John would like to have said that they were surprised the first time the gate failed to connect back to Earth for their regularly scheduled databurst, but they'd all been expecting this for months now. The Ori war had not been going well, and with the loss of SG-1, a lot of the heart had gone out of Stargate Command. The foursome had been considered something of a good luck charm and their loss had hit everyone hard. Even O'Neill had given in after a while, admitting their deaths when Daniel Jackson had stubbornly failed to make any kind of return appearances.
Rodney turned and looked at him after the third and final try at dialing Earth. "I guess this is it, then," he said, his voice breaking.
John pursed his lips and nodded. "I'll go tell Elizabeth."
He walked without knocking into Dr. Weir's office. She was sitting at her desk, leaning on the surface and holding her head with both hands. "Is it official?" she asked, not looking at him.
John looked down at his shoes and then back up again. "Yeah. DHD is functioning properly. Problem is on the other end."
Elizabeth sighed and sat back in her chair. "The last news we had from them was really bad."
John nodded grimly. He recounted to himself the last news they had received: The Ori armada rapidly approaching Earth's doorstep. Both Alpha and Beta sites for the SGC, overrun. All their ships, destroyed. The Daedelus had been the last to go, Caldwell fighting to the end like the tight-assed bastard he was. John had drunk a toast to him the night they'd found out. Unless the Asgard had been able to scramble some ships over in time to save something, anything, that was it. No more Earth as they knew it.
"How is Rodney taking it?" Elizabeth asked quietly.
John shrugged one shoulder. "About as well as you think. He'll never see his sister or niece again. You?"
Elizabeth gave him a wan smile. "About as well as you think. I'll never see my mother again. And you?"
John sighed and looked at the floor. "Ex-wife," he said shortly. She nodded with sympathy and said nothing more. Well, this sucked. They had a whole planet to mourn. What the hell kind of funeral service did you have for that kind of catastrophe?
Teyla came into the office. "Dr. McKay told me," she said softly as she walked over and placed a hand on Elizabeth's shoulder. "I grieve with you in your loss."
Elizabeth laid her hand on top of Teyla's. "Thank you, Teyla," she said shakily. She closed her eyes and visibly pulled herself together. She then stood up, smoothed her jacket and said, "Now if you will excuse me, I have to inform the rest of the expedition of the news." She strode with great dignity out the door, spine stiff and stern.
Teyla looked over to John. "You know that my people and I are here for you, do you not?" She came over to him and laid a hand on his arm. "My people are perhaps more experienced in dealing with tragedies such as this. Our resources are at your disposal."
Thousands of years of being culled regularly by the Wraith probably did make the Athosians experts on dealing with huge losses like this, thought John. He didn't doubt that they had better coping methods than the expedition did at this moment. Despite Hollywood's best efforts in cranking out disaster films, no one from Earth had ever truly experienced this kind of devastation. "Thanks, Teyla," he replied, rubbing the back of his neck to try and ease the tension that had gathered there. "Right now, I don't think that anybody has had a chance to wrap their mind around what's happened. I think we need a little time to digest it first, okay?"
Teyla nodded. "That is to be expected. I will tell Dr. Weir and Dr. Heightmeyer of my people's offer of assistance as well." She gave his arm a brief squeeze, then let go. "Remember that although you have lost your old home, you have friends here to help you in your new one."
John gave a brief nod. "We know." He dropped his arm from his neck, giving up on trying to release the tension. It wasn't going to go away any time soon.
Teyla gave him a brief smile and left the office.
The command staff spent the next few days on the alert for anyone threatening to completely break down due to the news. They had decided that the oldtimers were the best off, because they had come to Atlantis originally thinking that they might never get back to Earth. It was the newer people who were more at risk and, on the sixth day after it was official, the first person broke.
"Why? Why should I go on? What reason is there to? They're all dead!" Dr. Talevera wailed as she clung to the outside of the railing of a balcony.
Several people who had gathered round the scene in an attempt to help milled uneasily, unsure what to do. Dr. Heightmeyer opened her mouth to try again to convince her to come back over the rails to safety when Rodney McKay came charging through, muscling people aside with his shoulders. He bullied his way through the crowd and past Heightmeyer and shocked everyone by grabbing Talevera by the jacket and bodily yanking her back over the railing. He waited only long enough for her to regain her feet before her started shaking her viciously. "You moron! How *dare* you try to throw away your life like that? It that what your family would have wanted you to do? Toss yourself after them in a meaningless display of stupid grief? "
Dr. Talevera brought up her hands and braced them against McKay's arms, crying great heaving sobs. He gave her another rough shake and snarled into her face, "*No*! You are the last of your family and they would give everything, *everything*, to make. Sure. You. Live!" he punctuated his last words with matching shakes. "You listen to me...you *will* live, and you *will* have children and you *will* name them after your relatives in remembrance of them! You understand me?"
Dr. Talevera nodded through her sobs. "Y, yes sir. Yes, s,sir. I'm s,s,sorry."
Rodney shoved Talevera over to Dr. Heightmeyer who caught her in an embrace and pulled her back inside. He then looked at the crowd with a wrathful eye and shouted, "All of you idiots, back to work! And the next time I catch anyone of you on this base attempting to off yourselves you are going to be very sorry that you tried, because after I save your ass I will make your life a living hell for inconveniencing me. You got that?"
Several people gave terrified nods and the crowd quickly dispersed. Rodney stood there, breathing deeply, fighting down the shakes that the adrenaline surge had given him. He closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around himself in an attempt to pull himself together.
"That was very well done," he heard and he opened his eyes to see Teyla giving him a sympathetic look. "You said the correct thing to force her to look to the future instead of dwelling on the past." She walked up to him and laid a hand on his forearms.
Rodney shuddered and closed his eyes again. "Teyla," he said, trying to keep his voice even.
Teyla squeezed his forearm. "Rodney, you did well today. A person who had lost heart has not lost their life due to your efforts."
"All I can do is make them focus on work, Teyla," he replied, his voice cracking. "I can't fix this. I can't fix *them*." he broke her grasp on him by unfolding his arms and rubbed his face, trying to scrub the vision of Talevera hanging off the outside of the balcony out of his brain. "I didn't see her start to crack. We could have lost her if I hadn't gotten here in time."
"Work is good for them," Teyla replied. "You give them something else to focus on other than their grief." She paused, then said, "You cannot catch everyone before they lose heart, Rodney. You *were* here in time to save her. And you said words of wisdom that others who were here will carry away with them and perhaps give them heart when they find themselves faltering. It is the best that anyone can do, Rodney." She reached up and grabbed Rodney by the sides of his head and pulled it down until their foreheads touched. "I tell you this now, to give *you* heart," she said intensely. "This too shall pass, and the grief will fade. And one day you will look around and be content with your life."
Rodney shut his eyes. "Maybe. Someday," he managed to reply.
"Someday," Teyla agreed, and let him go. "I must go speak with Dr. Weir now. It is past time that she called a meeting to discuss where you now find yourselves. Your people are in need of redefining your purpose. It will help settle you all."
