They were about to drink the "special vintage" Imber's housemaster had just poured for them, when Ronon sniffed the wine and said, "Stop."
"What?" Rodney demanded. He eyed the drink warily. "What's wrong?"
"It smells like tisla." Ronon scanned the crowd, lips drawing back in an angry sneer. "It was banned on Sateda. It makes you vulnerable."
"Let me guess." General O'Neill grimaced at his cup. "You slip it into a drink and it--"
"Makes you forget." Ronon nodded grimly, still looking around the room, craning his neck to see over the tall hats of the Kenaret traders. "Where's--"
"The kids?" O'Neill finished, dumping his cup out on the floor. "Let's find out."
Rodney had last seen Sheppard and Teyla talking to Arek, the High Trader's son, at the back of the room. "This way," Rodney snapped. "And stop finishing each other's sentences."
The traders' carnival on Terlarn had started out pretty well, even Rodney had to admit that.
There were booths and tents spread out over all the fields around the town, traders trying to make contacts to sell large agricultural lots, but also venders selling hot food, treats, candy, cheap jewelry, toys, pottery, books and scrolls, even bits and pieces of technology. Some of it was Ancient, not that the peddlers had a clue what they were selling.
And it made a good safe joint Atlantean/SGC outing, which Rodney had also grudgingly admitted.
They had brought a large group, but by evening, everybody except Sheppard's team, and for some reason O'Neill, had packed it in and gone back to Atlantis. Rodney was making a last deal for some used crystals, when he found out he had gotten roped into staying late for a party. Teyla had gotten an invitation to the home of one of the big important traders, and thought it could lead to future lucrative contacts.
And apparently that's when everything's going to go horribly wrong, Rodney thought, grimly certain as he pushed his way through the crowd.
Sheppard and Teyla weren't in this room, but there were a dozen private meeting chambers off the main area, so they started opening doors. Some were being used for actual trading meetings, and at least one for a private assignation, judging by the speed which O'Neill backed out of it. Then they found a room with a locked door. Ronon applied his shoulder to it, the wood snapped and it popped open.
Sheppard and Teyla were inside, sprawled on a couch, unconscious. It looked like they had both just been dumped there, and they couldn't have been out for more than a few minutes. Rodney frantically checked to make sure they were breathing. Relieved, he muttered, "They're all right, they're okay."
"Good," O'Neill began. "Let's get--"
Then Imber's son Arek walked in, laughing, with a couple of henchmen.
It was the laughing that really set the situation off.
Rodney jerked up his P-90 to cover the terrified henchmen while Ronon picked Arek up by the throat and slammed him into the wall. O'Neill put his 9mm to Arek's forehead and said, "Now, look me in the eye and tell me you didn't touch them." With a pleasant smile that made him look like a serial killer, he added, "I'm a hard sell, so make it convincing."
Rodney might possibly have been yelling "Shoot him! Shoot him!" during this period.
But Arek had been sufficiently convincing, and had begged and cried a little, and nobody got shot.
While Ronon used the plastic cuffs to tie up Arek and his friends, Teyla suddenly sat bolt upright.
She looked confused, so Rodney said, "Teyla, Teyla, it's all right. You're under the influence of a drug--"
"Stop talking please." Teyla put a hand to her head. "I feel very strange."
"But you're okay, right?" Rodney said anxiously. It was hard to tell in this light but her eyes looked really huge. "Because we need to get out of here and--"
"The blue warbles are in the tent," Teyla said, then looked at her hands as if she had never seen them before.
"Oh, God," Rodney muttered, staring wide-eyed at O'Neill.
"Right." O'Neill eyed Teyla a moment. "Let's get out of here."
Ronon tossed the still unconscious Sheppard over his shoulder, and they got out through a small side door.
It was night outside now, and cold enough to see their breath mist in the damp air. They made their way through a dark narrow alley and out to an equally dark dirt-paved street. The only light was from a few torches from the front of the house, where they definitely didn't want to go.
"We can't possibly get to the stargate like this," Rodney hissed, towing Teyla along behind him. "Do you have any idea where you're going?"
"Yes," O'Neill said, like it was a blindingly obvious question, and started off like he knew exactly where he was going.
