getting involved with Ronon was a terrible idea. Believe me, I'm paying for it."
She put a hand on her stomach, and John's anger evaporated. He sat down heavily. "Ronon wants to marry you?" he asked uncomfortably.
She grimaced. "He told me he was willing to overlook that my family can't pay the 'bride price' of twenty 'handgar,' which I think is a sum of money. Or cattle."
"He's been collecting baby stuff for you on missions," John said as he rubbed his chin. "Rodney and I thought maybe he'd met some girl offworld."
"If only," Elizabeth sighed.
"Speaking of girls offworld," John continued, grinning as Rodney leaned into the room. He knocked on the door as he shoved through it, glaring in John's general direction.
"Is this a private conversation, Colonel, or are you and Elizabeth busy discussing how you're going to be sleeping on the couch tonight? I need you to temporarily remove Dr Kusangi from her offworld team while she works on the deep space scanner modifications. Elizabeth, I'm pretty sure Ronon's trying to score some Cristal. What's this I hear about you getting married?"
"What's Cristal?" Elizabeth asked.
"It's what the rappers drink," Rodney explained. He sat on the desk next to John. Elizabeth looked surprised, although John wasn't; one of the first times Rodney had abandoned him for the labs in the middle of the night, he'd found a People magazine tucked between a physics journal and a year-old Astronomy Today. He'd also found Ford's old iPod in Rodney's underwear drawer.
"So, a baby," Rodney said conversationally, and John smirked.
Elizabeth glowered. "Don't you start."
"You don't really plan on marrying him, do you? Do you really want to spend the rest of your life with a man who thinks a light year is longer than a par sec?"
"I don't even know what a par sec is," Elizabeth said.
"Nevermind. Clearly, it's a match made in Heaven," Rodney said meanly. He had that "you got your PhD from a Crackerjack box" look on his face again, and John nudged his shoulder pointedly.
At least Elizabeth seemed to know when she was being insulted. "You know, Rodney, not that it's any of your business, but maybe I don't want to be with someone who knows a par sec is longer than a light year. Ronon might not be a genius, but he's a good boy. Man. Man!" She faltered, clearing her throat. She gazed up at John with big, guilty eyes. "It's very lonely at the top."
John nodded. "I know, you have-- Hey!" he cried, jerking up from his slouch. "You were sleeping with Stackhouse for months. And Corporal Coughlin. And the diplomat from M4X-1002."
Rodney made a sound he usually reserved for when John was sucking certain parts of his anatomy. "Wasn't the diplomat a chick?" he asked shrilly.
John was going to have to do a lot of drinking to get the image of Elizabeth and another woman out of his head. "I'm pretty sure it was the other diplomat, Rodney," he said flatly.
"Oh, of course," Rodney said, sounding disappointed. He leaned forward eagerly. "Although if you'd slept with the female diplomat, that would've been--"
"Not helping," John snapped.
"I'm not ready to march in the pride parade just yet," Elizabeth told Rodney, the corners of her mouth twitching upwards.
Rodney was still looking a little shell-shocked. "I'm just saying-- not that I've ever thought of you in that way-- not that you're unattractive or anything, but you're my boss, and our relationship has never been anything but the utmost professional... but if you slept with another woman, that would be--" He broke off, nodding to himself. "Well, I'd have no objections."
"Can we change the subject?" John asked, glaring.
Rodney sniffed. "Two vaginas are two too many for the Colonel."
Now Elizabeth really was grinning. "I understand."
It was a good thing these walls were soundproof; John would hate to be court martialed because of his homosexual affair and Elizabeth. "None of you understand my plight," he mumbled.
"I just wish--"
Chuck -- John never could remember his last name; he only knew the man's first one because Chuck and Rodney had once nearly gotten in a fist fight over hockey, something about the Leafs verses the Oilers, or whatever, which was sort of like watching two little girls trying to bitch slap each other -- knocked on the glass door.
"Dr Weir," he said.
She nodded and stood. "Sorry, gentlemen, I have a meeting."
As the door shut behind them, Rodney hissed, "Isn't she kind of, you know, old? The kid's going to be retarded. Oh my God, we're not just going to have a baby running around Atlantis, we're going to have a retarded baby! This is disastrous."
"You better hope Ronon doesn't catch you calling his baby retarded," John said.
Rodney waved a careless hand. "Like he knows what that word means anyway. Yesterday I called him a halfwit and he said 'thank you.'"
It shouldn't have come as a surprise that after a while, people stationed in Atlantis started to get a little odd. It happened to all of them eventually; John hadn't even realized he himself had developed some particular behaviour patterns until the first wave of Daedalus reinforcements had arrived with their strange Earth habits. Habits like studying every insect they came across instead of running away from them, or giving away their deserts for free, or making jokes about a sock monster stealing socks from the dryers (it wasn't a sock monster, it was a wormhole to another dimension, and two new pilots and one civilian had to learn that the hard way). It had taken a few weeks before the original expedition members and the reinforcement officers had started to mingle successfully.
After Lorne's strikeforce was released from the Genii prison, three of his teammates went all Malcolm X on John. "You were there for less than a week," John had pointed out. But Lieutenant French had asked, "Are you questioning my personal relationship with Allah, sir?" John was the last guy to look down on someone for their faith (he wasn't Rodney, after all), but even he had to roll his eyes at their sudden religious fervor, especially after he had heard one of them asking Elizabeth which direction she thought he should pray in. In the Pegasus Galaxy.
"Sir, I want to officially change my name to Abdullah Fatemi," Sergeant Estridge had told John later in a private meeting.
"I'm pretty sure that name's already taken by Corporal Fatemi," John had said. "And speaking of which, you should probably avoid any of the actual Muslim officers for a while."
Estridge had frowned. "Why? They're my brothers now."
John had clasped him on the shoulder and replied, "You know what? If this works out, I'll change my name to He Who Runs From Wraith."
He'd almost forgotten about that. A few days after they'd found out about Elizabeth's pregnancy -- after everyone had found out about Elizabeth's pregnancy, actually; word traveled fast in a closed community -- John and Rodney grabbed their usual table in the mess.
"Are you going to eat that?" Rodney asked as he pointed to John's half-finished macaroni and cheese.
"No, go ahead." John pushed the tray towards him.
Stuffing a bite into his mouth, Rodney said, "You know, you need to eat more. Your manorexia's getting out of control."
John squinted at him. "Did you just say 'manorexia'?"
"Hey," Rodney said, eyes locked on something over John's shoulder, "I thought you said Lorne's guys were going to get the shit beaten out of them."
John twisted around to look. French, Estridge, and Stoker were sitting at a table with Abdul-Majeed and Khadim, neither of whom seemed particularly pissed off. In fact, the five of them looked like they were deep in an intense discussion. "Great, now I'm going to get my ass handed to me by Lieutenant Delancy."
"Who's Lieutenant Delancy?" Rodney asked around a mouthful of green beans.
"Canadian Native," John replied. "I thought all you Canadians knew each other."
Rodney gave him a sour look. "I guess I must've missed him at the last Canadian meeting," he said sarcastically. "Yes, that's right, I was too busy telling everyone of my ingenious plan to steal back our water supply from you thieving Americans."
"Does the water taste more socialist in Canada?" John asked.
"It's tainted by the flavour of free health care," Rodney sneered.
Ronon crossed the mess with a loaded tray, making a bee-line for John and Rodney. "Hey, Dex!" French called. Ronon hesitated, then slid in beside Khadim. The hairs on the back of John's neck stood up.
He managed to tear his gaze away from Ronon's enthusiastic conversation with three insane and two conservative Marines and back to Rodney, who proceeded to tell him the horrible mistakes everyone in the physics lab made that day, not seeming to care something probably very, very bad was happening on the other side of the mess.
When he got to Elizabeth's office, John found her standing in the middle of the room. She was pinching a beautiful piece of fabric between her fingers, arm stretched away from her body. She was staring at it like it had done something to personally offend her. The cloth was dark red, with beautiful lines of gold etched into it; John recognized it from one of the planets they traded medicine to, but he couldn't recall which one.
"Not a fan of dry clean only?" he asked.
"Do you know what this is?" she questioned, still holding it away from herself.
He studied it. "Should I?"
"Ronon," Elizabeth began tightly, eyes narrowing, "has apparently being talking to some of the Marines."
His stomach sank. "Fantastic," he said wearily.
"Who, from what I understand, explained the Muslim belief women should cover themselves when in the presence of men who are not their husbands."
"So that is--?" John gestured.
"A burqa," she said.
This was the first time John had ever been afraid Elizabeth would literally kill someone. "Why couldn't they just teach him curse words like normal people?" John murmured.
"No, they taught him those too," she said dryly.
The rumour mill was working overtime. Stackhouse caught John sneaking out of his office in the middle of the day. "Sir, is it true Dr Weir's pregnant?"
"Yeah," John replied, surprised and yet not. "Who told you?"
Stackhouse's face crumpled. "I guess I'd better go congratulate Coughlin," he said dejectedly.
John couldn't bear seeing him so forlorn like that. "Well, Sergeant, between you and me... it's not Coughlin."
Stackhouse's brows knitted. "Zelenka? Everyone knows he has a thing for her, but-- if it's not him, who could it be?"
He couldn't resist: "It could be me," he said, rocking back on his heels.
But Stackhouse threw his head back and laughed. "Good one, sir." He was still chuckling when he turned to leave, and John could hear him mutter, "'It could be me.' That's great."
It wasn't like John actively thought about it. But if pressed, he'd admit he was sure Ronon had been the one to seduce Elizabeth. Once word got out about them, people began to make their own assumptions. Those who didn't know Ronon were under the impression Elizabeth had fallen for the charms of his fine alien ass; those who did know him thought he'd been the one to notice her beauty and independent spirit and decided to make her his (or that he was just really into older women; Rodney had said something along the lines of, "Electra complex much?"). Everyone figured Ronon must've done something to convince Elizabeth a relationship with him was worth the consequences.
That wasn't exactly how it happened.
The guest quarters contained one large bed draped in sheer gold and red fabric. The fireplace threw soft, romantic shadows throughout the room, and outside the huge window, the city's white towers glittered in the moonlight. Elizabeth eased off her sneakers and toed the Persian-looking carpet.
From behind her, Ronon said, "I sleep naked."
Elizabeth pinched the bridge of her nose. She was entirely too mature to freak out over a naked Ronon Dex. "That's fine, I'll sleep in the armchair," she said.
He started to inspect the window. "No, I'll take the chair. You take the bed."
She didn't appreciate him coddling her because she was a woman, no matter how comfortable the bed seemed. She sat on a corner, testing how bouncy the mattress was. "I think I've proven I can handle myself in a difficult situation," Elizabeth had told John before she'd left. Still, he'd put his hands on his hips and insisted, "Ronon's going with you. Aren't you, buddy?"