Rodney nodded tightly. "You do that. I'll...I'll go make sure the monkeys are kept occupied so they can't pull anymore stupid stunts."
Teyla smiled sweetly at him and then walked away.
Elizabeth clutched her pen tightly as everyone came in and made themselves comfortable in the conference room. It shamed her that Teyla had had to remind her of her duty to Atlantis, but she also felt gratitude as well, that the Athosian had given her such understanding and support. She considered that now that she no longer had the IOA breathing down her neck she could now consider making Teyla her second in command. Rodney was currently her second on paper, but both them knew that he would not do well in the job and was better off remaining in his current position if something happened to her. She focused back in on the people in front of her, and when it appeared that they had settled in, she spoke. "Thank you all for coming. Now that we've had an opportunity to process the news, Teyla has reminded me that we now need to rethink our purpose being here on Atlantis."
There were mutterings and Kate Heightmeyer said, "I understand fully what you are saying and agree, but we must keep in mind that work is the only thing keeping many people in the expedition together at this point in time. To stop research entirely might be the tipping point that sends them all spiraling out of control. We have been lucky so far that Dr. Talavera has been the only one to attempt to commit suicide. "
"Your point is well noted, " Elizabeth replied, nodding in Kate's direction. "and I plan, at least for the near future, to maintain everyone's usual routine as much as possible. What I'm speaking of is what we as the department heads and leaders have to think about our priorities now that we are on our own. Food, supplies, infrastructure, government...on what and how is our society going to run?" She leveled a look at everyone. "Because that is what we are now. An independent society."
There was silence in the room as everyone digested that revelation. After a moment, John spoke up from his slouch in the corner. "Well, we can start with the easy things first - food and supplies. I've got a good stock of ammo, but that's going to run out eventually. We're either going to need a way to replace what we use or invent or find new guns that don't require any."
He looked significantly at where Ronon stood in another corner. Ronon put his hand down onto the hilt of his energy blaster and raised an eyebrow. John wrinkled up his eyebrows in a sad dog look and Ronon sighed. "I'll let McKay have a look at it tomorrow, Sheppard."
Rodney looked at both Ronon and John with a sour glare, then nodded. "I'll see what I can come up with."
Dr. Zelenka jumped in next with, "Colonel, if you give me the specifications that the ammunition have to meet, I will see what the engineering department can build to reload for the various weapons we have." He then looked at Dr. Clairmont from the geology department and said, "But we will need metal for that and probably many other things that we shall have to manufacture."
The room started to buzz as the various department heads started to brainstorm on what they had and what was needed for long-term viability as a society. Elizabeth sat back and let them discuss amongst themselves about what they needed, saving her energy to broker compromises and smooth ruffled feathers as the need arose. For the first time in a week she started feeling like she wasn't as utterly lost as Earth.
The meeting was long, but in the end they had finally managed to hammer out all their food and supply concerns and had tentative plans for creating an infrastructure to cover the anticipated future shortages of various technologically sophisticated items. After checking up on the lab and Dr. Talevera in the infirmary, Rodney walked wearily back to his quarters. If his people had thought that he worked them hard now, they were in for a shock at all the things he was going to be assigning them to do soon. He shook his head ruefully as he considered the how lengthy the meeting had been and how long many, many more were likely to be. He snorted to himself. And he had thought the meetings before the expedition had initially set out for Atlantis were brutal. But back then, they hadn't known that the expedition would have to defend itself against space vampires and there had been an underlying current of hope that the SGC would eventually find them.
Rodney yawned and thought longingly of his shower as he walked through his door and dumped his laptop on his desk with his eyes still shut. He then reached for the hem of his shirt and pulled it over his head and threw it in the general direction of his bed.
"Hey!" he heard, and his eyes flew open as he jumped out of his skin with surprise. There, sprawled on his bed, was Colonel Sheppard with Rodney's shirt draped across his chest.
"Gah!" He yelped as he clutched at his chest. Then he realized he was bare-chested and wrapped both arms around his torso in an attempt to cover himself. "Sheppard, what are you doing here?" he said tightly. "Don't you have any concept of privacy?"
John rolled his eyes and plucked the gray shirt off his chest. "This from the man who constantly barges into my quarters any time of the day or night."
"That's different! I don't watch you getting undressed for a shower!" Rodney spluttered as he eyed John's lean body stretched carelessly across his bed.
"Only because I've been lucky so far," John replied sardonically.
Rodney rolled his eyes and grabbed his shirt back from John. "I do have some sense of propriety, Sheppard," he grumbled as he put his sweaty shirt back on. He was *not* interested in being around John in his own room in any fashion other than fully clothed. It just felt safer that way.
"If I had come in on you in the altogether, *I* would have averted my eyes and left. Unlike you," he ended snippily.
John gave him a long, unreadable look and stood up. "You think I'm perving on you, Rodney?" he drawled as he smiled and leaned casually against Rodney's nightstand. "Scoring some illicit glimpses of your lily white chest to beat off to later?"
Rodney scowled at John's patented charming smile. It was so like John to mock him by trying to *flirt* with him. It was the only thing that hadn't changed after the world had ended. While comforting in an odd way, it still rankled. "Right. Because Mr. Macho American Flyboy with an Ascended princess on every planet is so into pasty white Canadian man-flesh," he shot back as he crossed his arms. "What do you want from me, Sheppard? I *do* assume you have a point to breaking and entering into my quarters?"
John sighed and sat back down on the bed. He stared at the opposite wall for a moment before looking back at Rodney and saying, "Do you really think you can reverse engineer Ronon's gun, Rodney?"
"I said I would see what I could do." Rodney replied, annoyed. "I haven't looked at it yet, so I have no idea how the thing might even begin to work. All I know at the moment is that it goes 'blam', which any idiot in this city could tell you." He looked at John suspiciously. "Is that what was so important to discuss with me that you had to scare the hell out of me by sneaking into my room?"
John's eyes drifted back to the wall, focusing on something that wasn't in the room as far as Rodney could tell. There was a long silence that started to make Rodney feel twitchy, but he refused to break it. John was going to have to say something to break the quiet if it was the last thing Rodney accomplished in life. The Colonel had been entirely too quiet lately, and that was saying something about his laconic team leader. "Something that Elizabeth said got me to thinking," John finally said into the quiet, still staring at the wall. "We're going to have to create our own rules now that we're by ourselves."
Rodney nodded. Of course rules that had worked for a multinational expedition that expected to go back home someday needed to be changed somewhat to fit an entirely new society on the edge of nowhere. As idiotic as he found the social sciences, he did still read all of their reports. He sat down at his desk chair and looked evenly at John. "And?" he asked.