Rodney was convinced they were walking straight to their deaths, right up until he saw the lights from the traders' hostel that Teyla had pointed out earlier in the day. It was a big rambling two-story building, with the rooms on the second floor opening onto a wooden gallery, rather like a rustic wooden Motel 6. Rodney hadn't remembered it until now, and he certainly hadn't taken note of it as a possible hiding place/refuge. That was what Sheppard was for.
O'Neill went into the hut that seemed to be acting as the office. He came out to lead them up the stairs of the gallery to a room facing the back, looking out over the open fields where the fair booths and tents had been set up during the day.
O'Neill got the door open, then flicked on his P-90's light to illuminate a small room with two arched doorways leading off it. The furniture was minimal, but Rodney could see a big bed through one of the doorways, piled with wool blankets and a few cushions.
While Rodney dug a couple of battery lamps out of his pack and got them turned on, Ronon went to put Sheppard's inert body down on the bed. Rodney hurried after him and leaned over Sheppard, shaking him until Sheppard's eyes opened. "Are you all right?" Rodney demanded.
Sheppard growled, pulled away and rolled over, going inert again.
Behind him, O'Neill said, "See? It's fine. Go ahead."
Rodney looked up to see Teyla hovering warily in the doorway, her eyes hollow and exhausted. He winced. She looked like someone coming down from a very bad trip. "Go on, now," O'Neill said, giving her a gentle push into the room.
She climbed onto the bed, scooted up next to Sheppard and said, "Colonel, I do not feel well." She threw a darkly suspicious glare at O'Neill. "They say I was drugged."
Rodney thought it better to warn her. "He's, uh, a little out of it right now--"
But Sheppard just lifted an arm. Teyla slid down and cuddled up against his chest, and he pulled her in and curled up protectively around her.
"Good," O'Neill said, and turned away as if that had accomplished something. He flicked his light over the rest of the little apartment. "Hey, there's a kitchenette."
Rodney stormed after him. "What the hell are you doing, General?"
"I'm gonna boil some water." O'Neill worked the lever of something that seemed to be a water pump. "See if you can get the stove working."
Rodney gritted his teeth. "Why do you want to use the stove?"
O'Neill looked shocked. "What, you don't want coffee?"
"Those traders could come after us," Rodney yelled. "We need a plan!"
"Should I hit him?" Ronon asked O'Neill. "He's hysterical."
O'Neill opened another cabinet, frowning thoughtfully. "Does Sheppard let you?"
"No," Ronon admitted. "He does it himself."
Rummaging through the cabinet, apparently taking inventory of dishes and pots, O'Neill said, "Then we'll wait till he wakes up."
"Do you even have a plan?" Rodney snarled.
O'Neill pulled out a frying pan. "We wait until base dials in for check-in, tell them to send a jumper, then we go home."
Rodney flailed in exasperation. "That's not a plan, that's what we were going to do anyway!"
O'Neill stared warily at him and Ronon lifted a derisive brow.
"Fine, I'm hysterical!" Rodney shouted, and went to figure out how to work the stove.
While Rodney put water on to boil, O'Neill sent Ronon out to scout the area around them and find a good spot for the jumper to land. After that, Rodney paced, checking Sheppard and Teyla every few minutes to make sure they were still breathing. Sheppard just growled and Teyla told Rodney sternly to make sure the warhats didn't get out of the pen.
When someone knocked on the door, Rodney went to open it, thinking it was Ronon.
Instead he found himself facing Imber, the High Trader, and three men. Oh, hell, Rodney thought. He would have felt a lot worse if O'Neill hadn't taken two long silent steps, positioning himself behind the door.
Imber smiled in a way that made Rodney want to punch his teeth in and said, "I just wish to offer our assistance, Dr. McKay. Perhaps you mistake our local customs--"
"No, I think we understand you all too well," Rodney grated the words out. "And we don't need your assistance."
Imber's smile hardened. "I think you do. My son tells me he made an arrangement with two of your people. They wanted to try a drug, that young people use for...extra gratification during sex. You had no reason to attack him. In fact, I think he has been compromised. I insist--"
"Compromised?" Rodney sputtered.
"Hey there." O'Neill suddenly stepped around Rodney, folding his arms. "What's up?"
Imber fell back half a step. "Who are you?"
"The one you should be talking to. And by talking, I mean talking. I don't like raised voices." O'Neill waved a hand beside his head. "It makes me...twitchy."
