“This is so exciting! They must have at least three ZPMs, but they don't really need them. It wouldn't do them any harm to give us one of them. We could spend years here and would still find something new to discover and explore in this city!”
John turned his head to look at Rodney, who was literally bouncing on his feet with excitement. The genius scientist had found the address of this planet among other data in a hidden database in an abandoned lab they had just discovered after their return to Pegasus, and it had taken him months to decipher the data and locate the gate addresses they had found.
None of them had expected to find another planet with Ancient technology that was still in use among the new ones though, even more because the humans living in the Pegasus Galaxy normally didn't possess the ATA-gene one needed to operate the devices of the Ancients. The Antinari seemed to be descendants of the Ancients, they didn't understand the complicated technology of their ascendants anymore, but a lot of them could still use and maintain it to some extent, and John really understood Rodney's exaltation, even though he found himself being less excited and more wary ever since they had stepped through the gate and seen the large tower craning its long shimmering neck into the heavily clouded sky of Antinara how the Antinari called their home planet.
The Antinari had welcomed them warmly and brought them to the tower where their Lord Protector resided to start negotiations about a possible alliance with him, and the Lord Protector had showed them around in the tower personally over the last two days, seemingly eager to please them. Their quarters settled on the highest floor - directly under the roof of the building - were luxurious, but John would actually have preferred to sleep on the hard ground of a shack in the forest nearby the city because he felt watched the entire time ever since they had entered the tower which seemed to be the center and the heart of the town.
Rodney was too occupied with his discoveries to notice that something was off, but Ronon and Teyla looked as uncomfortable as John felt, and the dark-haired colonel wished not for the first time that Todd would be here with them and cover their backs.
John hadn't seen the Wraith since Todd had left Atlantis a couple of days ago to see to his duties as the High Commander of his ten Hives, and John was torn between relief and his longing for the ancient male. Todd had kept his promise to give him the time he needed before making their changed relationship official, and Todd hadn't tried to come closer to him and touch him in a more intimate way than just pat his shoulder now and then, and John had to admit that he was confused and didn't know what to make out of Todd's behavior.
Going on a mission and explore an unknown planet had seemed to be a good idea to distract him from his musings and his mixed feelings towards the Wraith, but John really wished that Todd would be here with them now. None of the Antinari had mentioned the ubiquitous threat of the Wraith so far, and they only shrugged their shoulders when John or Teyla approached this topic, refusing to give them a proper answer to their questions.
These people obviously weren't interested in an alliance with Atlantis because they hoped that the city would help them in case of a Wraith attack, but more because they didn't have the knowledge how to repair their technology any longer, and John hoped that they would find something the Antinari considered as worthy enough to give them one of their ZPMs in return.
The Lord Protector had promised them to think about their offer during their first encounter, but two days had passed since then, and Loraan still had to give them an answer. The tall Antinari with the dark eyes and the steel-gray hair was polite and treated John's team like most welcome guests he had waited to host them in his tower for all of his life, but he regarded John with a strange expression now and then, and the hazel-eyed colonel had the bad feeling that Loraan was hiding something from them.
“Yes, but Loraan doesn't seem to be in a hurry to negotiate with us,” John now drawled, but Rodney waved his worries away.
“The Antinari haven't had any contact to other planets for a rather long time, they have everything they need here, and they most likely found it wiser to stay on their own planet because of the Wraith. It's understandable that they need some time to get to know us before they agree to negotiations. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, Sheppard. Pressing them won't get us anywhere. We can move around freely and no one has tried to imprison or poison us so far, and Loraan is truly interested in an alliance with us, he just needs some time get to know us better, that's all.” The genius stated, not looking up from his tablet.
The scientist was completely in his element here, so happy with all of the fascinating Ancient technology surrounding him that he tended to throw all caution to the winds. McKay wasn't military and looked differently at things most of the times, but maybe it was John who was too pessimistic here, it was hard to tell. Life in Pegasus was always full of surprises, and it was better to be safe than sorry – John had learned that the hard way a long time ago. His last encounter with a hostile Wraith Hive had just proved that right, providing him with a mate he hadn't expected to get at all.
But John had to admit that Rodney probably had a point here because the Antinari hadn't taken their equipment so far and even left them their weapons, and John instinctively felt for the dagger hidden in his boot. Todd had kept his promise and demanded to get the engagement present back he had gifted to his bonded mate, and the Commander of the other Hive had obeyed, honoring the Wraith laws with a grim face and a snarl. John was glad to have it back, feeling strangely naked and vulnerable without Todd's knife in his boot.
