“Be safe, Major.” Elizabeth bid her number one team as they stood at the gate waiting to go through. John nodded as Teyla Emmagen and Ronan Dex went through the gate first, weapons hanging casually by their sides as this was, according to Teyla, a very friendly planet who’s occupants would be more than happy to trade with the new Atlantis inhabitants. Rodney, however, glanced back in the direction of the science department where he knew Radek would be tinkering with the latest Ancient discovery.
“McKay! Come on.” John yelled, hoping to regain Rodney’s spilt focus.
“But I –” Rodney began but John just took a-hold of his vest and pulled him through the open wormhole with himself. They had already had the same argument five times that morning alone, how Rodney was needed in the Lab. Sometimes, when Rodney could convinced Elizabeth that it was important enough, he would be able to stay however in this case Zelenka was more than capable and Rodney was needed to investigate a strange energy reading that Lorne’s team had encountered when they had visited the same planet by Puddlejumper.
On the other side of the horizon it was pretty typical. A blue sky of fluffy white clouds and a single shining sun, green grass and plenty of trees near by… and one small child staring in shock at the sight of them. Her eyes were wide and dark brown, with long wind-tangled red hair and a grey-ish peasant dress that may have been white once. John smiled friendly enough and started towards the child who could not have been more than ten, but she suddenly dashed off into the woods, dropping the twigs and logs she had been collecting. John sent a confused look at Teyla who shrugged. Maybe she had just feared them because they were armed, or maybe she was being a good little girl and not engaging strangers.
“The village is this way. I believe we will receive a warmer welcome there.” Teyla assured them as they moved off into the west direction. John took one last look at the gate to secure its position in his head before he followed them, smiling at the way Rodney moaned that the villages were never close to the gate. However he saw the way Ronan’s had twitched near his sidearm and the smile was wiped from his face. This was a mission like any other, just because the Athosians had considered the people of this planet to be friends did not make it so.
More than a mile later they entered a village with stone houses and a small public courtyard were many locals seemed to be gathered. Like the little girl many of them were fair skinned with dark eyes. They all wore simple clothing in washed out colours that indicated their was no emphasis here on the kind of chaotic fashion and consumerism of America and other Western countries back on Earth. John often found this refreshing despite the fact that when he was on Earth he often took time to look nice. To Rodney, however, it signified they were most likely not the ones in possession of whatever technology was sending out the signal that had brought them there.
Before John could being the whole ‘we come in peace’ thing, a middle aged woman leaned down next to the girl they had seen at the gate and asked, “which of these newcomers are the two?” John shared a bemused look with Teyla, and the little child pointed first at John and then at Rodney who looked startled.
At first the woman’s expression showed only surprised, but as she gathered her shawl she breathed in and composed herself and approached the group. “Welcome.” She greeted, bowing deep in John’s direction, much to his confusions and surprise. This was not the type of greeting he’d expected, however it was certainly an improvement on some of the first encounters he had experienced in the Pegasus galaxy.
“Hi, I’m Major John Sheppard and this is my team; Dr Rodney McKay, Ronan Dex, and Teyla Emmagen of Athos.” He said formerly, pointing at each team member in turn.
The woman smiled at each teammate in turn before turning to address John once more. “I am Charis of the Marin. This is our village.” She pointed all around her.
“Well… we’ve come to-” John began, only to find himself interrupted.
“You must come with us to the Elders.” Charis said eagerly. “Mira told us of the Sign. It is time to complete your destiny. We are most happy to celebrate with you both.” She looked between John and Rodney.
“Excuse me?” John said. “Teyla, a little help!” He asked.
“I am not sure yet, John.” Teyla said warily. “I do not believe they mean us harm, perhaps it would be best just to allow them to take u to their Elders.” She suggested.
Charis looked upset at this statement. “Of course you are outsiders, you will not know of the Ring of Destiny. I am sorry, please sit and let me explain before we see the Elders.” Charis gestured to a wooden table which they sat at gingerly. “It is a story among our people, two people who come through the ring of the Ancestors together are meant for each other.” She explained.
