Sometimes it's the easy stuff.
"I'm not going to eat this - it's looking at me!" McKay proves his point by thrusting the 'spoon' with the jelly sphere under John's nose.
John's not all that enthused about the food, but he's eaten worse. Four days on the lam in Afghanistan, and he wasn't exactly eating gourmet every night. Besides which, Teyla is sipping at her soup without so much as a batted eyelash. "It is considered a great delicacy of the Aven, Dr. McKay."
"Actually," says Ford as he chews thoughtfully, "it's not bad. Squishy and spicy."
It takes more convincing than that to persuade McKay to eat the meal, but he does so at last.
Later, when John claps him on the shoulder and notes that eating the soup was pretty brave, Ford shrugs. "No worse than eating anything my cousin cooks. And tastier, too."
Aiden's not exactly comfortable with the way the women eye him. Sure, the Sabeans are good-looking gals, but they look him over like he's a piece of meat for the eating.
Major Sheppard's expressed the same discomfort, but he's over with Teyla as she talks shop with the Sabean leader. Of course, that's probably because if he sticks with Teyla, the Sabeans won't think he's available.
Aiden envies him. All he has is McKay, who's happy to be snide. "Hey, Ford, don't look now, but I think Teyla's about to trade you off for a sack of Pegasus potatoes."
He's been like this all afternoon.
"You're just upset that none of them thought you worth trading for anything," Aiden retorts. Maybe it's petty, but it's so satisfying to watch the scientist's face drop.
It's the ear-to-ear grin of a man who's heard too many jokes about men-in-skirts and fielded too many catcalls of, 'hey, Donald, where's your trousers!' and is now getting some of his own back.
Rodney resents it - all the more because two weeks ago, Elizabeth would have let him get out of having to go through all this. Rodney suspects he's paying for Doranda in more ways than one.
"You're finding this funny!"
"I'm not supposed to?" If the man was any happier, he'd be humming. He strides along, not at all put off by the lack of material around his thighs, that damn sporran bouncing like a kid let out for a holiday.
"You look good, Rodney." Teyla dimples, and her gaze takes in the entire contingent of kilt-clad guests of honour on their way to a Vadian feasting. "You all do."
Sometimes it's a little more complicated.
rejecting a proposition
He glances up from the carving with a little surprise. Jennifer doesn't talk to him much - not since, well, since she started being with McKay. It's not conscious on her part - or on his, it's the way it is. "What's up?"
"I... I think I'm being propositioned. But I don't know. How do I tell?"
Shavings billow off the scraped surface of the sriawood as he puffs them away. "He asked you to see his carvings yet?"
Jennifer blinks, her expression . "See...his... People actually say that?"
Ronon grins and holds up the half-finished piece, roughly shaped like a curvaceous woman, her hair lifting off her shoulders like a wave. "Kavia. Like your Gaia mother-goddess. Teyla thinks she was an Ancestor."
"Yes. She mentioned that much."
Ronon shrugs at her aggrieved tone. "If you're not interested, tell him you're not and he'll stop."
"Just like that?"
He frowns a little, then remembers what it's like on Earth for women. The few days he spent there after Beckett's funeral made some of the interactions in Atlantis a lot clearer. "Just like that."
For all that the Lanteans tend to think he's a savage, Ronon finds Earth socially primitive in many ways that he knows better than to argue - even with Sheppard.
"Okay." Jennifer sighs, but doesn't go away, leaning back against the fence beside him, as though taking a moment from the busy festivities to breathe. Ronon doesn't mind if she doesn't, and she seems okay with standing there, not uncomfortable or anything.
When he glances up at her a few minutes later, she's watching the figurine take shape under his knifestrokes. Her eyes twinkle as she looks up at him and asks, "So, since you've showing me this carving, does that mean we're cheating?"
Ronon laughs at that, and all Rodney's pestering five minutes later can't get the reason out of him.
sharing a bed
"It can turn to freezing in the space of a night," Teyla explains to John and Evan. "And so even those who are not paired share beds. It is custom."
John looks at the two narrow beds provided for four people. Teyla can see the wheels turning over in his mind, though. They're heaped with coverlets and quilts, but not enough for one person to take them down to the floor and sleep. She regrets doing this to him - although it is not her doing this - but there is no help for it.
"Doesn't have to get sexual," Ronon says, already stretched out on one of the beds with his arm over his eyes. Whoever shares with him is not going to have much space.
It will not be Teyla, simply for the reason that John and Evan sharing a bed would raise eyebrows when it was discovered. Don't ask, don't tell, says Radek with a wry shrug for the sexual restrictiveness. It is their way, Teyla.