John's face twitched briefly and resettled into a blank mask. "When we first came here, almost all the military was American. Now we have more soldiers from Europe and Canada than we do Americans and they have some vastly different codes of conduct than I'm used to dealing with." John blinked slowly, then lowered his head to look at his hands. "When it comes time for us to go over those with Elizabeth, I don't know what to suggest to her. "
Rodney rolled his eyes. "The most logical ones, of course. Consider it an opportunity to dump all the stupid rules you've had to cope with during your career." Rodney rolled his head and cracked his neck. God, he was tired, and not in the mood to ponder over military rules and regs, especially at this hour. He couldn't figure out why John was so worked up over this, but he obviously was. "Listen, get together with Lorne and maybe a few of your other officers, especially ones that have the most divergent military codes, ask them to use their common sense for a change and then go over the rules together. You idiots are the ones that are going to have to deal with them in the end anyway, so you might as well come up with stuff that you can all stand to live with."
"That's good advice, McKay. Thanks," John drawled. Unfortunately, his face did not reflect the fact that he felt relieved in any way, Rodney noticed absently.
Rodney bit back a yawn and replied, "Anytime, Colonel. Anything else biting you in the ass tonight that you require my brilliance for? " He really needed the sleep, but he'd stay up as long as John was willing to...sort of...talk to him. All they had was each other now and Rodney felt he owed it to his sister to...he veered his thoughts quickly away.
John hesitated, then shook his head and got up off of Rodney's bed. "We've got another long day ahead of us and your shirt really did stink. I'd better head off and let you get that shower before Atlantis cordons off your room because she thinks there's a sewage spill in here." he said lightly.
"Ha, ha, very funny." Rodney groused half-heartedly. Obviously John had reached the end of his conversational ability and was making a break for it. "I'll see you at tomorrow's meeting then?"
"If you don't make it in time for breakfast with the rest of the team, yeah, " John replied with a half-smirk and then ghosted out the door.
Rodney sat at his desk, staring at his now closed and probably relocked door. He sighed. John was an enigma to Rodney despite their several years of friendship. He wondered if he would ever find out what it was that John kept hidden behind that mocking smirk and lazy charm.
A couple of evenings later found John trying to rub the crick out of his neck as he headed to the gym to meet Teyla. Being in these interminable meetings left him antsy to do something physical, to shake out the tension and stiffness that always built up when he had to sit still for long periods of time. Hopefully a good workout with Teyla would limber him up and tire his body out enough that he'd be able to sleep tonight. The sandman had not been very forthcoming to him in the past few days, he thought irritably to himself. It was stupid of him to hope that anything would change for the better in his personal life once he finally had an opportunity to change the rules that had chafed and bound him his entire career.
John rounded a corner and slammed bodily into Rodney, who was jogging down the hall in the opposite direction. "Whoa!" he shouted as he grabbed onto Rodney to keep both of them from falling on their asses.
"Colonel!" yelped Rodney as he regained his balance and started pulling away from John's grip. John sighed a little and let him go. Rodney fidgeted with his clothes and muttered, "Sorry. I was busy thinking about this new theory I just came up with on ZPM construction and wasn't watching where I was going."
John shrugged with one shoulder. "No sweat, Rodney. I was just heading to the gym to meet Teyla and work out a few kinks from sitting in that damned meeting."
Rodney scrubbed his face with his hands. "God. Don't remind me. I thought my brain was going to explode in there..."
"Yeah, and then we'd all die horrific deaths due to the lack of your enormous brain," John interjected with a smirk. At least he could still rile Rodney up, if nothing else.
Rodney gave him a disgusted look. "Ha, ha. Very funny, Sheppard. I rescue you all time and again and this is the thanks I get? I really don't know why I bother saving your sorry ass. You certainly don't seem to appreciate it."
John crossed his arms and lounged against the corridor wall. "I appreciate it just fine, Rodney. It gives me more chances to save your little pink behind in retaliation."
Rodney swelled up in indignation briefly before suddenly deflating. "Whatever," he said in resignation. "I don't have time for this. I need to get back to the lab. Have fun getting clobbered by Teyla." He sidestepped John and hurried off on a collision course with the labs. John watched him walk away wistfully. He sighed as Rodney disappeared around a bend in the hall and then picked his bag up from where it had fallen on the floor when he'd crashed into Rodney.
He made it to the gym without any further incidents and dropped his bag next to Teyla's. As he stretched out, he watched Teyla moving through a kata with her bantos rods. As usual, she looked like poetry in motion and he wished again that he were that coordinated. He was good enough at self defense, but he looked like an utter dork when it came to physical activity that even approached anything as graceful as dancing. He snorted in self-deprecating amusement and bent over to warm up his hamstrings as Teyla finished up.
"Are you ready?" she asked as she finished with a flourish of the rods.
He bent over a couple more times and then stood up. "Yeah." He pulled his sticks out his bag and walked over to where Teyla waited for him, assumed the first defensive position and gave her a brief nod.
She came in with a whirl of motion and he caught the blow aimed for his leg, but she still managed to get a shot in on his bicep. He spun away from her and circled around out of her reach, holding his rods in the third defensive position. "Good shot on the arm. I didn't see that one in time."
She smiled at him. "If you practiced more often you would have caught that one as well." She twirled one stick and feinted to his left.
He stood his ground, then charged her as she drew back from the feint. She slapped his rods away and danced away. "Yeah, I know. There just aren't enough hours in the day anymore though," he complained.
"You never practiced enough before these current circumstances either," she admonished gently. She closed in on him, and after a brief flurry of blows that John just managed to block or avoid, drew back again. "And I think that with circumstances being the way they are now, practice should become a higher priority."
John nodded as he circled around. "You've got a point, there. But I need to eat and sleep sometime, too."
"You could stop teasing Rodney in the labs and use the resulting free time to practice then," Teyla taunted playfully as she aimed a blow at his ribs.
John's heart squeezed painfully and he missed blocking the blow. "Yeah, I guess I could," he grunted, as he tried to drag in some air while he moved away from her. She was right. He really didn't need to be hanging around there anymore anyway.
Teyla lowered her weapons and crossed over to him. "John, what is wrong?" she asked, as she laid a hand on his arm. "You never miss that block."
John backed away from Teyla's touch. "Nothing. I'm just out of practice, like you said." He spun one of his sticks around idly, refusing to look at her. "I'm fine. Let's get back to it."
Teyla gave him a long doubtful look, then stepped back and raised her weapons up and into position. "Very well. As you wish."
John raised his rods and resumed his defensive posture. She circled around him twice, then charged forward, throwing blows towards his midsection and arm. He blocked both, then felt the sting of a rod landing squarely on his left ass cheek as she spun away. "Ow," he complained as he backed away from her.
Teyla merely raised an eyebrow as she resumed pacing around him, looking for openings. "You wished to continue."
He grimaced then made his own lunge towards her. She neatly flicked off his attack and delivered a matching slap on his right ass cheek in retaliation. "Well, seeing as how I really need the practice..." he said, trying to back out of range without limping.
Teyla gave him a look and lowered her sticks. "It is pointless to continue the exercise if your mind is not on what you are doing, John. You will only learn bad habits that way."