Ronon shucked his pants. Elizabeth rolled off the bed.
"Are you this way with all your teammates?" she asked as she stood back up shakily, unable to keep a squeak out of her voice. He had huge, muscular brown legs, matching his smooth brown chest and narrow hips, and-- She fixed her eyes on the slight curve of his lips, mouth suddenly dry.
He shrugged, completely at ease. "Not Sheppard. I don't like the way he looks at me; it makes me feel like a piece of meat. And Teyla snores. I sleep next to the fire when I'm offworld with them."
"What about Rodney?"
He looked at her blankly. "What about him?"
When he turned to check the locks on the door, she caught him smirking. She narrowed her eyes; he was messing with her head again. He'd always liked knocking her off-balance. In the past, it had always left her distressed -- heart fluttering, face hot, feeling mortified even though she'd never done anything wrong -- but somehow, seeing him in his briefs made her braver.
As soon as he took a seat on the edge of the bed, like she had just been moments before, she removed her shirt, letting it drop to the floor where her jacket and tac vest already lay.
This time, he was the one to fall off the bed.
The cool air on her bare skin made Elizabeth shiver, but the triumph of unnerving Ronon had a warmth all its own. She blinked at him innocently. "It is customary on Earth for everyone to disrobe if one person does," she lied graciously.
"Huh," he said, picking himself back up, "that explains Sheppard and McKay. I'd wondered why they slept naked on away missions. It never seemed very practical to me."
John was the worst secret homosexual in history. "Never follow John's example," she said. He started to say something, but she held up her hand. "Just trust me. You'll embarrass yourself less this way."
Ronon's eyes darted across her breasts and stomach briefly, then away. His throat worked. "Okay."
Satisfied she'd disarmed him sufficiently -- and feeling more than a little foolish in just her bra -- Elizabeth bent down to pick her shirt back up. She said, "If we ask for more blankets, maybe you can--"
Suddenly he was right in front of her. He clasped his hand over her mouth, and her shirt slipped from her fingers. She sucked in a breath through her nose.
It took a second for her heart to stop pounding in her ears, and she started to notice how warm his big hand was against her mouth, how he smelled like dirt and leather and nothing like Simon, who'd gone to the trouble of wearing Giorgio Armani every day, or even John, who always smelled nice, even from across the room. Ronon's smell was real. It was different before, with him just looking at her; now with one hand on her mouth and the other just barely touching her waist, a hot wave pulsed down her spine.
"Sorry," he said, drawing away. She almost stumbled forward. "The king's guards are marching through the halls. They gave us trouble last time."
She licked her lips. "That's who Teyla had the, uh, disagreement with?"
"Yeah." His brow furrowed.
He was still right against her, but he was shifting anxiously.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"I don't know how to be married," he confessed. "I should've said you were married to Lieutenant Miller. We're going to get caught faking, and I will have broken my promise to Sheppard."
"What was marriage like on Sateda?" she asked.
He lowered his head, frowning. She was pretty sure he was staring at her breasts. "Most people on Sateda marry for money or children," he said quietly. "My mother was the daughter of an industrialist. My father's father was in the performance arts. He would do silent skits by himself in the town square."
She gawked. "A mime?"
"Grandpa didn't talk much," he continued.
"No, I imagine he wouldn't," she said.
They were still standing close in the corner of the room, both of them half-naked. If Elizabeth leaned even slightly to the left, she would've fallen onto the bed. She had to get control of herself; she had to tell him thank you for protecting her, but he needed to step away now.
"Are you and Teyla involved?" she asked instead.
"No," Ronon said, staring at her mouth, "she's not my type."
"Shot you down, huh?" Elizabeth asked, arching a brow.
He ducked his head. "She told me she'd have sex with Sheppard before she would with me, and then she laughed really, really hard."
"So you're single," she said.
"I told you, I don't have the means to protect you," he said, like that was some sort of answer.
"We could..." Her heart was beating so hard she could feel it pounding in her chest. "We could practice. You know. Being married."
Ronon looked at her like this was the best idea in the history of the universe, but he said in a low tone, "I can't protect you the way I should," he repeated. There was something here she wasn't getting. "I'm not a man yet."
Now he was gazing at her unabashed, raking his eyes from her feet to the top of her head, and her whole body felt flushed. This was completely unfitting of a leader. She shouldn't have been turned on. She should've felt angry and outraged. She should've crossed her arms over her chest, backing off. She should've told him how inappropriate he was being, because she was his superior and the head of Atlantis, and they were on a mission to protect the city, and he was a young, hot, strong, man-child with the ability to tear people apart with his giant hands. But instead, she placed her hand on his large, brown bicep and, using a phrase she knew was worthy of John Sheppard, said, "Believe me, you're more than man enough."
Two months after Smelding.
"I hate missions that end in nudity," Rodney said. He looked across the circle at John and leered. "Mmm. Well. I hate missions that end in team nudity."
"Dr McKay, please be quiet," Teyla snapped.
"At least they let you keep your bra and panties," Rodney retorted.
"I never want to hear the words 'panties' come out of your mouth again," John told him.
The four of them were sitting Indian-style in a circle, inside one of the canyon's caves the Gregorians used as a base. A circle of spear-holding Gregorians surrounded them. If John leaned back even the slightest, a spear dug into his spine. He'd been through worse (it wasn't like he hadn't been naked offworld before), but so far, this wasn't his favourite mission. The naked thing was a little uncomfortable, and his ass was falling asleep from sitting for so long.
There was a movement out of the corner of John's eye. He glanced over, seeing Ronon fiddling with something in his lap. His very naked lap. "Whatcha doing?" he asked.
Ronon was widdling a piece of wood with one of his hair knives. "Baby toy."
"That's it, you're out of the sacred naked bonding," Rodney said.
"You ever going to tell us who's having your baby?" John asked seriously.
Ronon paused, looking up. He looked a little frustrated. "Maybe? It's a secret right now. I just found out."
"Is she Athosian?" Rodney asked.
"No," Ronon said. Teyla looked extremely relieved.
"Was she one of those man-eaters from the planet of the Amazons?"
"Stop asking, I'm not going to tell you," Ronon said. He studied Rodney thoughtfully, tucking both the knife and the toy into his dreads. It was a lot less impressive when he was naked. Or maybe more impressive. John couldn't tell anymore. "You should think about having kids, McKay. You'd probably breed a lot of loud, irritating boys."
Despite the horrifying idea of Rodney finding some blonde-haired, blue-eyed space slut to have his children (even though John was and always had been fully prepared for cockblocking in the Pegasus Galaxy), the aghast expression on Rodney's face was hilarious. "I'm-- Am I flattered? Am I supposed to be flattered? Is that some bizarre Satedan compliment on my virile masculinity?"
"Something like that," Ronon replied.
"What about me?" John asked.
Ronon patted John's bare knee. "You're the best Taskmaster I've ever had," he replied accommodatingly.
"That's the total opposite of an answer," John said.
"You know, the Meditation of Hector goes a lot faster if you don't talk," came the very exasperated voice of the Gregorian with the large spear.
John met the man's eyes. "Hey, how much longer do we have to do this? If you're going to kill us, you might as well do it now. We're not very patient people."
"Speak for yourself," Rodney said. "I am the very epitome of patient." When John didn't say any of the jokes that popped into his head about Rodney's patience in bed, he wondered if he was growing as a person. Maybe there really was something to this meditating.
"You must perform the Meditation until sundown," the man said.
John looked up; the sun was directly over head. Their second check in was due in three hours.
"Great," he said.
Naturally, John dozed off. He'd had an aversion to long bouts of meditation ever since that time warp cloister. Six months of nothing but meditation and cutting wood would drive a man to do something crazy -- like sleep with a psychic woman who'd wanted to Ascend. He was never good at sitting still.
When he shook himself awake, it was dark. The Gregorians were busy lighting fires; one inside the cave, and one outside at the mouth. Rodney was snoring and drooling, and Ronon's chin was down against his chest, but Teyla looked up as soon as he eyed her.
"Do you see our stuff?" he whispered.
She shook her head. John quickly glanced around the cave thinking: guard here, hearth there, three more guards at the cave's opening, and if he was able to get his hands on one of those spears-- Teyla's eyes widened, and John twisted around.
The man with the very long spear stood behind him. The spear was conveniently pointed at John's face. "I am Hektat, speaker for the Elders."
John tapped his own chest. "Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard. My friends are Teyla, Rodney, and Ronon. Are you planning on letting us go any time soon?"
Hektat shook his head. "No, there are still two more rituals which must be completed," he said. "At sun up, you will be cleansed in the Pools of Hector."
"Our people are going to be looking for us," John warned. The Gregorians hadn't hurt them, and, apart from the weird naked circle, hadn't asked for anything, but just because they hadn't yet didn't mean they weren't going to in the near future.
Hektat said sadly, "If you leave without completing the rituals, we'd have to find a new place to live. Even though our ancestors have lived in these caves for thousands of years. Because Hector might take his revenge by asking the animals to migrate." John stared. Hektat added pointedly, "They're our only source of food."
"Could you move with the animals?" Teyla suggested.
"That requires entirely too much walking," Hektat said.
John's shoulders slumped. "Okay, but I have to warn you, my hair's not pretty when it frizzes."
While being escorted (by spearpoint) to the Pools of Hector, which were apparently around the next cliff, Rodney grabbed John's shoulder and whispered in his ear, "Do those look like cars to you?"
Right off the path, two black, nineteenth century style automobiles were camouflaged behind rocks and leaves. They looked like they were loaded with boxes, sticks, and other goods.
"Ah, yes," another one of the Gregorians said, "those are our portable storage devices."
"I don't think you understand the purpose of a car," John said, eyes wide.
"But-- how-- who--" Rodney flailed like he'd been given an impossible math problem. "Where do you get gasoline?"
"Gas-oh-leen?" the man repeated.
"This technology is amazing," Ronon mused.
John and Rodney stared at him in alarm. Even Teyla frowned.
Shaking himself, John turned to Hektat. "If you're so worried about Hector making the animals migrate every time someone kills a glaat, why don't you just follow them with these?"
"What sort of sick world do you come from where you use glaatless carriages as means of transportation?" Hektat asked in horror.
"Atlantis," John replied slowly.
The Gregorians exchanged glances. "Suddenly, it all becomes clear," Hektat said.
"Aliens," John heard one of the men scoff. He totally related.
By John's rough estimation, they'd only been in the pools for around half an hour when the rescue team decided to show. The timing couldn't have been more unfortunate. The Gregorians had gone down a level in order to allow them privacy, like they hadn't just walked half a mile completely in the buff. The Pools were exactly that, pools; the water was fizzy and warm, but not hot, and the air smelled faintly of sulphur. They reminded John of the hot springs in Yellowstone, only this time there weren't any park rangers to yell at him.