“Well we all came through the ring at the same time,” John said, “so that doesn’t really mean us, does it.” He said.
Charis glanced back at the little girl. “No, but Mira told us that in particular you, Major Sheppard, and Dr McKay exited the ring at the exact same time. It is your destiny to marry.” She added.
“Marry!” Rodney exclaimed loudly.
John sent him a glare that said for him to keep quiet because John was handling this. “No, you see we didn’t know of this custom and besides, it’s just a story. You cannot really expect me and McKay to marry!” He said, hoping with some fast talking they could get out of this awkward situation.
Charis frowned. “You would dishonour the Ancestor’s so? I have never met people who would do such a thing. It is foretold in this land that if two people step through the ring they are bound together with bonds stronger than friendship and must marry before a year and a day has gone by or else they will never find love and bring bad luck on the whole town.”
“You can’t be serious!” McKay groaned. More simple minded superstition that were apparently going to interfere with his life. And make things fairly awkward if it turns out someone figured out how he really felt about Sheppard.
“We should see the Elders.” Charis decided, her expression firm. “Come, please.” John shrugged at started following her, as did the others although both Rodney and John stayed as far apart at their little group could manage, both avoiding looking at each other as some of the villagers came with them.
Shortly they arrived at a large hall guarded by a tall skinny man with a heavy sword at his side. Charis bowed to him before approaching him to whisper in his ear. Once they separated he looked into the crowd with interest, and allowed the large wooden door to swing open. Inside their was a large hall with a row of seats at the end currently occupied by seven men and women roughly aged between forty and sixty. The villagers dispersed once inside and took up positions on the carpeted floor, watching as Charis approached the bench of Elders.
“Wise Elders, I approach you to ask for your blessing in the completion of the Ring of Destiny Rite. With me I have brought four strangers from another world. They are allies of Athos. A village child saw two of them come through the gate as a Pair.” She relayed before bowing low and stepping aside for John and Rodney to come forth.
“You understand the importance of this ritual and what it means to our people?” Asked a cold eyed women dressed in blue.
“Charis was kind enough to explain it to us.” John said with some irony.
“But we don’t belong here! We didn’t know! We can’t get married just because of some stupid tradition!” Rodney said, sounding like he was about to have a fit.
“McKay!” John whispered angrily. Best not to offend them especially as they were stuck in this room with an armed guard outside. Besides, John had no desire to shed blood.
A well rounded man on the wrong side of fifty sat up straight and glared at Rodney. “Sir, while this belief might not be one that your people are familiar with it is, I assure you, extremely important to us and very old. Each year we have a month at the beginning of spring in which many couples chose to step through the ring to promise themselves to each other. You obviously do not realise the significance of the fact it happened to you by… ‘accident’. It is a sign that you are destined to be together.” He told them.
Rodney opened his mouth to argue but John shut him up with a glare. “Look, Elders, what would happen to us if we say… declined this… honour.” He asked in a careful voice.
“We could not trade or be allies with anyone who disregarded the traditions and beliefs of our people.” Another Elder piped up.
“Right,” John agreed and took Rodney to the side. “Rodney, have you been able to identify the energy readings?” He asked quietly.
Rodney pulled out his computer and taped something into it, his eyes widening at the results. “It’s a ZPM. Maybe even more than one and they aren’t being used to power anything. There is no Wraith-shield or anything.” He sounded amazed.
“So we need these people, right?” John sighed. Not only would a ZPM be extremely helpful, it would almost be good to trade for food with these people.
“Unless you want to use a cloaked puddlejumper and hope that no one discovers us?” Rodney suggested hopefully but John knew that wasn’t a good plan. He was about to suggest something that he never thought he would be saying to a man, after all he was a military man who had spent years hiding his bisexual nature. Now was not a good time to ‘come out’ as it were. So he would have to deal with this tactfully.
“Lets just… go through with the ceremony. And afterwards it would effect us, we just go back to being teammates. I’m sure it’ll just be them muttering a few words and some drinks and who knows, we could maybe make some new friends while we’re here and it will stop us all from dying of starvation.” John said, watching Rodney’s reaction.