John scrunched up his face and protested, "I've got my mind on what I'm doing!" Or he would in a few minutes anyway. They just had to keep going so he could get there.
Teyla walked away from him and dropped her weapons into her bag. "No, you do not," she fired back as she turned back to him and crossed her arms over her chest. "You are distracted by something concerning Doctor McKay. You very clearly lost concentration when I teased you about him."
John sighed and dropped out of his defensive stance. So much for his hope for some exercise to distract him from his problems. "I don't have a problem with McKay," he said resentfully. Maybe he should have worked out with Ronon instead. The bruises would have been worse, but Ronon wouldn't be trying to make him *talk* right now either.
Teyla stepped inside his personal space and laid her hands on his arms. "Then what is so distracting about him then? I am your friend, John. Friends listen to each others troubles."
John looked away from her sympathetic eyes and pulled his lips together in a thin line. "Teyla..." God, he hated this. He really did. Teyla was entirely too perceptive and this really wasn't something that he wanted to discuss. Ever. "Look, there's nothing wrong. Rodney's fine, I'm fine, it's business as usual, okay?"
"I do not believe you," Teyla said flatly. "You are worked up about something, something which concerns Rodney. I know that you do not do well at communicating your feelings, so it has something to do with that as well." She gripped his arms tighter. "John, you have told me that we have all become family here. Please allow me to help you with your problem as I would any who are my people."
John blew out an explosive sigh and dropped his head. "Teyla...jeez, Teyla you are family, I know. But there's nothing you can do about this, because there's nothing to be *done*. I'd really rather just move on, okay?"
Teyla considered him with a measured gaze for a long time. "Are you so sure that I can do nothing?" she asked finally.
John closed his eyes. "Yes, I'm sure. I just need some time."
"And what about Rodney?" she asked softly.
"We're fine. He's fine. It's just me, okay?" John said pleadingly. This was as far as he was willing to go. He wasn't going to say anything more.
"It will not ease your heart to tell me what it is?" Teyla asked as she touched his cheek comfortingly. "Pain shared is pain halved, John. When two hearts carry it the burden becomes easier to bear."
John closed his eyes again and swallowed. "I can't, Teyla. I'm sorry."
"Not half so sorry as I," replied Teyla. He opened his eyes to see her smiling sadly at him. She then stepped away from him and retrieved her sticks from her bag. She walked back to the center of the gym, casually twirling one of the rods. "Since you are not in the correct frame of mind for sparring, I recommend we do some katas in order to fulfill your need for practice," she said, face smoothed of any outward emotion.
John smiled back at her thankfully. "You know I suck at those."
She smiled back. "Precisely. All the more need to do them, then. Now follow me." She flowed into the first position of the kata and waited for John to copy her.
He raised his weapons and went into the position. He then followed her awkwardly as she went from pose to pose. It wasn't the sparring that he had hoped for, but it was something and he silently thanked her for it.
The next morning Teyla stood in a ray of early morning light and chimed Elizabeth's door. Elizabeth opened the door, dressed but looking sleepy and Teyla said, "Good morning, Dr. Weir. I hope I did not disturb you."
Elizabeth shook her head and smiled wryly. "No, I was already up. I just haven't had my morning cup of coffee yet."
Teyla bowed her head in acknowledgment. "Then perhaps my offer to share a cup of stout tea this morning in my quarters would not go amiss," she said pleasantly.
Elizabeth nodded and replied, "No it wouldn't." She smiled and stepped outside of her rooms to join Teyla out in the hall. "I would be honored to join you this morning. I wanted to speak to you privately concerning a few things today before the meeting began anyway."
Teyla turned and walked down the hall, Elizabeth keeping pace next to her. "I confess that I wish to speak to you privately as well, Elizabeth. I have some questions I need to ask of you."
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow, intrigued. "Well I will certainly do my best to answer those questions, Teyla."
They came upon the door to Teyla's quarters and she opened the door before gracefully waving Elizabeth into the room. Elizabeth walked over to the table containing teacups and a kettle and sat in one of the chairs. Teyla followed, sitting opposite Elizabeth and picked up the kettle. As she poured tea into two cups, she considered how to bring up what might be a potentially touchy subject for the Atlanteans. "I cannot help but notice that your people do not tend to form family groups or raise children," she said slowly as she handed one of the cups to Elizabeth. "I realize that the people who came here are so dedicated to their work that they may have decided against creating a family group, but I was wondering if they might reconsider that decision now that your old home is no more."
Elizabeth stared into her cup with an expression of serious thought on her face as Teyla waited patiently for her to answer. "I cannot speak for anyone but myself with any certainty, Teyla," she finally said, looking up from her cup. "But I will admit that the thought had crossed my mind that perhaps I should be looking for someone to settle down with and start a family."
Teyla leaned back, relieved, although she kept her face serene. Elizabeth had not been offended about the question Teyla had been most worried about asking. This made the rest of the conversation much easier to guide. "Could you explain to me how family groupings are organized in your culture? I have watched many of your movies, but I confess that they have left much to be desired in showing how day to day living was done in your previous home."
Elizabeth looked surprised at the question, but quickly covered her expression by taking a sip of tea. After she'd visibly regained her equilibrium she set down her teacup and asked, "Just to clarify, when you say forming a family group are you referring to marriage?"
"A marriage would be when a pledge is formally announced to form a family grouping?" Teyla asked in return. Elizabeth nodded and Teyla replied, "Then yes, that is what I am referring to."
Elizabeth closed her eyes briefly, as if to gather her thoughts. She then opened her eyes and began to speak in a tone reminiscent of one teaching to others. "Most of the countries represented here on Atlantis traditionally define a family grouping or marriage as one man and one woman who have pledged to stay together indefinitely, as well as any children they might produce. They may or may not have extended family living with them or close by as well." She took another sip of tea, then lowered the cup into her lap, both hands wrapped around the ceramic vessel to capture its warmth. "More recently, that definition has been expanded in several of those countries to also include two women pledging to stay together or two men who pledge to stay together as the societal taboos on same sex couplings have slowly eased. Additionally, some of the expedition members, like Dr. Rashid, are from cultures based on the Islamic religion where it is permissible for one man to take as many as four women into his family grouping as wives, as long as he is theoretically able to treat each one equally and can afford to support them and the children. There are also..." she stopped abruptly, then continued, "*were* also other cultures on Earth aside from those based on Islam that permitted a man to pledge to more than one woman as well. "
"I see." Teyla said as she set aside her cup for the moment. "Were there any other less usual types of family grouping that you are aware of?"
Elizabeth looked at her speculatively and nodded. "Yes, actually. There were a very few cultures where a woman would pledge to many men. There were also a few cultures where men and women did not pledge to anyone at all. Instead, the children were raised by the woman who bore them, along with her sisters and mother, while her brothers and uncles served as a father figures to the children." She thought for another moment and then said, "There was also a new sort of family grouping that was being experimented with in the cultures that traditionally practiced one woman married to one man. This new form of family grouping had varying numbers of men and women who pledged to each other as a group and raised any children that resulted collectively. All of these formed a very small minority of alternative marriage styles."
