Was life ever settled in Atlantis? John decided he'd adjust the definition of settled until it fit where they were now, because life was pretty damn good. He had his team back. Nothing extremely bad had happened in more than a day, and they had a mission to do a little recon on a planet where some people the Athosians had known in the old days had turned up. He caught Teyla's eye in the gateroom, and she smiled one of her not so serene smiles. John grinned back at her. Ronon was looking his usual calm self, and Rodney; Rodney for once didn't look like he wanted them all on a leash so that he would never lose them again. The wormhole engaged and they stepped through to Atua.
The gate was on a grassy hill. John pulled his P-90 up; Ronon had his gun in hand. Teyla laid a cautioning hand on Rodney's arm, and he pulled out his scanner. The hill the gate sat on was ringed with what looked like concrete bunkers. Each one had some gun slits facing the gate. If they were full of armed soldiers, anyone coming in the gate would be sitting ducks. John turned slowly, the bunkers were all damaged, and every one had the roof smashed in. Ragged edges of concrete lay broken around spines of reinforcing metal rods. Some of the small buildings were reduced to small chunks of rubble, but most were at least partly standing. John was reminded of the Berlin Wall, crumbling to pieces on CNN. The only thing missing was the graffiti.
"Life signs approaching," Rodney said. "In those trees behind the gate. Small group, not moving fast."
John and Teyla turned and trained their weapons in the direction of the trees. Ronon blocked Rodney with his body. "There is a very small power source in one of the more intact bunker thingies," Rodney said just as three people came into view. "Can't be a weapon. Maybe a signalling device."
The locals, two young men and one older woman, spread out as they approached. They wore loose simple clothes, and John could see nothing more sinister than a belt-knife on any of them. They paused at the edge of the closest bunker. One of the men kicked idly at some of the concrete. "Visitors to Atua. Lower your weapons and be made welcome," the woman called out. John could see some sort of marking on her face. It looked like black lines. The distance was too great to see details.
John lowered his P-90 to a more relaxed position, and Teyla did the same. Ronon reluctantly holstered his gun but kept his hand close. John called out introductions, and the woman's head snapped around to Teyla when he named her an Athosian. "I knew a woman of Athos once," she said. "Charin was her name, but she must be long gone to the Ancestors."
Teyla smiled. "She is gone, I regret to say. But not long ago. She died among her people only three years ago."
"Oh now that is a fine thing indeed. A dream for us all - to die an old woman peaceful in one's bed. My name is Layana and these young things are Axel and Landel. They fancied I needed a guard to great our guests. Perhaps if you came down the hill, we could all stop shouting."
John signalled the team to follow, and they cautiously picked their way down the hill.
"Your caution is understandable in these troubled times, but if you mean us no harm, none will come to you," Layana smiled at John.
The two boys, they looked about sixteen had moved closer to Layana again. Up close, John could see that the marks on Layana's face were some sort of tattoo. The design was abstract like some cross between Celtic and Islamic styles of art. The black lines that curled into patterns across her face could not hide the scar that puckered the skin in their midst. John turned his attention to one of the boys. He had a similar design inked into his skin in a long thin spiral that climbed from his wrist around his arm to disappear under the sleeve of his shirt. The other boy had similar markings on his legs. White lines of scarring were visible on one of his legs as well, not quite hidden by the black design.
Layana invited them to the village to meet the rest of her people. Ronon and Rodney followed her flanked by the silent boys. Teyla walked beside Layana while John dawdled behind, where he could see everyone.
"What are those structures by the gate?" Teyla asked.
"Those evil things are the physical signs of our dark days of occupation," Layana said. "We destroyed them as best we could so that they could never be used against innocent visitors."
"Occupation?" Teyla said.
"We are not native to this world. We were brought here from our home by an evil man and his thugs so he could use us to labour for him and provide for his vile amusements."
John was instantly tense, thinking she meant Michael. But she had said man, would she have called Michael a man?
"We believe him to be dead, he went through the ring and never returned. When we had raised the courage we sent his thugs through after him into the black."
The way the woman said it, John was pretty sure she was talking about sending them through to a space gate.