He and Rodney had taken one pool, and Ronon and Teyla had taken another. Some time during the commotion, Teyla had relieved herself of her underclothes, but Ronon either didn't notice or didn't mind. John suspected it was the latter.
"Oh yeah," Rodney said with eyes still closed, breaking the silence, "we should get captured like this more often."
Rodney was right. John liked the way Rodney looked when he was relaxed, and he knew he was hot when he was wet and sweaty. It was kind of sexy: him, Rodney, hot springs, two dozen ornery alien kidnappers with spears possibly wanting to kill them.
John trailed his fingers up Rodney's firm upper arm, murmuring, "Too bad Ronon and Teyla are here."
Someone cleared their throat. When he looked up, he was looking directly into the very amused face of Major Lorne. John glanced over his shoulder, and he found five other Marines locked and loaded and ready to go.
"Now you show up," Rodney grumbled. "You couldn't've come during, say, the naked sharing time?"
"Major," John acknowledged, debating whether or not to stand.
"You missed two check ins, sir," Lorne said. "You know how Dr Weir worries. We've come to rescue you." He carefully kept his eyes above John's neck. "You do need rescuing, right, sir?"
"No, you interrupted our orgy," Rodney said sarcastically.
Lorne looked bewildered. "Yes, we need rescuing!" John said, before Lorne could get any ideas.
"Looks like we came just in time then, sir," Lorne said dryly, his gaze focused on the hot springs.
John stood and uttered the words he'd hoped to never say to his 2IC: "Major, help me find my pants."
John's movement must've been enough to alert the Gregorians, because suddenly, they were surrounded by spears and angry painted faces. Lorne's men looked around nervously and raised their weapons; John held up a hand and called to both sides, "Wait, wait, it's okay. We can do this without violence. Nobody has to get hurt here."
Hektat stepped forward with his enormous spear. "We don't wish anyone harm," he said, gaze flickering between John and Lorne. "We just want you to finish the ceremony. All you have left is the Binding of Hector."
"Binding," John said with a relieved smirk, "that doesn't sound so bad."
"Because you are the leader, you have to become one with the tribe," Hektat said.
"Okay," John said. He scratched the back of his neck. "How do I do that?"
"You must marry us."
John's eyebrows shot up. "Us?" he repeated.
"The tribe," Hektat explained.
Rodney was going to murder him.
"Of course," Rodney muttered darkly.
Oh yeah, he was a dead man. "I'm sorry, I'm already seeing someone," John said, smiling tightly.
Ronon said, "I'm sure McKay doesn't mind."
For a guy who didn't talk much, Ronon sure had a big mouth. John knew he meant that Rodney wouldn't be able to make fun of John for marrying into a commune if it meant their lives (although Ronon was wrong; Rodney got angry when anyone -- man, woman, child, squirrel -- offworld so much as looked at John), but from the shocked looked on his soldiers' faces, that comment wasn't going over so well.
John worked his jaw, hoping his face didn't display the incredible amount of annoyance he felt just then. He purposely didn't glance at Rodney. "Thank you, Ronon," he said.
Lorne looked at Rodney in surprise. "I didn't know you were gay."
"What about me?" John demanded.
"Well, you're..." Lorne trailed off, making a twirly gesture John couldn't decipher. John glowered. "Wow, look at this great ambush we have here."
John ignored Rodney's gloating smirk out of the corner of his eye. "Alright, ladies and gentlemen," he said, rubbing his hands together, "the sooner we, uh, Bind, the sooner we get to go home."
John had been to Pegasus weddings before. Last year, two of the Athosians had gotten married, and there'd been a three day celebration and feast. John had personally helped slaughter the boar-like creatures they'd served as a main course. There had been dancing and moonshine and music, and he and Rodney had been wasted enough to sneak off to the woods.
This time, however, was more embarrassing than stumbling across Cadman and Carson doing what he and Rodney had been planning on doing. John had to sit still while women from the tribe rubbed green clay onto his hands and arms, and painted red clay onto his face in diagonal lines. He wondered if he looked like something out of an old western movie. At least they'd let him put his pants back on.
One of the women reached out to touch his hair. "I don't think so," he warned. She retreated.
"You'd better enjoy this while you can, Colonel," Rodney said quietly, kneeling beside him, fully clothed and mud-free, "because it's the closest you'll ever come to getting married."
"Gee, McKay, and I'd already picked out my dress," John said sarcastically.
"What, you think they're going to have gay marriage in Atlantis just because they like you so darn much? Although actually, that wouldn't surprise me."
"Don't be mad, Rodney," he said.
"I'm not mad," Rodney snapped. "I'm perfectly fine with you marrying an entire tribe."
Lorne disengaged himself from the circle of tribal elders and ambled over. "Sorry, sir," he said, "but Teyla and I couldn't talk them out of it. On the bright side, they said they'll let us go as soon as the wedding's over."
"Major, we are never repeating this to anyone," John said as a woman snuck up behind him and stuck a feather in his hair.
Lorne looked on the verge of cracking up. "You're sure you don't want a picture for posterity, sir? It's not every day you get to marry into a commune."
John rolled his eyes. "I think you should go check to make sure Ronon isn't killing any more of their sacred animals."
"And miss walking you down the aisle, sir?" Lorne asked.
"He gave you an order, Major," Rodney said a little viciously, and Lorne's head jerked back.
"Fine," he said, and then he looked at John and rolled his eyes.
"You can't seriously be upset about this," John said as soon as Lorne headed over to where Ronon had wandered off.
"An entire tribe!" Rodney said, throwing his arms in the air.
Three months and a week after Smelding.
John watched Elizabeth crumple the burqa into a ball and throw it in the wastebasket, and then glare at it in stony silence for twenty minutes. Shortly after, she asked him to do her a personal favour.
He begged. He pleaded. He groveled in a way he hadn't since living with his parents, and in the end Elizabeth still won. That was what he got for not taking Debate in college.
Still a little rattled, he found himself at the main labs, watching Rodney happily type information into a simulation programme on his laptop. He was singing something that sounded like, "you's a ho," under his breath. Zelenka was at the next bench, singing something of his own in Czech. The two songs clashed in a horrible cacophony. Still, it was a lot less painful than what he was about to do.
"Hey," John said as he perched on the edge of Rodney's bench.
"Hey," Rodney replied. He glanced at him for a second, looked down at the screen, and then stared back up at John, forehead creasing. "What's wrong?"
John chewed his lower lip. "Elizabeth asked me to talk to Ronon for her."
"About?" Rodney asked. At John's dismayed look, he said, "You're kidding me. Good luck with telling Ronon Elizabeth was just using him for sex. Remember a million years ago when you tried have that conversation with me, and halfway through we started making out?" He paused. "If your solution to Elizabeth's Ronon problem ends with you making out with him, I'll kill you both."
John was very bad at breakups. He said, "Yeah, well, what exactly am I supposed to say to him? 'Sorry your boss doesn't want to bear your love-child and marry you?' I really think Elizabeth was just looking for a good time. Remember how she was seeing Stackhouse but said he got too clingy?"
"What? No, she doesn't tell me things like that," Rodney said, disgusted. "We never talk about anything but work. Is that what you do at meetings? Talk about your love lives?"
John cringed. "I think I'm Elizabeth's best friend."
"I thought you were Teyla's best friend," Rodney said.
John thought about that. "I don't think Teyla has friends, I think she has people she tolerates. Most of the time I don't think she even likes me that much."
"Some days, I'm surprised you have any friends at all."
John's eyes narrowed. "Maybe I should date Ronon. He's nicer to me than you are."
Rodney snorted. "Right. You'd come crying back to me the second he didn't get one of your Star Trek jokes."
That was probably true, but Rodney didn't deserve to hear it.
He found Ronon and a bunch of the Marines in one of the lounges, watching rap videos on a laptop. There were bodies writhing on the screen, and if the camera hadn't panned away to some unattractive, husky guy rapping, John would've thought it was porn. "So this Jadakiss guy," Ronon was saying, sounding doubtful, "you admire him?"
"Hell yeah," one of the guys said. "Look at these chicks."
"But they're whores," Ronon said.
John knocked on the doorframe. "Okay, guys, take your circle jerk elsewhere. I've got to talk to Ronon."
As soon as the room emptied, he joined Ronon on the couch. Throwing John a suspicious glance, Ronon silently pulled some beads and string out of his pocket.
"What's--? No, nevermind, I know, baby necklace," John said. He straightened his shoulders. He wished he'd had a couple of beers in him; these things always went a lot easier when he was wasted off his face. "Have you really thought about this whole baby thing?" he asked hesitantly.
"I'm a man now," Ronon said simply. "This is something I have to do."
"A man? You had sex with your boss!" John said.
Ronon growled, "You had sex with a glowing squid."
"And no one will let me forget it," John said, tapping his fingers on the arm of the couch in annoyance. He took a deep breath. He'd flown nukes into Hive ships, he'd faced Wraith queens, he'd killed dozens of people with the push of a button. He could totally break up with Ronon for Elizabeth. "Listen, Elizabeth's not ready for this whole baby... marriage... shenanigan."
"I don't understand," Ronon said.
John had once dumped a girl on her birthday completely by accident. Explaining he hadn't known it was her birthday hadn't saved him from the ass kicking; actually, now that he thought about it, that particular girlfriend reminded him a lot of Teyla. Another time, he'd ran over a boyfriend's cat. He hadn't been able to think of a way to tell the guy, so he'd left a note on the dead kitty that said, "I think we should see other people." There were also several incidences in which he hadn't exactly broken up with whomever he'd been dating, but instead waited until they realized he was dating someone else before saying something. Seriously, John had always been bad at breakups.
John rubbed the back of his neck nervously. "She doesn't want to marry you. She's not even sure she's going to keep the baby. She didn't want anything serious when she got involved with you."
Ronon slowly got to his feet. "Are you saying this because you want her?"
"Whoa, back up there a second, buddy," John said, as he stood with him. He held up his hands and hoped Ronon wouldn't attack. "Trust me, I'm not interested in Elizabeth."
"Why not? What's wrong with her?" Ronon demanded.
John flinched at this one-eighty turn in the conversation. "Nothing. Elizabeth's great."
"But you don't want to have sex with her," Ronon said, eyes narrowed.
John frowned. "But-- I-- you want me to want to have sex with her?"
Ronon shuffled his feet. "I want someone to be jealous of me."
"Is there any way I can be jealous of your superior, baby-making virility without you kicking the crap out of me?" John asked.
Ronon's brow knitted. He patted John's shoulder half-heartedly. "If it was anyone but you, Sheppard, I'd think you were hitting on me."