Imber narrowed his eyes. "Very well. Your people have compromised my son."
Rodney's jaw dropped. "Are you insane? Your son drugged them, he tried to--"
Imber continued, "I insist this insult be redeemed in marriage!"
"Nah." O'Neill shrugged. "We don't do that."
Imber hesitated. "You don't?"
"We don't." O'Neill smiled genially. "Sorry."
Rodney gritted his teeth and managed to keep his mouth shut. It was obvious Imber had wanted to fluster them, and O'Neill's anything-but-flustered response had thrown him off script. Then Imber rallied. "Nevertheless, an insult has been given! Arek is my son, and-"
"I know what you mean." O'Neill nodded, deeply serious. "I'm their father." He shook his head sadly. "Kids these days."
Imber stared. "Their father? Both of them?"
"Yep." O'Neill managed to look fond and proud and not a bit facetious. Before this, Rodney would have said O'Neill was too big a smartass to be a good liar, but it was weirdly convincing. And Imber had no idea of their ages, or how early O'Neill would have had to go into puberty to pull this off. O'Neill added, "And I've promised them both in marriage to a lovely Jaffa family from Chulak. So I'm afraid you're out of luck. Sorry. Maybe next time."
Imber stared. "You..."
"I'd love to chat some more, but it's been a long day. We really need to pack it in."
Out on the dark gallery, Ronon suddenly loomed up, towering over the shorter Terlarnians. Ronon bared his teeth. "He said go."
Imber hesitated, Ronon loomed some more, moving around them to block the doorway. Imber gave in with a glare, backing away. "We will...discuss this among ourselves."
"You do that," O'Neill said, still genial. "Bye, now." He shut the door and turned to Ronon. "What'd you get?"
Ronon handed O'Neill a sack. "The tavern was closed, so I had to go to a provisioner."
There were a lot of things Rodney wanted to yell at O'Neill, but what came out first was, "You sent him out to shop?"
O'Neill took the sack, peering inside. "To scout. And to shop on the way back."
Rodney flung his arms in the air, paced back and forth a couple of times, counted to ten in Ancient, then took a deep breath. He waved a hand in the direction of Imber and his goons. "What was that even about?"
O'Neill sighed. "You made a lot of trading deals today, right? This Imber guy, he must have gotten the idea that Atlantis is rich. Hell, compared to most of their trading partners, it probably is. So--"
"He wanted a marriage alliance." Rodney clapped a hand over his eyes. Of course. With Sheppard to secure a relationship with Atlantis and Teyla for the Athosians, because Imber wasn't sure who was controlling most of the goods. "While we were all unconscious, Arek was going to fake up some kind of scene, then Imber was going to walk in on them and force them into a marriage."
"Or just blackmail them into cutting him a monopoly on Atlantis' trade." O'Neill was still peering suspiciously into the sack. "Are these eggs?"
Ronon looked into the sack too. "I guess. The place was closing, I just got what they had left. There's some arum flour, you can do a lot with that."
"Huh." O'Neill wandered over to the kitchen area.
Rodney looked at Ronon. "Would that have occurred to you as a solution? The father thing."
"No. I'd have probably just shot the traders." Ronon shrugged and scratched his beard. "Even if I'd thought of it, I'd have probably still just shot the traders."
"Yes, well, but--" Rodney heard movement from the bedroom area and ducked inside.
Sheppard was just pushing himself upright, looking muzzy and confused. Teyla was curled half in his lap. He squinted blearily at Rodney. "What happened? The last thing I remember, we were at the booth with the pickled fish sauce."
"You were drugged." Rodney sank down on the bed, slumping in relief.
"Drugged?" Sheppard frowned slowly, biting his lower lip, the expression he got when he was trying to decide if he should admit that he had no idea what was going on. "By the pickled fish sauce?"
"No." Rodney buried his face in his hands and moaned. It had been a really long day. "I'll tell you later. But if anyone asks, O'Neill's your father. And Teyla's father."
Teyla opened one eye and stared at him in bleary horror.
O'Neill popped into the doorway, making everybody flinch. "I'm making pancakes," he informed them archly, lifted a brow, then withdrew. Ronon was already standing in the kitchen expectantly holding a plate.