Later, John will be utterly ruthless in going through every single gate team he sends out to ensure a mixture of men and women go—at least to planets they’ve never visited before.
First contact teams always had a mixture of men and women on Atlantis, if only because they have to deal with space vampires. Knowing which planets would refuse to deal with women was important at the beginning, since they’d be dealing with Elizabeth eventually. After Elizabeth, it had been Colonel Carter, and no one wanted unpleasant surprises.
John admits that he relaxed his standards somewhat when Woolsey took over. There are simply more men than women on Atlantis, and he figured having all-women or all-men teams wasn’t that big of a deal.
And then comes P29-544.
They thought the planet was uninhabited prior to sending a team. Initial probes showed no signs of life near the gate, and geological surveys turned up an obscenely large supply of rhodium, which could feasibly fund the SGC program for years to come. The second survey team, sent to confirm initial calculations and impressions, ran into the inhabitants, who had appeared very welcoming and open to a trade deal.
Of course, the second team was all male and not trained in first contact, so they brought back glowing reports of a group of people more than willing to do business with Atlantis, and that’s when John’s team was sent in.
And that’s when it all goes to hell.
“What is this?” Mehan demands once John’s team meets them at the pre-arranged location. He’s a small man, several inches shorter than John and thin, with a scraggly moustache adorning his upper lip and wearing garish clothing of various bright colors.
John keeps a pleasant smile on his face. “I’m not sure what you mean,” he drawls. “I’m Colonel Sheppard, and this is my team.”
Mehan appears somewhat mollified by this explanation. “She’s your woman?”
John feels the rest of the team stiffen, their expressions going just a bit wooden, and he forces himself to stay relaxed. “She’s family.”
“Only a married woman may venture into polite society,” Mehan says. “Are you married to her?”
There are ten men in the welcoming committee, including Mehan, all of them in the same bright garb, and all of them armed. Ten is apparently a number most perfect to the gods, since why else would the gods have given men ten fingers and toes? But it’s also about three more people than John’s really comfortable taking out.
Plus, rhodium. He’s been ordered to play nice with these people and accept any demands, so long as they aren’t completely unreasonable.
For the record, John thinks “forced marriage” is completely unreasonable, but there’s an entire section of the SGC handbook devoted to just which alien ceremonies a person is allowed to partake in, and marriage ceremonies are on that list.
Unless it’s to an alien, because that would materially interfere with a service member’s ability to do their job. But getting married to a team member? No big deal, and the marriage is null and void as soon as a person is back in the SGC or on Atlantis.
Granted, actual acts of sexual congress (not just simulated) and partaking of mood altering drugs is not considered reasonable, and should only take place to save lives.
John glances at Teyla, who has so far not flicked the safety off her P-90, and raises an eyebrow. She responds with just a fraction of an eye roll that clearly communicates, “Idiots. Do what you have to do.”
“We’re engaged to be married,” John says with smile that he knows is turning dangerous. “Her counsel is invaluable to me.”
There are a few nods among the men, and John assumes those are the ones who are married and/or more progressive, but Mehan isn’t buying it. “You must be married!” he exclaims. “She could be in great danger otherwise.”
“I could send her back—” John begins.
Now everyone in the welcoming committee frowns. “You are here now!” Mehan says, and John’s beginning to think he talks in exclamation points. “You have entered the sacred space. To not marry her would be a grave insult to the gods!”
John’s “married” Teyla at least twice, so it’s basically old hat by now, but he still hates the idea. In the past, it had been because she was the wrong gender and a reminder that he couldn’t have what he really wanted.
Now it’s a reminder that he’s millions of light years away from someone he’d love to marry.
Not that he and Tony have talked about it, because it’s not an option, but if it were…
“Well, I don’t mind rushing things a bit of she doesn’t,” he says, because what else can he do? It’s either participate in a stupid ceremony that means nothing in the long run, or killing people, and this deal promises to be especially lucrative.
“Why wait?” Teyla asks. “I don’t mind having the ceremony now.”
Everyone relaxes at that, and Mehan claps his hands together. “Very well! As a village elder, I can perform the ceremony now, and we can celebrate later.”
“Yeah, okay, why not?” John asks.
The ceremony isn’t all that different from one on earth. Mehan extracts a promise from John that he will cherish and protect Teyla, and she then promises to respect and obey him through a bright, brittle smile.
After that, everything goes according to plan. They bargain rights to rhodium for medical supplies and expertise, they eat a meal together to seal the deal, and then they head back home.
