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Just As Complicated As It Sounds

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From Ursula le Guin’s “A Fisherman of the Inland Sea”

Note for readers unfamiliar with the planet O:

Ki'O society is divided into two halves or moieties, called (for ancient religious reasons) the Morning and the Evening. You belong to your mother's moiety, and you can't have sex with anybody of your moiety.

Marriage on O is a foursome, the sedoretu – a man and a woman from the Morning moiety and a man and a woman from the Evening moiety. You're expected to have sex with both your spouses of the other moiety, and not to have sex with your spouse of your own moiety. So each sedoretu has two expected heterosexual relationships, two expected homosexual relationships, and two forbidden heterosexual relationships.

The expected relationships within each sedoretu are:

The Morning woman and the Evening man (the "Morning marriage")

The Evening woman and the Morning man (the "Evening marriage")

The Morning woman and the Evening woman (the "Day marriage")

The Morning man and the Evening man (the "Night marriage")

The forbidden relationships are between the Morning woman and the Morning man, and between the Evening woman and the Evening man, and they aren't called anything, except sacrilege.

It's just as complicated as it sounds, but aren't most marriages?

 

~~~~~~~~~~

This time, when John Sheppard fell into yet another time dilation field, it all went very differently. For one thing, he took Teyla with him.

Rodney whipped around at Teyla’s cry, from where he'd been prodding at a profoundly dead central console in the cave-like outpost they'd discovered on P4B-557, just in time to see John's arm vanish into a seemingly solid wall. Now that John was struggling in the interface like a fly in a web, the damn field had stopped pretending to be a harmless stretch of rock and was shimmering in that tell-tale way. John only had time to blurt "Not again!" before the field engulfed his head and both arms up to the elbows.

Teyla had been buddied with John and had grabbed his tac vest as soon as he stumbled into the field. His momentum carried her half into it as well, one arm and a BDU-clad leg slowly vanishing into the wall as she gritted her teeth against the pain of the tidal forces, leaned back toward Rodney and Ronon and said "Rodney, I believe it is a time d– "

Then she was gone, too, sucked in, and if ever there was a moment where contractions were not only normal but absolutely fucking preferable, your final half-second of speech before being engulfed by an alien time-trap was surely one of them.

Not that Rodney was pissed with her or anything, even if her last act before vanishing had been to lash out with her free leg, catching him in the thigh and knocking him back into Ronon and away from the damn field. Ronon had grabbed him and pulled him back at the same time so they'd gone down in a heap on the dusty floor, cursing and flailing at each other. Well, possibly Rodney had done most of the flailing, and Ronon the cursing.

"Why'd she have to kick me?" complained Rodney, scrambling up and pushing Ronon's blaster to one side. Ronon was glowering at the portal, which had gone back to looking like a wall again. "Don't shoot it! The blast'd probably emerge on the other side in a day or so and fry anyone hanging around there."

"Not gonna shoot it." Ronon looked like he really, really wanted to. "Fuck!"

"Yes, my sentiments exactly," said Rodney. "Okay, okay, we have to . . . I'm going to assume that all these places have the same ratio of time dilation—why change a winning formula, after all—so we won't waste time with MALP-on-a-stick, so we need to–"

"Need to get in there," Ronon jerked his chin at the deceptively normal looking stretch of wall. "Could be anything in there. Beasts."

He stepped forward and before Rodney could stop him, reached up to his full height and wrenched two fistfuls of creepers down from the wall above where John and Teyla had disappeared. Crumbling letters engraved in the stone appeared, partially obscured by clinging roots. Enough was visible, though, for Rodney to recognize the same phrases they'd translated after John's last misadventure.

"Yes, very good, so that proves it." Rodney grabbed Ronon's arm and dragged him away a little. "Don't get so close, we haven't mapped the extent of the portal. Anyway," he glanced around, but they hadn't brought any packs with them this time, "we need to get supplies through – remember, it'll already be hours for them. Maybe a day by the time we get the stuff in there."

"I'll do it, you tell Carter," Ronon said, and ran out of the cave. Rodney jogged after him through the ferns. At least this time the jumper was only a hundred yards away in a nearby clearing.

Ronon was busily stowing gear when he reached it. "Food," Rodney instructed. "All the MREs, and the water filtration unit–" Ronon turned to glare at him and pointed at the cockpit. "Yes, yes, right, you've had plenty of outdoorsy experience, point taken." Ronon rolled his eyes and went back to jamming water bottles, bedrolls and first aid kits into the packs he'd assembled.

Rodney activated the comms unit and recorded a message, telling the jumper to send it precisely a minute after he dialed and sent through his IDC. There was no way he was risking a face-to-face with Carter if she happened to be in the Gate room when the unscheduled activation alarm sounded. No way he was risking being ordered to return to Atlantis. Radek was perfectly capable of managing the technical aspects of their retrieval, using what they'd learned last time. It would still take months, subjectively, for those trapped inside the field, which was why Ronon was packing for four.

"You ready?" asked Ronon, and Rodney was suddenly filled with a burst of intense fondness for the way Ronon had never assumed anything but that he and Rodney would follow John and Teyla through the portal, rather than returning to the city to coordinate the rescue. But then, Rodney hadn't assumed anything else either, because it was John and Teyla, and leaving them to the mercies of ascension-crazed cultists or improbable rage-monsters was simply unthinkable. He grinned at Ronon, who grinned back fiercely.

"Yes." Rodney dialed Atlantis and transmitted his IDC. Then he grabbed his main toolkit, stuffed his laptop in his pack and followed Ronon back through the forest to the cave as quickly as he could trot. Time was, after all, of the essence.

~~~~~~~~~~

When Rodney and Ronon emerged from the portal and stumbled into a similar cave on the other side, John was lounging against the cave wall with his arms folded, looking sulky.

Teyla was sitting cross-legged, apparently meditating. “I do not like to say that I told you so . . . ” she murmured, her serenity taking on a distinctly smug flavor.

“Told him what?” Rodney straightened and brushed dust off the knees of his pants. He fixed John with a glare. “Oh, what? You thought we wouldn’t come after you?”

John frowned. “I thought you might do the sensible thing, McKay, and contact Atlantis immediately, then follow orders. You telling me Carter okayed this?”

“Didn’t ask,” said Ronon, passing Teyla and John the extra two packs he’d been carrying.

“Yes, we figured we’d go for absolution rather than permission,” added Rodney, pulling out a power bar and chowing down. His molecules were bound to need sustenance after being subjected to all those tidal forces. “Plus, in what galaxy would you have left me and Ronon there if the situation’d been reversed? Huh?”

John got that constipated look that meant he was in the wrong, knew it, but wasn’t going to admit it any time before the heat-death of the universe.

Ronon took the uneaten half of the power bar from Rodney’s hand and stuffed it in Rodney’s tac-vest. “Save it,” he said. “Not sure how long our supplies’ll have to last.”

Rodney suppressed a surge of panic. What if they starved? What if Radek couldn’t manage to rescue them? “I assumed you’d be hunting down game for our dinner,” he said plaintively. He looked toward the daylight spilling in through the distant mouth of the cave. “Besides, there may be a village here as well.” He eyed John and Teyla. I don’t suppose you’ve . . . ?”

“We felt it was best to wait for you and Ronon,” Teyla said, carefully not making eye contact with John. Rodney could imagine just how steely she’d have been in the face of John’s abandonment nonsense. She did a few hamstring-stretches against the cave wall. “We have not gone further from the portal than was necessary to find water.” Ronon helped her adjust her pack until it sat comfortably.

Rodney turned to John who was shouldering his own pack, trying to look adult and military. “Sometimes,” he said severely, helping John tighten one of the straps. “I have no idea why you’re my best friend at all. I don’t usually associate with stupid people.”

John’s ears flushed. “Glad you guys came along,” he muttered, scuffling his boot in the dust.

“I should hope so.” Rodney gave John a push toward where Ronon and Teyla were picking their way through broken rocks, heading for the cave mouth. “Come on, chop, chop, game to kill, shelters to build.”

John fell in behind him, and they began the trek down to the valley below.

~~~~~~~~~~

Rodney was relieved to find that there was indeed a settlement, and they were greeted by what seemed like almost all of the inhabitants. The curious crowd parted and a young woman led them through the streets to an open square in the middle of thatched and shingled two-storey wooden houses. The elders proved to be a group of two men and two women whose names Rodney didn’t quite catch, and things were going relatively well, Teyla and John doing most of the meet-and-greet heavy lifting, when Rodney broke in to clarify an important point they’d hitherto overlooked.

The elders listened to his question with increasingly puzzlement, eyeing Rodney warily.

“The village is as you see it,” said one of the women, after a pause. She had gray hair in a long plait down her back. “There are no . . . invisible rage-monsters?” She shot her companions a look bordering on an eye-roll.

Teyla stepped in smoothly. “Dr McKay is referring to an unfortunate prior experience Colonel Sheppard had at a sanctuary such as this.” She smiled benignly. “It seems very pleasant here.”

One of the men, something of a silver fox if you were into older guys which Rodney wasn’t thank you very much—it was John who had the daddy issues—grimaced and said bitterly, “Yes, for a prison it’s perfectly comfortable.”

“Now Nuen,” replied the other man, shorter and sporting a salt and pepper mustache, “you know we do not dwell on what cannot be altered. At least we’re all together.” He pulled Nuen into a hug, then kissed him softly on the lips.

Rodney blinked, slightly thrown by the public display of affection. He glanced surreptitiously at his teammates. John’s ears were pink and he was examining the nearest house with studied interest. Teyla was smiling calmly, and Ronon, as usual, looked bored. Rodney decided that, being Canadian, he wasn’t at all nonplussed by this behavior in their hosts – certainly the assembled crowd of villagers were ignoring it. Then the two women joined the huddle and it was group hugs and kisses all round, which was a bit more than Rodney’d bargained for. Another covert peek told him the back of John’s neck had flushed red. Teyla’s smile was now a little fixed, and Ronon was looking much more interested.

“It can be difficult to reach the necessary state of mind for ascension, I believe,” Teyla said sympathetically, when the foursome of elders had broken apart. “Do you practise meditation to achieve it?”

“Ascension?” asked the woman with the long braid, frowning. “What’s ascension?”

~~~~~~~~~~

“I do not know what to make of their account,” Teyla said later, after more discussion with the elders, and, finally, a meal served with slightly lopsided ceramic mugs of tea. John liked tea, usually, but even for him this was pretty bland and grassy and he’d seen Rodney pursing his lips in distaste. No way an isolated village like this’d have anything approaching coffee, so Rodney would have to make do with the coffee rations from the MREs he and Ronon had packed, until those ran out. John made a mental note to force Rodney to ration the sachets so as to taper his intake gradually. Rodney in full-blown caffeine withdrawal was not a pretty sight.

They’d retired to a large spare bedroom in the rambling, many-roomed home of Kaia, the braided woman. It wasn’t, however, entirely clear exactly who lived in the house, as John had seen the other three elders making themselves at home, and Nuen had prepared the meal, helped by the fourth elder, a plump, bright-eyed woman called Mithen who had shoulder-length dark hair streaked with gray. The mustached man’s name was Ommet.

“There can be very few cultures in the known worlds of Pegasus who have not heard of the Wraith, the Ancestors, the Ring system or such things as ascension,” Teyla continued, shaking her head.

“Worse than us when we arrived, eh?” John nudged her, smirking. Teyla smiled and rolled her eyes.

They were camped out on the oversized bed that half-filled the room they’d been allocated. John hadn’t wanted them split up into separate rooms, and it wasn’t clear that the household had that many rooms to spare, anyway. They hadn’t been offered any other bedrooms, just shown where the washroom and outdoor privy were.

John and Teyla were sitting cross-legged and Rodney had made himself comfortable against the headboard after commandeering most of the pillows, muttering something about his lumbar region. Ronon was stretched out full-length on his back, arms under his head and one knee raised.

Their hosts called themselves the Ki’O, and had lived here about twenty years. No other travelers had come through the portal to join them in all the time they’d been here – John guessed any knowledge of there being a sanctuary of the Ancestors on this world had been lost. The village was rife with speculation about the new arrivals and Kaia and Ommet had repeatedly turned away curious neighbors and evicted gaping children from the window-frames. “All in good time,” Kaia had said, looking harassed. “Let our guests rest and recuperate after their travels – you will meet them soon enough.” The parade of gawkers let up after dusk fell, the children herded off to their suppers and bed.

An oil lamp on the dresser cast flickering light across the familiar faces of his team. John wondered if it would take Atlantis six months to come rescue them this time. Other than the usual low-level worry for the city that never left him, he was far less bothered by that prospect than he ought to be, given his responsibilities as military commander. Lorne was competent, though, and Carter was military as well, able to handle just about any eventuality after her years on SG1. She and Radek would figure out how to get them back.

“What about how they said they got here?” John asked, looking at Rodney who was frowning off into the middle distance, distracted. “McKay?”

“Some kind of beaming accident from the sound of it,” Rodney said, flapping a dismissive hand. “Didn’t sound like their culture had a Gate system so we’re talking about an alternate universe.”

He glanced at John and shrugged. “You heard what Ommet said. They were expecting to be beamed down from a spacecraft to some sort of convention center, kind of like a whole 747 disembarking, and suddenly they materialized here, inside the time dilation barrier. They still think they’re in their own universe, just trapped behind a field somewhere due to a displacement error. No wonder Nuen’s so pissed. Sounded like their universe was high-tech in terms of data storage and retrieval, FTL interstellar travel and comms, even if some worlds deliberately chose a lower-tech way of life.” His face got a dreamy look. “Nuen said they had ansibles. Ansibles!”

Rodney shook himself. “Anyway, even on a farming world like these guys came from, there was still an underlying high-tech infrastructure. When they got beamed here they thought their world and all its tech was still out there, just past the field barrier. They couldn’t figure out why they’d been abandoned.”

John looked away. “Yeah, know the feeling.”

Rodney rolled his eyes, “Oh, please, we didn’t–”

“So they were not prepared for survival here?” Teyla interrupted smoothly, heading off the old argument.

“No, I was talking to Mithen and she said they lost quite a few people the first year, to accidents or random infections. Took them a while to learn how to hunt – like I said, they were farmers originally. Most of the village buildings were already here – must have been left behind from the last bunch of Pegasus locals who managed to ascend. There were fields that had run wild, and houses with gone-to-seed garden beds, so they salvaged the seeds and replanted what they could. It was pretty touch and go for a few years, from what she said, and they still don’t have any real medical . . . oh my god, they don’t have any medical facilities!

“Breathe, McKay.” John tried not to show the worry that had gripped him at Rodney’s words. This was a whole new ballgame – a truly isolated society without benefit of any partially ascended villagers who could heal wounds or cure illnesses. If he hadn’t had that kid Hedda to help him, he didn’t think he’d have made it the first time. Mind you, no rage monster here, so nothing to cause those injuries either. But Rodney was right – there were always accidents. What if an insect stung Rodney or he was allergic to something else? Sure, they had a few epi-pens among them, but once those ran out . . .

John grimaced. He’d gotten his whole team marooned. He’d put them at risk. “Sorry, it’s my–”

“Can it, Sheppard,” growled Ronon, now propped on one elbow, frowning. “Not your fault we’re here. Our choice.”

“Yeah, but–”

Teyla had moved to sit beside Rodney, and was rubbing his back, soothing him. She fixed John with a no-nonsense glare. “Indeed, John. Our situation here is entirely accidental. If anyone is at fault it is the Ancestors and their preoccupation with ascension.”

“As usual!” spluttered Rodney. “The magnitude of the idiocy and sheer wrong-headedness of those lunatics as ever leaves me speechless!”