"Funny, that," John said.
Much to John's dismay, Ronon sat back down and pulled more beads and string from his pocket. "Gotta finish this before the baby's born," he said.
"Did you hear a word I said?" John asked. He tried to put his hands on his hips and look authoritarian, but that never worked on Ronon.
"Elizabeth and I need to have a talk," Ronon said without looking up.
John waited, but Ronon kept stringing beads like his life depended on it. John gave up and turned the rap videos back on.
A few days after the horrible, horrible talk with Ronon John never wanted to experience again, ever, Elizabeth surprised John and Rodney by telling them, "I've decided to go ahead and marry Ronon."
"Really?" John asked. He hoped the look on his face conveyed the part he probably shouldn't say aloud, After putting me through all that?
"Well, I guess you can always get divorced," Rodney said. "Although seeing as how things have gone so far, they probably don't have divorce on Sateda. They probably make you play Russian roulette instead. Winner gets to keep the kids."
John took in the way Elizabeth wouldn't meet their eyes, and how she had her red long-sleeved shirt zipped up all the way to her chin despite being on the balcony outside the command room. In the summer. "He changed your mind," John accused.
"He--" She looked embarrassed. "He wrote me poetry. It was sweet."
"Ronon can read?" Rodney asked.
"I didn't say it was good poetry," she said. She frowned. "Hold on, if you two didn't teach Ronon English, I wonder who did. He said he said he learned our poetry from Homer. I'd assumed one of you had given him the books."
John had a flashback to their last movie night. Rodney glanced at him in surprise, and then in smug arrogance, and John knew he was remembering too. "Oh, he learned it from Homer, all right," Rodney said cheekily.
John explained, "Homer Simpson."
Elizabeth stared at both of them in mute horror.
"He's a soldier, or a warrior, or whatever," Rodney said. "You should be impressed he took the time to learn the alphabet. What'd he write? 'Roses are red, violets are blue, blood is sweet, and if you're lucky I won't kill you too'?"
Even John was a little annoyed at that. Elizabeth's mouth tightened. "He's not really a warrior," she said. "Before he joined the military, he was an out-of-work actor."
Rodney made a strangled noise. "What?" John asked.
"His tattoo is the symbol of his theatre guild," she replied.
John's brain refused to process this new information. "How'd you find that out?" he asked.
She raised a brow at him. "I asked."
"But--" John blinked several times. "When I asked him about it, he said it represented something too horrible for me to fathom."
"He's a very private person," Elizabeth explained.
"I can't believe it," John said. He felt like he needed to sit down, only he was already sitting on the balcony railing.
Elizabeth sighed sadly, suddenly looking very old. "I know. I thought I was getting a barbaric warrior from a civilization that valued masculinity, when instead I got a thespian from a planet of Puritans."
"This is the best moment of my life," Rodney said.
This was so much worse than the time he found out Rodney's second PhD was in Music Theory, and John wasn't even sleeping with Ronon. At least the Music Theory thing meant Rodney could play John's guitar, which was hot (unfortunately, it also meant Rodney could competently lecture John for hours and hours on why his music sucked. "The Go-Go's? Did we go back in time to 1980 and no one bothered to tell me? If I look, am I going to find Cyndi Lauper on here too? Oh my God, I can't believe you have The Bangles' Greatest Hits. I think I'm going to have to leave you.").
Rodney slapped John in the stomach to get his attention. "I bet if you asked, Elizabeth would let you read his love poems," he said. "She probably needs someone to squeal over them with."
"You're disgusting," John said, glaring.
"Come on," Rodney whined, "think how hilarious it'll be. We can get Kavanagh to put them on his community blog. We'll have enough mocking material to last years. Because God knows this'll never stop being funny. Ronon the actor. Thank you, Jesus, Allah, Ya-weh, whoever. Thank you."
"What's a blog?" John asked.
Rodney pulled a repulsed face. "It's a good thing you're so good-looking."
Ronon looked up and seemed to notice them for the first time. "What are you guys talking about?" he asked across the tables, setting down his bowl. The spoon and fork on his tray were untouched, as usual.
"Nothing important," John replied with an easy grin.
"Just wondering what your level of reading comprehension is," Rodney lied.
"I can read," Ronon said, voice pitched low. He tapped his mini cereal box. "See, it says 'Corn Flakes.'"
"It says 'Cheerios,'" John corrected.
Ronon frowned at the box like it had tricked him.
"And this man's child will be the first of the new generation of Atlantians," Rodney said grimly.
"We're doomed," John agreed.
Four months after Smelding.
Elizabeth sat across from John in the mess and sighed. Her tray was practically overflowing with food. John couldn't tell she was pregnant, only that she was starting to look less skeletal, but Ronon had been waxing poetics on her baby bump. Lately, John had been trying to avoid Ronon as much as possible; Ronon the poet-slash-actor freaked him out a little more than he'd like to admit.
"Ronon's been thinking of names," she said in greeting, opening one of her chocolate milk cartons. "He said he wanted Earth names. He's already suggested Christmas, Wrench, and Piper, of all things."
"The last one you can blame on Lorne," said John. "Why don't you ask him for Satedan names?"
"I'm sort of afraid to," she admitted.
She sighed again, digging into her Athosian wildbeast yoghurt with relish. "How did I get to this point? I was having sex with Stackhouse for three months and my period was never even late. One offworld roll in the hay with Ronon and I get pregnant."
John glanced at his watch pointedly. "Oh, would you look at the time. I just remembered, I left my laptop in a jumper. On another world."
He dumped his tray and took off before Elizabeth could even finish asking, "Huh?"
"You should think about having kids with one of your many men," Ronon was telling Teyla when John entered the gym. "You should fulfill your duty to the gods."
"What is it about married people that makes them want to set up their single friends?" John asked, leaning against the doorway.
Ronon glanced at him cautiously, then turned back to Teyla. "Would you have Sheppard's babies?" he asked her.
John beamed at Teyla, who slowly lowered her fighting sticks until they touched the mats. "In this scenario," she said, "you are assuming there are no other men in the galaxy, and the gate to Earth is broken?"
John's smile faded.
"Of course," Ronon said.
"Then I would consider it, if my sacrifice meant the survival of the human species," Teyla said.
"You know what I miss?" John asked glumly. "Self esteem."
"No matter," Teyla said, smiling at John pleasantly. "I am infertile anyway."
Ronon recoiled like she'd said something particularly awful. Together they'd faced Wraith and numerous hostile cultures, but now he looked more taken aback than John had ever seen him. "On Sateda, women who can't have babies are sent away to work in the mines."
Both Teyla and John stared. "That's horrible," John said, completely floored.
Ronon shrugged. "They were already being punished by the gods, that's why they can't have kids. Physical work isn't a big deal after that."
"On Athos," Teyla said coolly, gripping her sticks, "I was the leader of my people, regardless of my ability to bear offspring."
Ronon gave them another what-can-you-do shrug.
In the past few weeks, John had learned more about Sateda than ever. The more information Ronon gave him, the less sorry he was they were all eaten by Wraiths. It was like--
"Oh my God," he said, "Sateda is the Texas of the Pegasus Galaxy."
"Then Texas must be a great place," Ronon growled.
Later, when they were left alone to spar (John was still too embarrassed to let people watch Teyla kick his ass, which only had a little to do with her being a very tiny person; he was only human.), John asked Teyla, "You know it doesn't matter to me that you can't have kids, right? Ronon's beliefs are his and his alone. And, well, the rest of his planet, but there aren't a lot of them left."
She smiled charmingly. "I am aware you and Ronon do not share beliefs. He has always been very traditional in his views. Besides, it would be odd for you to think lowly of me not having children when you cannot have them as well."
"I can have kids," he said.
"Oh," she said, frowning, "I meant you cannot have them by choice, because of the type of relations you prefer. Because Dr McKay and you-- it did not occur to me you would want a woman to-- There is no good way to say this." She looked down at the floor. The silence grew uncomfortable.
"Want to go drop things off Pier Two and see how long it takes the scientists to come yell at us?" he asked.
"Yes, okay," she said, looking relieved.
After Colonel Caldwell showed up to save their asses and take them to Earth for a forced vacation, John learned the hard way nearly blowing himself up didn't impress anyone but Elizabeth. They had set course for Earth three days ago and he'd only seen Rodney once, and Rodney hadn't looked too happy at the time. It sucked because he didn't know what the hell he was going to do in Colorado for two weeks, aside from the fantastic time he was planning to set aside to see family members of his fallen troops, and he wondered if Rodney didn't know what he was doing either. Maybe, he thought, they could be miserable together.
John thought they had shared a moment in Atlantis, right after the siege, when John had come back from his suicide run to find a dispassionate Rodney in the labs, sorting through the mess the Wraith had made. Rodney had raised his eyes to John in the doorway, and he'd said in a raw, bleeding tone, "I thought-- God, John," and for the first time ever, hugged him. It had been completely different from Elizabeth's 'thank-you-for-saving-us' hug. This was a 'you're-alive-you're-alive-you're-alive' hug and John had ignored the looks from the other half-mad scientists to curl his hands around Rodney's shaking shoulders.
On the Daedalus, John didn't want to look desperate, so he just made time to walk past the rooms he knew Rodney had commandeered several times a day. Rodney must have secretly learned something on all those missions, because John didn't see him even once. He was, however, beginning to get strange looks from the crew. In his defense, flying across two galaxies on a spaceship was a lot less exciting than he'd been led to believe.
It wasn't until their sixth day in space that John managed to catch Rodney, at three twenty-two AM Greenwich Mean Time (one twenty-two PM Atlantis Standard Time).
"Hey, I've been looking all over for you," he said amicably, with a well-practiced surprised look.
"Major," Rodney sneered, clasping his hands behind his back. "Shouldn't you be in bed right now? Speeches to plan, generals to disobey, suicides to commit?"
"I was thinking about making a noose with my shoelaces," he said. "Seriously, McKay, what's your problem? I thought we were cool?"
Rodney's expression darkened even more. "If it's all the same to you, I'd like to get some sleep. I've been up for over twenty-four hours studying Asgard technology."
When Rodney left without telling him how fascinating the tech was, or how stupid the crew of the Daedalus and the Asgard were, John felt a pang of something almost like regret, tinged with boredom and teammate-loneliness. He showed up the same time the next day, freshly-showered and pissed off, and he nearly missed Rodney tip-toeing down the corridor.
"Is it cold up there on that cross?" he asked.
Rodney jumped about a foot in the air. "Jesus Christ on a-- Oh, it's you," he said disdainfully.
"Of course it's me," John said. "Who else would be crazy enough to be trying to get your attention?"
Rodney looked indignant. "You think you're really funny, don't you."
"I do," John admitted.
"I don't have time for this," Rodney seethed, pushing past him.