Teyla's relaxed infinitesimally. While not good, the situation was better than she had hoped. Still, she asked a careful question to clarify. "Did these groups of people have sexual relations outside the group or did their pledge require them to stay within the group for that activity?"
Elizabeth gave a wry smile and shrugged. "I'm not entirely certain, seeing as how I've never known anyone personally who was polyamorous, but my educated guess is that they stayed within the group. The pledge that our people make when they get married seems to be one of fidelity to one's partners across the board, whether you have only one or a dozen of them."
Teyla nodded. That seemed to agree with what the movies had shown her. Affection and sexual fidelity within the family bond did seem to be an overriding concern to the cultures that the Atlanteans had come from. She picked her cup back up and took another sip of tea. "Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth leaned back into her chair and looked quizzically at Teyla. "Is there any particular reason why you were curious about our family structures?"
Teyla looked at her measuringly. Elizabeth, while a person who cared about her people, had tended to violently disregard the prevailing culture of the Pegasus galaxy in times of stress and cling to her own cultural upbringing. Halling had railed for hours on this subject to Teyla. Until she could influence others of the expedition concerning this issue, Teyla elected to be circumspect at the moment. "I have never seen your people interacting in families and was wondering what my people might expect to see from yours when they do form family groups," she finally said, then leaned back into her chair and sipped from her cup.
Elizabeth leaned forward, looking concerned, and rested her hands on her knees. "Teyla, has anyone in the expedition approached you and asked you to marry them?"
Teyla laughed merrily at the question and watched Elizabeth's forehead furrow in puzzlement. She turned aside Elizabeth's inquiry with a question of her own. "Did you not have an issue that you wished to speak to me about?"
Elizabeth nodded reluctantly and slowly eased back into her chair. After making a brief face that led Teyla to think that Elizabeth now believed that she had asked something out of turn, she asked Teyla about where they might find materials for the things the expedition would now have to make for themselves. Teyla listened with half an ear as she turned over her plan in her head and plotted whom she would speak with next. She was determined to help the Atlanteans succeed in this galaxy, even if it took working around Elizabeth in order to circumvent her intransigent parochialism.
Major Evan Lorne sat with Colonel Sheppard the next day, sorting through Germany's code of military regulations. "Man, I never thought that writing up a uniform code of conduct could be this hard," Evan groused as he perused an English translation of the German code. "This is giving me a headache."
Sheppard leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. "Me too. I've read so many different codes of conduct that I'm starting to have nightmares about this stuff. I dreamed last night about having to discipline Sgt. Österhagen because he'd stolen one of those ostrich thingies from M3X-622 and was having sex with it." He shuddered. "Woke me up and then I couldn't get back to sleep. Serves me right for using this as my nightly reading before going to bed," he said wryly as he lifted his tablet to indicate the German code currently on the screen.
Evan looked at him, impressed. "You're a sick man, Colonel. Österhagen couldn't even convince one of *those* things to screw him. He's one ugly motherfucker."
Sheppard huffed a laugh. "That's true. It's a shame he isn't gay. Sgt. Weiner, at least, would likely do him in a heartbeat if he was."
Evan chuckled. "He probably would. He's joked around enough about being a size queen and if the rumor going around has any credibility to it, Österhagen is hung like a horse." He cocked an eyebrow and added, "Maybe if he gets desperate enough, Österhagan will finally give in someday and accept one of Wiener's mock propositions. At least then he'd get laid."
Sheppard smirked back. "Maybe." The good humor then fled off his face and he focused again on the tablet he was reading from.
Evan sat looking distractedly through the Chinese code of military conduct while Sheppard scrolled through his tablet. "Sir?" he asked, finally having come up with the words he wanted to start this conversation with.
"Yeah?" Sheppard acknowledged absently, still reading from the tablet.
"You know that America's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy is for shit, right?" Evan said slowly, trying to feel out how the Colonel would likely respond to broaching the subject.
Sheppard froze momentarily and then looked up from his tablet. "It's not real practical, no," he replied equally slowly as he stared at Evan.
Even shifted uncomfortably in his chair, aware that Sheppard was not happy with this topic, but continued on undeterred. "I mean, most of the non-career enlisted in the regular forces have ignored it with impunity and the officers have all turned a blind eye to it because they're only in for one tour."
Sheppard nodded acknowledgment, but remained otherwise motionless.
"And it's been used rather frequently as an accusation to attempt to force women out of the military, regardless of whether they're actually lesbians or not," Evan pointed out. He decided not to discuss the problems it caused for the careers of gay officers at all. He was riding too close to the edge as it was already. "It's hardly a just code if it isn't applied correctly or across the board."
Sheppard looked back down at his tablet, avoiding looking Evan in the eye. "You're suggesting we drop it?"
Evan sighed internally. He'd been afraid that the Colonel would shut down like that. Still, they had to address this issue sometime. "It's worked out for the guys from Europe and Canada, sir. Australia too. For all that he makes jokes about wanting to date me, Sgt. Weiner is a good guy and I trust him to watch my back." He shrugged, trying to relieve the tension in his back. Sheppard was being particularly unreadable at the moment and he just hoped that he wasn't putting his foot in it irrevocably. They were stuck with each other and it wouldn't do to put a strain on their working relationship now. "And I'd certainly appreciate not having to worry about running into one of ours just trying to alleviate a little loneliness." He scratched his head and continued, "Besides, we don't have so many men that we can afford to alienate the UN forces we have by trying to apply Don't Ask Don't Tell to them. There are more of them than there are of us, anyway. It only seems logical to go with one of their codes in this case."
Sheppard closed his eyes and sighed. "I'm aware of that. How will our guys respond to the change though?"
Evan leaned back and shrugged again. "To be honest, I think they'd find it a relief to not have be so careful to not notice certain things."
Sheppard's eyes shot open and looked sidelong at him. "Oh?" The knuckles on the hand gripping his tablet whitened.
This time it was Evan's turn to look away. "None of the guys would mind if one of ours came out of the closet, sir. Fighting Goa'uld and Wraith tend to give you a different perspective on what's threatening once you've been in the Stargate program for a while. A guy who prefers to fuck other willing guys just isn't an issue at that point." He looked back at Sheppard's still face and knotted jaw. "What matters to our guys is if he'll cover our backs, not who he sleeps with." He nodded significantly at Sheppard.
Sheppard blinked, then looked away. He cleared his throat, then looked back down at his tablet. "Okay, then. We'll use the regs concerning that sort of thing from one of the European codes then. I'm sure Dr. Weir will be delighted at our enlightened attitudes."
Evan smiled. "I'm sure she'll be ecstatic over anything she gets from us, because it'll mean she won't have to do it herself, sir. She's already worked to the bone."
Sheppard's lips quirked into a wan whisper of a smile. "True. So let's see if we can't crank out the rest of this section before my meeting with her, okay Major?"