“Not all that speechless, buddy,” grinned John, patting Rodney’s knee awkwardly. If Rodney could work up a good rant, he’d be okay.

They talked a little more, desultorily, mostly to reassure each other that Carter, Lorne and Radek would come for them. It wasn’t awkward—well, not very awkward—sleeping all together in the big bed. There was plenty of room and they’d bunked together many times before, off-world, often in far less comfortable conditions.

It occurred to John, suddenly, that they were truly safe from the Wraith, for almost the first time since the expedition had arrived in Atlantis. He fell asleep on that thought, his nose tickled by Teyla’s hair and Ronon a warm mass at his back.

~~~~~~~~~~

The next day, over a breakfast of sweetened, porridge-like grain, crusty bread and goat’s cheese—well, not goats so much as the goat-like animals the Ki’O had found roaming here when they arrived, which Teyla said were called bakshi—John badgered Rodney into agreeing to the coffee-rationing plan. Teyla had woken early and inventoried all their gear, stacking MRE packages beside the bed. There were twenty-two. Rodney drew up a withdrawal schedule on his laptop, complaining that it made him feel like an addict.

“If the cap fits,” John said sourly, because he wasn’t as reliant on coffee as Rodney but he always had a cup to get him going first thing, and while he was prepared to sacrifice that for the greater good, he didn’t have to like it. “Anyway,” John continued, to cut off Rodney’s inevitable comeback, “you’re gonna drain the laptop battery real fast, using it on crap like this. Not exactly a charging station around here.”

“I’ve got a solar charger.” Rodney waved smugly at the window, through which sunshine and the inevitable batch of tousle-headed children were visible. “No, it’s the life signs detector I’m more worried about. That’ll only last 34.63 days, away from the jumper. Simpson ran tests on them.”

John looked around the large kitchen where their four hosts—who did all seem to live here—were bringing tea and more bread to the table, and what looked like honey. Teyla was chatting to some villagers outside, and Ronon was in the washroom doing laundry. “Not exactly gonna be a stretch to work out how many people are here. Why’d we need it?”

“Becff ’s mof–” Rodney began, mouth full of bread and cheese. John winced and made the lip-zipping signal, grimacing apologetically at Kaia as she sat down beside him. Rodney managed to roll his eyes, chew furiously and gesticulate – he was pretty good at multi-tasking. He swallowed exaggeratedly, then said “Because it’s modified. I programed extra scanner functions into it.”

John had some bread and honey, trying to figure out why they needed extra scanner functions here, where there was nothing to scan.

Kaia cleared her throat. “John,” she said, gesturing at the other three elders who’d also taken seats at the large table. “We have been talking about what you told us last night. It is a shock, of course, to learn that we are probably in another universe, but I think we had accepted that we were not going to see home again.” The others nodded, and Nuen swallowed. Kaia went on. “It is a lot to take in – about the Stargates, the race you call Ancients, and these creatures called Wraith. About the purpose of this place, inside the barrier.”

John nodded. Hell of a thing for anyone to get to grips with.

“Well, at least it explains why we’re trapped here,” muttered Nuen. “It’s driven me crazy not knowing.” He sighed. “Not that we’ll ever know what went wrong with the ship-transfer to the Center at Hain.”

“I confess that we find this notion of ascension hard to credit.” Kaia spread her hands. “We’re a practical people and the idea of existing in an incorporeal state is . . . not appealing.”

“I know.” Rodney leaned forward earnestly. “Those Ancients were whacked. Honestly, the number of crackpot and frankly dangerous experiments we’ve stumbled on–”

“Ah, yeah,” John cut in, trying to stem the usual litany of disasters. “Us, too. I mean, we don’t wanna ascend or anything. I kinda like having a body.” He grinned, and Rodney shot him a long-suffering glare but managed not to say anything about Kirk.

The elders smiled and Ommet snorted. “But of course. Your marriage is young, and your partners have bodies designed to tether you to the world.”

Nuen choked on his tea and Mithen laughed out loud. Kaia looked pained. “Ommet, please.” She turned back to John. “Do not mind him – he loves to tease.” John gave her a fake smile, feeling a little panicky. Where the hell was Teyla? He was pretty sure he was missing a bunch of cultural references here. He sure as hell hoped so.

Kaia patted John’s arm. “And in case you were worried about your . . . unorthodox arrangement, please do not fret. We have been unable to adhere strictly to the old ways in this place, with so little choice available to us. It is not unknown for a man to take on the role of the evening woman, John, as you have done. You are among friends here.”

Rodney was staring at Kaia and John, mouth open like a fish. John looked wildly toward the kitchen door where two familiar figures were crossing the threshold. “Teyla!” he practically yelled. “Ah, a little help here?”

~~~~~~~~~~

John and Rodney thrust the baton of cultural liaison into Teyla’s somewhat bemused hands and stumbled outside. John had muttered something about helping Rodney ‘scan for a ZPM’, but both of them ended up largely occupied trying to escape the crowd of tag-along children. Thankfully, the adults weren’t badgering them as well – he figured Kaia had asked them not to hassle the team. The elders probably had ways to pass on news to the villagers; it was a small place, after all.

Ronon joined them after a few minutes. “Got bored,” he said. “Teyla’s better at relationship stuff.” He crammed a hunk of bread and cheese into his mouth.

John blanched at the r-word and to change the subject, passed Ronon a sticky-faced toddler he’d been carrying. He didn’t know what to make of the hints about foursomes – the people they’d met so far didn’t seem like sexual adventurers, just typical Pegasus villagers, kitted out in the usual homespun and leather and going peaceably about their business.

A teenaged boy called Mennet showed them around, pointing out the main buildings of the village and the perimeter of fields growing grain and unfamiliar leafy greens, beyond which an outer rim of forested hills rose up. The area inside the time-bubble was a roughly circular valley, with no open water other than a large pond where duck-like birds swam and the village children splashed. It looked to have been created from a stream that wound its way across the valley and which at some point had been dammed up – Rodney was examining the dam critically. They’d seen a well in the center of the village, so this was probably a reservoir for the fields. Mennet left them there and went to help gather purplish root vegetables and pile them in a cart.

“Think it’s an old caldera like the other place?” John asked Rodney, who was turning around slowly, frowning at his life signs detector.

“What?” Rodney blinked. “Oh, no, not this time. It’s most likely a bunch of giant sinkholes that all collapsed, leaving the outer rim. Geology’s not really my field of course, but you pick up a bit vetting research applications.” He stopped and looked up, stricken. “Radek’ll be letting them do all sorts of specious nonsense while I’m away, damn it.”

“Relax – he’ll be too busy working out how to get us back. And sinkholes? Where?”

“The hills,” Rodney said, waving vaguely. “Rim of a series of huge sinkholes that formed the valley. The area’s riddled with caves – I can see it on the modified scanner. The village well’s probably fed by an aquifer bubbling up through the limestone.”

“Huh,” said John. “Caves?”

“Yes.” Rodney looked annoyed. “And therein lies our biggest problem.”

John’s heart sank – there was always some damn thing. “Hit me.”

“Well, I’m sure that we can rely on Radek and Carter to cobble together enough science to get us out of here, but you know me, I’m a DIY kind of guy.”

John nodded. Him, too.

Rodney went on. “Plus, I figured if we could get out earlier we could be home in just a few weeks, rather than wasting six months of our valuable lives in pastoral detention. But I’ll need to pull the ZPM that powers the time dilation field, and of course, the fucking Ancients,”—John covered the ears of a kid clinging to his leg and glared at Rodney—“have designed all this so as to make that well-nigh impossible. Ascension was supposed to be the only way out.”

“So, what?” John frowned. “You can’t locate it?”

“Oh I can locate it all right, with my handy modified scanner.” Rodney waved the life signs detector smugly. “But we can’t access the damn thing.”

“It’s outside the field?”

“No, it can’t be. Look, by its very nature the field has to emanate from the generator where the ZPM is. Spatio-temporal geometry won’t let the ZPM be off to one side somewhere–”

John nodded. “It’s bang in the middle of a sphere?”

“No, no, as that’d mean the time dilation bubble went all the way down into the planet as well and that’d use far too much power containing the tidal forces. Inefficient.”

“So it’s kind of like blowing a soap bubble,” John said thoughtfully. “Where the bubble’s still attached to the little loop on one side?”

Rodney screwed up his face. “Where do you get these inane analogies? That’s not at all . . . well, I suppose in one way . . . oh, it’ll do. Yes.” He raised one finger, and his eyebrows. “Which means?”

“Which means,” John grinned, “if it’s attached at the generation point we can get to it while staying inside the field.”

“Give the man a carrot.” Rodney’s mouth twisted in a crooked grin. Then his face fell. “Except we can’t.”

Ronon had been listening to all this, bouncing a child on his hip and looking from one to the other of them like it was a tennis match. “Why not?”

Rodney turned to him. “Because they buried the damn ZPM! It’s over 250 meters below us in the limestone. Probably why they chose this place – it’ll be in a cave, I expect.”

Ronon leaned away from where the kid was trying to grab a fistful of beard. “So all we gotta do is find the cave entrance, right?”

“Or we could just wait to be rescued,” snapped Rodney. “That would be a less, oh I don’t know, insane option than spelunking with no equipment in an unmapped cave system on an alien planet!”

“Nah,” said Ronon. “Where’s the fun in that?”

~~~~~~~~~~

They talked again that night, back in their room, and John reflected that this was getting to be a habit. Tackle the locals, find out a bunch of weird stuff and regroup in a huddle at the end of the day. It was kind of like football, but with a shitload more embarrassment and no touchdowns.

“It appears,” Teyla said carefully, “that the villagers here practise a form of plural marriage. Usually, there are two women and two men in one union.”

“Oh,” Rodney said, wide-eyed. “You mean “Kaia and Nuen . . . ”

“And Ommet and Mithen, yes,” Teyla agreed.

Rodney laughed nervously. “No wonder their beds are so big!”

John stiffened. They were on the bed as usual, sitting or lounging. He realized his knee was touching Rodney’s leg and carefully moved it half an inch. When he looked up the other three were staring at him. Rodney looked flushed and irritated, Teyla long-suffering and Ronon amused. John gave them an insincere smile and put his hands in his lap.

“They all,” Ronon waved his hand in a vaguely suggestive way, “with each other?”

“It is complicated,” Teyla replied. “As well as gender they have another concept, called a moiety. All people are either of the evening or the morning moiety. The pairings within a marriage are governed as much by moiety as by gender.”

“Well, I’ve never been a morning person,” said Rodney, “so that’s me sorted. Oh, is it like in Harry Potter? Have they got a hat that sorts people into moieties?”

Teyla sighed. “They have not, and as foreigners we are without moieties. A person is, I gather, born into their mother’s moiety.”

“Well she definitely wasn’t a morning person,” said Rodney. “I always got Jeannie up and made our lunches. Mum didn’t even surface until after we’d gone to school.” John felt a pang of sympathy. He hadn’t been allowed to disturb his Mom as she’d been ‘tired’ most mornings. Later he figured out that meant she was hungover. But at least as a kid he’d had housekeepers who’d sat him down at the kitchen table and made him breakfast. He shot Rodney a rueful glance, imagining him as an overly self-sufficient ten year old. It explained a few things.

“I do not think that ‘morning’ and ‘evening’ can be taken as literally as that, Rodney,” Teyla said patiently. “Our hosts were not able to explain what the characteristics of each moiety were, except that morning people were sometimes more pragmatic and straightforward, and evening people were sometimes more private and emotionally complex.”

“Oh well, Sheppard, you’re definitely an evening person as well, then,” Rodney said firmly.

“What I am,” said John tightly, “is someone who’s not keen to be shoehorned into some meaningless category.” He frowned at Rodney. “Especially by you. You’re not exactly Mr. Perceptive.”

“I used to be straightforward,” Ronon said suddenly, not looking at anyone. “Before.”

They all gaped at him, then Rodney said, “Well, precisely. There’s nature and nurture to be taken into account.” He glared at John who was giving him a disbelieving look. “What? I have to read the soft science research proposals as well, before I refuse them. That stuff’s contagious!”

Teyla raised her hands. “Let us not rush into assumptions – I gather those personality traits do not always manifest. And remember – we are without moieties, as outsiders to their culture.” She took a breath. “It is because we are a team of four. Initially, they assumed . . . ” she spread her hands. “It is what they are used to. They had no other terms of reference.”

John swallowed. “That’s why . . . all of us in here? The one room?”

“Indeed.” Teyla inclined her head. “They apologized to me if that had caused offence.” She narrowed her eyes. “I assured them it had not.”

“Oh, right, apart from Ronon’s snoring and Sheppard’s annoying tendency to kick,” muttered Rodney.

Ronon snorted. “Like you don’t snore, McKay – you’re the worst.”

“Which is why you sleep on your front or your side, Rodney,” Teyla assured him. “The snoring is only a problem if you lie on your back.”

John glared at Rodney. “And I don’t kick people in the night. Ronon, back me up here.”

“Nah, only McKay. Teyla and I can handle you – just gotta keep you away from McKay.”

There was a pause. “You know,” Rodney said, “we do sound kind of married.”

~~~~~~~~~~

The next day, they talked to Teyla about finding the ZPM powering the time dilation field.

"I see," she said. "I take it that you have not discussed this plan with our hosts?"

"Well, no," said Rodney. It was a bit premature for that. He was still calculating the exact field-cone parameters.

"But you were going to?" asked Teyla, giving him the eyebrow.

Rodney was getting better at reading Teyla's eyebrows. There was the ‘long-suffering enquiry' eyebrow, the 'affectionate ribbing' eyebrow, even the rare 'flirting' eyebrow. This wasn't any of those. This was the ‘disppointed' eyebrow. Rodney hated that one. "I, er . . . yes?" he tried, unconvincingly.

She levelled a stern look at the three of them. “Did it not occur to you, while making plans for this adventure, that if you successfully remove the ZPM you will expose this community to the Wraith?”

“Nuen’d probably be happy,” muttered John. He hated the disappointed eyebrow even more than Rodney did.

“Better fighting than hiding.” Ronon folded his arms, trying to tough it out.