John wasn't going to let Rodney get away so easily. He trotted up beside him. "Sure you do, McKay. We've got nothing but time. So why don't you drop the high-and-mighty act and tell me what's going on here, because I get the feeling you're pretty pissed off at me, and I'd like to know why."
Rodney stopped in the middle of the corridor and stared at John like he'd said the Earth was flat, or his cat was ugly, or something. "What's going on, Sheppard, is while you've been planning surfing, or skydiving, or whatever it is you want to do your summer vacation, I've been trying to calculate just how badly I'd fucked up so you had to die to save us. But a few days ago it occurred to me: hey, it wasn't my fault at all. If you'd just waited five minutes, I would've fixed the control chair. So I naturally concluded you're reckless and crazy, and I don't know why I'm surprised, considering all the stupid--"
"We didn't have five minutes," John interrupted.
On the jumper with the nuke, he had panicked and hyperventilated and thought about finding God at the last minute, but he had never once considered altering his course.
"I'd do it again in a heartbeat," he said.
Rodney's face turned a scary shade of purple. "Oh really. Good for you, Major. Make sure to tell me next time you want to kill yourself so I can make arrangements be on the other side of the galaxy."
"What the hell do you want from me?" John snapped. "I saved your life a few days ago; you think you'd be a little more happy about that."
"Well, excuse me for not wanting someone I care about to kill himself!"
"You--" He stopped. "You care about me?"
Rodney fidgeted, flustered now on top of angry. "Of course I do, I care about everyone in Atlantis-- well, some more than others, certainly, but-- we work closely together, after all, and--"
"You care about me," John said in a sing-song tone. Smirking, he tapped Rodney on the chest with a finger, and Rodney took a step backwards. "You're not mad at me at all. You love me."
He meant it as a joke, but Rodney froze.
"Oh," John said. He dropped his hands to his sides.
He'd thought about this before, late, late at night when he was half asleep. In his head, Rodney had ended his confession by running away. John would go to his door in the middle of the night; he'd answer wide awake because he wouldn't have been able to sleep knowing John knew, and John would say (fearfully, yet seductively), "Let's do this," and Rodney would reply, "I've been waiting for you to come to your senses." Then they'd get on with the mad monkey sex.
But his fantasy hadn't taken Rodney's bravado into account. Instead of fleeing from embarrassment, Rodney said haughtily, "Yes, 'oh.' I know this comes as a surprise to you, but you're just going to have to deal with it."
Strangely, that was a lot hotter than Rodney waiting in the dark for him. John was sick in the head.
"No, it's cool," John said hurriedly, trying to think of something smooth to say, anything other than, "Take me now, you arrogant bastard!"
"I don't want to have to 'deal' with it," he added.
Rodney squinted at him for a brief moment. Then he smirked. "I knew it! Zelenka said you have a thing for me, but I thought he was just being a yenta."
Rodney always knocked John off his feet. He put his hands on his hips, feeling disoriented. "Maybe I meant it the other way. Maybe I meant I was going to kick your ass."
"Ha! Oh, that's hilarious, you a gay basher," Rodney said. He snapped his fingers. "Right. Okay, your room or mine?"
"Uh," John said.
"Of course, how stupid of me, my room's much bigger. And I have my prescription mattress."
"Uh," John repeated, looking up and down the ship's dark corridor.
Rodney grabbed his arm and started dragging him towards the bunks. "Sex now, common sense later."
Well, who was he to argue with that?
"Mmm, that was better than I expected."
Ronon ran his fingers through Elizabeth's hair, and she couldn't help but smile. She stroked his solid, muscular chest, feeling like she was made out of rubber. In a good way. "You've thought about us before?"
"No, I meant sex. That was my first time," Ronon said.
She pushed herself off him so quickly she fell off the bed. "You were a virgin?"
"We don't have recreational sex on Sateda," Ronon said, leaning over the bed to frown at her as she lay on the floor, back smarting. "That's wrong."
Heart hammering in her chest so hard she thought she'd pass out -- she wouldn't laugh behind Rodney's back at his panic attacks anymore after this -- she pulled the thin sheet off the floor and wrapped it around her body. She sucked in a few deep breaths, trying to slow down her pulse, searching for something to say other than, "I haven't slept with a virgin in twenty-five years!" or, "On Earth, we have a custom where when we take someone's virginity, we never speak to them again. But you can't ask anyone if that's true, because we don't talk about it, either."
"Okay," she said slowly. She gripped the sheet and tried to look dignified. "Okay. Obviously, we need to talk about this. How do you feel?"
He wiggled a bit. She firmly kept her eyes on his handsome, chiseled face. "I could use a shower."
Another breath. "No, Ronon, how do you feel about us?"
Most men would've freaked out at the idea of having this conversation. But Ronon smiled at her gently and ran his fingers up the inside of her arm. She shivered. "Great. You?"
She couldn't fight this; he was entirely too hot. He tugged on the sheet tucked underneath her breasts, drawing her closer. She pushed his hand away, trying to maintain some sense of control; he grinned fiendishly, and pulled until she fell across his lap.
Out of all the men in Atlantis, she'd chosen to sleep with Stackhouse first because he respected her (he'd even gone as far as calling her "ma'am" in bed, which should have bothered her), and more importantly, he was nothing like Simon. After that first step, she'd felt liberated. But Ronon, she decided happily, feeling him harden against her once more, would've made Simon cry like a little girl. She liked that idea a lot.
"Fine," she said, letting the bed sheet slide to the ground, "but this is our little secret."
Ronon rolled her onto her back. "Everything you people do is a secret."
Even though she was still tingly and sore, Elizabeth forced herself to get up. There were more important things to do on Smelding than have passionate sex with a young, supple man who'd never before known the touch of a woman. At the sight of Ronon's naked backside it took her a moment to remember what those important things were, but she made herself finish getting dressed. Ronon raised his head from the red satin pillow, eyes fuzzy, and she said quietly, "I'm going to see what that Instrument of Eternal Life's all about."
He slid out of bed. "I'm going with you."
With Ronon's impossibly good hearing, they kept one step ahead of the palace guards, who marched around the castle in heavy metal-tipped boots. But at the door to the room that held the Instrument, they came across two more guards.
"You stay here," Elizabeth whispered, "I'll--"
But Ronon was already moving forward. Before the guards could even cry out, he'd knocked the both of them unconscious.
Elizabeth stared. "That was much easier than my plan," she confessed. He smiled at her crookedly. "Just don't-- just don't kill anyone. We don't want to make enemies of these people."
Ronon dragged the unconscious bodies into the room with them. From her jacket pockets, Elizabeth removed a digital camera and a life signs detector. She felt like a Star Trek character as she scanned the Instrument of Eternal Life. Oddly enough, there didn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary going on. It was just a plain, ordinary knife.
Just as she noticed the little dots on the detector moving, Ronon touched her arm more gently than he would have the day before. "Hurry up, I can hear the guards."
She tucked the life signs detector into her pocket and snapped a few photos with her camera, while Ronon shifted anxiously.
Then the king's guards kicked in the door.
Ronon started immediately, whipping out his blaster pistol and stunning the first few guards to come through. She'd never seen him fight before, and watching his huge fists slam into the much smaller -- but still larger than her -- men made her pause a second too long.
A guard grabbed her by the arms. She cried out, struggling in his tight grasp, but he grinned down at her with blue-lined gums. "We were wrong about the last woman from your planet; you're the witch, not her," he said harshly, and she knew this was the head guard with whom Teyla had fought. He wrenched her wrists above her head and called to the others, "Witch! I've got the witch!"
Elizabeth saw the dismayed look on Ronon's face, and the blood-thirsty ones on the few guards still conscious, and for a second, her mind cleared of fear.
Hands still held above her head, she did the one thing she could think of: she kicked the head guard in the balls.
"What are the odds?" he wheezed, and doubled over.
Two months after Smelding.
Rodney grumbled and huffed and stomped around the entire time John was preparing to get married. John couldn't help but roll his eyes; it wasn't like it was legally binding, and what did Rodney think he was going to do, sleep with the entire tribe? None of them were ridiculously good looking, in his opinion, and he doubted any of them could explain how a black hole worked -- both being very important standards one must have met before being considered worthy of dating (or sleeping with) John Sheppard. Other qualifications included being a super hero, owning a plane, and/or knowing how to kill a man seven different ways with just one finger, because John wasn't as easy as he looked. He always figured Rodney's genius-level intelligence and problem-solving skills were worthy of being under the super hero category, but he was never telling Rodney that, especially after he called John "Deuce" for the third time in ten minutes.
After being covered in clay, John was wrapped in a white linen sheet. Everyone in the tribe wore feather headdresses, and they all had the same face paint John did. Together, they stood in a circle around John and held hands and sang. It was actually pretty soothing.
Once the song finished, an Elder -- Hegal, if John remembered correctly -- put his hands on John's shoulders. "You will now do the Dance of Hector."
John squirmed. "But I don't know the--"
John gulped and looked at his people for support. Rodney covered his face with his hands. Lorne, clearly misunderstanding John wanted help, started to loudly hum the macarena. Ronon and Teyla both looked sort of horrified.
"Uh," John said, thinking fast, "dancing is forbidden in my culture."
Hegal looked at him like he knew he was lying. "Whatever," the old man said, "we've already gone this far, we might as well finish the ceremony. Now you will say the Vows of Hector."
"This Hector guy is really starting to piss me off," John said.
"What does Hector think about divorce?" Rodney asked loudly.
Hegal ignored them both. "Now repeat after me: 'Lords of Gregor, we gather today here to join Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard into the tribe of the Gregorians, servants of Hector, the greatest of all the gods in the pantheon. Let the soul and the spirit of the earth give him the strength to protect our people. Let the soul of the fire give him passion. Let the soul of the water give him good health.'"
John echoed the words. Once he finished, Hegal held a giant gourd over John's head and shook it. Something inside rattled around.
"Okay," Hegal said. The circle began to break up. "If you wish, you may now partake from the Snack Bar of Hector. Or you can go. Your choice."
John blinked. "Okay? That's it? We can go?"
"Yes, but let it be known, for the rest of your life you will be regarded with suspicion," said Hegal ominously.
"How is that any different than my normal day?" John muttered. He pulled as many feathers out of his hair as he could and adjusted the sheet so it was more like a toga. He walked over to his men, who were not-so-discreetly snickering at him. "Everyone ready to get the hell out of Dodge?"
"I didn't peg you as a love 'em and leave 'em kind of guy, sir," Lorne said.
"Yes, ha ha, let's all make fun of the Colonel for prostituting himself to save our lives," Rodney sneered.
"Okay, I will," Lorne said snidely.