"We have been free now nearly two full years," she said happily.
Not Michael then. John was just starting to relax when Rodney stopped dead in front of him. Ronon turned to see what the problem was but never got a chance to ask.
"Kolya," Rodney said. "You mean Acastus Kolya don't you? That's why every one of you has scars you try to hide. Never lost his taste for knives did he?"
John felt his stomach sour at the name. Ronon's hand twitched towards his gun as if the bastard could rise out of the ground at their feet. Teyla took a step towards Rodney and took his hand.
Layana turned surprised eyes to Rodney. "You know of this beast?"
"We know," he said bitterness harsh in his words. "You'll be happy to know he is definitely dead. I saw the bastard die in front of me."
"Indeed," Layana said, pleased in a bloodthirsty sounding way. "That is indeed fine news. You have one thing wrong though, Doctor. We do not seek to hide our scars, but to transform them. I'm embarrassed to say it has almost become a religion among our people. There are rituals involved now and some rather interesting customs."
Axel and Landel locked gazes and dissolved into giggles. Layana scolded them affectionately and told them to run on ahead if they couldn't behave any better than that. They gratefully took off running. Teyla and Layana resumed their conversations while Rodney finally found the will to walk again. John moved up to flank him, and the three of them walked in silence for a while as Layana and Teyla talked quietly a few yards ahead.
"Do you think," Rodney said after a long silence, "No, I would never have the, the…"
"You should do it," Ronon said.
"It hurts though."
"Yeah, it hurts, but no more than you can take. I know you Rodney, trust me. Besides the designs are cool." Ronon examined his own tattooed arms.
"Of course there's the whole issue of disease to consider, it's not like anyone knows how to sterilize anything here. I'd likely die of septicaemia or something equally horrible."
"Ronon's not dead and look how much ink he's got," John said.
Rodney looked at him in surprise, "You think I should?"
"I think if you're interested you should look into it. See what this ritual is. We've got enough alcohol in the first aid kit to sterilize a thousand needles, and if there were anything in the ink to worry about, they'd know by know. Ronon's right the designs are cool and, I kinda like what she said about transformation."
"Yeah but, 'there's a ritual,' always makes me nervous," Rodney said.
"Everything makes you nervous," Ronon said.
"Well it's true," John said and stepped out of range of Rodney's ear flick.
"Should I have asked you three to run on ahead as well?" Teyla called back.
The village was a sobering experience at first. There was almost no one without some visible ink curling in intricate designs on their skin. Sometimes the scars they transformed were still clearly visible, sometimes they couldn't be seen at all. John had to not think about the suffering Kolya had caused here, or he would go dig him up and shoot him again. The people seemed happy though, laughing and passing greetings in the dirt streets, visiting the well in the centre of town and pausing to gossip. They smiled at their guests and handed around the almost ubiquitous sour Pegasus beer along with some meat and bread. Teyla directed them to a stone table a little away from the well.
"Layana explained the ritual to me," she said when they had all seated themselves. "On their original world, they had a temple that contained some old decorations telling a tale from a religion no longer practiced. A goddess was in love with a human man. There is a rather long involved tale of tragedy and loss, but he was apparently going to kill himself. The goddess took human form and came to him. She, the words Layana used were, 'she took him into her mouth and gave him such pleasure that joy was forever after his demeanour,'" Teyla smiled at Rodney, who grinned back at her impudently.
"The pictures in the temple apparently showed the goddess with black swirls on her skin. The human showed the same marks after the goddess was done giving him pleasure. This is where they got the idea for the tattoos. This story also explains the ritual and customs Layana mentioned."
"Here we go. There's always a catch," Rodney said sourly.
"Not a catch so much as a surprise twist I think," Teyla smiled again. "They do the tattooing in what is now a temple. There is one man who does the work - he creates the images used himself. Some time ago, when one of the first of the people here went to the man for a transformation, his wife was worried for him. He had suffered greatly getting the scar in the first place, and he was very afraid of pain. She decided to enact the rest of the old story to calm him down. She dressed in her best garments and painted her skin with swirls of black. She walked through the village for all to see and then entered the room where the artist was working on her husband and did as the story says."