“It is not our choice to make,” replied Teyla, and okay, there went the eyebrow of doom, and none of them were game to argue with that one.

~~~~~~~~~~

“You mean there is a way out of here?” Nuen was on his feet, leaning excitedly over the table.

Kaia put a hand on his arm. “Sit, my dear. It isn’t so simple.”

John nodded. Nuen had reacted pretty much like he’d expected, but he wasn’t sure what the others thought. “Yeah, like I said, we don’t know if we can switch off the field, but we think our people will manage to disable it in a few months if we can’t.”

“What about these Wraith creatures?” asked Ommet. “I don’t like the sound of them.”

Teyla spread her hands. “The Wraith are indeed a scourge, and you would have to make plans to survive them should they discover your world and find the time-barrier gone.”

“Well,” Rodney put in, “but you’ve got caves. Caves are good. On some planets the people live in caves all the time, but if that’s not your thing, they’re still a useful bolthole.”

“A place to hide, if the Wraith come,” John explained. “They cull from the skies, using beaming technology. You’d need other defences, but a cave network’s a useful place to start.”

Ommet frowned. “I don’t know . . . we’re not fighters. We’re farmers, mostly.”

“Speak for yourself,” Nuen said, annoyed. “We’re farmers here as we’ve had no choice. We weren’t always farmers, not all of us. Besides, these Wraith might never come, for all we know.”

“Maybe. Wraith maps probably don’t show this place,” Ronon said. “Might be a long time before they found you, but someday . . . ”

“Yes.” Mithen looked worried. “And if they did find us we could be wiped out. We have no real weapons, just spears and knives that were left behind here – and precious few of them. It’s been something we’ve worried about – the shortage of metal artifacts from which to make new tools.”

John grimaced. “Well, we could train some of you and supply you with a few weapons, but that’d take a while. To be honest, I think a defensive strategy’d be your best bet to start with. Get some emergency caves ready with supplies and teach everyone to get themselves down there as fast as possible. McKay here could probably set you up with an early warning system at the Gate.”

“What, faster than a dart can fly? What am I, Miracle Man?” Rodney scowled at John, who raised an eyebrow.

Teyla put a calming hand on Rodney’s arm. “We had caves on my homeworld, Athos,” she told the elders. “Your population is not large so you would not be a great prize to them. If you hid yourselves well, the Wraith would lose interest and leave, after a time.”

“And think of the advantages,” Nuen said eagerly. “Trade through this Stargate thing for whatever we need. Cultural exchange and access to technology again. Hope for our young people rather than a life bounded by the rim of this valley.”

“Risk of invasion, of diseases to which we have no immunity. Risk of harm coming to any who step through this Stargate onto alien worlds.” Mithen was on her feet as well, glaring. She whirled and confronted John. “How often do your trading parties meet with harm or trickery, off-world?”

“Well,” John shrugged, looking uneasy. “I mean, sure, you’ve got to be careful and there are risks, but–”

“Oh for Christ’s sake,” Rodney broke in. “Yes, we’ve been betrayed by duplicitous troglodytes, and kidnapped, and shot with arrows, and if I never see the inside of another primitive jail cell it’ll be way too soon, not to mention the constant risk of allergic reactions. But Nuen’s right. You can’t rot in here forever, cut off from the whole galaxy. You’ve been lucky to make it this long without people cracking up, and you don’t have anywhere near a viable population to breed and sustain yourselves. If you shut yourselves away in here your violence and suicide rates are going to go up exponentially and the inbreeding doesn’t bear thinking about. I’d give you fifty years, tops.”

“No really, McKay, don’t pull your punches,” muttered John, face in hands.

Teyla looked pained. “I do apologize for–”

“He’s right,” Kaia said flatly. “Mithen, you know it. Only last winter Hirshel’s son killed himself, and that’s the third suicide in the past two years.”

She sighed and stood up. “There are no easy options, and this is not a decision we can make alone. We need to call everyone together – it’s time for a great-meeting.”

~~~~~~~~~~

John draped himself across the foot of their bed, avoiding Rodney’s feet. Rodney’s socks needed washing but he was lazy about laundry at the best of times, let alone here where he couldn’t just throw his stuff in a machine. John wrinkled his nose.

“Oh dear god, my poor aching back,” Rodney moaned, stretching out flat and wriggling his toes. “I thought they’d never shut up!” He looked up at Teyla who was sitting cross-legged beside him. “I take back all my bitching about Athosian harvest ceremonies. These people win the tediousness trophy hands down.”

“It’s one of the most important decisions they have had to make since they were trapped here, Rodney,” Teyla said reprovingly. “Most communities never have the opportunity to debate whether or not to live free and expose themselves to the Wraith, or remain sequestered. Naturally they needed to give the issues due consideration.”

John scrubbed a hand over his face and yawned. “Yeah, not so much ‘live free or die’ as live free and die. But jeez - six fucking hours of consideration?” He looked across at Teyla. “I don’t know how you hung in there the whole time. I had to keep going outside and doing jumping jacks to wake myself up.”

“Didn’t bother trying,” Ronon was sitting on the floor, leaning back against the end of the bed.

John gave him a half-hearted head-slap, reflecting that it was way less effective with Ronon than with Rodney, Ronon being well-cushioned with dreads. Plus, there was always the risk of a stray knife.

Ronon twisted around, frowning. “What was that for?”

“Snoring in the Very Important Meeting.”

Ronon subsided, shrugging. “It was boring.”

Rodney waved a finger as though conducting an invisible orchestra on the ceiling. “My point exactly. So what’s next, now they’ve decided to help us find the ZPM and disable the time-field?”

“I believe we should work in two groups,” said Teyla. “The Ki’O are aware of some caves underlying the village – remember Daren, the young man with bright red hair? He said they had mapped the closest underlying caves and were using them to store root vegetables. Perhaps you, John, and Ronon, could go with him and explore the more accessible parts of the cave system. Even if it does not lead us to the ZPM, you can help them plan their emergency shelters. We, after all, know how the Wraith operate, and the Ki’O do not.”

“Yeah, okay,” said John. “Gotta start somewhere, and McKay said the ZPM’s pretty much directly underneath us–”

Rodney sighed. “I said it was over 250 meters below us, or for metrically-challenged Americans, that’s about 800 feet.” He lifted one arm and jabbed his finger down at the floor. “So that’s like the depth of a 80-storey skyscraper. It’s not going to be easy getting down there. It may well be impossible.”

“Depends how big the caves are,” said John. “I don’t fancy a lot of crawling down narrow cracks and tunnels, but if we hit a large chamber or a vertical shaft, we could abseil down and save a lot of time.”

“Abseiling – that’s with ropes?” Ronon asked. “They got ropes here? I packed a few, but even joined up, they won’t reach all that far.”

“The Ki’O have rope,” Teyla said. “Bakshi hair is very strong and supple when plaited together in strands.”

“But it won’t exactly be up to modern cordage specifications,” Rodney pointed out. “Especially if Ronon the Ginormous here’s going to be swinging off it. Plus, we’ve got no real climbing gear – no carabiners or crampons or pitons or whatever.”

John raised his eyebrows. “How come you know all this rock climbing stuff, McKay?”

Rodney waved a hand. “I dated a climber for a while when I was at Caltech. He used to drag me off to Yosemite and put me in charge of their gear. I don’t know which I loathe more, heights or enclosed spaces. So, you know, rock climbing inside a pitch dark cave? Pretty much my worst nightmare.” He let one arm fall across his face and shuddered.

He? John thought. Rodney’d dated a–

“Rodney? Are you well?” Teyla sounded concerned. John’s mind was still stuck on that ‘he’. But Rodney had struggled up and was sitting on the edge of the bed, breathing rapidly.

Rodney flailed a hand. “Panic attack . . . I get th–” He began rocking, arms wrapped around his chest.

John and Ronon exchanged a worried glance. “You need an Epi-pen?” John asked, looking toward the corner where their packs were stashed.

“Not . . . allergy . . . hypervent . . . ” gasped Rodney. “ . . . Anxiety . . . ”

“Then you must calm yourself,” Teyla said firmly. “Breathe with me now, slowly. Slowly, Rodney, you have plenty of air, you must slow down your breathing.”

“MRE . . . ” wheezed Rodney.

“Don’t think this is the time to try and eat something, buddy.” John frowned. “We’ll sort your blood sugar out later if you’re still woozy.”

Rodney flailed out and clipped John across the ear. Ow. “MREs . . . pack . . . ”

“Yeah, I know where they are, but you’re in no state – oh, wait.” John crawled over and ripped the packs open until he found the one they were using to store trash. He pulled out a mostly-intact used MRE package and scrambled back to Rodney, pushing the bag into his hands. Rodney buried his face in the open end and gasped into it. Teyla continued coaching him to breathe more slowly, rubbing his back soothingly. After a while, his rapid breathing slowed and he stopped rocking and lowered the bag.

His voice was hoarse when he spoke again. “And that was just from thinking about climbing down into an unknown cave system.” Rodney looked up, his face blotchy, eyelashes wet. “I can’t do it,” he said brokenly. “I just . . . I can’t.”

“You do not have to, Rodney,” Teyla said firmly. “We will find another way.” She coaxed him to lie down on his stomach on the bed. “Come, I will massage your back. That will help.”

It did help, or at least Rodney was snoring softly within five minutes. John had joined Ronon on the floor, both of them sitting against the wall so as to keep an eye on Rodney. Teyla perched on the side of the bed in front of them, elbows on knees. “I was not aware that Rodney was so afraid of exploring the cave system,” she said quietly, glancing back over her shoulder. “He is exhausted now.”

“He’s been underground before, and in caves,” John said. “He gets pretty twitchy, but I’ve never seen him like this.”

Ronon shrugged. “ ’s what he said. Heights, and caves, and the dark. And,” he flicked a hand at the world outside their room, “everything.”

“Yeah, he’s pretty worried about how isolated we are. And, y’know, no infirmary and all that.”

Teyla sighed. “It is a concern, yes.” There was a pause, as they contemplated their predicament.

John stretched his legs. “You said we should split into two groups,” he said, looking up at Teyla. “What d’you think you and Rodney should do?”

“Rodney will map the cave system from the surface, using his scanner,” Teyla said. “And I will work with the Ki’O to prepare them for life after the time-field is disabled. There is much they need to know.”

John chewed his lip. “It’s gonna take a while, all this.” He ran a hand through his hair.

“We got time,” Ronon said quietly.

“Yeah, buddy, guess we do.” John sighed.

“Indeed. So there is no need to take any foolish risks.” Teyla eyed them both with a frown.

“We’ll be good, Mom,” John said, managing a smirk. “Honest.”

Teyla shook her head. “I am not your mother, John, thank all the Ancestors.”

“Uh, no, right.” John felt his ears flush hot. “ ’course not. I’ll just . . . ” And he lurched to his feet and escaped to the privy.

~~~~~~~~~~

After he’d relieved himself, John wandered through the dark, deserted lanes of the village until he came to the central square. He sat on the low stone steps ringing the well, head in hands. Teyla and Ronon probably thought he was crazy, or an idiot. They couldn’t know what was churning away in his thoughts. Christ – he hoped like hell they didn’t, anyway.

It was the whole thing with this place where almost everyone was in a foursome. The continual, casual contacts between their hosts – a light touch to the shoulder, a kiss on the cheek, all in too many permutations between the four of them. Teyla had told them that Kaia and Ommet were more like siblings, as were Nuen and Mithen, but they still touched each other a lot.

John had noticed it at the village meeting. Unlike the smaller nuclear family groups he’d been used to from parties for company employees his father had thrown when he still lived at home, here, the family clusters were larger and centered around four, not two. He was constantly seeing the couples within them – two women holding hands, or the guys from a foursome with an arm around each others’ shoulders. Always trying in his head to work out the permutations and combinations, figure out who was morning and who was evening. Who was fucking whom.

He shook his head. He didn’t even know what this morning and evening shit meant, but he was obsessed with it. Obsessed by what it would mean if his team were like the Ki’O. A sedoretu.

Rodney’d insisted he and John were evening people and of course that was a crock of shit; it wasn’t about how late you went to bed. John didn’t know why it made his stomach clench, why he felt a little cold inside, thinking about it. Rodney was right – John was full of secrets, walling himself off even from his team, and if they weren’t his family then no one was. That was what got to him, why he kept thinking about it. They were a sedoretu, really, in most ways. Except . . .

He blew out a frustrated breath. It was okay. If he and Rodney were evening people that meant they were bros, best buddies. And they were. He loved Rodney, sure, like a friend loved another friend. That was how it was, and Rodney sure drove him batshit crazy just like brothers always did. So that was fine, it was fine, and he didn’t know what the sick knot in his guts was about.

Except that he did. Teyla and Ronon. If he and Rodney were evening, then they were . . . well, Ronon had said as much, that he used to be straightforward, like morning people were supposed to be. Teyla wasn’t really straightforward, but she was honest and direct and she called him on his bullshit and didn’t hide herself away like he did. So yeah, he could see the morning in her, maybe, for all that she was subtle and complex as well.

He shouldn’t have called her Mom – Jesus, bad move, terrible move. His feelings about her had never been that, hard as he’d tried to suppress them. Look what’d happened when he was turning into a goddam bug? That kiss. She’d been gracious, after, but he could still remember the taste of her, her body under his hands. Christ, she was hot. How could anyone not want her?

And Ronon, fuck. Ronon was hot enough to tempt a dead man, and John was very much alive. He’d pushed the want down, let it fuel his sparring and give an edge to their runs. Ronon was team. He was family. He was off limits. Not here, whispered his traitorous thoughts. Not off limits here.

The ‘what ifs’ were doing John’s head in. He rubbed the back of his neck and huffed out a frustrated breath. What if he could have it all – a family and a marriage? One that worked, not that sham he’d had with Nancy. What if he got to kiss Teyla for real, not in some Iratus-crazed fever dream? Got to unlace her bodice and slide his hand up her skirt. He groaned, cock stirring in his pants.

John pulled himself to his feet and left the square, too open and lit by the bright stars of alien nebulas, seeking the shelter of the twisting, shadowed laneways. He couldn’t go back to the house like this and there was no one else around. He found a well-hidden dark corner behind an outbuilding and leaned into the wall, cursing his weakness. Then he pressed his face into the crook of his arm and gave himself over to it, unbuttoning his pants and taking himself in hand.

Teyla was moving under him, her legs wrapped around his hips as he drove his cock into her. He could feel her around him, hot and slick, and god, she was such a sweet fuck. His hand moved faster, roughly, and he felt himself leaking, the head of his cock slippery as he pushed into his hand. His lips were on her breast now, the nipple firm and swollen as he sucked it, and he moaned into his arm, mouthing the salt sweat of his own skin as his hand sped on his cock.

The scene spun and shifted, and John widened his stance, gasping as he felt himself opened, Ronon’s fingers inside him, felt the strength pinning him down as Ronon thrust in, making John take it, filled and fucked and . . . oh, he was, oh. John cried out, muffled by the forearm jammed in his mouth, cock jerking in his grip as he splattered the rough wooden wall.

It was a while before he was able to pull himself together and return to the well to wash up and splash cold water on his heated face. Longer still before he crept back to their room and toed off his boots then slid, fully clothed, under the covers on the edge where Ronon lay. Where they’d left room. He could tell Ronon wasn’t asleep – probably he and Teyla had agreed Ronon would watch for him.

“You okay?” Ronon curled around John’s back. Not touching, but close, so John could feel his warmth.

John sighed, too drained and confused to keep his usual distance. He let himself sag back against Ronon’s comforting bulk, already drowsy. “Yeah, mostly.”

Ronon grunted and put an arm around him, pulling him in, and John drifted off between one breath and the next.

~~~~~~~~~~

Rodney liked their new house. Well, not new, as it was dilapidated and barely furnished, but it was theirs, a gift from the Ki’O. They’d also been gifted the huge bed they’d used at Kaia’s and that caused a dilemma, as they now had separate bedrooms. Rodney’d argued successfully for the bed to be in his room, what with his back problems, and even though he suspected Teyla of humoring him and John of giving way just to shut him up, it was a victory of sorts. Ronon was happy sleeping on the floor on a heap of straw covered with blankets, so he didn’t care.

Teyla traded some of their gear for two smaller beds for her and John, and they weren’t a patch on Rodney’s but they were still bigger than those child-sized nonsenses in Atlantis. The village gave them basic supplies and produce, Ronon and John went hunting in the woods beyond the fields, and gradually, they settled into a domestic routine.

Rodney arranged a supply of paper from a local artisan and began mapping the cave complex. He rendered the three dimensional system on his laptop first then drew the key features on paper. Whoever finally followed his directions wouldn’t be able to use the laptop very long – not without sunlight to power it.

John, Ronon and two of the Ki’O checked out the upper layer of caves, using Rodney’s sketches. John said they were safe, but not as extensive as he’d hoped.

“Here, here, here and here.” Rodney stabbed a finger at the cave-map and took another spoonful of rabbity-thing stew. Ronon was a good cook, as long as you liked stew or barbeque. “They either already have cellar entrances under the houses, or the limestone’s thin enough that it should be easy to carve another couple.”

John leaned over the map. “Yeah, we checked that part out. It’s okay as far as it goes, but it’s a dead end. Be better if they had the option of going deeper if the Wraith followed them down.”