“Hmm, I don't think that this is the only reason for their reluctance, but let us hope that you're right here, McKay,” John now said with a sigh, walking over to the window to look down at the Stargate he could see in the distance. He did find it strange that the Antinari hadn't tried to use the gate to visit other planets because they knew its purpose and how to dial out, but John didn't know enough about their culture and their beliefs to understand their way of thinking.
“The Lord Protector wants to see you.” the quiet voice of a young Antinari pulled John out of his thoughts and made him turn around.
“We're pleased to hear that,” he said with a smile, waving at Rodney to follow him. Loraan had insisted on Ronon and Teyla staying in another suite during their stay, another fact that made John suspicious and wary, and he really longed to leave this planet again and go back to Atlantis any time soon. He didn't like to be away from his city for too long, and apart from that, he really needed to have another talk with Todd about their relationship and how to deal with it in the future. John hated to have unfinished business, and his uncertainty about Todd's and most of all his own feelings distracted him pretty much from his work and his duties as the military commander of Atlantis.
John followed the young man quietly with Rodney walking beside him, he really did wish that Todd would be here with them as well more and more with every step he made.
The young Antinari brought them to a splendid chamber that reminded John of the chair room in Atlantis, but the chair Loraan was sitting in was different from the chair in Atlantis as far as John could tell at first sight. The tall Lord Protector wore a long coat made of a shimmering silvery material over his tightly fitting black pants and his black shirt, and John's gaze was drawn to the heavy belt around his slim waist. The large clasp looked like a technical device, and John knew for sure that Loraan hadn't worn this belt the last time he had shown him around in the tower, something that increased his wariness pretty much.
“Colonel Sheppard, I'm pleased to tell you that I have come to a decision. Please have a seat so we can talk about our future alliance.” Loraan started the negotiations, gesturing invitingly at the four chairs arranged around his throne-like seat.
John approached the chairs slowly, exchanging a quick glance with Teyla and Ronon, who had just come in through another door opposite John and Rodney. “ Thank you, Loraan.” John flashed a cheesy smile at the Antinari before addressing his friends as they sat down on the chairs, Ronon looking tensed as though he was prepared to jump to his feet and fight his way to the gate at any second. “Teyla, Ronon, it's good to see you again.”
“It is, John. Rodney.” Teyla nodded at them with a weak smile, and John was relieved that the Athosian seemed to share his mistrust. Ronon was always mistrustful, but Teyla had a sixth sense when it came to possible dangers, and John trusted her judgment. “Can you feel the presence of any Wraith nearby?” John murmured quietly enough that Loraan couldn't hear him, and Teyla shook her head ever so slightly.
“No Wraith, John.” It was obvious that she wanted to say more, but Loraan speaking up again kept her from doing so.
“I have spoken to the council, and we have come to a decision, Colonel Sheppard. We are willing to agree to an alliance with Atlantis, sharing some of our technology with you and perhaps even providing you with one of our ZPMs – if you will agree to our conditions.”
“That's great, I knew that you would be willing to do that!” Rodney almost shouted, looking like a child under the Christmas tree at Loraan's words, but John couldn't really share his joy when he saw the way the Lord Protector regarded him appraisingly.
“And what kind of conditions would that be?” he wanted to know, keeping his face blank.
Loraan's smile made him look like a wolf baring its teeth. “Only one condition you'll surely find easy to agree to it, Colonel Sheppard. You just have to become my consort to get our technology and our ZPM.”
“It would be only a formal thing, Sheppard, I really don't get it why you're so opposed to this 'marriage'!” Rodney complained, pacing up and down in the quarters where they had been brought to after John's spontaneous refusal to Loraan's condition. It was only a rather small room that looked much more like a prison cell than like real guest quarters, totally different from their former luxurious quarters, and Loraan's guards suddenly appearing from behind the doors had also taken their weapons this time before accompanying them to the cells in the basement of the tower.
Luckily, they hadn't found John's dagger, probably thinking that John only used guns, but they had taken all of Ronon's various knifes and daggers, and John's knife was the only weapon that was left for them.
Loraan had also ordered them to hand Rodney's equipment and their radios to him, and John's hopes that another team would soon come from Atlantis to rescue them had been crashed when the Lord Protector had told them that the Antinari were able to raise a shield and keep others to from using the gate this way – probably one of the reasons why they didn't need to fear the Wraith as much as other planets had to fear them.
“If you think that, why don't you agree to become Loraan's consort then, McKay?” John hissed back, and the scientist rolled his eyes. “Loraan explained it to you, didn't he? He wants a consort with the natural Ancient gene because the Antinari have lost it over the centuries, and you are the one with the strongest ATA-gene here in Pegasus – except for the Ancients themselves. Just agree to this arrangement, and we will be free again!”