All in all, it’s a relatively routine mission, and a successful one, but John’s left feeling upset and off balance afterwards. He wants to email Tony, to tell him what happened and make a joke out of it, but he can’t. There’s no way to explain what happened without giving away classified information.
So, John goes for a long, punishing run with Ronon, grateful for the man’s silent company.
He’s got mission reports to write, and others to read, and he tries to focus on that. After lunch, he lets Teyla beat him up with sticks, since that always makes him feel better.
And, he figures it might make her feel better, too.
John has to admit that he’s not at his best. She gets a good hit in on his right flank and steps back. “You’re dropping your guard,” she says.
“Sorry,” he mutters. “I didn’t sleep well last night.”
“I am not upset by yesterday’s events,” Teyla says. “The mission was a success. No one was hurt.”
John shrugs. “Well, you did have to promise to obey me.”
Teyla smiles. “I hope you enjoyed that while it lasted.”
“I did, in fact,” John jokes, and tries to focus on the sticks in his hand and his form. He can’t afford to be off balance.
She gets a number of hits in, and John would like to believe that he let it happen, but he knows better. At the end, Teyla puts her hands on his shoulders and John touches his forehead to hers.
“John, if you will not talk to me, then talk to someone else,” she says. “You are not yourself.”
John closes his eyes. “I know.”
She pulls back and nods. “Come find me if you need me.”
John doesn’t want to be alone with his thoughts, so he goes to bug Rodney in his lab, figuring he could spend some time doing light switch duty before he’s needed elsewhere.
“Why are you walking funny?” Rodney demands when John enters. “You’re limping.”
“Sparring with Teyla,” John explains briefly.
Rodney frowns at him. “After running with Ronon this morning?”
John shrugs. “Yeah, so?”
“So, you’ve been off since the mission yesterday,” Rodney says. “You barely said anything at breakfast, you picked at your lunch, you let Teyla bruise you—”
“I’m fine,” John snaps.
Rodney’s mouth takes on an unhappy slant. “Sheppard, come on. You haven’t been the same since you got back from earth, in fact.”
John swallows, realizing that he has no idea what to say. “It’s not important.”
Rodney pushes back from his lab bench. “Okay, I think we need beers.”
“It’s not even five o’clock,” John objects.
“Fine, after dinner then,” Rodney insists. “Go on, get out of here. I’ll see you on the pier at six.”
John hesitates. “Don’t you usually have dinner with Jennifer on Mondays?”
“Yeah, but this is clearly an emergency requiring privacy and beer,” Rodney replies. “Be there at six.”
John strongly considers not showing up, if only because he doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t know how to talk about it.
Then again, if he doesn’t show, Rodney isn’t above hunting him down and talking at John until John spills out of self-defense.
Before he leaves his room, John picks up the picture frame that Tamara gave him before he left earth. She’d carefully folded the picture so that only John and Miles were visible, but when John slips the picture out of the frame, he can see the whole thing.
Miles’ grin resembles John’s own, and Tony stares at the two of them with so much affection, John feels a lump form in his throat.
On the back, Tamara wrote, “Someday, maybe, you can display the whole thing.”
It would be a stupidly dangerous picture to have in his possession had he not been the commanding officer, and had he not been on Atlantis.
Hell, it’s still a stupidly dangerous thing to have, and he keeps it out of sight, but he can’t let go of it. He wants to have something of Tony with him.
John shoves the picture back into a drawer and heads for the pier. Rodney’s waiting for him already with a six-pack, and John pages Lorne to let him know he’s off duty for the night.
Rodney hands him a beer. “What happened? You haven’t talked about it. Did something—go wrong?”
“No,” John replies. “Nothing went wrong. I did rehab, I stayed with Tony, I got better.”
“But?” Rodney prompts. “Are you still—you know?”
“Yes, we’re still together,” John mutters. “I tried to break up with him, and he wouldn’t let me.”
Rodney snorts. “Did you try to sacrifice your own happiness for his?” When John doesn’t reply, he laughs. “I knew I liked him for a reason.”
John runs a hand though his hair. “Yeah, well. We’re making it work.”
“So you miss him,” Rodney says. “Understandable. What’s the deal with yesterday?”
John takes a long drink of his beer, and then he says, “There’s one person I want to marry, and he wasn’t there yesterday.”
Rodney is quiet for a long moment, and then he whispers, “John, I’m sorry.”
“So am I,” John replies.
“Is there anything I can do?” Rodney asks.
John glances over at him, at his best friend and the guy he’d been in love with until he fell head over heels for Tony, and he says, “You’re already doing it.”