“Well, here’s the best place to excavate a connecting tunnel.” Rodney broke off a chunk of dark bread and tapped a place on the diagram he’d marked with a large X. “Break through about a meter of rock there, and it opens out into several more galleries.”

“Blow it with some C4,” Ronon suggested, stealing John’s bread as John pored over the map. Rodney smirked at him and Ronon raised an eyebrow.

Teyla put a bowl of chopped tuber leaves on the table. Rodney wrinkled his nose and John and Ronon became very focused on their stew bowls. “Greens, Rodney?”

“Look, I know we need the vitamins, but citrus-riddled although it usually was, I have to say I sorely miss salad dressing.” The locals just boiled the things, but Teyla was determined to recreate the salads she’d preferred on Atlantis. She frowned at them and one by one they forked a grudging heap of bitter greens into their bowls and tried to disguise the taste with stew. Rodney forced some down. “Maybe steamed? With bakshi butter?”

Teyla nodded. “I will try that next time.”

“Back to Ronon’s C4 idea,” Rodney said, clearing his bowl and casting about for his last chunk of bread, only to find John had commandeered it. He glared at the bastard and continued. “It’s risky, but we may not have much choice. As Mithen said, they don’t have a lot of good tools here and while the smith’s expert at smelting down anything broken and reworking it, it’s iron, not hardened steel. But luckily this is all limestone so it’s easy to work.”

“They going to stay here?” Ronon asked. “Once the shield’s gone?”

“I think so,” Teyla said. “At least until they have explored this world more extensively. The caves make this one of the safest areas for them to live, provided there are enough houses with cellars leading to the underlying caverns. Once we have sufficient access points we will do practices to determine how rapidly everyone can reach the caves. That will tell us whether there are enough evacuation points for the size of the village.”

“Always going to be a few caught in the fields or out hunting.” Ronon leaned back in his chair.

“Yes,” Teyla sighed. “That is true. Nuen suggested they build a watchtower, but we were not sure if a signal flashed from the hills would reach here in time.”

John made a face. “No good at night, and the Wraith sometimes come at night.” Ronon nodded.

“What they really need,” Rodney said, waving a fork, “is a nice loud air-raid siren up in the hills triggered by Gate activity. Nothing to be done about it now, but I could cobble one together back in Atlantis. They’d need some solar panels and a battery, but if I automated it then none of them would have to be sitting ducks in a tower right by the Gate, perfectly positioned as a Wraith appetizer. Besides,” he shuddered, “most boring job in the universe. They’d be bound to fall asleep and let everyone get culled.”

John grinned. “Good idea, Miracle Man.”

“Yes, well, I have my moments,” Rodney agreed, preening.

“It is an excellent plan, Rodney.” Teyla squeezed his hand. “The elders will be relieved.”

Later, lying awake in his too-large bed, Rodney tried to hold onto that moment – the warmth of Teyla’s hand, of her approval. He turned over restlessly, missing the others. He hadn’t been able to sleep properly since they’d moved in here and there’d been no more reason to share a bed. He re-mapped the cave system in his head, calculating the percentage explored to that still unknown. The number was depressingly tiny. Reciting pi didn’t even make him drowsy, and nor did the breathing exercises Teyla had taught him. Eventually, he got up.

The house was dark. Rodney found his candle and used an Athosian fire-starter to light it. He made his way to the kitchen and set a pot of water on the fire, adding more wood. The water took a long time to boil and Rodney sat at the table, head in hands, feeling overwhelmed and lost. Trapped in a primitive time-warp with barely any tech to work with, and very probably reliant on Radek and Sam to disable the time dilation field without any help from ascended villagers this time. Unless they could climb down a quarter of a kilometer to the ZPM buried far below. Unless he could climb down.

His breathing quickened and he forced it to slow. Teyla had said he wouldn’t have to, but John and Ronon weren’t going to be able to deal with whatever machinery housed the field generator. They weren’t necessarily going to be able to improvise so as to extract the ZPM undamaged. He had to be there. He couldn’t get down there. Impasse. His shoulders sagged and exhausted tears stung his eyes. He was so tired; if only he could sleep. He rubbed his face and pushed his chair back, then jumped, startled, knocking it over with a clatter.

“Rodney?” It was Teyla, lit by a candle. She put it on the table beside his, casting wavering double shadows on the kitchen walls. “I heard a noise.”

Rodney busied himself righting the chair. John and Ronon had the upstairs rooms so they probably hadn’t heard, although Ronon had ears like a bat. “Yes, yes, I’m fine.” He turned toward the fire and wiped his eyes on his sleeve surreptitiously. “Just a little trouble sleeping.” He waved a hand. “Evening person, here.” He grabbed the folded rag that passed for an oven mitt and brought the boiling water to the table. “Tea?”

“Thank you, Rodney, I will.” She got two of the slightly lopsided mugs made by a local potter, and the box of tea. Well, box of local vegetation that tasted like ass.

Rodney thought longingly of his dwindling stash of MRE coffee rations, but John would give him hell if he stole any and although coffee didn’t usually prevent him sleeping, in his current state, stressed and in withdrawal, it wasn’t worth the risk.

Teyla blew gently on the surface of her tea. “”You are worried,” she said, finally. “You look tired, Rodney – more so every day.”

“I . . . ” Rodney’s instinct was to deny everything, but this was Teyla. “I’m not sleeping,” he admitted.

“Do you know why?” She examined him, concerned. He could imagine what she saw: the tense shoulders, the stubble, the dark shadows under his eyes.

He shrugged. “Everything. I’m better when I’m busy, you know?” She nodded. “This . . . ” He sighed. “The more I find out—the more of the cave system I map—the more impossible it seems. Then there’s Zelenka and Carter; I hate relying on others. They’re good, but . . . ”

“They aren’t you,” Teyla finished.

He nodded, miserable. “I know, hubris, arrogance, but . . . ” He shook his head and drank some tea, wincing at the taste.

“Yet you were sleeping before, were you not?” Teyla eyed him carefully. “At Kaia’s house.”

“Well, yes,” Rodney agreed, “so I can’t blame the bed, since I scored that.” He gave her a small smile. “It . . . I don’t know. It doesn’t seem as comfortable any more.”

“Perhaps it is too large?”

Rodney looked a little shamefaced. “Look, I know it could be seen as selfish of me to have the very big bed all to myself, but honestly, Teyla, no one grasps how painful my back sometimes gets.” He glanced up and continued hurriedly. “Yes, yes, I know. All my fault due to years of poor posture hunched over laptops and the like, but the damage’s done now and I can’t undo it.” His chin went up defensively. “And yes, I have been doing those stretches you taught me.” He sagged. “What I wouldn’t give for a back-rub.”

Teyla put her hand over his on the table. “We do understand about your back, Rodney. I meant only that perhaps you are not comfortable by yourself in such a large bed. Perhaps you are lonely?”

“What?” Rodney frowned. “But I always sleep alone. I’m not a child.”

“Indeed, no.” She smiled at him. “But think – you do not always sleep alone. On missions you often share a tent with one of us, and even in Atlantis you often sleep in the laboratory or the viewing lounge after movie night, rather than your own room.” Teyla shrugged. “Athosians are different, Rodney. We are more accustomed to communal living than are people from Earth – especially off-world, on trading missions. I think I too would find it lonely in your very big bed.”

“Not if I was in it as well,” he shot back with a smirk, then blushed and dropped his eyes to his mug.

“My point exactly,” Teyla said. “Shall we try it?”

“Sharing the bed?” Rodney swallowed. “Just . . . just us? Not the others?”

“Just us. The others are sleeping so we should not disturb them.” She stood and held out her hand. “Come.”

Rodney went with her, unsure whether to be thrilled or terrified. He settled for restlessness as a compromise, tossing and turning until Teyla made him settle on his side, facing her.

“I have been thinking about the Ki’O,” Teyla said quietly. Rodney nodded. It was definitely better with Teyla in the bed. Companionable. If only he could stop fretting about where to put his hands, and worrying about kicking her. “Plural marriage is not uncommon in Athosian culture as well, you know.”

“It is?” Rodney’s voice sounded a little high pitched to his ears. He cleared his throat.

“Has it occurred to you that if you are correct and you and John fit most naturally into the evening moiety—John already having been identified by Kaia as the ‘evening woman’,” she added, her face mischievous in the flickering candlelight, “—and with Ronon and myself being of the morning, then you and I would be the ‘morning marriage’.”

“We . . . we would?” Rodney stammered. He cleared his throat again. “I, no. I can’t say that I . . . ” A blush heated his cheeks. Of course he’d thought of it; usually with his hand on his dick.

“Consider it, Rodney. I think it would reassure our hosts if we were to conform more closely to their expectations, and I think it would be good for us. We are far from home and face many uncertainties.”

“Wait, wait. You’re seriously suggesting this? That we . . . ” he flicked a hand between them and touched her breast accidentally. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean, I wasn’t–”

Teyla captured his hand and pressed it to her breast. She wore a loose t-shirt for sleeping and her skin was very warm through the thin fabric. Her nipple was under the ball of his thumb, and he almost involuntarily moved his thumb across it, feeling it firm at his touch.

“Are you sure, Teyla?” He sounded plaintive even to his own ears. “Because I don’t think I could have this, with you, and then lose it. And I’m really not good at this stuff. This . . . relationships.”

“We already have a relationship, Rodney,” Teyla said, “and I am not suggesting that this be only for one night. The morning marriage, remember?”

“Oh.” Rodney stared at her wide-eyed. He was a little spacey from tiredness, and the room was warm and intimate with only the candle, and Teyla was so beautiful. It still seemed like a terrible idea, fated to end in pain and humiliation, but fuck risk assessments. They were trapped in an alien time-warp in a galaxy far, far away and Teyla was smiling at him and he had a hand on her breast. Audaces Fortuna iuvat. “Can I kiss you?”

In answer she slid closer, pulling him to her and oh, she was so warm, soft and firm in all the right places. Her leg slid between his and his other hand cupped her face and they were kissing, breathless and careful.

After a while Teyla pulled back and rested her forehead against his, her hand in the hair at the nape of his neck. “Shall we continue or would you rather have that back-rub?”

“More of this,” he whispered. “If I get a back-rub I’ll fall asleep right away and I really don’t want to. Well, I do want to, but not yet. Teyla, God, I–”

He kissed her again, urgently, and her breathing quickened as he slid his hand up under the t-shirt to cup and squeeze her breast, skin to skin.

“Take it off?” he asked, voice hoarse, plucking at her top, and she sat and pulled it up fluidly, dropping it beside the bed. She smiled down at him hungrily, and Rodney swallowed.

“Now you,” Teyla put her hands under his sleep-shirt and ran them up his chest to tease his nipples. Rodney shut his eyes and arched into it as she coaxed him up a little and wrestled his shirt off. She wriggled out of her pants then pushed Rodney back on the bed and buried her face in his belly, nudging his pants down and rubbing her nose in the soft hair that ran down to his groin. “Mmmm,” she murmured. “Yes. I have wanted to do this for a very long time.”

“Really?” Rodney levered himself up on one elbow. “Because, you know, I’m totally on board with nuzzling below the belt. Really, I–”

Teyla pushed him back down with a firm hand, and Rodney fell back, elbow skidding out from under him. “Totally on board,” he repeated hopefully to the ceiling, feeling her slide his pants carefully down and off his legs. Then he felt heat and her hand. “Ah, oh my God. Teyla, oh, fuck–”

She was licking his cock, holding it in one small but extremely dextrous hand as she mouthed the head. He’d been hard since they first got into bed and all that strength and ferocity focused on him, on his dick, was intensely arousing. Rodney flung an arm across his mouth to muffle his groans. This was unbelievably good, and dear God she was sucking him now, and he had to grab the base of his cock and pull away to stave off coming.

“Sorry, sorry, but I haven’t, not for ages and I want to, to make love to you and I’m about three seconds away from coming all over your face, oh, oh I shouldn’t have thought that, fucking hell.” He curled around his groin, fighting for control until he’d backed himself off from the edge.

Teyla pressed herself to his side and licked his nipple. “You want to fuck me, Rodney?”

“You’re doing it deliberately, aren’t you?” he panted, delighted. “I had no idea you were such a tease.” Rodney pulled her up and kissed her again.

She broke off after a moment, gasping. “I do not mean to tease, Rodney, but if you do not stop talking and start fucking me soon, I will not be answerable for my–”

“Right, condom, condom, where’s my pack, where’s the–” He scrambled out and upended the contents in a pile on the floor. “Where the fuck is—aha!” Rodney clambered hastily back onto the bed, where Teyla was spread out on the covers in the glow of the candle like a lioness, her eyes slitted.

Rodney knelt on the bed and ripped the package open clumsily, then forced his hands to stop trembling and obey him as though this were a routine maintenance job on the ZPM console. He could do this. He was good with his hands.

The moment he had the thing on, Teyla was on him and in seconds he was flat on his back, gaping up as she straddled him. “Oh my fucking–”

She grinned down at him. “Better for your back, yes?” He nodded, open mouthed, staring up at her as she mounted him and took his cock in hand.

Her head fell back as she enveloped him and she gave a pleased sigh. Rodney whimpered, but he defied any man not to whimper under circumstances like these, with Teyla, gold-limbed in the flickering light like the epitome of desire, sinking down on his cock, shimmying her hips and leaning forward on her hands so as to brace herself and fuck him.

“Rodney, Rodney, yes,” she said, her voice husky.

She was too short for them to kiss easily – Ronon could probably have curled up like a contortionist and managed it but Rodney wasn’t thinking about that and anyway they weren’t allowed, were they? Morning man and morning woman, wasn’t that–

“Rodney, yes, bend your knees up, and here . . . ”

She took his hand and drew it between her legs, resting back against his thighs a little, spread wide, her body sheened with sweat, strong thighs rising and falling as she rode him. He found her clit and got a finger alongside it, his other hand clutching her hip. Teyla ground down on the hand between her legs and he thrust up into her, pulling her down onto to him as she shuddered, mouth open.

Rodney grabbed Teyla and with lust-fueled agility managed to roll her, needing her beneath him. He cursed as his cock slipped out but she opened her legs and said, “Here,” and he pushed in again, shivering. God, so sweet and hot.

Teyla wrapped her legs around him and he held on, thrusting blindly, his face buried in her neck. She cried out and he was there, pleasure crashing through him, shaking him like a terrier with a rat and leaving him limp. He had just enough presence of mind to catch himself on one arm, chest heaving, until he’d recovered and could deal with the condom and fall sideways, collapsing on his back.

Teyla lay beside him, breathing heavily, then reached down and grabbed her shirt from the floor, using it to wipe herself off and then carefully clean his cock. “Thanks,” he said, voice still hoarse.

“How is your back, Rodney?” she asked, looking down at him, propped on one elbow.

Rodney smiled and rolled onto his side, lifting his head to kiss her breast, one hand on her hip. “It’s great. I am literally, at this moment, feeling no pain.” She raised an eyebrow. Oh, the flirting eyebrow, very nice. “Endorphins,” he elaborated.

She nodded mock-solemn. “I think you will sleep now.”

“Mmmm,” he agreed, already drowsy. “Get the candle, would you?”