“What!” Rodney said loudly, but quietened at John’s ‘shush’.
“It’s not like we have much of a choice,” John said.
“Well its not like they’re threatening to kill us!” Rodney pointed out, his voice high and stressed.
“I know but… ZPM.” John said as if it explained everything, and from the look of Rodney’s torn expression it really did.
“Fine,” he agreed ungraciously. “But if you ever tell anyone of this then I’ll kill you with my brain!” He threatened, knowing that with John being a solider and Rodney barely able to shoot that his mind was a much better weapon than a gun.
“Sure you will.” John said patronisingly before turning back to the Elders who were waiting ‘patiently’. “We’ll agree to go through the ceremony if you’ll let us search for a… an artefact we are looking for that could help our people a lot.” He offered them a deal.
The first Elder who had spoken squinted at them. “Is this artefact a weapon?” She asked suspiciously.
“No. And if it were we wouldn’t use it against you. We’re going to be friends now, right?” John said, using his ‘trust me I’m handsome’ voice.
The Elders looked at each other and nodded. “We agree. After the ceremony we will commence trading agreements. Now, normally there is a three day preparation ceremony in which each partner goes to spend the day with the other’s family. As you are strangers and not of this world we will forgo this and jump to the ceremony. Please step forward.”
The Elders all stood as Rodney and John took a reluctant and scary step forwards. Rodney’s heart was beating too fast, his palms were sweaty and his mind didn’t seem to be able to comprehend what was happening. John gulped and took a deep breath.
“Please face each other and each hold out one hand, clasping the other’s arm just below the elbow.” They instructed as Mira brought forth a red ribbon. Then men did as instructed, still avoiding each other’s gaze as the reality of the situation sunk in. They were going to be married… okay so neither John nor Rodney were planning on doing anything about it and technically it wouldn’t be legal on Earth but… but they would still know.
“Mira of the Marin peoples, as their Witness please place the binding around the entwined arms of these individuals.” And Mira did so, winding the ribbon from John’s elbow to Rodney’s in a lose pattern. “Ancestors,” intoned all the Elders as the villagers bowed their heads in reverence, only Mira remained watching (and Teyla and Ronan). “We honour your wishes as we bind these two men in everlasting matrimony. Their destiny has been sealed and fulfilled upon the completion of their vows. Repeat after me; I vow to honour the Ancestors and be faithful to my partner until the afterlife take me from this world and into the next.”
Finally, John met Rodney’s eyes seeing the same fear and disbelief reflected there. But if he looked deeper he could see something else, something that John thought might resemble want. However he wasn’t sure if his own wishful thinking was being reflected back at him. He took another deep breath and began, “I, John Sheppard of Earth, vow to honour the Ancestors and be faithful to Rodney McKay until the afterlife take me from this world and into the next.”
Rodney was shocked that John had actually said it, and they way he had added their named made it seem so personal… so real. Steeling himself he opened his own mouth and shakily repeated the vow, swapping the names around as he did so. Afterwards John nodded at him.
“Now lean forwards and touch heads, much as the Athosians do.” The Elder said, obviously trying to dumb it down as much as she could for the outsiders. In any other situation it would have been either amusing or insulting. Today, not so much. Rodney and John both stepped closer and bowed their heads so their foreheads touched. As soon as they did both men felt a jolt of something like electricity go through them, but the sound of roaring applause distracted them as Mira untied the ribbon and ran off to play with other children.
“Now,” another Elder, again male and even older than the others, approached them, “we can discuss trade and finding your artefact.”
It was another four hours of searching and talking and avoiding each other before they gated back to Atlantis. When they arrived John stormed off away from the group, leaving Rodney holding the ZPM and watching him forlornly. That’s the man I’m married to, Rodney thought, that’s the man I love and was just forced to marry for the sake of a ZPM. All Rodney hoped was that it didn’t completely ruin their friendship, and that the blasted ZPM was worth it!