Art by kazbaby
“Maybe I should…” Sub Commander John Sheppard took a step back from the Gate, and pointed over his shoulder towards the control room. “I’ll go check on…”
McKay recognized the panicked look in Sheppard’s eyes and grabbed his friend by the elbow, keeping him in his place in the line of people and equipment waiting to go through the wormhole, back to Earth and Star Gate Operations. Back to the oppressive societal rules the Atlantis Expedition had been living without for the past three years while they were out of contact with the home world. But they had been ordered to return; almost everyone was going, leaving only a handful of crew to man the city until the future fate of the expedition had been determined.
A big hand fell on Sheppard’s shoulder and he looked up, startled to see Ronon standing there wearing a backpack and a determined scowl as he glared at the swirl of the wormhole. “Big guy? Where you going? I thought you were staying with Teyla?”
Ronon shrugged and nudged John forward slightly as the line moved. “Heard there might be trouble,” he said gruffly and glanced over at Rodney.
“Teyla needs you here.” John glared at Rodney, who had the good sense to look away, his eyes going up to the control room, over to the stairway, to Ronon, anywhere other than the now fuming John Sheppard.
The former runner merely shrugged and nudged Sheppard forward again.
With a frustrated huff, John waved his hand to indicate the Gate and SGO on the other side of it. “Ronon, they might not let you - hell, they might not let anyone come back to Atlantis! You need to stay here. Your place is with Teyla.”
“If that is the case, then perhaps it is best that we are both accompanying you on this journey.” Calm and ninja-like as ever, the Athosian woman appeared suddenly at John’s elbow, wearing her best fuzzy traveling coat and a pack on her back.
“I can’t ask this of you, Teyla, your people need you here. Your baby should be born here, not in some military bunker a galaxy away.” John stepped out of the line completely and waved the soldiers that waited behind them to move ahead. He had thought this discussion was over, that it had all been decided. As much as he hated leaving his friends behind, it was for the best. Or so he thought, so he had argued when the discussion had taken place.
Teyla put a hand to John’s cheek and pulled his face down to touch her forehead to his. “I appreciate your concern, John, I truly do. My people have Halling to lead them while I am away. I trust his judgment. You are family, and I believe you need me more than they do at this time.”
“We discussed this.” John stepped aside to let a trolley full of empty ammo cases slide past with a noisy rattle.
She leveled her ‘I’m annoyed with you’ look at him as she said, “During our previous discussion, you neglected to give us all the information necessary to come to the proper decision, John. There is trouble waiting for you, I cannot say I understand all that I have been told about your people, but I will not allow one of my family to go traveling on a troubled path alone.”
“I’m not alone. I have… Rodney.” John finished with a scowl and a lame wave up and down indicating McKay.
An indignant squawk from Rodney made John roll his eyes. “Well thanks a lot!”
When John pointed a warning finger at his nose to shut up, Rodney wisely clamped his mouth closed on whatever else he had been about to say.
“We’re going.” Ronon pushed Rodney ahead of him as he walked towards the Gate. With a smile, Teyla followed, leaving John to stare in dismay after his team. He wondered when he had lost control of the situation. This led to the disturbing realization that he probably never had control to begin with. He sighed and tromped after them, not certain if this made things better or worse. But a small part of him was grateful that his friends weren’t staying behind after all, that they had chosen him over Atlantis.
“Your people are insane.” Ronon growled as John crossed the commissary and joined his friends at the table, dropping his tray with a clatter. He slid onto an ugly, uncomfortable orange plastic chair beside Teyla.
Quiet and serene, as always, Teyla gave a barely perceptible nod of agreement at her lover’s pronouncement. She rubbed one hand over her rounded tummy and pointedly ignored the food on the plate in front of her. When John had settled himself and began to eat, she looked around the room and said in a low voice, “The people I spoke with keep referring to me as keri, John. I do not understand.”