Her eye-roll was almost audible but by the time the room flickered into soot-scented darkness and Teyla curled back around him, Rodney was sprawled on his stomach, dreaming of cats.

~~~~~~~~~~

John watched the flickering lamplight vanish around an outcrop as Daren clambered after Ronon. This gallery had seemed promising at first, but he was pretty sure it was going to be another dead end and not link up to the next layer below.

He pulled himself through a narrow gap and around the limestone bulge into a larger cave, dimly lit by the oil lamps Daren and Ronon had set on a flat rock. They were crouched over something at the edge of the space, heads together, their shadows huge on the cave-wall beyond.

“Whatcha found?” John made his way over.

“It’s Torvell.” Daren’s voice was strained. “He was lost more than a year ago.”

John stared down at the heap of clothing covering a desiccated corpse. It almost looked Wraith-sucked, but no, not with the time-field. This was natural mummification.

“Sorry, buddy.” John liked Daren – the kid had guts and a good head on him. “You knew him?” Ronon shot him a scathing look and John winced.

Daren gave his question more attention than it deserved. “He was not a close friend, but yes – we know everyone here.” He looked sad. “Torvell had not been able to form a sedoretu with the couple he wanted. He was unhappy.”

Ronon frowned. “You think he meant to?”

Daren stood and nudged the homespun fabric with his foot, exposing a crudely-made dagger loose in the bones of the right hand. John peered at the body’s other wrist. Hard to tell, but he thought there was a rent in the withered tissues. Suicide, then.

“He would not have wanted his family to find him like this,” Daren said. “So he hid.”

Ronon eased the knife free and stood, the blade vanishing into his sleeve. “No reason for them to know. Could’ve just gotten lost down here.”

Daren sighed. “Thank you. It’s good that we’re finding a way to shut off the Barrier. This happens too often.” He looked around. “This cave, however, will not I think be the solution to our quest.”

John had already checked the perimeter. “Nope, another dead end.” He gestured at the corpse. “We taking him back?” He had no idea what the Ki’O did with their dead.

“There seems little point in causing fresh pain,” Daren said, considering. “His family have already performed the rites of severance and whatever made him Torvell is long gone. I’ll tell them he fell into a crevice and could not be reached.”

“Yeah,” John said. “Good thinking.”

“Tell them it was fast. That he didn’t feel it,” Ronon said, and John remembered he’d held command too, that he knew how this shit worked.

Daren nodded and they made their way out of the dead end and back through a series of caves to where ladders and ropes led up to the surface.

Rodney had gotten distracted building the Ki’O a methane-powered hydraulic irrigation system for the fields, and hadn’t finished mapping the next cave system for them to explore. Anyway, after finding the dead guy they needed a break, so the next day John and Ronon went hunting.

By mid afternoon they’d caught two rabbit-things and a kind-of-deer (it had hooves and long, curved canine teeth) and were ready for a well-earned rest. Ronon had shot the sabertooth deer but John had nabbed one rabbit-thing and only just missed the other. His aim was improving; the fuckers were fast.

Ronon led them across the foothills to the source of the stream that ran across the valley into the village pond. It emerged from a rock-face as a small waterfall and had carved a good-sized pool in the limestone below. Ronon stashed the game in a nearby tree-fork and they dumped their gear and stripped off. Ronon was always faster than John – how he managed to peel himself out of leathers like that, John had no idea, but he sure as hell wasn’t objecting to the show. The dawdling and ogling meant he had to stay in the cool greenish water a little longer, to make sure parts of him had calmed down before he clambered out and hauled his clothes back on.

He found Ronon sitting by a campfire in a nearby clearing, roasting something. It didn’t look like a rabbit and their kills were still up in the tree.

“Whatcha got there?”

“Green-striped lizard. See if it’s okay to eat.”

“Rather you than me, buddy.” John poked the fire with a stick and waved off Ronon’s offer of a charred lizard haunch. “Rodney’s doing better, y’know?”

Ronon grunted, pulling the meat off small bones with his teeth with surprising delicacy. “Good,” he grunted. John wasn’t sure if he meant the lizard drumstick, or Rodney.

Ronon finished the rest of the lizard and John said. “So, edible? What’s it taste like?”

“Tell you tomorrow if I don’t have the shits,” Ronon grinned at John and added. “Chicken,” wiping his hands on his pants.

“Sure it does.” John squinted up through the canopy. It was late afternoon, but they had a couple hours before dusk.

“It’s good for him,” Ronon said.

“What – lizard?” John was baffled by the non-sequitur.

“Screwing Teyla.”

“What? Who’s screwing Teyla?” John demanded, something hot and tight filling his chest. One of those Ki’O jerks getting even more on the side? He’d kill the bastard.

“McKay.” Ronon gave him the ‘why you are such a moron’ look.

John’s jaw dropped. “Rodney? And Teyla?”

“Yep. Couple weeks, now.” Ronon raised an eyebrow at John. “She says they’re the morning marriage.”

“She can’t . . . Can she just decide that?,” John asked, confused and a little hurt and yeah, kind of jealous. Rodney?

“It’s Teyla.” Ronon shrugged. “You gonna tell her no?”

John pulled a face. Point.

“Makes us the evening marriage,” Ronon said casually.

“Oh, not this shit again about me being the ‘evening woman’ like Kaia said,” John protested. “I know Rodney’s bi – he let slip about dating a guy back in college. Why do I get to be the gay one here?”

“Must be the hair.” Ronon smirked, standing and kicking dirt over the fire. “Guess we’re all bi. That means fucking men and women, right?” John nodded. “You, me, McKay. Not Teyla, she’s not into chicks like that,” Ronon said, holding a hand out to help John up. “Good thing she’s got you and McKay instead.”

John stared up at him. “What, she expects me to . . . ?”

Ronon shrugged. “Telling me you never thought about it?” John rolled his eyes and finally let Ronon haul him to his feet, only to find himself pulled forward, into Ronon’s arms.

Ronon smiled down at him. “Telling me you never thought about this?”

It was years since John had kissed a guy. Back in high school, maybe, with Todd Royston from the track team. Ever since ROTC he’d been on the down-low, just furtive fucks or sucking guys off in exchange for a quick hand-job.

Ronon’s lips were surprisingly soft, and the beard tickled – John had never kissed anyone with a beard, so wow, that was new. Also, Ronon was so much bigger and taller than John, and John knew how strong and dangerous he was and Ronon bent over him and held him tight and tongue-kissed him hot and wet and dirty, and John couldn’t fucking help it: he melted.

Some indeterminate time later, after a lot of groping and gasping and Ronon biting his way down John’s neck, which forced some embarrassing noises out of John’s throat, Ronon pulled John away from the fire toward a dip filled with ferns.

“No, wait,” John said, backing Ronon up against a convenient tree. “Please. I need . . . I have to–”

He slid to his knees and put his hand on Ronon’s thigh, looking up.

Ronon tipped his head back against the bark. “Yeah,” he rasped.

John got the rest of the laces undone and pulled Ronon’s pants down so they hung off his blaster holster. He didn’t wear underwear, so his cock bobbed free. John had seen it before, of course, in the gear-room showers, but he hadn’t seen it hard, the head wet and darkly swollen. Christ. Might’ve known his cock would be built like the rest of him.

John was almost drooling as he fisted the shaft, licking the head like it was all his favorite flavor ice-creams in one irresistible cone. Ronon made a noise in his throat and John slid Ronon’s cock into his mouth, nostrils flaring as he stretched his mouth around it, closed his eyes and sucked. Bliss.

He hadn’t sucked nearly enough cock to be expert at this and he wasn’t going to be able to take Ronon in very far, but he made up for that by sucking like Ronon’s cock was a fresh water spigot and John was dying of thirst. He heard himself moaning and making little snorting grunts and he didn’t care, it just turned him on even more to hear how totally fucking gone he was.

Ronon rumbled something that wasn’t English then his hands came down and he gently prized John off his cock. John leaned in, fighting him, searching for it again with his eyes shut, his mouth open and tongue questing. He licked the tip and then Ronon pushed him back.

“ ’m gonna come.”

Yeah,” John said fervently. “Please, I wanna–”

“C’mere,” Ronon pulled him up and over to the ferns, and pushed him down again, crouching over him on all fours. He sat back and undid his blaster holster, setting it aside, then stood and shimmied out of his pants. “Gonna fuck you,” he said, kneeling again.

John bucked up under him, breathless with want. “Yeah, Christ, Ronon, please–” Ronon had the best ideas. John toed off his boots, frantic, and fumbled his pants open, and Ronon helped him kick them and his boxers off. John pulled his legs up and back, hands behind his knees.

“No lube,” Ronon said. “You?”

“Not with me,” John gasped, because he sure as shit hadn’t seen this coming and it wasn’t like he carried lube around the whole damn day in case of a random fuck (he made a mental note to change that rule). “Don’ care. Just use spit.”

Ronon gave him a look and said “Yeah, right,” then dropped and pushed John’s legs up some more, and what was he, oh Christ Jesus what was he–

Ronon’s tongue slid into John’s ass and John cried out and writhed, not sure if he was trying to push closer or get away. Ronon had a big tongue, and it was just as strong and agile as the rest of him. He licked at John’s asshole, getting a finger in as well and pushing his tongue right in while John moaned and burned with shame and want and his cock leaked and bounced and made a mess on his belly. It was the single hottest thing that’d ever happened to John, even though Ronon’s beard kind of tickled. In the end, John was so turned on he thought if Ronon’s beard so much as brushed his cock he’d come just like that.

Ronon reared up, one hand pushing John’s thigh up, the other guiding his cock, and John felt the blunt press of the head. It slid in with only a small burn, and Ronon pushed in all the way, not waiting. John’s back arched and his thighs shook as Ronon drove into him, big and hard and relentless, both hands pushing John’s legs back as John clawed the dirt, and shouted, and came.

Ronon went at him even harder, teeth bared, and John lay there, limp and dazed, his body jolting with every thrust. It was almost enough to get him hard again, lying there helplessly, being taken, but John wasn’t twenty any more. Ronon curled an arm under his shoulder, pulling John up against him as though he weighed nothing. He pressed his face into the crook of John’s neck, and shuddered silently through his orgasm.

Sighing out a long breath, Ronon laid John back down and eased himself out. John winced as his cock pulled free because, ouch, that was gonna make sitting interesting. Ronon fell down beside John in the ferns, breathing deeply.

“Buddy, Jesus.” John’s voice was rough.

“Mmmm,” Ronon rumbled, eyes closed, and when John glanced across at him he was smiling, that sweet smile that used to make John want things he couldn’t have. He could have them now, and the thought made him giddy as he lay there in the forest with a pleasantly sore ass, grinning like a loon.

After a while his brain got into gear again, which wasn’t so great. The evening marriage, Ronon had said they were. That meant there were two more, the day marriage and the night marriage. Jeez, what in hell was he thinking? He hadn’t been able to make a go of even one plain vanilla marriage, let alone this goddamn rainbow sundae. Day was him with Teyla and night was Ronon with Rodney. John wasn’t quite sure how he felt about that. A little jealous, maybe, but not as much as he’d thought he might be.

Probably it was the post-coital high mellowing him out, but Ronon was young and gorgeous and yeah, if it was just John that might have been too much pressure, what with Ronon’s stamina and freaky hotness. Rodney could help him tag-team Ronon, keep him from fucking things up too badly. He’d do the same for Rodney, be his wingman.

He pushed aside a distant ache; he and Rodney were friends, best friends. He had Rodney’s six and Rodney had his. That’s what best friends did.

“So, what?” he asked after a while, gazing up through the leaves. “How’s this sedoretu shit supposed to work? You and Rodney?”

“Yeah. And you fuck Teyla.”

“Not today I don’t,” John said with conviction. Ronon snorted.

John looked across at him. “You don’t wanna fuck Teyla yourself?”

“Not how they do it here,” Ronon said. “I’m cool. Anyway, she’s kind of like one of my sisters used to be.”

“I hear you, buddy,” John said, thankful he’d never had a sister. That he hadn’t grown up on Sateda. He rolled over and kissed Ronon, trying to say with his mouth what he couldn’t say out loud. Fuck the Wraith, and You’ve got us now.

“Yeah,” said Ronon, kissing him back, then they got up and put their clothes on and Ronon led the way home, deer-thing bouncing on his shoulder while John toted the rabbits.

~~~~~~~~~~

Building the irrigation system distracted Rodney for a week or two, but the mechanics were pretty simple – a shit tank and a simple engine running a pump attached to the well; it was getting the town’s potters to make the aqueduct half-pipes and the villagers to dig his carefully designed trench system that took time.

Eventually it was all up and running, and he couldn’t postpone telling them any longer. He’d thought John would have been on his case sooner, twitchy about the lack of progress and full of his usual suicidal escape plans, but John had been distracted and oddly calm. Maybe he’d been sleeping better too.

The thing with Teyla was another reason to bury himself in the irrigation project, as he felt even worse about letting her down. It was easy to keep putting off the evil hour, what with constructing incredibly ingenious primitive machinery and ordering minions about all day – almost like being back in his lab, at times. Getting to touch and kiss Teyla at night in what he now thought of as their bed was wondefully unlike his life in the city of course, and the regular back-rubs were a bonus.

Rodney pushed his plate away. “That was very tasty, thank you Teyla.” She smiled at him. John frowned and Ronon lifted an eyebrow.

“You feeling okay, McKay?” John asked.

“What, I can’t be nice when someone cooks me a meal?” Rodney snapped, then tried to calm down. This would be hard enough as it was.

“Look,” he said, leaning forward, “I need to talk with you all.” John got that deer-in-the-headlights look. “Oh for fuck’s sake, Sheppard, not about feelings,” Rodney said. John rubbed the back of his neck and pretended to be a sane person. “It’s the cave project. You may have noticed I haven’t mapped much of it lately.”

“We know you’ve been busy with the irrigation system, Rodney,” Teyla said, as Ronon collected their plates and stacked them on the side bench where Rodney had plumbed in a sink. No running water as yet, because no pipes or hoses, but it was a marginal improvement.

Ronon brought over a basket of the fruit the Ki’O called obras, which looked like nashi pears and tasted like watermelon. He grabbed an obra and sat, biting a huge chunk out and chewing vigorously. “Good job,” he said, indistinctly.

“Yes, yes, not exactly a stretch for me but they seem happy enough with it,” Rodney said. “But what I was trying to say is I haven’t . . . that is I can’t . . . ” Spit it out, he ordered himself, annoyed. “I can’t map any more. Of the caves.”

John tapped his fingers on the table and Ronon had stopped demolishing his fruit. Teyla opened her mouth.

“It’s the scanner,” Rodney said, forestalling her. I told you it wouldn’t last all that long – the power source. The scanner’s dead.” He bit his lip. “Sorry.”

“There is nothing that you need to be sorry for, Rodney. This is not your fault.”

“Yeah.” John frowned. “We’ll just, I dunno, come up with Plan B.”

“Plan B?” snapped Rodney. “There is no Plan B. Nor is there a Plan C, D or E.”

“Rodney,” John drawled. “You’re a poet.”

“Oh, put a sock in it,” Rodney said, miserable.

John leaned forward. “Look, it’d have been nice to have the cave system all mapped out, but we can still check it out the old fashioned way. Ronon and me and Daren can use the gear that we’ve got and do it ourselves.”

What gear,” Rodney said bitterly. “Oh, you mean the goat hair ropes and rickety ten foot ladders and pottery oil lamps. That gear? To explore a cave system as deep, as I have already told you, as an eighty storey building sunk in the earth?”

“Sure, it’ll be hard work–” John started, because he was an idiot with a death wish.

“McKay’s right.” Ronon’s obra lay abandoned on the table. “It’s too risky.”

John’s head snapped around. He looked betrayed. “Ronon, buddy, hey, we can do it. It’ll take time, but–”

“Forget it. You almost fell the other day. If that ledge hadn’t caught you, you’d be dead.”

Rodney and Teyla spoke at once. “You did not say–”, “Oh for Christ’s sake, John–”

John’s face went stony. “It was nothing, just a slip. We’re learning more all the time about how to do it safely.”