"Sure thing, Colonel. Wouldn't want to keep the lady waiting," Evan replied smoothly. He made a note to himself to tell Teyla how the conversation went. She'd asked him to let her know how this discussion went with Sheppard concerning this issue. He had his suspicions why she wanted to know and wished her the best in attempting to fix the problem. It was awkward to say the least, and he was glad that she had decided to take it on because he didn't have the chops for that sort of thing. He'd gladly lend a hand to anyone that felt up to the challenge, though.
That evening Ronon strode over and sat down next to Teyla in the commissary with his tray of food. "Hey." Sheppard and McKay weren't there yet, so hopefully he would have an opportunity to ask her a few questions before they arrived.
Teyla glanced at him over her shoulder and smiled briefly as she methodically cut up her meat. "Hello Ronon. How was your day?"
"Busy. The Marines are finally taking training seriously now," Ronon replied around a mouthful of bread. He belatedly remembered his manners and swallowed before continuing. "How's the plan going?"
Teyla gave him an even look and shrugged infinitesimally. "Major Lorne spoke to Colonel Sheppard about abolishing the policy forbidding two men to acknowledge being physically intimate today. He said that the Colonel agreed and put a new policy permitting that kind of relationship in the new proposed rules for the combined military contingent."
Ronon snorted. "Stupid rule anyway. Why would any government try to regulate their population's private lives? No wonder they're all screwed up."
Teyla's lips twitched in a repressed grin. "Not every government they had did so. It was mostly only attempted by the country that was symbolized by the patch the Colonel wears," she corrected gently.
Ronon shook his head. Sheppard was so obviously a lover of men that he had a hard time understanding why the man had joined such a screwed up military if it wasn't required of him to do so. "Got the social sciences guys on your side yet?" He took a big bite of the vegetable the cooks had put on his plate. It was something orange colored and tasted okay.
Teyla gave a more satisfied smile. "I do believe so. Drs. Thorngill and Colquitt in particular seized on the facts once they were presented to them. The last that I heard, they were well on their way to convincing Dr. Keller. I still need find someone to speak with Dr. Heightmeyer, however." She speared a chunk of meat with her fork and neatly ate it.
"Wouldn't it be easier if you just talked to Weir about this? She's the boss." Ronon asked. All this furtive manipulation seemed like a lot of unnecessary work to him.
Teyla's face stiffened just slightly. She then leaned toward him and replied in a lower voice, "I do not like to say this of the Atlanteans, but frequently they think that their ways are superior to anyone else's, often to their own detriment. Dr. Weir seems to suffer particularly from this short sightedness, most often in times of crisis. This is one of the worst crises that they have faced to date and we can not count on her to be able to think about this reasonably without getting her own people to put forth the idea. It will not be accepted if I propose it." She leaned back and poked at her vegetables with her fork. "I will take whatever steps I need to make sure that they will thrive, despite themselves. The standard family structure used back on Earth by most of their cultures is terribly fragile. They will not survive this galaxy if they persist in using only that framework without any adjustments to their current circumstances."
Ronon sighed and ate a chunk of the meat. She was right of course. About everything. He was no politician, but he recognized the truth of the matter when it was pointed out to him. He was by nature a simple man and all this maneuvering made him uneasy. He swallowed what he was eating and said, "Need any help from me?"
Teyla laid a hand on top of one of his. "I know that you are not comfortable with this sort of thing."
Ronon shrugged and replied, "Doesn't mean I shouldn't help."
She patted his hand with her own and then went back to eating. "I shall keep that in mind."
The next day John sat on the floor of his quarters with his back against his bed, bouncing a small rubber ball against one of the walls and cursing the fact that Elizabeth was enforcing days off. He was bored out of his mind. He'd run out of golf balls, Elizabeth had threatened to toss him in the brig if he ran into another person on his skateboard and it was the wrong time of year for surfing. He didn't read "War and Peace" until it was bedtime and if he looked at another damned uniform code of conduct he'd spork his eyes out. Worst of all, all the jumpers were either in use or being serviced and Ronon and Teyla were both busy doing...something. He sighed and tossed the ball again. Used to be, he'd go find Rodney and bug him into doing something entertaining, but now...well, now it just didn't seem to be a such good option anymore. He supposed he could go spar with some of the Marines, but that seemed too much like work and he wasn't sure if he should even be around them much at this point, either. That conversation with Lorne the other day had freaked him the hell out. Maybe he could go out and find some Athosian ale or get some of that smurf piss from Zelenka. It was his day off; if he couldn't get drunk then, when could he? He really missed Earth bars. Someplace where he could kick back and be *himself* for a change. He snorted. A whole planet, a planet he was born and raised on essentially gone, and the only thing he missed were the bars. His ex-wife was right. He really was an unfeeling bastard.
His door swished open and Rodney came barreling in. "Why are you moping in your room, Sheppard?" he demanded as he came to a halt in front of John, blocking him from tossing the ball again. "I have been calling you repeatedly over the radio and you've been ignoring me!"
"Hi Rodney, I'm fine, how are you? Sure, come on in," John rejoined sarcastically. "Jesus, Rodney, were you raised in a barn or something? How about knocking on the door more often? I could have been jerking off in here." He threw the ball at Rodney's stomach in irritation. Why was it that the only thing Rodney had never heard of was personal space?
"Ow," Rodney said as the little ball bounced harmlessly off his stomach. "What'd you do that for?" he asked, rubbing his tummy.
John rolled his eyes at him. "Maybe because I want you out of my quarters?" His boredom was definitely gone, but he'd been avoiding Rodney for a reason, damn it.
"Why?" Rodney asked, sitting in John's desk chair. "You weren't doing anything important. Trust me when I tell you that you don't need to practice your hand-eye coordination. You shoot just fine."
John debated finding a new hiding place in Atlantis, but Rodney had found the last four within days of him picking them. He was starting to think maybe Rodney had planted a tracking device on him somewhere while he was asleep one night. "Maybe I just wanted some *alone time*, Rodney," he replied running a hand through his hair in aggravation. "You know, a chance to kick back and reflect?"
"You fall asleep when you try to meditate." Rodney shot back, crossing his arms in irritation.
John's eyes drifted over his biceps for a moment before coming back to Rodney's slanted frown. John stretched his right leg out and kicked Rodney in the shoe with the heel of his boot. "I didn't say meditate, Rodney, I said reflect. There is a difference. You want me to show it to you in the dictionary?"
"I'm perfectly capable of looking it up for myself, *thank you*," Rodney said acidly. "And I ask again, why are you moping in here?"
"I am not *moping*," John gritted out. "Now, what the hell do you want?" He crossed his arms and glared at Rodney, wishing he was Cyclops for a moment. It would be really cool to be able to shoot laser beams out of his eyes right about now.
Rodney sighed and softened his posture. "I wanted to see if you wanted to hang out and do something, okay? I haven't seen you around except at meetings lately, and I..." One of his hands flailed out, as if trying to carve the thought out of the air. "Well, I just thought we should do something," he finished lamely, looking at John hopefully.