"Are you saying she walked in there and, and," Rodney waved his hand in a surprisingly not obscene gesture, "while the tattoo was being done?" he sounded half horrified and half interested.
"Layana says the artist does not mind, because men often have, 'troubling reactions,' to the process."
"Yeah, that's true," Ronon said.
"Really?" Rodney asked.
"Yeah, you would have been very handy to have around when I had this last one done."
Rodney pinked up and looked a little smug.
"This is not a mandatory part of the ritual, but I can see how it might add something to the experience," Teyla said blandly.
"I was sitting here thinking how I would never be able to choose a design, and now I find out I don't have to, but how would I ever choose, um - well choose which of you to, you know." Rodney was blushing hot.
"So don't," John said.
"Teyla why don't you go see if you can get a look at this temple and the guy's equipment and then find out if they have any objection to a few more participants in their ritual than usual."
Teyla nodded and walked off in search of Layana.
John sat on the stone bench of the ritual bathhouse and looked down at the garment that barely covered the tops of his thighs. He smoothed his hands over the fabric and was reminded of something Rodney had had to wear on a planet a while ago. Rodney was having his own ritual bath and cleansing at the temple itself. He had been nervous, of course, so Ronon had offered to stay with him. Ronon was going to miss the fun of walking through town in broad daylight wearing what amounted to a mini-skirt.
"John," Teyla said from his side.
John looked up and smiled at her. How could he not? She was clad in a similar very short skirt in the same silky white fabric. Hers was paired with a band of cloth that revealed more of the soft brown curve of her breasts than it concealed. The fabric gleamed against her skin. The black swirls painted on her body shone with an iridescent light. Her hair was tied up on top of her head and clasped with a carved black stone. Thick black lines outlined her eyes and transformed their shape. She looked every inch the goddess.
John thought he likely looked ridiculous. His legs and arms had enough hair to make the paint impractical, so they had restricted their work to his back and face. He was never letting anyone shave his legs again, so that idea got vetoed quickly. They'd ringed his eyes with black similarly to Teyla's and tamed his hair into sharp spikes with something John thought he should get Rodney to look into as an industrial adhesive.
"I wish you could see yourself the way I do," Teyla said to his silence.
"Yeah, how's that?"
"I hesitate to say, I know how little you like to hear comments about your looks." Teyla set a soft hand on his bare knee.
"Yeah," John sighed.
"I also know how much Rodney likes to look at you. He will find you very pleasing this way."
"If I could, I would spend the rest of my life standing between you and Ronon so no one ever notices me," John said wistfully.
"I thought that was the plan," Teyla said laughing. "And even so Rodney would always have eyes for you first. Stand up John, and let me see you properly."
John obeyed her. Keeping a goddess happy was always a good idea. He stood and did a slow turn for her. "Please tell me this thing actually covers my ass?"
Teyla laughed at him and ran her hand appreciatively down his silk clad backside. She tugged on the hem of his skirt thing. "Just barely."
"Hey none of that, or I'll have a bigger problem than my ass hanging out." John dodged her seeking hand and thought icy thoughts in the direction of his cock.
John squared his shoulders and walked out the door before Teyla could get grabby again. He held out his arm in a ridiculously formal gesture, and she took it, and they walked slowly through the village to the temple. The villagers stopped their work and came to their doors and silently watched their progress. John tried to convince himself that no one would see his feeble self in the presence of the goddess and counted himself a brave man when he didn't break and run when he heard some woman whistling from behind him.
They entered the anteroom of the temple, and John leaned against the closed door in blessed relief. He could hear Ronon's low tones and Rodney's louder voice from beyond the door. Teyla gave him another minute and then tugged on his arm. He squared his shoulders again and let Teyla open the door. Inside Rodney was straddling a long padded bench. He was dressed in a simple sleeveless white robe. His right arm was tied down to a table at the wrist with a length of leather John recognized. Trust Ronon to realize the calming effect that would have on Rodney. Ronon was playing backrest and holding Rodney still with firm arms around his waist. He had his head bent and was whispering what John was sure were very filthy things in Rodney's ear. Rodney was grinning widely and pointedly not looking at his own arm where the work on his transformation was well underway. John spared a glance for the artist, a middle aged man who didn't look up even when John and Teyla entered the room.