“Daren’s pulling out,” Ronon said. “Told me his family think it’s too dangerous, after Torvell.”

Shit! But Torvell didn’t–” John lurched up, knocking his chair over and wheeling away toward the door, smashing his fists on it. “Shit.

“They will come for us, John,” Teyla said. “Radek and Sam and the others. They will not abandon us.”

“I can’t do this again.” John’s voice was muffled against the door. “This waiting.” He wrenched the door open and disappeared into the night.

There was a long silence, then Teyla stood up. “Do not worry. I will find him.”

Ronon frowned up at her. “I could–”

“No, Ronon, I will go. Look after Rodney.” The door swung closed and she was gone.

“Why am I the one that needs looking after?” Rodney complained to the suddenly half-empty room. He waved at Ronon. “It could just as easily be you who needs looking after.”

Ronon grinned. “So look after me.”

“What?” Rodney’s eyes widened, then he narrowed them. “Oh, ha ha, very funny. What, you want me to braid your hair? Your hair’s like the bad kind of Halloween treat, like candy full of razorblades, so there’s no way my hands are going anywhere near it. I need my hands – they’re incredibly crucial to the fate of two galaxies.” Rodney admired his hands, turning them to and fro in front of his face. “In any sensible universe they’d be insured for a fortune.”

“I’ll take out the knives, but you don’t have to braid my hair.” Ronon smirked. “There’s other things you could do for me with your hands, McKay.”

Rodney stood up, with what he hoped was a modicum of dignity. He’d been teased and taunted and indeed bullied by experts ever since he’d been old enough to talk and thus demonstrate to those around him how woefully inadequate their own puny intellects were, which had of course been at a precociously early age. He could deal with cruel jibes and insinuations, whether from teachers, co-workers, his so-called peers, even his parents. It stung that Ronon, his teammate, would belittle him in this way, suggesting things he had no intention of following through on, but Rodney could be the bigger man.

“There’s no need to make jokes at my expense,” he said, and he knew his chin was tilted defensively up to take a metaphorical blow, could feel and that his mouth had twisted down unhappily, but Rodney had never had a poker face, not like John.

Ronon did that ninja-panther thing and was suddenly right there in the blink of an eye, up in Rodney’s face. Rodney swallowed, eyes very wide. Possibly he’d miscalculated and it wouldn’t just be a metaphorical blow.

“Don’t know which of you’s the bigger idiot,” Ronon said. “You or Sheppard,” and before Rodney could splutter that hello? Of course it was Sheppard, he’d enveloped Rodney in one of his terrifying bear-hugs.

Rodney was about to panic from lack of oxygen when Ronon shifted and slid a hand around the back of his head, and then they were kissing, and Rodney’s oxygen supply was being cut off for an entirely different reason. Ronon’s mouth was hot and his lips were soft, and there were tongues, oh God, tongues, and Ronon’s hand was on his ass, and he felt Ronon’s erection pressing long and thick against his belly.

Rodney pulled back and sucked in a desperate breath. “What? You?” he gasped.

“Yeah,” said Ronon, and that seemed to cover it, so Rodney grabbed him and stuck his tongue back in Ronon’s mouth, and rutted his own not inconsiderable erection against Ronon’s strong and perfectly positioned thigh, and oh that was very good, very good indeed.

At some point, although Rodney was a little hazy on the details, they made it to Rodney’s very big bed, and Ronon did indeed take all the weapons out of his hair – two daggers, a stiletto, a lock pick and a garrote. Rodney made a mental note to recite the Edward Lear poem to Ronon when he had time—Ronon had been raised with oral narrative traditions, after all—although knives were different to birds’ nests, of course, but maybe Rodney could write a parody; Ronon might like that.

Then Ronon had Rodney flat on his back with his pants off and Ronon’s mouth was on Rodney’s cock, and there was nothing to be done but try to shove his dick up into that hot, wet, perfect suction despite Ronon’ implacable grip on his hips, pinning him to the bed. The beard was an extra frisson, driving him wild, and Jesus, why had Rodney never explored the possibilities of sensation play with bearded partners before? There would have been ample opportunity in Siberia if it hadn’t been so freezing and dour and stinking of boiled cabbage–

“RononyesthereohgodohgodcomingI’m comingIcan’t–” Rodney moaned, flailing luxuriously.

Instead of sucking harder, which admittedly might not be humanly possible, Ronon, the bastard, pulled off. Rodney got himself up on his elbows and glared down at Ronon who was sprawled over the foot of the bed. “What? What’re you–”

Ronon grinned at him, lips wet and swollen, and pinched the base of Rodney’s cock. “Want you to fuck me,” he said with a feral grin, and Rodney’s hips jerked and he almost came and it was a very close call indeed. And entirely Ronon’s fault.

When he’d regained a shred of self-control, Rodney was up and scrabbling in his pack, but he’d used the last condom with Teyla. Oh God, Teyla. But she’d understand, in fact she’d positively encouraged them to . . . and what had she said they were? He couldn’t be expected to remember all that time-of-day stuff the Ki’O—irrational on the topic as were all religious fanatics—yammered on about. Dawn or dusk or twilight—hah—or some incomprehensible nonsense, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that he and Ronon were one of those marriage-things so he had every right and Teyla would be fine with it, more than fine, she’d be–

“I’m out of condoms,” he said sadly, wishing he’d had the presence of mind when Ronon was stuffing random camping gear into the four packs to say, “Don’t forget the jumbo box of condoms!” But it wasn’t as though that was a routine supply item on the jumpers’ inventory for away missions—mental note, correct that deficit—so how could he have predicted this, that they’d all—well, not all, but that was the Ki’O’s stupid irrational rules again and he planned to take the issue up with Teyla who seemed to be the, the marriage planner or something—end up in a plural relationship having hot sexy times in his very big bed? There was a limit to how prepared Rodney could be expected to be, even with long-range scanners and the Fort McMurray Eager Beaver scouting manual to assist him.

“Don’t need ‘em,” Ronon said. “We’re clean.” He patted the bed. “C’mon, McKay, get yourself back up here and do me.” Then he stood and stripped off the rest of his clothes.

Rodney was seized by a sudden intense need to make Ronon call him Rodney, even just once, and a burning desire to see if his cock in Ronon’s ass might be the deciding factor in achieving this outcome. He grabbed the last packet of lube—not an ongoing issue as if they were barebacking then a water-based lubricant hardly mattered and rather than depleting his limited supply of sunscreen they could use bakshi butter, which might even taste good.

Rodney hauled off his shirt—Ronon having already removed his pants so as to suck him—and clambered back up beside Ronon, who was sprawled on his back, cock hard and curved up against his stomach. Rodney took a moment to admire it and to add getting Ronon to top him to his mental checklist of ‘things to do in bed’, and then Ronon said, “How d’you want me?”

Rodney narrowed his eyes and engaged in a lightning-fast series of calculations involving trajectories, leverage, angle of attack for maximum physiological stimulation, the weight of Ronon’s thighs, Ronon’s known flexibility and the current state of his own back. He factored in the advantages of kissing as opposed to a close-up view of Ronon’s ass, and made his decision.

“Like that.” In general, getting Ronon to ride him would be considerably easier on his back, but it wasn’t playing up too badly tonight. He snapped his fingers. “Pillow.” Ronon grinned and threw him one, and Rodney made him lift his hips and tucked it into place.

He didn’t quite manage to get Ronon to say his name while fingering him open, but Ronon got satisfyingly slack-jawed and writhed very pleasingly on Rodney’s fingers, which were long and, as he’d said, very suited for detailed, close-quarters work.

When Ronon was sufficiently stretched and making incoherent noises, Rodney slapped him on the thigh. “Chop, chop, legs up on my shoulders,” he said, positioning himself.

Ronon’s ass was hot and slick and tight, and Rodney had to pause for a moment and take some deep breaths before pressing on in. Ronon put his head back, groaning, and arched his back and pushed himself onto Rodney’s cock. He was utterly shameless and slutty and just as incredible a fuck as in Rodney’s wildest fantasies, other than the ones that were only achievable via CGI or a virtual environment.

Rodney bit his lip and cursed the absence of a buffering layer of latex, and began reciting the Sierpinski-Mazurkiewicz Paradox in his head. He’d completely lost control of his hips which were driving his cock into Ronon’s body in hard, frantic thrusts. Rodney felt his balls draw up and he grunted and tilted Ronon’s pelvis slightly more toward the vertical and bent forward over him.

“Come on–” Rodney gasped, and Ronon curled up, one hand behind Rodney’s head, pulling Rodney’s mouth to his with his other hand gripping his own cock, stripping it brutally. His mouth went slack and he moaned “Rodney . . . ”, body jerking as semen striped his belly and chest and he fell back, gasping.

Rodney had very little time to triumph in his success before the sheer spectacle, combined with the delicious spasms of Ronon’s ass around his cock, rolled him under in a great wave of pleasure that left him stranded, beached and panting, in a sticky heap on top of Ronon.

Ronon slapped him on the ass. “Heavy, McKay,” he grunted, so Rodney withdrew and fell down onto the bed to finish catching his breath, secure in the knowledge that as ever, his ability to rise to the occasion, as it were, and to pull off a last minute save, remained undiminished.

Ronon turned his head. “You okay? How’s your back?”

Rodney grinned at him. “Remarkably good, thanks. You can ride me next time, though.”

“Yeah, okay,” Ronon said equably, and they wiped up and settled down together with Ronon spooning Rodney.

After incredibly athletic sex Rodney ought to have fallen asleep without further ado, but his thoughts kept returning to John, and Ronon was very warm—perhaps the Satedan core temperature ran hotter than in Earth homo sapiens?He’d have to ask Jennifer—and after he’d wriggled and shifted for a few minutes, Ronon growled “Want me to go back to my room?”

“No, no.” That was the very last thing Rodney wanted, so he rolled over and peered at Ronon in the starlight shining in through the single window. “It’s just, John, and the scanner, and . . . and everything.”

“Yeah, bummer,” Ronon said. “Need to find something for Sheppard to do. You can make stuff, and Teyla’s organizing the Ki’O, but hunting’s not gonna cut it for Sheppard.”

“I know,” Rodney said, worrying again about the lengths John might go to with the cave system right there, driven by his totally unreasonable sense of guilt about stranding them. “It was so much easier to move about in the city. God, I miss the transporters. Eighty storeys in the blink of a demolecularized eye, and forget clambering about in darkness, with sickening heights and terrifying depths and–”

“What if there is?”

“What?” Rodney squinted at him. “What if there is what?”

“A transporter. Or something like it. To get to the–”

Oh my God!” Rodney sat bolt upright. “The fucking Ancients, multiple redundancies and always some sort of fail-safe! How likely is it that they’d leave the ZPM and the field generator inaccessible in case access was needed for routine maintenance?” He hit Ronon on the arm. “You’re a genius!”

Ronon grinned. “Think there might be?”

Rodney was out of bed, pacing. “God, what am I, a moron? Why didn’t I think of this sooner? Oh Christ, the scanner’s dead, how in hell are we going to locate it without being able to track a power signature?”

Ronon propped himself up on one elbow and watched him. “Anything on your laptop?”

Rodney whirled and pointed at Ronon. “Good point. I’ll have to review all the scanner data I downloaded, especially from the first week when I was scanning the general area.” He frowned. “The more I think about it the less likely it is that any sort of transporter’s in a cave right below the village, you know? If the Ancients wanted to nip back and fine-tune it, they wouldn’t want to disturb anyone close to ascension. They didn’t exactly share with the class, as far as Pegasus natives were concerned.”

“Up themselves,” Ronon agreed, and of course Sateda had been a far more technologically developed world, so he didn’t have that nonsensical reverence like the Athosians. Not that Teyla was taken in by the Ancients any more, after all she’d seen of their lunatic science projects.

“Yes, quite,” Rodney said. “So I think the most likely place they’d site it is in the encircling ring of hills and forest, just inside the field itself.”

“Why not outside?” Ronon arched an eyebrow. “If they were gonna sneak back and mess with it.”

Rodney felt his face fall and tried not to panic. “No . . . no, you know I think there probably is a transporter outside the field, for exactly that reason, but I bet they wouldn’t want to risk getting stuck inside with the pre-ascension primitives.” Ronon snorted. “I’m sure there’s one inside the field as well. Redundancies, back-ups, yadda yadda.”

Ronon slapped the mattress. “C’mon back to bed. We’ll figure the rest out in the morning when we tell the others.”

Still preoccupied, Rodney climbed back in, his thoughts whirring. Ronon pushed him down on his front and sprawled over him. “I can take Sheppard out and hunt for the transporter – that’ll calm him down.”

And yes, yes, that was another excellent idea—Ronon was full of them tonight—and Rodney fell asleep in the happy knowledge that his spouses were without doubt the smartest bunch of people in this or any other galaxy.

~~~~~~~~~~

Teyla paused outside in the quiet night, listening to faint noises from the neighboring houses as their inhabitants prepared for bed. Would he go into the forest? She did not think he would be so foolhardy: she had seen the teeth on the animal Ronon had killed. Where, then?

She found John sitting, head in hands, on the steps around the village well. Rodney’s new hydraulic pump loomed skeletally on the other side of the stone surround, silhouetted against the bright stars of Pegasus.

She sat beside him, their legs pressed together, but did not try to take his hand or speak.

“Sorry,” he said, after a few minutes. Teyla risked patting his knee and he leaned into her a little. “It’s a thing with me. You know.”

She nodded, knowing he could feel the motion with their heads so close together. “Is it just . . . being here?” she asked quietly.

He sighed. “Being stuck in here – I’ve never liked being cooped up. And not being able to do anything.”

“Having to rely on others?”

“Kind of. I mean, I’m Air Force, so you have to rely on other military personnel all the time, especially your own team. It’s more . . . I hate having to be rescued.”

“And you feel responsible for us.” She felt him nod.

Teyla considered whether to press him any further. There were risks, but they were alone and he seemed more able to talk in the enveloping dark, which was intimate but precluded eye contact.

“Does this remind you of how you felt the last time?”

He breathed out through his nose, something between a sigh and a snort. “You mean, what Rodney’d call my abandonment issues?” She nodded.

“Not . . . exactly. Maybe some – I mean it’s a pretty similar set-up, with the village and all. But you’re here. That was the worst, last time. I couldn’t understand why you guys didn’t come get me.” He kicked a small pebble and watched it bounce down the steps and vanish into a gap in the flagstones.

“You were . . . angry?”

“Oh, yeah. In denial, angry, depressed, the whole nine yards.”

“Ah.” Kate had explained this odd theory from Earth. That grief could be quantified, that it took a set course, one stage neatly following another. Teyla thought the peoples of Pegasus could teach Earth some lessons about the realities of grief.

“And acceptance?” Teyla asked, playing along.

John laughed, brief and bitter. “Not so much. Not my strong point.”

“Good,” Teyla said. “Some things should not be accepted.”

“Yeah?” There was a smile in John’s voice. “There’s a poem: ‘Do not go gentle into that good night.’ You might like it.”

“You can read it to me when we return to the city,” Teyla said firmly.

They sat in silence for a while as the stars wheeled slowly across the sky. John shifted, looking away from her into the shadows. “It’s this sedoretu stuff as well.”

Teyla nodded. “It bothers you?”

He waved a hand – a brief, Rodney-like gesture. “Nah, not for them. ’s okay for the Ki’O.”

“You do not wish to form a sedoretu yourself? With myself, and with Rodney and Ronon?”

His shoulders hunched. “Not that I don’t . . . want to,” he said. “Hell, Teyla, you know what I said.”

“That you would do anything for us. That you would give up your life, if necessary.”

He tensed, hearing her repeat his words, then exhaled. “Yeah.” Another long pause. When he spoke again, his voice was a whisper. “ ’m just scared, I guess . . . of being left behind.” He straightened slightly, an edge in his voice. “I’m no good at . . . all this. If I can’t–”

Teyla waited, but he seemed unable to go on. “We will not let that happen, John.”

“See, you say that, but . . . ”

Teyla had had enough. She took his hand and slid her fingers between his. “We know you, John. You will not drive us away. We’re not going anywhere.”

He laughed, a harsh sound in the still night, but his hand squeezed hers. “Literally.”

“Here, or in Atlantis, it makes no difference. You will not lose us once we are rescued. Trust in that.”

He sighed. “Yeah, that’s not really my strong point, either.”

Teyla stood, holding firmly to his hand. “Come. I am going to bed and you are coming with me, because I am sleeping in your bed tonight. Neither of us should be alone.”

“What about . . . ” He gestured toward their house, meaning Rodney and Ronon.

Teyla smirked at him, pulling him along through the streets. “I imagine they are already in Rodney’s very big bed.”

“Huh – really? Oh, ew, are we gonna hear them, y’know . . . ”

Teyla sighed. They were worse than children in some things, these Earth people. So bothered by behaviour any Athosian child would take in their stride and politely ignore – tents had thin walls. “If we do, we will take no notice. We will act like civilized adults.”

There was a pause, in which Teyla regretted having let the frustrations of the day lead her to sound so much like a scolding parent. “If you say, ‘Yes, Mom’, I will hit you with my sticks,” she added.

John snorted a laugh. “No . . . Teyla.” She could hear the ‘Mom’ in there anyway so she elbowed him in the side, never letting go of his hand.

They were still grinning and jostling when they slipped into the now-darkened kitchen and up the stairs to John’s room. Rodney’s room was quiet when they passed the door, so John’s delicate sensibilities were spared. When he lit the lamp in his room, his cheeks were flushed pink, Teyla saw.

“We can do no more than sleep, if you prefer.” Teyla turned to where John was standing awkwardly, as though this was her room, not his own.

He took a breath and seemed to come to a decision. “Nah,” he said, stepping closer. “Like Ronon says, where’s the fun in that?” And he slipped an arm around her waist and cradled her face, bending to kiss her.