John went pale and grabbed Teyla’s hand, demanding in a rush, “Please tell me you told them Ronon is the baby’s father, that you’re married or joined or sworn or mated or something.”
“I told them that,” Ronon said, glaring at John.
“As did I. I saw no reason to lie; you know this is the truth. They seemed satisfied with the answer. I do not understand this. John, you are hurting my hand.” She looked down at where he was squeezing her hand so hard it was turning white.
“Sorry.” He dropped her hand and looked down at his plate. “I overreacted. If they thought you were unbonded, they might… there’re laws.” He sighed in irritation. “Our people have trouble with conception, and the laws are supposed to protect those that can breed, the keri and the panor.”
“Surely laws meant to protect people are good?” She leaned towards him and ducked her head, trying to look up into his face, which he was making difficult by staring down into his lap as he spoke.
“The intent is good, but the execution is sometimes a bit harsh and extreme,” Rodney interjected.
John looked up, trying to affect a confident air as he said, “You should be fine. I’m sorry I worried you. You told them the right thing. They won’t take you away from Ronon, not if you’re bonded, not if they think you’re bonded.” Beneath the table, his hands were shaking in his lap. Things had gotten worse in the years he had been away in Pegasus, according to the information he’d been able to gather since coming back to Star Gate Operations.
“They round people up?” Ronon asked suspiciously, getting to the crux of the matter quickly. People often underestimated the big man’s intelligence, though John prided himself on the fact that he never had, not once, since meeting Ronon.
Pushing his food aside, his appetite gone, Sheppard nodded. “It started a little over fifty years ago, when there was an invasion here. It was a rough time to grow up, according to my mom. We got some help from a race known as the Jirante, as well as a few other races we had met during the early years of the Star Gate program, when it was run out of Area 51.”
Picking up the tale, as Sheppard took a few breaths to collect his thoughts, Rodney filled in quickly, “Mass destruction, death, battles, plague. The result, after the big uglies were driven off, was a single world ruling body, the Earth United Government. It wasn’t until a few years afterwards that the full extent of the plagues became clear. Some of the weapons they used affected the survivor's genetics. The vast majority of our people were sterile after the plagues. The Jirante had tests to identify those still capable of procreation; their geneticists intervened for our own good. The fertile segment of our population is divided in two, the more common panor, which means protector in Jirante, and the keri, which translates as ‘life bearer’ in Jirante.”
When Teyla nodded in understanding, Rodney continued, “There are stiff punishments for crimes committed against any keri. They are expected to stay home and safe at all times. The keri and panor are technically not supposed to serve in combat situations, though exceptions are made, in some cases.”
“You cannot have children?” Teyla asked, looking from Rodney to John with sadness in her eyes as her hand instinctively moved over the gentle swell of her belly.
“Huh? Oh, yeah, yeah, sure, I can. I'm panor, but I was deemed mission essential, so I was allowed to go and take Katie with me, Katie is second generation keri.” Rodney shrugged and looked at John again, giving him an opening to speak up, but John remained silent, staring down into his lap, his shoulders stiff. His discomfort with the conversation was practically oozing off him. He didn’t look up, he couldn’t meet their eyes.
“What is the difference between keri and panor? I am still a bit unclear on this.” Teyla was fascinated by the conversation and leaned towards Rodney. “We have known you for three years. We have traveled between planets and met many different people, and yet you have never given us any indication of such a fundamental difference in the way our two peoples reproduce.”
“Doctor Beckett could explain this better with his medical mumbo jumbo and charts and graphs and such, but it basically boils down to the chemical bonding process that happens at conception. Keri have one set of the chemicals necessary and panor have the other.”
Ronon pulled a face, the one he made when he felt that Rodney was talking down to them “Male and female, we all learned that in school.”