John dropped his head backwards onto the bed. Nuts. This whole situation was going to drive him batshit insane. There was no avoiding Rodney for long, at least not when you lived on the same planet he did. "Like what?" he asked flatly.
"We could watch some movies." Rodney said in a hopeful tone as he pointed at John's laptop.
Have Rodney spend a couple of hours in his room, John thought sourly. Oh yeah, that would work on so many levels. "Nope, not interested."
Stubbornly, Rodney then suggested, "How about chess, then? I've got a board already set up in my quarters. We could go there."
Like that was any better. Surrounded by stuff that smelled like Rodney for hours with nothing to do but stare at the man until it was John's turn again. Just...no. He was tired of doing things like that to himself. Just for once he wanted something different in his life, god damn it. "Uh-uh," John replied.
Rodney snapped his fingers and then pointed excitedly at John. "We could go explore the city!"
He'd rather explore something else. Not that he was ever likely to get there. "No." They'd only find something horrible given John's luck lately anyways.
Rodney's temper blew again and he snapped, "Well what the fuck do you want to do then, Sheppard? I'm open for suggestions!"
Hook up with somebody in a bar and screw in the bathroom. Then go to their place and do it again and then maybe go out afterwards and eat an early breakfast at a Waffle House. "Take a nap," John answered.
Rodney sighed gustily and drooped in the chair, finally defeated. "Fine. Sit here and do your imitation of a sullen teenager angsting in the dark. See if I care." He hauled himself up and trudged toward the door. "Let me know if you ever decide to come out of hibernation and join the rest of us," he said belligerently over his shoulder, and walked out.
John sighed. That went well. All he had to do was repeat that little exchange a few thousand more times and maybe he would get over it. Likely everyone in Atlantis would think him a complete jackass too, but hey, that wasn't anything new, either. "God, this is so fucked. You did it to yourself again, John," he commented to himself.
Rodney typed glumly at his laptop as he sat in the dimly lit and empty lab. Energy conservation projections. Whee. He stopped in disgust and pushed the computer away from him. This was something anyone in the lab could handle, why was he even bothering?
He tried once again to knuckle down and think about those formulas he'd come up with concerning the creation of the subspace vacuum in the ZPM, but his thoughts persisted in drifting back to John. All the mock flirting had stopped and John was no longer hanging over his shoulder in the lab every god damned minute of the day. While Rodney would have thought he'd be ecstatic about being left alone to concentrate, he found that it just made him depressed. He missed Sheppard. The bantering made the hours he kept seem less lengthy than they actually were. He looked over at the chair John normally slumped in and sighed. He'd even appreciate the mocking flirtation at this point, even though he could have sworn that it had done nothing but irritate him previously. But John apparently didn't like him anymore. He wondered what he'd done wrong.
He jumped in surprise when he heard, "Rodney? What are you doing in the lab?" He turned and saw Teyla standing in the doorway.
He looked in disgust at his laptop and gave it a savage poke. "Wasting my precious time."
"I thought you were going to go do something entertaining with Colonel Sheppard for your day off," Teyla commented as she came in and sat down in John's chair.
"He bazooka'd those plans," Rodney said wearily. "He wanted to be *alone* like some very hairy Greta Garbo impersonator."
Teyla blinked in incomprehension to the cultural reference, then asked, "Did he mention why?"
"No," he replied grumpily. He poked a couple more buttons on the computer desultorily, then made a decision. If anybody would know the answer, Teyla would. "Teyla, have I done anything that would make him mad? He was most likely in the wrong but I'd apologize to him anyway, if I knew what had his panties in a wad."
Teyla got a thoughtful expression on her face. After a minute she responded, "I do not believe that it is you that he is angry with, Rodney. If he is angry at anyone at this time, it is himself."
Rodney tossed a whiteboard marker that he had on the lab table across the room in frustration. "Then why is he taking it out on me? *I* don't have anything to do with whatever's going on in that fuzzy little head of his."
Teyla cocked her head. "Actually, I believe that you have everything to do with what is going on in his head."
"What?" Rodney was flummoxed. How could he have anything to do with John being angry at himself? That just didn't make sense. Not that people ever did anyway, but this made even less sense than usual.
"I believe that he is working out some issues he has about what he feels towards you," Teyla replied calmly.
"Huh?" Rodney gaped. "Teyla, what the hell are you talking about?"
Teyla hesitated, then said, "I believe that he likes you."
Rodney clutched at his temple with one hand. This made his brain hurt. "Wait, wait, wait," he said, waving his other hand in front of him to stall off any more words from Teyla. "He's mad at himself because he feels that he likes me?" he asked incredulously. "I don't get it! We're friends. Aren't you *supposed* to like your friends?"
Teyla frowned. "I believe it is more than that Rodney. He is very...fond of you."
It was Rodney's turn to blink in incomprehension. She might as well have been speaking in Swahili to him for all that he understood of that particular sentence in relation to the rest of the conversation. He brought his other hand up to the other side of his head and squeezed his temples between his palms to try and relieve his rapidly developing headache. "Teyla, this conversation is making my head hurt. If you're trying to succeed in killing me and sinking Atlantis, you're doing a very good job right now."
Teyla raised an eyebrow and rolled her eyes. "Very well. We will drop this line of discussion."
Rodney dropped his hands away from his head and shot back an annoyed look. "I am capable of understanding if you would say something that *made sense*. Why is Sheppard pissed at me?"
"He is not angry at you, Rodney. He is angry at himself, which is what I said before." Teyla patiently countered. "I believe him to be uncomfortable with how fond he is of you."
Rodney pointed at her. "Now, you see, that? That is what isn't making any sense. Why would he be mad at me if he likes me? We're friends, you're *supposed* to like your friends."
Teyla sighed. "Then I ask you this. If you are friends, why do you get so angry at him when a woman shows interest in him?"
"Because..." Rodney faltered. Did he get angry? She thought he got angry. Why hadn't he noticed he got angry? "I get angry?"
Teyla stood up. "Yes, you do. Think on that for a while. When you have an answer come to me and let me know." She nodded to him and left the lab.
Rodney watched her leave, mute. His head was pounding in earnest now. He looked at his laptop one more time and then shut it down. He rubbed his temples with his fingertips as he thought about Teyla's question. Why did he get angry? And what did that have to do with Sheppard avoiding him now?
Any thoughts Rodney may have come up with about the subject were washed away by what happened three days later.
"Where is Simpson?" he snarled, roaming the lab like a hungry lion. "She's two hours late! Does she think this simulation is going to run itself?"
All around him people shook their heads. "She has not called in sick," Miko said meekly from behind her lab table.
"She has not called in at all," Zelenka elaborated as his hand dropped away from his radio. "I just called her and she is not answering her radio either."
Rodney slapped a hand onto his forehead, then threw both of them up to the heavens in supplication. "Just great. Now I have to go chasing my people down in order to get them to work." He turned toward the door and shouted over his shoulder, "Zelenka! Start that damn simulation while I go drag Simpson out of bed!"