The Gregorians walked them to the stargate; they said it was an honour, but John figured it was to make sure the Atlantians actually left, especially since some of them were looking at John funny. He didn't know if it was because he didn't dance or they just thought he was weird, but as the gate powered up he felt the knot in his stomach start to unclench. They were home free.
He called to the Gregorians, "Bye, Hektat, bye, Hegal, bye, Holan, bye, Hax. It's been real."
"Wait," Ronon said.
John turned just in time to see Ronon pull out his gun and shoot the nearest glaat. It collapsed, stunned.
"Oh crap," John said.
John, Rodney, Lorne, and Ronon -- clutching his glaat to his chest -- all fell through the wormhole in a heap. John yelped as he slammed his funny bone on the gateroom floor. Calmly, Teyla and the other soldiers stepped over them.
"Well, John," Elizabeth said dryly from somewhere above him, "we can't take you anywhere, can we?"
"Ugh," he said, resting his forehead on Lorne's foot.
"I think I broke something," Rodney complained.
"Like my face?" Lorne asked. John couldn't see where Lorne's head was, but his voice was muffled.
"Baa," said the glaat.
Five months after Smelding.
When John's team returned from the water world of P1X-104, John wanted nothing more than to take a long, hot shower and go to bed for about ten years, preferably with Rodney. Unfortunately, as soon as the debriefing was over, Rodney wandered off to go yell at someone for breaking something. In the locker room, John stripped off his tac vest, pulled a starfish off his wet BDUs, and dug a very unclean towel out of his locker. He squinted at it; he was pretty sure it had been clean yesterday.
John slammed his locker door shut. Ronon was right there, leaning against the lockers. He didn't look happy.
"What's up?" John asked tentatively. Ronon had been even more quiet than usual on this mission, replying to John's orders with just grunts or nods. He hadn't rolled his eyes at Rodney or shared knowing glances with Teyla even once.
"Just before the mission, Elizabeth and I had a checkup," Ronon said. He added, "For the baby," as if John had forgotten or something.
"Everything okay?" John asked.
"My firstborn is a girl," Ronon said.
"Hey, congratulations," John said. He smiled genuinely. "That's great."
Ronon's eyes narrowed to slits. "No, it's not," he said tightly. "No girl has been born into the Dex family for over ten generations."
John started peeling off his wet jacket. "I'm not following."
"It's my people's belief only deviants and sinners have girls."
Sateda sounded like a really great place. "What do you think you did?" John asked. He finally finished wrestling with his jacket and let it fall to the bench in a sloppy mess.
Ronon looked at him pointedly. "I don't think I did anything."
"You think-- you think the baby's not yours?" Ronon lowered his head and arched his brows. It hit John like a slap in the face: "You think the baby's mine?"
"You spend a lot of time with Elizabeth," Ronon said. "And I know for certain you'd have nothing but girls, because you're so... you know."
"I'm guessing the word you're thinking of isn't 'handsome' or 'dashing,'" John said.
Ronon bared his teeth, coming forward. John hated to be the guy to step back, but this was Ronon, who was seven feet tall and could tear him apart limb by limb. Without shifting his gaze, which was burning into John's, Ronon reached up and removed a knife from his dreads. John stilled; was Ronon going to shank him?
"Look," John said, hearing the annoyance in his voice, "I'd never--"
That was when Ronon lunged at him.
It was probably undignified for John to be tearing through the halls of Atlantis to get away from Ronon, but it was for the good of the city: they would be screwed if Ronon killed him.
"You were like a brother to me," Ronon yelled from behind him.
Well, at least he didn't say "sister," John thought.
John ran directly for the command room. He could've called the on-duty soldiers to get his back, but he didn't want Ronon hurt; he just wanted someone to beat some common sense into him. He ignored everyone's stares as he ran straight through the command room and dove into Elizabeth's office.
Elizabeth stood quickly, mouth falling open. Teyla was there too, balancing a teacup in her hand, and she jumped up. "John, what--?" Elizabeth started.
"Tell him-- Elizabeth, you've got to tell him the baby's not mine," John yelled.
"What?" Elizabeth asked. Ronon came barreling into the room, and she must've realized what was going on, because she snapped, "Ronon, I've never slept with John."
"You wouldn't remember, he put a spell on you so you wouldn't," Ronon growled. "He's a witch. We had men like him on Sateda. Men who steal other men's wives."
"Now I'm a home-wrecker and a witch?" John demanded. Ronon growled, and John did the only thing he could think of to save his life: he hid behind Teyla.
"Ronon," Teyla was yelling over and over.
Elizabeth shouted, "Everyone-- Ronon, put that down this instant! I didn't sleep with John. Everyone knows John's gay and with Rodney!"
John peeked over Teyla's shoulder in time to see Ronon lower the hand holding the knife. He stared at John with a confounded expression. "What's 'gay'?" he asked, like it was some sort of disease he was afraid of catching.
"I do not know what this 'gay' means," Teyla said, "but somehow I know it describes Colonel Sheppard."
John said, "Nevermind, Ronon, go ahead and kill me."
Later, John said, "A girl, huh?"
"Oh yes," Elizabeth said, "lucky me. I don't suppose you'd know how to sell a baby on the black market, would you?"
His day went from bad to worse when Teyla decided he had to work through the torn ankle ligament he'd gotten on the water world. She tricked him into the gym by telling him she'd found "a movie called 'The Matrix'" she wanted John to explain to her. Twenty minutes later, he was doing breathing exercises and stretches.
It wasn't that he minded being taught an Athosian breathing trick to make your enemies think you were dead, but it was so boring and uncomfortable.
"I do not understand how you can fall asleep while focusing on your inner being."
He startled out of his doze. "What?" he asked, voice scratchy. He'd actually been pondering more along the lines of what was for dinner. His inner being could wait until his outer being ate.
She gave him a painful jab in the leg. "I have something to tell you."
"What?" he asked warily.
"I have a new-- I believe you call them boyfriends." She almost seemed excited -- and he knew that look on Teyla meant she was ecstatic. "It has been many months, but only recently have we decided it is time to tell our friends."
One day he would figure out why women always told him shit like this. "Like, a serious boyfriend? Who is it?" he questioned.
She smiled broadly. "Enrique."
John stared at her blankly for a long moment. Enrique? He didn't know a-- "Hold on, Lorne? I thought his name was Eric? What other kind of lies has he been feeding you? You know he's crazy, right?"
That wiped the smile off her face. Her tone turned icy. "He is not crazy. He is simply over-worked. Doing much of your job, I might add."
"He has every episode of Gilmore Girls on DVD," John said. "He can have hour-long conversations about Charmed."
"That is the television show with the witches, correct?"
He gaped. "He's already gotten to you!"
She narrowed her eyes. "Do you remember the expedition in which I accompanied Enrique--" John felt his eyes grow huge as he resisted the urge to laugh hysterically. "--to visit my old friends the Prethers? It was during their autumn harvest, and they require offworlders to participate in a fertility ceremony."
"And this fertility ceremony?" he asked.
"Sexual intercourse," she said frankly.
"That wasn't in Lorne's report," he said, frowning. Or maybe it was; he tended to skim after a while.
She tilted her head. "I thought it was an unspoken agreement teams would leave out details about sexual relations in their mission reports, because of Dr Weir's disapproval."
When they were done and he started to uncurl from the Athosian version of the lotus position, she reached out and grasped his arm. "You will promise me you will not do anything to harm him."
"I won't," he said, even though he'd already started compiling a list of the most boring worlds to send Lorne's team to, over the next eighteen months or so, in his head.
Her grip tightened. "John," she warned.
Rodney was in the mess wearing the same thing he was wearing yesterday -- John could tell from the coffee stains on the right shoulder, of all places -- and he hadn't come to John's room last night. "Whatcha reading?" John asked, sliding into the bench across from him.
Rodney jumped, nearly spilling his mug of coffee onto his tablet. "What? Oh. Yesterday, some of the linguists finished a programme that translates Ancient into English. There are some errors, of course, but it's still readable, although it sounds like something my Swedish cousin Bjorn would've written. We've been trying it on some of the archives we couldn't read before, and-- well. Let's just say the Ancients were really interested in cloning."
"Really," John said.
"Yes, it's-- huh." Rodney's eyes were glued back to the screen. He didn't seem to notice he hadn't finished his sentence.
John spotted Lorne carrying his tray towards the trash bins. "Major Lorne," he called.
Lorne paused mid-step, then with a noticeable straightening of his shoulders, walked over. "Yes, sir?" he asked.
John leaned his elbows on the table. "So, Major," he said, "A little birdie told me something very interesting today."
Lorne went still. He gripped his tray so hard his knuckles went white. "With all due respect, sir, shut up."
John smirked. "It's just, I think it's great you managed to turn 'Enrique' into 'Eric.'"
"It's a family name, sir," Lorne said stiffly.
"Your name's Enrique?" Rodney asked in surprise. The dark circles under his eyes made them look very blue. "Really? I thought J. Lo ended up with Marc Antony? And Enrique dated that hot tennis player."
"Do I know you?" John said to Rodney. Rodney made a face and went back to his tablet. John smiled at Lorne. "Just as a warning, Eric," John said casually, "if you hurt Teyla... well, I guess I won't have to do much, after she breaks every bone in your body."
Lorne twitched. "Noted, sir." He looked like he wanted to say something more, but instead he spun on one heel and continued his trek to the garbage.
Rodney looked up blearily. "Wait, wait, Teyla and Lorne?" he said. "That's way too terrifying for me to handle at six 'o' clock in the morning."
"Rodney," John said, prying the mug from Rodney's hands, "it's six PM."
Preth, six months before Smelding.
Teyla took a deep, calming breath as the door slammed behind them. She heard the twisting sounds of a lock, and then vents opened in every corner of the room. She knew the Prethers wouldn't hurt them, but she'd never been through this ceremony before. She knew her parents had, because they had always mentioned it happened nine months before her birthday.
Lorne's mouth twisted. "What do you know about this fertility ceremony?"
"I am not sure," she admitted. "I have never been old enough to participate."
"Hm," Lorne said. When she sat on the floor, crossing her legs, he did the same. The vents hissed as sweet-smelling smoke began to pour from them.
They sat in silence for several minutes. She tried to keep her breaths shallow, in case there was something in this smoke, but she didn't think it was doing any good; already she was starting to feel loose-limbed and sleepy.
"You're the one who has to tell Colonel Sheppard we got high on our mission," Lorne said.
She chuckled. He reached out and patted her knee, and then, staring at his own hand, started rubbing her leg.
"Ah, Major Lorne," she started, only she forgot what she was going to say when he started edging closer. He had nice eyes, she noticed for the first time. Nice eyes, and nice... everything else.
"Are you involved with Colonel Sheppard?"
"No, no," she said. When she shook her head, the room tilted. "We are just friends."