~~~~~~~~~~

After all the Mom jokes, John was a little worried Teyla might think he was a weirdo, but well, sue him: he’d always liked breasts. Teyla’s were gorgeous, and John got lost in them for a while once they were finally in bed, her smoothly muscled legs twining with his hairy ones as he slid his mouth down her neck, licking along her collar bone and then lower. John groaned and latched onto a nipple, curling his tongue around it and filling his mouth with the soft-smooth salty-sweet curves. She smelled fantastic. He guessed he had an oral fixation, but he didn’t give a damn.

Teyla seemed to like what he was doing. She gasped and arched her back to push her breasts into his face, and gripped his thigh with her legs, rubbing off against him – Christ, she was strong and it turned him on like crazy, made him pant and moan and make helpless snuffling noises like he had around Ronon’s dick.

His cock was pushing hard and wet against her belly, and she got her hand on it and Jesus, Jesus she had good hands, strong and sure and oh, man, having her stroke him while he had his mouth on her tits was all kinds of wonderful.

John ran his hand down Teyla’s belly and nudged her legs apart with his knee. He stroked her there where she was slippery and hot, then pushed two fingers in and used his palm on her clit until she bucked hard and cried out.

Kissing her breasts a temporary farewell, he eased himself down the bed, envying Rodney who was doubtless sprawled starfish-like over most of the ample space downstairs. He wasn’t going to be able to lie down full length in this bed so he gently extracted the pillow from under Teyla’s head and pushed it in so as to raise up her hips. Teyla lay back and smiled at him dreamily, hips canted up, her legs bent and feet planted, ready for him. John knelt, spreading his legs frog-like as wide as possible as he bowed to his task, kissing her thighs, her mound, and then worshipping her in earnest, face and fingers sticky with her musk as he brought her to another shuddering climax with his tongue.

He was pretty damn desperate to get her hand back on his dick after that, wriggling back up the bed and setting the pillow to rights. Sure, in an ideal world he would’ve wanted to fuck her but he only had a couple of condoms so he figured they’d better save that for special occasions. Not that this wasn’t special, because, Christ, it was so special he was gonna come all over everything any second.

Teyla urged him to sit up and straddle her. John’s dick twitched because Jesus, did she want to suck him like this, to fuck her face or – but no, she had other ideas, pulling him up her body so his cock brushed her amazing breasts. She jerked him a few times then took his hands and got him to press her breasts together with his cock trapped between them. It was warm and slick with sweat and he couldn’t believe she was letting him have this, rutting between her breasts with his hands full of softness and his balls dragging pleasurably against her.

He felt it build from the base of his spine, unstoppable as he curled over, spasming, and came helplessly all over Teyla’s glorious tits. As soon as his cock stopped spurting John dropped down and licked her clean, then she nudged his head onto the pillow and pulled up the covers, and they kissed until he fell asleep in her arms, one hand still cradling a breast.

~~~~~~~~~~

“Oh yeah,” Rodney crowed, “I am the greatest!” He held up a hand to high-five John who’d been lurking annoyingly, peering over his shoulder.

“Yeah, yeah, Muhammad Ali. Quit it with the Hitler salutes.” John knocked his arm aside. He leaned forward and frowned at the jagged green graph on the screen. “Whatcha got?”

Rodney glared at the unappreciative jerk. It had taken him two days to find the subtle energy emission that marked something unusual in the hills surrounding the valley. The otherwise insignificant power signature had been lost in the data, eclipsed by baseline noise until he superimposed numerous scans and wrote a program to isolate it.

“Here.” He stabbed a finger at the small green flicker. “Across the other side of the valley from the pond.”

“The terrain is rough there, with dense woods and many cliffs.” Teyla came to stand beside Rodney and stroked a hand through his hair, which was vastly more pleasant that the head slaps John or Ronon generally meted out. “It would be a good place to hide an outpost.”

“Worth a try,” John said. “We should go now.”

Ronon nodded. “Hours of daylight left. Time to get there and back.”

“Right now?” Rodney looked up at Teyla, the voice of reason. “But–”

Teyla considered for a moment. “We must ask Kaia and the others, but the cellar escape routes are all in place and we have done several evacuation drills. I believe we can get everyone down into the caverns in under five minutes.”

“Not likely the Wraith’ll turn up the moment the time field’s shut off, anyway,” John said.

“Oh my God, shut up!” snapped Rodney, whacking him on the arm. “Don’t tempt . . . fate, or some similar superstitious claptrap.”

“Ow, McKay, jeez,” John muttered, rubbing his shoulder. “Anyway, you’re the one spouting the–”

“We will go and talk with Kaia,” Teyla cut in smoothly, steering John toward the door with a firm hand in the center of his back. “Come, John.”

A minute passed, during which Rodney glowered at the fluctuating green lines on the screen and Ronon pulled a chair up to the table and grabbed an obra.

“What’s with you and Sheppard?” Ronon asked around a mouthful of fruit.

“I have no idea,” Rodney muttered. “He’s behaving even more like a grade-schooler than usual, for some unfathomable Sheppardy reason.”

“Probably jealous.” Ronon kicked his legs up on another chair and crossedhis feet at the ankles.

“Oh that would be so damn typical,” Rodney said bitterly. “He can’t cock-block me here what with the sedoretu rules and Teyla yentaing us all, so he takes it out on me like this!”

Ronon squinted at him. “You think he’s jealous of . . . ”

“Yes, obviously. He can’t stand it that he doesn’t get you and Teyla all to himself!” Rodney pushed back his chair and began pacing, semaphoring his frustration with slashing gestures. “It’s so unfair. And also all this plural marriage stuff is complicated enough without John going all squirrely and messing things up just when I finally get almost everything I’ve ever wanted.”

“Almost everything.” Ronon cocked an eyebrow at him.

Rodney flushed, inwardly cursing the slip but recovering fast. “Well, we are trapped in a time dilation field with no access to coffee or, I don’t know, technology or proper medical care or, or Wraith for you to shoot.”

Ronon eyed him for a moment. “Yeah, right.” He crunched the obra core in two bites, then got to his feet. “C’mon, let’s get your toolkit packed and find the climbing gear. No way to know what’ll be down there.”

“Well, yes.” Rodney trotted after him. “I mean, there might not be anything there at all, although I think it’s unlikely I’ve made a mistake and it stands to reason they’d hide the thing on the far side of the valley, don’t you think?” He paused, considering. “I’ll take all my equipment and I can charge the laptop some more on the way over there. Oh, and we should pack some MREs – I know Sheppard’s got a few stashed for emergencies and I don’t want to expire from hunger before I ever get to–”

Ronon reached back into the kitchen and hauled Rodney out by the front of his shirt, pushing him toward the store room where their gear was stowed. Really, John was a very bad influence on Ronon. Rodney would have to speak to Teyla about it.

~~~~~~~~~~

“It’s got to around here somewhere,” Rodney said. “This is definitely the area the signal came from, give or take half a kilometer.”

You give or take it, McKay.” John was fed up. “We’ve been tramping all over this hillside for hours.” He knew he was being unfair as he said it. Rodney didn’t have a scanner and he’d still gotten them this far on spit and scotch tape. They were all too used to Rodney snapping his fingers and hey-prestoing the ancient tech. “Sorry,” he muttered. Rodney’s shoulders unhunched slightly.

“We will eat and rest, and then we will try again,” Teyla said, as Nuen brewed tea and Daren passed around parcels of bread and cheese.

Rodney seemed calmer after he’d eaten. He was lying flat on his back in the grass, one arm across his eyes. “Maybe we’re attacking this the wrong way,” he said, his voice nasal from the position. “Maybe you can, you know, sense it or something?”

John wrapped a blade of grass around his finger. “I can’t sense the time-fields. Even after getting stuck in one the last time there was still no warning.”

Rodney waved his other arm, eyes still covered against the sun. “No, no. Not the field itself. That’s not an interface and there’s no tech nearby.” He rolled onto his side and pushed himself up to sit, knees bent and head in his hands. His hair was a spiky mess and there was a leaf stuck in it. John’s fingers itched to tidy it but he forced himself to keep them still.

Rodney tilted his head, narrowing his eyes at John. “We’re looking for something like a transporter here, not a field. Tech, which is what made that energy signature I so cleverly identified. Ancient tech. You don’t feel it?”

John shrugged. “I don’t get a buzz off of everything, McKay. Especially if it’s power-depleted or broken.”

Rodney shook his head. “It’s not power-depleted. It’s just not activated.” He stared at nothing for a moment and John could almost hear his brain whirring away like a hard drive. He shouldn’t get off on that as much as he did, but seeing Rodney crunch his way through a problem had always been a turn on. “This is another fail-safe, an emergency escape plan. They won’t have wanted to rely on a, I don’t know, a remote control or a key or whatever. No, it’ll be mentally controlled, as usual.”

“Yeah?” John said. “So, what, the old ‘think about where we are in the solar system’ song and dance’?”

Rodney gave him a long-suffering look. “Just think ‘open sesame’, John.”

“Yeah, right,” John said, “because it’s gonna be that eas–”

There was a grinding noise and a section of the cliff a few yards behind Ronon slid aside, exposing a dark passageway.

Nuen shouted and dropped his tea, and Daren stared, wide-eyed.

“Nice one,” Ronon said, twisting to look over his shoulder.

Now John was concentrating and knew where the damn thing was, he could feel it. There, at the back of his thoughts, that faint tickle of ancient tech like the distant ghost of a dog with a ball that wanted him to play. Before he realized it he was on his feet, moving toward the hole in the cliff.

Ronon snagged the back of his belt and Rodney said “Whoa there, Ulysses. Wait for us before you go charging off after the siren’s call.”

“Is this the alarm system you plan to make for us, Rodney?” Nuen asked, as they put their packs back on and Daren covered the fire with dirt. “I did not realize there was already one here.”

“No, not that type of siren. The sort with breasts,” Rodney said, frowning down at his laptop.

John rolled his eyes at Nuen. “Sorry – old religious reference. He’s just excited.” Nuen nodded politely; it was pretty clear he thought they were both nuts.

John took point so he could turn the lights on, and with Teyla on civilian-duty and Ronon as rear-guard, they trooped into the hillside, John unable to shake the feeling that rather than re-enacting The Odyssey he was playing the Pied Piper’s part.

In the end it was almost an anti-climax. The lights came on with a faint hum, not all of them, but enough to see. The passage ran into the hillside about fifty yards, ending in a rounded cavern – probably a natural cave the Ancients had expanded. The transporter was a little larger than those in Atlantis, and was panelled inside with a soft, pewter-like metal engraved with the usual script and geometric patterns. There were no visible controls, but now that he was this close the interface was bowed down with its haunches high and tail waving, front paws outstretched and its eyes bright, yapping at him.

He threw the ball for it and they rematerialized in a seemingly identical transporter chamber. John wondered if the others could feel the crushing weight of rock above and around them, or if it was just his imagination – or some ATA-fueled link to whatever environmental sensors the builders of this place had installed.

The doors hissed smoothly back into the wall and light panels throughout the facility flickered to life. Daren and Nuen turned this way and that, wide-eyed. Daren would never have seen a technological installation, John realized. He’d been born here.

“It’s been so long,” Nuen said. He touched the wall. “I don’t recognize this metal.”

“They used a number of sophisticated alloys,” said Rodney. “We haven’t been able to duplicate them, unfortunately.” He was pale, with beads of sweat on his brow, and John figured he’d clutch at any distraction right now. The room they were in was large with a high ceiling stretching up almost out of sight, but Rodney would be very aware of the 800 feet of rock above them.

He put his hand on Rodney’s shoulder and squeezed. “We’re cool, buddy. System’s telling me everything’s working just fine.” The air was musty but there was a faint breeze as the environmental systems kicked in.

Rodney took a deep breath, humphed and strode off. Teyla shot John an I will keep him calm nod and followed. John saw they were headed for an octagonal bank of consoles in the center of the chamber.

John gave Ronon a signal and they split off to circle the perimeter in opposite directions and make sure there weren’t any nasty surprises like, oh, cocooned Wraith lurking in recesses or the usual Pegasus nonsense. There weren’t.

Back at the transporter, John noticed a panel set in the wall beside the chased metal doors. He interrogated it and it offered him the options of returning to the ‘Ascension Environment’ or of ‘Exiting Zone’ and explained which symbol on the panel set the transporter for either option. Okay. So far, so good.

He tilted his chin at Daren and Nuen and raised an eyebrow at Ronon. Ronon nodded, taking over civilian-watch. John headed over to see how Rodney was getting on.

Badly, it appeared. He had several leads clipped onto the console and was muttering curses under his breath, riveted to his laptop screen which was scrolling the usual incomprehensible data.

“How’s it going?” John asked, leaning in to take a look.

Rodney swatted at him vaguely, then straightened, sucking in a deep breath. “Well, the good news is that it’s definitely a ZPM. No idea how depleted, but–

They parroted it in unison: “Any ZPM’s a good ZPM.”

“Yes, well,” said Rodney. “But.” He shot John a frowning glance. “Of course I realized that once we pulled the ZPM and the time dilation field collapsed, the lights and environmental systems down here would switch off immediately, but I was hoping there’d be some way, some flexibility in the controls. I mean, the ability to switch off the field but leave the rest of it functional.”

He scowled down at the laptop. “There isn’t. Once the ZPM goes, it all goes.”

Fucking Ancients, John thought. They didn’t like leaving loopholes that might keep anyone from ascending.