“You mean that you would be free again, McKay! I would have to spend a large amount of time on this planet, how shall that work? I'm the military commander of Atlantis as you might want to remember.”
Rodney just shrugged his shoulders. “Major Lorne will be there to replace you during that time, Sheppard. Come on, it's really no big deal!”
“Not for you!” John turned his head away, his heart hammering painfully in his chest.
“It's not that I agree with Rodney, John, but I would like to know if there are other reasons for you to refuse to even think about Loraan's conditions. I know that Earth has a different view on relationships between two men or two women, but Loraan surely doesn't expect you to share his bed with him. Besides, we're in Pegasus here, and our view on these kind of things is not the same as you look at such relationships on Earth, no one would judge you for this formal bonding with another male for the sake of a strong alliance and more technology and ZPMs, John. I do believe that even Mr. Woolsey would agree to that without too many objections.”
“I wouldn't be so sure about that. I don't like the way he's looking at him,” Ronon spoke up for the first time since the Antinari had taken his weapons away, and John shot him a grateful look. “Thank you, Ronon. I don't like the way he's regarding me as if I was a special dish on his plate either. I don't think that this 'marriage' would be only a formal thing as Rodney has put it. If they really need someone with the gene, then they'll want my... DNA at some point – in which way whatsoever.” John paused, avoiding to look at his teammates.
“You're right with what you've said about things being different here in Pegasus, even when it comes to marriages and relationships. Besides, the laws on Earth have been changed some time ago, so Loraan being male wouldn't be a problem. But you're not seriously considering that I should actually agree to this marriage?!” he asked incredulously, his throat tight with the lump he felt at the thought of the secret mate he actually already had.
John really didn't know what it was that made male and female Wraith and strange Lord Protectors of other planets crave to have him as their mate, and the hazel-eyed colonel rubbed his temples because a bad headache had started to throb behind his forehead. He had just started to really think about Todd as his bonded mate, and now he had to deal with the tall Antinari who wanted him to become his consort – whatever this 'formal marriage' might imply or not imply.
“You could pretend to agree to Loraan's wish to get us out of this cell at least. Play the shy shrinking violet to buy us more time in case that he'll really want more from you than you just sitting at his right side and looking good,” Rodney suggested, and John stared at him, torn between feeling offended and bursting out in hysterical laughter.
“Sitting at his side and looking good? What the heck has gotten into you, Rodney? Would you really agree to Loraan's condition – even if it was only to deceive him and buy us more time – if you were in my shoes?”
John would actually have suggested the same only a couple of weeks ago, but everything had changed when he had become Todd's bonded mate, and the mere thought of pretending to be somebody else's consort made him feel sick.
Rodney regarded him with narrowed eyes. “Why not? If it would get us out of here? Atlantis can't come to our help because of the damn shield, and we have no chance to contact the Daedalus or one of Todd's Hive without Loraan allowing us to use the hyper radio device that must exist here. We have done that countless times when circumstances demanded it that we played along to escape from captivity in the past, and I really don't understand why you don't even want to think about, Sheppard!”
The scientist had raised his voice, and John knew that he had to finally admit the reason for his reluctance to merely think of faking willingness to agree to 'marry' the Lord Protector of the Antinari. Todd had told him a few things about their mating bond after their return to Atlantis, and John simply couldn't betray the Wraith and become Loraan's consort.
The mating bond between Wraith and their chosen ones was the strongest bond that existed in Pegasus as far as John could tell from what he knew, and he was quite sure that Todd would rather die than let himself be forced into an arranged marriage and betray his mate this way – even not when it was only a fake. John might not have had any say in becoming Todd's mate, but he was his bonded mate now, and he wouldn't start their relationship with such a betrayal.
“I'm sorry, Rodney, but I just can't do that. Not because Loraan is male or because he might want more from me than just a good-looking adornment for his dinner table how you've put it so accurately. It's just that I already have a mate, and I simply can't do it because of this important fact. I am already bonded to another one, and I won't break the promise I've given them when we became mates.”
Three pairs of eyes stared at him in stunned silence, and John could feel cold sweat covering his forehead.
“You're joking, John, aren't you?” Rodney finally croaked out, but John shook his head. “No, I'm not, I'm sorry, McKay.”
“I see,” Teyla eventually said, regarding John calmly. “And who is it? I can't remember that you've ever mentioned such a bond. Is it someone from Earth?”
John swallowed. “It is still rather new, and we agreed to keep our relationship a secret for a while longer. It's complicated, and no, it's not someone living on Earth.” The hazel-eyed colonel straightened his shoulders and looked Ronon straight in the eyes as he opened his mouth again, ready to jump back and defend himself in case the big Satedan would attack him.
“It's Todd. Todd and I have become bonded mates a couple of weeks ago.”