Rodney raised his head, and his eyes widened, and his mouth stilled for long moments before it curled in delight. "Oh my," he said.
"Yeah," Ronon echoed him, "oh my is right."
"The god and goddess both," Rodney said in something like real awe.
John ducked his head, but he saw Teyla's face glow with pride and not a little predatory zeal. If she was a goddess, she was definitely one of the ones with a sword and an attitude to match. She stalked forward towards Rodney and bent her head to his. Her hand came up to fist in Ronon's hair as she took Rodney's mouth. John looked down at his skirt thingy, which was really more like a kilt or a lava lava, and was very glad he hadn't let Teyla get him worked up any sooner. The head of his cock was poking through the folds of the silky fabric. John looked up to see Ronon grinning and licking his lips.
Rodney had let his legs fall open as soon as Teyla touched him. John thought that Rodney would make a great test subject for a study on conditioned response. The artist never once looked up. John put his presence out of his mind and crossed the room to stand at the end of the bench Rodney was sitting on. Rodney was showing a very well conditioned response to mild pain and stimulation. He was poking out of the folds of the short robe he'd been clad in. John looked up to see three faces turned his way. He smiled happily and dropped to his knees. On the way down he noticed that Ronon's left arm had moved from Rodney's waist and his hand had disappeared somewhere in the vicinity of Teyla's skirt.
John pulled open Rodney's robe and took him in his mouth and set about giving him pleasure. He didn't really hold out much hope for any permanent effect on Rodney's demeanour, but he was always willing to reapply the temporary solution as needed. He looked up to see Teyla giving equal time to Rodney and Ronon with her mouth. He could see Rodney's left hand had vanished from sight as well. He took his time sucking Rodney's cock, employing all his tricks and enjoying himself immensely. He savoured the taste and the feel and spent some time bent low licking Rodney's smooth balls, sending his tongue as low as it could reach along his perineum. Rodney was moaning almost continuously whenever Teyla freed his mouth. John returned to his cock and sucked him, swirled his tongue around the head and bobbed his head in time to his own pounding heart.
Teyla tapped on his shoulder demanding his attention. John looked up to see her face serious and calm. "It would honour me if I could take Rodney through the last of his transformation."
John nodded soberly, unsurprised, and accepted her help in getting to his feet. She sank gracefully to her knees and flashed her most hungry smile at Rodney before she took him into her mouth. John took her former position beside Rodney and Ronon and bent to claim first Rodney's mouth and then Ronon's. John felt hands on his legs and spread his legs accommodatingly. He was bent in an awkward pose, but he considered it worth it when slick fingers grasped his cock and slid along the cleft of his ass. He was lost in Ronon's mouth, someone's fingers were up his ass and someone else's hand was on his cock when Rodney's loud moans pushed him over the edge. He would have fallen to the floor if Ronon hadn't got a strong grip on his hip. John looked up to see Teyla kneeling back on her heels, lips pink and curved in a smug little smile worthy of Rodney. Rodney was still tied down but the artist had disappeared. Ronon let go of John and started extricating himself from his position on the bench.
"Untie him, John, I need to go clean up," Ronon said as he headed for the adjoining ritual bath.
"That'll teach you to dry hump someone when you're wearing leather pants," Rodney called after him in a soft slurring voice.
John walked around the table to untie Rodney. Teyla joined him and they examined the tattoo. The original scar was short, barely four inches long. The artist had made it the centre line of a perfect square made up of four blocks of similar yet distinct intricate black swirls. John and Teyla shared a smile. They joined Ronon in the bath after finding their clothes helpfully relocated to the anteroom. They returned to the main room, no longer possessed by deities, to find Rodney snoring on the bench, arm cradled against his chest. John didn't relish the lecture they were all going to get from Keller, but he knew it was worth it. It was all worth it.