She doesn't think about it. Thinking about how Earth puts sexuality into a box and then punishes itself for trying to climb out only makes her angry.
"Gonna get cosy, I guess." Evan's brief grin gains an answering smile from her. He coughs a little and heads for the bed with Ronon. "I hope you don't hog the covers." At least he does not seem overly concerned. It is one thing less to worry about - even if her concern is greater for John's state of mind.
She pauses by John as Evan begins divesting himself of insulated jacket and weaponry. "John?"
His smile doesn't quite reach his eyes, and she wonders if it would not be better for her to share with Evan. This will be difficult on him. But when she opens her mouth to suggest it, he shakes his head. "We're grown adults, Teyla. It's not an issue."
But when they have settled themselves together, arms and legs and bodies at rest, Teyla quivers as his fingers drift through the fine hair behind her ear.
stuck in an elevator
John thinks he would rather have his hand cut off again than be stuck in a transporter with Kanaan of Athos. This may not be his worse nightmare, but it comes pretty close.
"I have been meaning to talk to you for a while now."
"Yeah, sorry. Things have been busy since we came back to Pegasus, you know?"
"Teyla mentioned that you have a brother on Earth. I had a brother, once."
John doesn't wince. It's a familiar story in Pegasus - and one that never gets any easier. "Sorry."
"It is not your fault. He and my mother were taken in the same culling that took Torran - Teyla's father. That was a bitter winter."
Yeah, John can imagine that. He doesn't have anything to say. Luckily, Kanaan doesn't seem to need an answer.
"We of Athos count our lineage through the mother. Torran is counted Teyla's son, not mine."
He doesn't know where this is going. He doesn't know what to say. He doesn't want to be stuck in the closed space with the man who wakes up with Teyla curled around him the way John woke up that freezing morning on Yeggis.
Scrambling for something to say amidst the memory of waking up with Teyla, John goes for, "He's a good kid."
"He is. But my people do not form families as do yours. My brother was my mother's son, but the man who sired him was not the man who sired me."
"That happens some on Earth, too." John's never used the term 'babydaddy' to refer to Kanaan, but he assigned a month's worth of KP duty to a group of new marines who did.
"Yet you persist in following the male lineage. I will be the father of Teyla's children. That does not mean I will sire them all."
That takes John a moment to process. Fragments of conversations with Teyla through the years collect in his head - perspectives he thought were weird suddenly realigning. And all through it, Kanaan is watching him with what the man thinks passes for an olive branch in his eyes.
"Your families might work that way," John says harshly, with a tongue that feels too dry for speech. "Ours don't."
And sometimes it's the things that have no halfway point.
Torran walks into the gateroom and every eye follows him.
He glimpses John and Lorne consulting at the bottom of the stairs, their expressions carefully neutral. In the middle of the crowd, Rodney has Jennifer tucked under his arm, his mouth turned down in bleak acknowledgement, hers with an anxious twist.
There are people he knows well, and those he hardly knows at all, faces he could draw in his sleep, and faces he doesn't even recognise. There are a lot of eyes upon him.
And every eye asks a question.
"What is this all about?" Administrator Harris takes a step forward and is halted by a Genii waving a stunner. "Why are you doing this to us?"
A simple question with a complicated answer. Torran boils it down to the spark that lit this flame.
"Because of Barhadyn."
The administrator frowns. "That was two years ago!"
"And time makes any difference to treachery?" Dahlia Radim's voice rings out from the balcony. She's always turned heads in Atlantis. The Earthlings have a weakness for fragile-seeming blondes - but Dahlia is anything but fragile.
"Barhadyn was an accident," Rodney says from the middle of the crowd, his protest loud and turning heads. Many others nod with him, pleased to have a spokesperson for their thoughts. "You saw the reports, Torran."
"And you taught me to read between the lines of reports."
"Torran, sometimes what's between the lines is just whitespace."
Torran aches for Jennifer, who's been so much of a mother to him these last five years. But children must grow up, must eventually step through the Ring without holding their parents' hands. In Earth parlance, they must spread their wings and leave the nest.
"And sometimes it's the thing unacknowledged." Torran looks out over the crowd. This is difficult. None of them will ever know how difficult this decision - this action - is. He's debated it every day since the day he closed the report on the Barhadyn plague and realised that it had raised more questions than it answered - and that Earth would never answer those questions.
He's studied the histories of Earth and he knows how they repeat. He's watched Earth movies, learned Earth stories, seen how those narratives underpin perceptions. He's lived in Atlantis, where the governments of Earth dictate and demand, and where the ways of Earth are valued over the ways of Pegasus.