“No, not exactly. The keri in the pairing can be either male or female, so can the panor.” Rodney looked over at John and rolled his eyes, pausing and then finally waggling his hand limply at John and then at Ronon and Teyla, indicating that John should speak up. “John, don’t you have something to tell Teyla and Ronon?”
John sighed heavily and said, “I’m keri. I’m only on the Atlantis mission because I also have the ATA gene, which trumps sperm and egg counts. At least it did three years ago when I left. Things are different now. The laws have changed.”
“This is the trouble you feared?” Ronon looked to Rodney, who nodded.
“They don’t want to let him go back. Never mind that he’s proved himself over and over again capable of taking care of himself and others and is not in need of a panor for protection, they want to yank him and force him to get hitched.”
“But you are a man. Surely, you do not need to remain here in order to do your duty.” Teyla looked confused as she stared at John, who was blushing.
“I’m keri,” he whispered, staring down at his trembling hands. “I’m not supposed to be roaming free without a panor; I’m supposed to be kept away somewhere under lock and key, waiting to donate my genetic material to the good cause.”
Rodney waited to see if Sheppard would explain further, but he’d clammed up. “It’s not so simple. The Jirante’s method of helping was a bit radical. Sex is not a factor in breeding like it used to be. Any human still capable of breeding was given a treatment, and it changed them…”
“I was a normal guy until I was twelve, then they got their hands on me, now I’m keri.” When he looked up at his friends, they saw a rare mix of shame, pain and humiliation cross John’s face before he ducked his head again and schooled his features back to normal.
Taking pity on his friend, Rodney said quietly, “The keri are capable of conception with either sex, with whomever they are bonded to, male or female.”
“That’s so fucked up,” Ronon grunted.
John crinkled his nose and told his friend, “You spend too much time with the marines and seals, they’re corrupting you. You’re starting to talk like them.”
“Doesn’t change the fact that this is royally fucked up.”
“Welcome to my life,” John chuckled sardonically and sat back in his chair, running both hands through his hair, making it stand up even more crazily than usual.
“Do you not wish to be a father?” Teyla asked him. “Surely you could do your social duty outside the bonding ritual?”
Sheppard blushed again before he answered, “I prefer the company of men. I mean I really prefer the company of men.”
“Oh. OH!” Teyla said with a gasp as she finally caught on.
“Exactly. And I haven’t found anyone I’m willing to commit to at that level. Nothing personal Teyla, but I really, really, really don’t have any desire to go through what you’re going through. Ever.” John picked up a roll off his tray and began to tear it into tiny pieces with visibly shaking hands.
“But they would force you? Are they able to do that?” Teyla grabbed John’s hand and gave it a supportive squeeze.
“They can. He’s keri. He has fewer rights than a cocker spaniel,” Rodney snarled.
“Thanks Rodney. Arf, arf,” Sheppard replied, infusing the barks with sarcasm.
“You know what I mean.”
John nodded sadly and shrugged. “Yeah. Yeah, I do.”
“We need to find you a husband, one that doesn’t want to make babies.” Ronon grinned as John looked up at him with an exasperated groan.
“I don’t want one, and a bonded keri's spouse is called a panor'eten here on Earth.”
Rodney agreed with Ronon, pointing at him as he said, “He’s right, you need one.”
“Okay, I’ve had enough talking about this for today, possibly forever. Could we never mention it again? I have to go be debriefed by Vice Secretary Hammond and Marshal O’Neill about the Wraith and how Ford woke them up and cursed Pegasus before he died." There was at least an hour before that meeting was scheduled, but John had been embarrassed enough for one day. He threw his chair back, scooped up his tray and stormed out of the nearly empty commissary.
“I was going about things in the wrong way,” Teyla mused, stirring her tea. “When we were home, I kept trying to find him a sweet Athosian woman to keep company with; I thought he needed a wife.”
“He needs a husband,” Ronon grunted, and bit into his roll. He watched with concern as his friend fled the commissary as if every Wraith in the galaxy were hot on his heels.