“All or nothing, huh?” John peered over at the recessed octagonal area inside the segmented ring of consoles. It looked like the Atlantis Gate room floor, patterned with deep green metal bands and a marbled reddish eight-pointed star. “You think the ZPM’s down there?”

“Oh, yes,” Rodney said. “The whole thing’ll rise up like an old Wurlitzer organ when we’re ready to harvest the ZPM. It’ll probably play Ride of the fucking Valkyries. But then, we’ll be trapped here.” His breathing sped up and Teyla moved in, rubbing his back and breathing slowly, making him copy her.

After a moment Rodney said shakily, “I’ve always thought the Ancients might be Wagner fans.”

“That’s more Thor’s lot,” John said, trying to keep it light. “or the Goa’uld – histrionic fuckers, the Goa’uld.” He kneaded Rodney’s shoulder. “Nah, the Ancients’d probably be more into that modern shit that’s all abstract and done with three triangles and a wind machine.”

Rodney barked out a laugh. “John Cage. Four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence from a 100-piece orchestra.”

There was a pause. “Christ, I’m never fucking ascending,” Rodney said vehemently. “I bet they float around listening to 4’33” all the fucking time.”

“While metaphorically wearing beige,” John snorted. They grinned at each other.

It didn’t last. Rodney’s face drooped unhappily and he looked away. “So, dilemma.”

John glanced back over at the central recessed area. “Lemme just try something.” Rodney tensed. “Relax, I’m not gonna pull the ZPM. ’m just chatting.” He shut his eyes to tune out Rodney’s spluttering and sank into the interface.

It took a couple of minutes and he was sweating by the time he emerged, shaking his head and shivering. That’d been intense, and nowhere near as user-friendly as the Control Chair. He’d had to fight his way down through layers of protective protocols to persuade the system that the people trapped in the sanctuary weren’t would-be Ancients but misplaced intergalactic conference-goers. Even then, it had hopefully suggested that given enough time, they too could ‘transcend the flesh’. If it hadn’t been for John’s hotshot ATA gene the control system wouldn’t have given him the time of day, but in the end he struck a bargain.

“Here’s how we’re gonna do it,” he said.

~~~~~~~~~~

Zkurvysyn!” yelled Zelenka, stumbling back as John stepped out of the transporter on the opposite side of the cave from where he’d fallen into the time dilation portal. John grinned – he knew that one: motherfucker. Zelenka’d taught him how to pronounce it at a party one time when they were pie-eyed on ruus wine and pissed with Rodney.

He looked around, seeing the vaguely familiar cave now crawling with Marines, and seemingly half the science team. Guess he should have realized this was where the Ancients’d hide the executive elevator, leaving the painful, messy falling-through-a-fake-wall bullshit for the plebs.

“Colonel,” Zelenka said eagerly. “I was wondering if this recess might be a transporter, but it would not respond, not even to Major Lorne.”

“Hi Radek,” John said. “Good to see you.” He looked around. “Lorne and Carter here?”

“The Major took a scouting party through a little while ago when the field barrier cut out.” Zelenka waved toward the now-ordinary cave that John knew led through the ring of hills to the valley of the Ki’O. “Colonel Carter is . . . ” he craned around, looking behind him. “Ah, here she comes.”

Sam Carter came through the front entrance of the outpost carrying a pack of technical equipment and a scanner. “Colonel Sheppard!” She beamed. “Rescued yourself, I see.”

“Colonel.” John gave her a sloppy salute and a grin. “With a little help from my friends.”

“Where are the others?” Zelenka asked anxiously. “Did you encounter invisible monsters again?”

“No monsters – it was mostly boring,” John told them, editing furiously. “We managed to locate the ZPM powering the field – there’s another transporter inside there that got us down to the ZPM console chamber. And I mean down – about 800 feet below the village, buried in rock.”

Radek shook his head. “Rodney will not have enjoyed that.”

Sam nodded. “But, a ZPM?” she asked eagerly.

“Yeah. But sorry to break it to you, I don’t think there’s a whole lotta juice left in it. Plus, the Ki’O—that’s the people in the village in there—well, they might need it themselves, to keep the Wraith out. Anyway we got down to where we could check it out but the ZPM console was giving Rodney a hard time so I had to . . . kind of negotiate with it. I sent the others back up to the surface in case the damn interface didn’t do what I told it to, but I guess it played nice – in the end it shut down the time field without powering down the transporters.”

“But if it had not worked, you might have been trapped 800 feet below ground level,” Zelenka said, appalled.

“Nah,” John said easily. “Ronon found some . . . emergency stairs, I guess you’d call ’em. Big old shaft with rungs all the way up it. I’d’ve just climbed out the hard way.”

“Oh yes, I’m sure,” panted a red-faced Rodney, stomping in through the cave from the Ki’O side, elbowing techs and Marines out of his way. Ronon and Teyla followed him, Ronon visibly amused. “All by yourself in the pitch black with ropes made of, of goat-fluff and no safety helmet.”

“Aw c’mon, Rodney, a safety helmet wouldn’t’ve done me a lotta good if I’d fallen a few hundred feet,” John said, just to get a rise.

Rodney jabbed him in the chest with a finger. “My point precisely!

“Anyway,” John said, grinning at him. “It worked.” He looked up. “Hi guys,” he added, to Teyla and Ronon. “You made good time.” The transporter inside the valley was only about a mile from the cave they were in, and John had waited a while before he’d tried the field shut-down, to make sure the others were safe on the surface.

Ronon whacked John on the shoulder. “I’d’ve gone down and brought Sheppard up,” he told Rodney. “Wanted to stay down there with him but he wouldn’t let me. Threatened me.” He showed John his teeth. John felt his ears get hot.

“Yes, yes, you can beat each other up later to get all the manly excitement out of your systems,” Rodney said impatiently, grabbing Zelenka and dragging him off to talk science.

Ronon smirked and gave John a sly wink. Rodney didn’t need to know John had threatened Ronon with a blow-job embargo unless he went back topside and left John to grapple with the interface.

Teyla led Nuen and Daren forward. “Colonel Carter, these are two of our hosts from the Ki’O. They have been trapped behind the barrier as well, for the last twenty years. Nuen, Daren, this is the leader of our expedition, Colonel Samantha Carter.”

Nuen stepped forward and clasped Carter’s hand in both of his. “And I, for one, am very glad indeed that our friends John and Rodney and Teyla and Ronon have freed us, even though they made great efforts to fit into our society, even going so far as to–”

“Ah, yeah, thanks, Nuen.” John interrupted hastily, signalling Teyla with his eyebrows to for Christ’s sake have an urgent word with Nuen about the whole sedoretu thing. “Hey, it’s a long story and we’re pretty tired and hungry, and Rodney’s gotta go build the Ki’O a Wraith air-raid siren, so maybe we can–”

“What?” Rodney looked up from the laptop he and Zelenka had been muttering over. “No, no, we’re way ahead of you there, Colonel. Radek and I have realized that we can recalibrate the time field so it’ll still be sufficiently out of time-phase to act as a cloak for the village, but time will only run very slightly faster on the inside. Once we’ve done that you can start it up again. The Ki’O will still have to calculate the difference if they’re trying to catch markets or other time-sensitive events in the rest of the galaxy, but it’ll be more like a time-zone they’re in than a real barrier. We’ll make them a version of the World Clock or something – some of them still remember how to use technology.”

Ouch. John shot Nuen an apologetic glance but Nuen was nodding eagerly. Zelenka, on the other hand, was looking pissed. Probably recalibrating the field’s time-ratio had been his idea.

John grabbed Rodney by the back of the neck and steered him out of the cave before Zelenka hit him with a laptop. “Okay, let’s see if we can remember where we parked the car.” After all, on this side only a few hours would have passed. They’d probably be back in time for meatloaf, which was great – he was pretty damn sick of rabbit-thing stew.

~~~~~~~~~~

Rodney sat back on his heels after hooking up the computer and data projector for movie night and looked around the central living space of their new quarters. It had the usual weird Ancient couches but also rugs and heaps of huge floor pillows thanks to Teyla and the Athosian weavers. There was a kitchen area, and four bedrooms led off the living room, each with its own bathroom.

Sam Carter knew a little about the sedoretu they’d formed in the Ki’O village, but the rest of the expedition just thought it was another of those cultural ceremonies where the Gate teams got hitched temporarily as part of a trade negotiation. The team had been beating anthropologists off with a stick in the weeks since they’d returned to Atlantis.

The Ki’O, now protected again by a barely there time-field and a solar powered, Gate-triggered Wraith-raid siren which Carter planned to mass produce and use as a trade item, were gradually stepping beyond the bounds of their small world. The elders had visited Atlantis and they had an IDC and could dial the alpha site in an emergency. Rodney planned to set up training courses for the more technologically-minded Ki’O – in this case, unlike Earth, the old were more tech-savvy than the young.

“Hey.” John came into the living room toweling his hair after a shower, dressed in jeans and a black tee. “Got it working? I wheedled a copy of The Host outta Lorne. Where’re the others?”

Rodney stood and brushed off his knees. “Yes, it’s all set. Really, you got The Host? Good choice; Teyla’ll love the family stuff. She and Ronon are bringing dinner back from the mess.”

“Ronon’ll love the tentacle monster,” John said, grinning. “I kind of do myself.”

Rodney rolled his eyes. “You know Ronon wants Predator again when it’s his turn.”

“He likes it that the monster’s got dreads.” John dropped his towel in the laundry hamper in the corner.

“Well, I know that, but if Teyla has to watch two monster movies in a row she’ll make us all sit through My Big Fat Greek Wedding or The Wedding Planner in retaliation.

John grimaced. “D’you think she’s hinting at something?” He rubbed his chin, which looked wise and thoughtful, but which Rodney knew just meant he was trying to figure out if his bed partner that night would object to the bristles.

“Christ, I hope not.” Rodney flopped down on a couch and John sprawled beside him, legs outstretched. “Imagine how long an Athosian joining ceremony’d take if there were four people being joined? Marta’s and Zoldan’s was bad enough.” He looked across at John. “Anyway, who’s with who tonight? I’ve lost track.”

“You’ve lost track because you’ve been stuck in the lab for two days trying to retro-engineer the time field," John said. “That’s why Teyla insisted we have movie night.” He lifted Rodney’s arm and sniffed it. “Did you shower? You were pretty ripe when I dragged you back here this morning.”

“Get off me!” Rodney batted at John who was now pretending to sniff Rodney’s groin like a demented Great Dane with tragic hair. “I am showered, shaved and I got six hours sleep this afternoon. Off, off!” They subsided, after some more jostling.

“I still think we need a spreadsheet,” Rodney said.

“We’re not having a fucking spreadsheet!” John caught Rodney’s eye and they cracked up.

“A fucking spreadsheet, you mean,” wheezed Rodney.

John’s ridiculous laugh trailed off into a few last snorts. “Anyway,” he said, “Teyla and Ronon are gonna be together tonight. Teyla had a word with me while you were napping.”

Rodney sat up and stared at John. “They what? They’re fucking each other as well, now?” He waved his hands, agitated. “Oh that’s so unfair. And it’s against the rules. Just because we’re not with the Ki’O any more they think they can get away with . . . with thingy. Sacrilege.”

“Yeah, says the man who described himself to that nice old Romadian priestess as a confirmed atheist who worshipped only at the temple of Science. She still thinks Science is the Lantean religion.”

“It kind of is,” Rodney said vaguely. “But . . . but, this is disastrous. I was really looking forward to . . . well, either Teyla or Ronon would have been fine, I’m not fussy. I mean, they’re both so . . . ”

“Yeah,” John said bleakly. “They are.”

They stared despondently at the blank wall Rodney had cleared for the data projector display. After a minute John shifted and cleared his throat. “Listen, Rodney, there’s something I–”

Ronon pushed the door open carrying four laden plates, Teyla following him with a container of ice-cream that she put in the stasis cupboard which in ancient kitchens served as a fridge.

John shot Rodney a warning look, and that was that in terms of any more chances to complain about Ronon and Teyla usurping Rodney’s conjugal rights. Well, and John’s conjugal rights as well, but John was being all tight-lipped and stoic about it, which was typical and very irritating.

After dinner and the movie, during which Ronon and Teyla lay on the giant floor cushions and flirted outrageously despite Rodney glowering at them, Ronon vanished into Teyla’s room.

Teyla took Rodney aside while John washed the dishes. “Trust me, Rodney. This is for the best.”

“For you, maybe,” he muttered, trying not to sound too much like the pathetic loser he was, now the beautiful people had left him and John in the lurch. It had been inevitable, of course, but it still stung.

Teyla just kissed him and drew him into an Athosian embrace, and said, “It will all be well, you will see.”

Rodney flung himself disconsolately down on the couch after Teyla had joined Ronon and shut the door. John wandered in and sagged down beside him. “Christ,” said Rodney. “Now we’re going to have to endure sex noises as well.” He pushed himself abruptly up and stood. “I’m going back to the lab.”

John was on his feet as well, a hand on his arm. “Look, I. That is, Teyla made me promise . . . um, to talk.”

“Well, come on, spit it out,” Rodney glanced over at the door to Teyla’s room. “I don’t want to stick around when they–”

“I want you to stick around,” John blurted, looking a little desperate.

“Yes, well. I know they say misery loves company, but in this case I’m going to have to say n–”

“Rodney,” gritted John, and he grabbed Rodney and kissed him.

There was an awkward initial phase when Rodney was too startled to respond, but he adjusted very rapidly—he’d always tested high on adaptation to novel situations—and after a few minutes they were both flushed and panting.

John got his hands on Rodney’s ass and Rodney got his hands down John’s jeans until John got a little wild-eyed and positively dragged him off to Rodney’s bedroom. That was a no-brainer of course, as Rodney still had the very big bed, a gift from the Ki’O.

“Oh my God!” Rodney sat up suddenly in the middle of a truly stellar blow-job. But epiphanies came when they would; there was no arguing with them. “This was totally Teyla’s cunning plan. She’s still yentaing us.”

John glared up at him, mouth pink and glistening wet, and Jesus that was a sight. “Lie the fuck down, Rodney or you can blow your goddamn self.”

“No, no, I’m not nearly flexible enough.” Rodney fell back onto the pillows. “Ronon might be able to, we should see if he–“ John grunted around his cock in a bossy, annoyed way, sucked him in deep and got a lubed-up finger into Rodney’s ass. “Oh fuck,” said Rodney, and then he didn’t say anything—well, not in words—for quite some time.

He managed to reduce John to a writhing, incoherent mess in turn with just his hands and some lube. John seemed to really like Rodney’s hands—he definitely must get them insured—and when Rodney pinned his arms to the bed above his head and jerked him, whispering in his ear how incredibly hot John was and how Rodney had wanted him for years, John whimpered and thrashed and came all over himself.

After, they lay in the big bed side by side, flanks pressed warmly together. “I suppose the Ki’O would think we were perverts,” Rodney said thoughtfully.

“Fuck the Ki’O.”

Rodney smirked. “We aren’t enough for you, now?”

“You’ll probably be the death of me.” John grabbed his hand and twined their fingers together.

“Shit,” Rodney said, after another companionable silence. “There’s no avoiding the fucking spreadsheet now.”

“We are not having a goddamn spreadsheet.”

“But how will we–”

John rolled over and peered down at him, waggling his ridiculous eyebrows. He kissed Rodney lightly. “We’ll improvise.”

Rodney gave it some thought, wondering how he’d ended up with three spouses all of whom talked with their eyebrows. He made a mental note never to mention it to the linguists.

“Okay,” he said finally, pulling John down for a proper kiss. “I can do that. Improvisation is in fact something of a strength of mine.”

“Yeah, I know,” John said, grinning at him wickedly. “I’m counting on it.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

~~ the end ~~