Maybe it's not intentional. That doesn't mean it's not dangerous.
"You're being sent back to Earth," he says.
"You can't do this!"
"How dare you!"
"Oh, we dare." Dahlia says and her voice rings out, cold and clear through the Gateroom. "Just as you dared to pass judgement on Hoffa and left them to the Wraith. Just as you dared to interrogate my brother as though he were your enemy instead of an ally. Just as you have dared to treat our peoples as though we are stupid, inferior, worthless. Just as your agents destroyed the Barhadi who would have opposed the trade."
A babble of argument rises through the Gateroom - frustration, annoyance, anger.
Pegasus is not India or Africa or China and the peoples of Pegasus are not the Native Americans or the Australian Aborigines, or the Maoris. They have technology - inherited rather than developed - but they're learning how it works, how to replicate it. They have a shifting alliance with a single goal: to be free of Earth and its domination.
Even unconscious domination is untenable.
"You're being sent to a Gate at the edge of the Milky Way, where your belongings will be delivered. From there, you can make your way back to Earth."
Harris is fuming. "You can't do this."
"We can." And they must. Torran looks out over the crowd, meeting eyes without flinching from the anger in them, the painful disbelief. "Do you not understand? We need to be free to manifest our own destiny, not to have it made for us."
"You'll just descend into in-fighting and pettiness." Harris sneers. "You think that the Genii won't kick you out the moment we're gone?"
"Maybe they will. But that is our business, and not yours."
Torran can see John and Lorne, Rodney and Jennifer making their way over, hale and healthy but not as young as they were. He steels himself against this confrontation. Harris is easy since he's Earth and IOA to his bones, but these people were those who taught him when he yearned to know, caught him when he stumbled and fell, who love Atlantis and the Pegasus galaxy and Torran as much as anyone could.
And yet, when all is said and done, their final ties are to Earth.
John reaches the edge of the ring of guards around them, and stops rather than trying to push through. "It doesn't have to be this way, Torran."
"I wish it didn't. But we can't trust Earth not to interfere with us anymore. Don't we have a right to determine what we'll do without being told that Earth needs this, and the alliance needs that?"
"The IOA isn't Earth."
"But they're the representatives of Earth in Pegasus." And, on Earth, power is defined by money, and money is determined by the resources that are made available to the corporations and the peoples of Earth.
Having drained Earth dry, the corporations and governments of Earth are looking out through the Milky Way and Pegasus galaxies for resources. Already, there are planets whose sole purpose is to provide food for the masses of Earth, whose ores and metals and gemstones pour back into Earth's grinding maw.
And no, it's not all of Earth that's doing this, but the net gain is Earth's, the net loss is of the minor, insignificant planet whose people become slaves to Earth's consumption.
The Milky Way has the Lucien alliance - whatever it's worth; now Pegasus has the Atlantis alliance.
Distance will make easier to break faith.
Lorne clears his throat. "You know they'll retaliate."
"Yes." Torran knows Earth will try to retaliate. He also knows he holds the trump card behind his back. "I'm sorry about this."
"Not as sorry as us." John speaks without bitterness, although it must sting him to lose Atlantis. Torran wishes he could allow John to stay - but that could be dangerous.
"What about the people working out of Atlantis?" Jennifer's voice rises in appeal, a mother's concern. "What about Cathy and Hal? What about Tric? And Amelia's still with Ronon on the Intransigent..."
Torran breathes. This is the hardest part.
With relief, he feels the faint buzz in his head, the familiar touch, and looks up to the control room. "Dahlia? Cut the transporter interference."
A minute later, twenty-four more Earth personnel are beamed into the gateroom - along with seven young men and women, dressed in the garb of the planet where they were fostered.
"Cathy! Hal!" Jennifer goes to meet them. Rodney stays where he is, eyeing Torran.
"How long have you been planning this, anyway?"
"How long a while?"
"A while." The less said the better. And Rodney will have more things to be angry about in a moment.
"No!" Jennifer says sharply behind them. "No, you're not going to stay in Pegasus. Rodney-- Tell them!"
John looks from Torran to Tric, who's come up beside him. There are few traces of Tric's mother in him - hair, eyes, and features all come from John. As does the natural arrogance of confidence and youth.
"You're staying I guess."
"We want to stay." Tric shrugs, seemingly casual about the separation, although he acts nonchalant. "You're taking this well."
Behind them, Rodney argues with his son and daughter, both of whom argue back without lowering their voices. The McKellers are not known for their quiet.