A crease formed between his brows. "He's into dudes, isn't he."
The incense was making her dizzy. She should get up and leave, but somehow, she didn't care. "Yes," she replied, although maybe she wasn't supposed to say that. She couldn't think with all this smoke.
There came a warm press against her side, and Lorne was there, one of his steady hands pushing her hair away from her face. He cupped her cheek, and she started tearing at her tac vest. "This might be the alien drugs talking, but, God, you're so beautiful," he said quietly, hot breath puffing against her ear. "I've never met another woman like you."
Lorne was funny and brave and honest and calm and strong despite his stature, and she couldn't think of a reason, any reason, why this shouldn't happen. He helped her finish stripping off her vest, and then he removed his, too, and she shoved until he fell flat on his back.
"I think there's something in the smoke," he whispered.
"I do not care, Major," she gasped as his fingers slid up her shirt.
"Call me Enrique." He groaned. "Finally, a mission where I get to have sex."
The first thing Ronon did when all the guards were down was grab her hand and lead her to the stables while signaling Miller on the radio. The king didn't have any ponies, but he had row after row of red and white striped horses. Miller and his team met them there.
"This isn't necessary," she protested as Ronon pulled her up to sit in his lap.
"We still haven't found out what their secret is for keeping the Wraith away," she complained as the horse galloped through the empty, moon-lit streets.
"Perhaps I can keep the king distracted while you--"
"No," Ronon said flatly.
"Witch!" voices shouted behind her. She twisted her neck and saw an army following them through the city gates. "Witch! Witch!"
"On second thought, ride like the wind," she said.
When they got back to Atlantis, it was her turn to scream, "Close the gate!" It felt oddly freeing.
John jogged down the stairs to meet her. "You're back early," he said, almost nervously.
John had a handlebar mustache and heavy sideburns. She glanced up at the control room; all the men had them as well, and all the women had curls pulled into high up-do's. She was pretty sure the pistol at John's side was an old-fashioned silver one.
Rodney leaned over the railing and waved. He was wearing a cowboy hat.
"Time travel device," John explained. "For about ten minutes, the American Civil War never happened."
"I've been gone for two days," Elizabeth said.
"Dr Weir," Carson said, "there's an unusually high level of lead in your system."
She blinked at him, folding her hands in her lap. "There is?"
He glanced at the chart in his hands. "Ah, and there are trace amounts in the bloodwork of the other members of your team, as well. You didn't take any strange pills or accidentally get injected while you were offworld, did you?"
"No," she said, trying to remember if anything weird -- weirder -- had happened on the planet.
"The food tasted funny," Ronon said from his perch on the other examination table.
Lieutenant Miller added, "The water too."
"That's right," Elizabeth said. "It tasted somewhat metallic."
Carson opened and closed his mouth a few times. "Oh. Well, here's a thought. You said the Wraith didn't bother with Smeldinga, but you didn't see any signs of cloaking technology? Maybe the Wraith don't like their food to be chock full of lead."
"You're saying you think the Wraith kept away from Smelding because of lead poisoning?" she asked.
"It's plausible," Carson said. "We already know the Wraith care what their food tastes like. If their water is laced with lead, it probably means their food is, too. You lot should be fine, since you were only there for two days, but the people of Smelding are probably beyond any help by now. Symptoms of lead poisoning include nausea, irritability, headache, abdominal pain... various neurological problems... a blue line around the gums..." Carson looked bemused. "It can look a lot like the disease porphyria, which is an enzyme disorder that primarily effects the nervous system, causing hallucinations, depression, and paranoia."
She thought of how both the king and the head guard had blue gums. And the witch thing. There was always the witch thing.
"So the mission was a waste," she said.
"Not a total waste," Ronon corrected. When she glanced at him, cheeks hot, he smiled shyly.
Two months after Smelding.
"Colonel Sheppard," Elizabeth asked, "why are you wearing a toga?"
"Baa," the glaat bleated. It was lying half-conscious on the gateroom floor.
"And what, exactly, is that?"
John scrubbed his face with his hands. When he lowered them, he saw they were smeared with red mud. He didn't want to know what his face looked like right now.
"Hercules killed their sacred glaat," Rodney said, stabbing a finger in Ronon's direction. "This is all his fault."
"I see," Elizabeth said. John noticed she only used that tone with his team. "Explain yourself, Ronon."
Ronon stared at her. "I needed it."
Elizabeth looked like she was about to say something, but she snapped her mouth shut and glanced away. John would worry about her behaviour later; right now, he just wanted to go curl up somewhere and die. "We thought P2X-181 was uninhabited, but we were wrong," he said calmly. "They didn't like that we, uh, disturbed some of their hunting game, so we had to go through a few ceremonies. No big deal."
"No big deal?" Elizabeth repeated, raising an eyebrow.
"Ma'am," Lorne started from where he was sitting on the floor and nursing his bruised cheek, and John winced, "Colonel Sheppard had to--"
"Excuse me," Elizabeth interrupted, and then leaned over and puked on John's sneakers. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.
Six months after Smelding.
On P2B-236, John and Ronon got stuck in a cave together while Rodney and Teyla had to dig them out. Before Ronon had impregnated Elizabeth, John would've been happy to sit in an enclosed space with Ronon for four hours, but now things were just weird. Part of him was paranoid Ronon was telling Elizabeth every little thing he did or said, and another part of him wanted to beg Ronon for blackmail material. It was only fair; after all, she had plenty on him. All he had on her was her upcoming marriage to Ronon and her unnatural obsession with Nutella, none of which trumped secret-gay-love-affair-with-McKay or knows-all-the-words-to-every-Bon-Jovi-song.
They were sitting in comfortable silence together until Ronon abruptly said, "Tonight Elizabeth and I were supposed to perform the ritual of Larmar on our baby. I'm probably going to miss it."
"That sucks," John agreed.
Ronon leaned his head back against the wall, looked up at the ceiling, and said, "I remember the colour undergarments Elizabeth was wearing the first night we were together. Red. She likes red."
"Too much," John said, burying his face in his hands. "Too much information, Ronon."
"Do guys not talk about their ladies on Earth?" Ronon asked. "Or, um, their other guys, since you--"
"Some guys," John broke in, eye twitching. "Not me." He didn't add, "Hello, closeted," because one, Ronon wouldn't get it, and two, there was no telling what sorts of things he'd heard from Elizabeth.
"Sorry. We don't have gay people on Sateda," Ronon said. He was looking at John curiously, like there was a question he wanted to ask but was afraid of the answer.
John raised his eyebrows. "You probably do, but you just didn't know it," he said, smirking.
Ronon blinked a few times, then scowled. "No, there were no gays on Sateda. We don't have sex for any reason but having babies. It's against the laws of the heavens."
John didn't believe that, but he didn't want to fight over it. He relaxed against the wall, wondering how much longer it'd take for the rest of the team to dig them out, but then:
"I don't know if I want my baby to be raised here," Ronon said, "on the mean streets of Atlantis, with your heathen, godless beliefs and your rap videos and your loose women."
"I thought you liked living here," John said, stricken. He didn't know where this was coming from, or why Ronon was telling him and not Elizabeth. She was the one having his baby, after all.
"I do," Ronon said. "You're like the older brother I never wanted."
"Thank-- what?" John asked.
Ronon continued, "We could have climbed trees and killed animals in the forests behind our home, until our parents had to drown you." John must have had a horrified look on his face because Ronon added, "For trying to be gay with one of the men from the theatre."
John opened his mouth. Then closed it. Then opened it again. He didn't even know where to start. "Theatre?" he asked weakly.
Ronon stilled. "I mean, the armoury?"
"Elizabeth told me about your..." John gestured towards Ronon's tattoo. "Drama thing."
Ronon stared at him for a second, then, as if deciding John wasn't worth killing with his hands, nodded. "You would have been Father's favourite star." He looked sort of irritated at that. "It's probably a good thing you would have made a great brother."
Yeah?" John asked, preening. So what if ninety percent of the population of Sateda was dead; he'd still been born on the wrong planet. Ronon said he would have been a good brother.
"On Sateda, women aren't allowed in the theatre. You would've gotten all the good girl parts," Ronon explained. John deflated. "You could've even played Lara in our annual production of 'Laetes and Lara.' I tried out for Laetes not long before the culling."
"Did you get it?"
"I was in the chorus," Ronon grumbled. "I waved a flag on a stick."
"Oh," John said, struggling for something supportive to say. "Uh, so acting didn't work out for you?"
Ronon's face hardened. "My father was a gaffer. I spent my whole life in the theatre before I had to join the military because I didn't have any money. It was just a two year service; I got out a few months before the Wraith came. I got my breakthrough role a week before the final battle. I was going to play the lead in 'The Trials of Halfar.' Damn the Wraith," he growled, slamming his fists on the floor.
John suddenly felt the way Elizabeth must've felt all the time: deeply, deeply disappointed. Ignorance truly was bliss. "Wow," he said, feeling sucker-punched. "Wow."
"You can't tell anybody," Ronon insisted. "I don't want anyone to know what a failure I am."
John said, reeling, "I don't think they'd believe me anyway." He totally had to tell Rodney immediately.
Ronon scooted a little closer. John did his best not to crawl away and cry. "I have something else to tell you," Ronon said, looking unusually earnest.
"Oh God," John said. "I mean, oh? What is it?"
Ronon looked around the cave like there were other people there or something. "Elizabeth and I made love before our wedding."
John frowned. "I'd hope so. Otherwise, there wouldn't be a baby. Unless she was the Virgin Mary or something, but... that's a conversation for another day."
Ronon seemed kind of upset. "I'm worried about being punished by the gods."
Christ, John thought. He awkwardly patted Ronon on the shoulder. "I'm sure the gods won't mind," he offered lamely. He tried to think of something his Southern Baptist father might have said, besides, "Here's twenty bucks, leave me alone," or, "God doesn't let fags who don't clean their rooms into Heaven." "I mean," he said, stumbling over the words, "you're marrying her now, right? That has to count for something."
Ronon brightened. "Yeah, you're right."
Much to John's relief, that was when the rock wall started to crumble. A flash of sunlight peaked through, and Rodney's voice rang out: "Hello, hello? Colonel? If you're not dead, say--"
"Get me the hell out of here," John yelled.
John waited until Ronon left for the mess to catch up with Rodney. "You won't believe what I'm about to tell you."
Rodney, who had been so happy earlier John was still alive ("And Ronon too, I suppose."), looked impatient. "And what might that be?"
John glanced up and down the hall to make sure no one was eavesdropping. "Ronon was a virgin before Elizabeth."
"Get out!" Rodney said. "Seriously?"
"I had to channel my father when Ronon told me." Rodney looked confused. He explained, "Dad used to tell me things like, 'God doesn't let fags who get B's in math stay out late on Fridays.'"