"It's the only home we've ever known, Dad! I'm not going back to Earth, I'm staying here in Pegasus!" Only Hal can sound both petulant and decisive at once.
Only Rodney can sound both authoritarian and terrified at once.
"I've seen it coming for a while." John grimaces as the Stargate begins dialling. People shuffle away from the opening wormhole - instinct, in case someone decides to lower the shield and they get hit by the splashback. "Throwing us out so soon?"
"I'm sorry. We had to move fast."
"Or we'd move to block you. I get that." John sighs, looks at the opening wormhole, then turns back to Torran. "Tell your mother goodbye for me, will you?"
Columns of light fill the room, and Torran makes a gesture at the woman who stands, poised in the centre of the landing - in the centre of an honour guard of Wraith blades.
The gasp rings through the room - shock at their appearance in the midst of Atlantis. The Wraith are still out there, but they haven't been a threat in years - not since a new Queen appeared on the scene.
Torran turns to look up at the beautiful, dark face of his mother as she descends the stairs. "Tell her yourself."
"What's this? You!" Harris gapes as she pauses on the stairs, then turns to Torran with black fury in his eyes. "You'd prefer the Wraith to us?"
"The Wraith only stole our lives," says Dahlia coldly. "Earth steals our future."
His mother's voice rings through the room, light and high, with the resonance of the hive beneath it -Steelflower, who was once known as Teyla Emmagan.
"I am the gun held at your head, Administrator. Should Earth come after Pegasus, the Wraith will find their ways to Earth's skies. And should it come to that, I will not restrain their hunger." The psychic resonances ring through the room, and every human shudders.
Promise and threat.
"You have done much for us," Teyla continues. "We are grateful for that. But a parent who would stunt their child's growth does not deserve to be a parent." The look she turns on Torran and Tric is proud beneath the stark tattoos across her features.
And Torran feels a relief at his mama's approval.
The Earthlings go through the gate in the end, by ones and twos, grumbling all the way and demanding their equipment, their personal belongings, their rights.
Torran stops Lorne before the older man goes through. "Don't join the armada when they send it."
"I may not get a choice." He's one of the longest-serving officers in Atlantis. Not a tour of duty, but a lifetime service; Earth will wring him dry after this, and Torran wishes it could be otherwise. He respects Lorne, but the older man is a product of the military that formed him as much as his hippie parents.
A slap on the shoulder is his benediction from Lorne. "You grew up good, kid."
Rodney looks uncomfortable and annoyed and resigned all at once. "You could have told us this was going to happen. Okay, so you couldn't. But..." He grimaces. "It still sucks. Keep an eye on them, okay? And tell Carson he owes me a rematch from our last game."
"Torran..." Jennifer kisses him. "We'll hold them off as long as we can. I wish... I wish we could have stayed."
So does he. But he kisses her and lets her go. Cathy swallows hard. "I love you, mom, dad!"
Hal does this shrug thing that suggests that he agrees with his sister, although somewhat less effusively.
"We love you, too."
And then they're gone.
Administrator Harris was shoved through at the last, his personal effects in his hands, muttering imprecations the whole way. Others have gone - familiar faces and unfamiliar, weeping, numb, raging, angry, and bitter - the whole gamut of human emotions. Now there are only three Earth-born people left in Pegasus - assuming that Aiden Ford isn't still around somewhere in the broad, wide Pegasus galaxy.
"Banks is staying?" John asks Teyla.
Torran notes they haven't touched yet. Spoken, yes, but no contact, as though they might betray themselves if they touched. It's been five years since Teyla went become Steelflower, and the separation was hard on them all.
But it was the price of peace with the Wraith - the new accords, and the changes to Wraith physiology that enable a greater efficiency in feeding - a year of life from a human is now a year of life for a Wraith. Agreements have been reached, arrangements made.
Torran hasn't asked; he doesn't want to know.
"It's not the same, John. She had it explained to her by the Travellers - what it would mean to be Earth-born in Pegasus. To be always suspect, always distrusted. You couldn't live like that."
"Maybe I could." John tilts his head, lifts his eyebrows in something like a challenge. "Care to find out?"
Torran waits for Teyla's answer. They all wait for it, from Tric standing between his father and his birth-mother, to Dahlia Radim still up on the balcony, a faintly cynical smile on her lips.
Then Teyla's hand closes over John's arm. "I am responsible for this man. His actions are upon me and mine."
Dahlia shrugged. "It's your funeral if he betrays us." And she means that literally. "Shut it down."
Behind them, the wormhole closes down on one chapter of Atlantis' history, and a whole new chapter opens up.