Rodney gave him a reproachful look. "First, how are you not in therapy, and second, I wouldn't let you go out Fridays to cruise if you only made B's in math, either."
John crossed his arms over his chest and glared. "Funny, this is not the first time I've realized it's actually a good thing we can never have kids, McKay."
"Oh, ha, ha," said Rodney. "The difference between us, Sheppard, is my father didn't care who I was sleeping with on Fridays, as long as I left the house."
John arched a brow. "Did you?"
"Hell no," Rodney said. "Fridays were great study nights."
"How many years was it before you finally got laid?" John asked.
"Twenty three," Rodney said grimly. He stared at the wall as if suddenly remembering something terrible. "Twenty three long, long years."
Seven months after Smelding.
Rodney sat on the bed and untied his shoes. "You won't believe this: Elizabeth and Ronon asked me to the be the baby's godfather."
John bolted upright. That two-timing bitch. "What? I thought I was Elizabeth's best friend!"
"Rodney doesn't even like kids," John said to them at breakfast the next morning.
Elizabeth looked uncomfortable. "It's not that we think you'd be a bad godfather," she said, "it's... let's face it, John, you probably won't live long enough to see the baby's fifth birthday."
John gaped, stung. Rodney sniffed. "That's true, they wouldn't want the kid to get attached and then have you blow yourself up. Again."
"Plus," Lorne said seriously, raising a spoonful of Athosian yoghurt, "continued exposure to Sheppard may bring forth your child's homosexual tendencies."
"That's ridiculous," Elizabeth said.
Ronon frowned at Lorne. "Really?"
"This baby is tearing us apart," John said passionately.
Nine months after Smelding.
Elizabeth was gorgeous in her simple red cocktail dress. She'd told John she'd brought it to Atlantis for a special occasion, and what was more special than her wedding? Even if she didn't wear white; Ronon, in a hushed tone, had informed them on Sateda, white was the colour of death and mourning, and Elizabeth had said white would've looked ridiculous anyway, what with her being obviously pregnant and all. Apparently, the dress had been loose before she'd been pregnant, but now it fit snuggly over her maternal shape.
Teyla was Ronon's best man. "No gays in the wedding, Sheppard."
"Fine," John had said, "I didn't want to be in your stupid wedding anyway."
The wedding was held in one of the concert halls in the west tower. Apparently, Satedans were very austere folks; Ronon had requested no flowers, no white, and above all, no celebration, until he'd found out about the reception, and then he'd said food and dancing of this calibre was worth the wrath of the gods. However, he'd been horrified when they'd explained the rice: "You want to throw things at my bride?"
John would've thought Elizabeth would put up a little more fuss. He suspected she just liked being called a bride, especially after she told him it had taken her and Teyla four hours to pick out her shoes, which were strappy and black.
In a private room, Elizabeth smoothed down the front of her dress. Put on more eyeliner. Added more hairspray. John watched her fidget like a crazy person, and it occurred to him he was Elizabeth's bridesmaid.
"You're going to give yourself a stroke if you keep this up," he said.
Elizabeth grabbed John's hands. "Oh my God, I'm getting married. To Ronon. He can't even read. John, I'm marrying a man who can't read!"
"Deep breaths," he said. "Deep breaths, okay? I have to go sit down now, but-- don't take off. If you do, Ronon will kill everyone in the city, and that won't be cool."
"I can always get a divorce when the baby's older," she said, very serious.
"You sure can," he said, although he doubted she would. Ronon would probably con her out of it with some Satedan sex thing.
In the concert hall, he sat down in the front row next to Rodney, who smelled like-- "Are you drunk?" John hissed.
"I had a m-mickey of gin," Rodney hiccupped. "I've had a hard day, okay? First, I had to comfort Zelenka while he cried about the love of his life marrying some hoodlum, and then, I had to come to Ronon and Elizabeth's wedding."
"It's not even noon!" John said.
"Why are you always so judgmental?" Rodney asked. He leaned against John heavily. "You'd think after all the ass pounding you've been getting, you'd be more loose. Lose. Loose?"
Miller, on the other side of Rodney, leaned forward to raise an eyebrow at John. John laughed nervously. "McKay, you joker." Lowering his voice, he added, "You're ruining the wedding. And my career."
Rodney waved a hand a little more wildly than usual. "A ruined wedding for two ruined lives. God, I fucking hate weddings. You don't want to get married, do you? Tell me you don't."
Miller was still staring. "We'll talk about it later," John murmured. Rodney's fingers dug into his arm.
Ronon was already out in front, wearing his every day leather trenchcoat over a tuxedo, and his gun still at his waist. When John and Rodney had seen him earlier, he had feathers in his hair, explaining he'd thought it was an Earth custom after seeing John with them "at his wedding." But Rodney had sneered, "What a poor example. The Colonel was the bride, Ronon," and Ronon had said, "That makes much more sense." Between this and the pre-wedding drinking, John was going to win fights with Rodney for years.
Together, Elizabeth and Ronon had decided to make their wedding a combination of customs from both Earth and Sateda, but at the moment, it was looking more like what John expected an Amish wedding to be. Even Teyla, standing at Ronon's side, was wearing a high-necked Athosian dress that looked much more conservative than anything John had expected of her.
A disgruntled Zelenka sat down next to John, and Lorne took the empty seat next to him. "Wow, sir," Lorne said, "I think the whole city showed up for this. Hey, is McKay drunk?"
"How do you say 'shut the fuck up' in Mexican, Enrique?" Rodney asked.
The chaplain stepped into position. All the guests were there; Ronon straightened and took his place. The room quieted down, and everyone looked to the doors expectedly.
They waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, just when John was worried he'd get a call on the radio saying Elizabeth had stolen a jumper and flown the coop, the doors opened, and Elizabeth walked in, head high, shoulders straight, and made her way down the aisle. She wasn't looking panicked at all.
The ceremony went mostly without a hitch. Rodney was a little grabby, and Lorne kept making eyes at Teyla, and part of John's soul wanted to die at the idea of Elizabeth and Ronon being joined for life, but the only real trouble was when the chaplain asked, "Does anyone here have a reason why these two should not be joined in holy matrimony?" and John and Rodney had to tackle Zelenka before he could finish standing. Rodney might've been wasted, but he could still use a taser.
The chaplain said, "You may now kiss the bride, and you may, uh, share blood. Or whatever."
Smiling, Ronon took a blade out of his hair and quickly sliced both his and Elizabeth's palms. They pressed them together tightly. Elizabeth didn't even flinch.
"Oh, now that's just unsanitary," Rodney said. "I'm going to laugh when someone gets the space AIDS."
The ceremony ended with the Satedan tradition of Elizabeth breaking a jar over Ronon's head. It had something to do with the custom of Ronon showing his strength to his wife's people, but John was pretty sure he saw Ronon stumble a little.
At the reception, Ronon grudgingly allowed himself one dance. Apparently, upsetting the gods wasn't as important as making Elizabeth happy. John had to admit Ronon and Elizabeth did look good together, with their private little smiles and touches. After the first dance, Ronon headed over to his Marine buddies while Elizabeth danced with Lorne, Carson, and Caldwell.
Zelenka marched right up to Ronon and declared, "I will devise a machine to kill you, Dex, mark my words!"
"What a kidder," Rodney said, dragging a spitting mad Zelenka away.
John could still hear Zelenka loudly cursing in Czech -- "Zmrde zkurvenej!" -- as he said to Ronon, "Great party."
Ronon grimaced. "This is a night of debauchery. I might as well raise my baby in a brothel."
John grabbed two flutes of champagne as he crossed the room. "Okay," Rodney said, still a little wobbly, reaching for one flute, "I admit this isn't going as badly as I'd thought. By this point I expected to be covered in blood and screaming for my life."
"Get your own booze," John said. "These are for me."
That night, the last thing John remembered before blacking out was Elizabeth going into labour.
In the morning, John woke up in Rodney's bed in nothing but Rodney's "I'm with Genius" t-shirt that he definitely did not remember putting on. He was on his stomach, with Rodney fast asleep against his back. When Rodney nuzzled his shoulders, he groaned and rolled over.
"Rodney," he muttered, "not now, I have a headache."
Rodney cracked open one eye, then hissed, "Jesus Christ." He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. "Unfortunately, I didn't drink enough to black out the wedding or the reception. How have you not dumped me yet?"
John patted his arm, relaxing into the pillows. "It's okay, I told Lorne you suck in bed."
Rodney lowered his hands to glare. "What? Don't tell that midget anything about our sex life!"
"He's not a--" Midget. Tiny people. Babies. John shot up, feeling his eyes go wide. "Elizabeth had the baby."
"Shit," Rodney said.
When they got down to the infirmary, hastily-dressed and probably looking hung over as hell, the room was full of people. A glowing Elizabeth sat on a bed full of pillows, holding a tiny, wrinkled baby.
She looked over at them and smiled. "John, Rodney, allow me to introduce you to Allah Easter Weir Dex."
"Can I hold her?" John asked.
"No," Ronon said at the same time Elizabeth replied, "Of course."
John poked Allah's little tummy and shook her little fingers and palmed her little brown cheek. She smelled nice; she was heavier than he'd expected, but also terribly, terribly fragile. He loved her immediately. He was going to be the coolest uncle ever.
He offered her to Rodney, who took a step backwards, shaking his head. "No, no, I'm good."
"It's just a baby," John said.
"Exactly," Rodney retorted. "Knowing my luck, I'd end up accidentally snapping her neck."
Ronon snatched Allah out of John's hands, scowling at Rodney. He cradled her for a moment -- with a soft, gentle expression on his face he usually reserved for big knives or buffets -- and then he passed her back to Elizabeth.
"I want to hold her," Teyla protested.
"No, no one gets to hold her," Ronon said.
"Oh, you're going to be one of those fathers," Rodney scoffed.
Ronon just gave Allah another one of his buffet smiles.
As he and Rodney were leaving, he heard Teyla say, "She is beautiful. This makes me wish Enrique and I could have children of our own. Elizabeth, perhaps you could give me your next child."
"No!" Elizabeth exclaimed.
The whole time they walked down the corridor, Rodney complained: "The scary thing is, the nightmare's only just beginning. Soon we'll be roped into babysitting. I can't believe I agreed to be the godfather. Why'd you let me do that? I don't know the first thing about kids. I don't even like kids; they're loud and demanding and smelly and require entirely too much attention. Attention I could be focusing on more important things."
John just let him talk. When they go to the transporter, Rodney snuck a glance around and slipped his fingers into John's belt loops. "We haven't gotten a chance to celebrate Ronon and Elizabeth ruining their lives," he leered. "You know how I love a good Schadenfreude."
"I want a baby," John said.
"Goddamn it," said Rodney.