He hit the hallway and strode briskly to the transporter. A quick tap of the map later and he was in the hallway of the residential area. He went four doors down and started banging on the door with his fist. "Simpson! Get the hell up!"
When he didn't get an answer in what he considered a reasonable time frame he grumbled to himself, "Fine. Be that way," and quickly started rearranging the crystals for the door. The door obediently slid open and he charged into the room. "Simpson, you had better..." he got out before stopping in shock.
Penny Simpson lay on her bed apparently asleep, if a person wanted to dismiss the fact that she wasn't breathing and that her face was a particularly scary shade of gray. "Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no, no," he muttered as he ran over and checked in vain for a pulse at the base of her neck. "Oh, please tell me you didn't, Simpson," he begged as he picked up one of her hands. He let go abruptly as he finally registered the coldness of her skin and the resistance of rigor mortis. "Fuck," he breathed out and fumbled for his radio. "Dr. Keller?" he said unevenly. "I need you to come to Dr. Simpson's quarters."
Several minutes later Rodney watched as Dr. Keller put away her stethoscope and motioned for the medics take Simpson's body to the morgue. He sat numbly in a chair, nervously fiddling with a small toy that Dr. Simpson had sitting on her desk. "What killed her?" he asked in a voice he didn't recognize as his own.
She wiped the tears from her eyes and looked over at Rodney. "I won't be sure until after Dr. Biro does the autopsy, but the empty bottle of pills we found makes suicide the most likely cause of death," she responded softly. "Dr. McKay..."
"What?" he snapped abruptly. "Am I alright? One of my people is *dead*, Keller! She's dead, and I didn't see...couldn't stop..." his throat closed up on him and he finished with a choking sob.
The door opened up and John came striding in. Elizabeth followed closely behind then stopped just inside the door and put her hand over her mouth to contain her horror. John looked over at Rodney sitting there and went directly over to him. He kneeled in front of him, pulled out a tissue from his jacket and handed it over. "Hey, buddy," he said softly, awkwardly patting Rodney on the knee.
Rodney blew his nose with the proffered tissue and pulled himself together. "Sorry, sorry."
"Hey, it's okay," John replied. "I understand."
"I don't," Rodney said miserably. "I don't understand this at all." He took a deep breath and looked at all of them. "We have got to find a way to keep this from happening again," he said brokenly. John nodded in solemn agreement as Dr. Keller and Elizabeth closed their eyes and bowed their heads.
That evening the command staff sat in the meeting room, still dazed and in shock. "Dr. Biro's preliminary autopsy has determined that she committed suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. Dr. Keller is currently making an accounting of how many people may have gotten potentially lethal medications recently and if they have enough to do the same thing. The news has already spread all over Atlantis and many people, especially those from the original expedition, have come to me today beside themselves with grief. My staff and I are utterly swamped," Kate Heightmeyer reported as she discretely wiped a tear out of the corner of her eye.
Elizabeth nodded numbly in response. She'd thought that they wouldn't have to worry as much about the original expedition crew. It hurt to know how wrong she was now.
"I've been told by the sociologists and the Athosians that one of the things that most cultures of Pegasus do after a culling is house people together to create new bonds of attachment to replace those that they have lost," Kate said after she had pulled herself together a little bit more. "The sociologists all think that our loss is comparable to a culling, and Dr. Keller and I agree. We're recommending that the command staff strongly encourage everyone in the expedition house themselves together in groups as well, at least for a while."
"Our people aren't going to want to give up their privacy," Elizabeth protested. She didn't want anyone knowing how often she cried herself to sleep and she doubted anyone else did either.
"Privacy is what allowed Simpson to kill herself," Rodney replied in a voice weary with emotion. He looked a half step away from breaking down and crying. "If she'd had other people around her in her quarters as well as at work, she'd have never gotten the opportunity. I'm supporting Heightmeyer's recommendation and I'm going to make sure all my people to do this."
"We can't force this on people, Rodney," Elizabeth shot back vehemently. "I can't make them bunk up while the command team still has their own rooms."
"If you think that threatening me with roommates is going to make me change my mind about pushing my people to do this, you're wrong, Elizabeth," Rodney snarled, leaning forward, a brief spark of anger making his eyes blaze. "I'll be roomies with the *Genii* if it prevents anyone else on my staff from killing themselves."
Elizabeth looked toward John for support. He sat in his chair with a subdued expression on his face. He caught her gaze, then looked worriedly at Rodney for a moment. He then looked back at her and said, "I agree with them. Bunking up is no big deal for me, or any of my men. The studies Dr. Colquitt gave us says that societies in Pegasus that don't do this tend historically to lose more people to depression and suicide after a culling according to records they have managed to access from various planets. We can't afford that."
Elizabeth sat back, deflated by the complete lack of support for her side in this issue. "Do you propose assigning everyone roommates then? Ordering our people to do this like Rodney is suggesting is a huge violation of their privacy. Doing this would become a huge administrative nightmare," she pointed out to the group sitting in front of her.
"Elizabeth, I understand your desire for letting everyone have their privacy, but my staff is overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people that need help right now," Kate said, brushing stray hair from her eyes. "We need some ancillary methods to help people cope with the grief or we are going to lose more people. This is the best method we've been able to come up with for dealing with the issue that doesn't unbearably strain the resources we have right now."
Elizabeth sat back in her chair and sighed, defeated. "All right fine," she capitulated with bad grace. "How would we go about implementing this, then?"
"Teyla, Ronon, Rodney and I will lead by example." John said intently, leaning forward on his elbows. "We'll find some place big enough and move in together. With both the head of the military and the head of science bunking up, people will be able to see that we're serious about this. I'll have the rest of the gate teams do the same. They're already used to being in close quarters with each other off world and to looking out after each other, so they'll have that familiarity already."
"We can post sign up sheets for the rest so they can pick specific people they want to stay with," Rodney stated as he gave John a wary and uncertain look.
"Anybody that absolutely refuses to room with anyone else will be required to check in with one of my staff on a regular basis so we can keep tabs on their mental health," Kate stated as she scribbled a note on her tablet. "It is my hope that these steps will discourage anyone else from committing suicide."
At this point I'm more concerned about incipient murders, Elizabeth thought to herself. She'd noticed a strain between John and Rodney lately and was convinced that putting them together like this was a recipe for disaster. But everyone else seemed convinced that this was a good idea so she bowed to the inevitable. She just hoped that this wouldn't backfire on them. She leaned back in her chair and steepled her fingers in front of her. "Where do you propose we have people that are rooming together live? Everyone's current quarters are much too small to be cramming a bunch of people into them."
"There are sections in the next tower over that have family suites in them," Rodney answered immediately. "They can easily hold four to six people per suite if we have two people per bedroom, and there's enough of them to house the entire expedition."
Kate looked over to John hesitantly and said, "I'm also going to ask that any anti-fraternization rules be done away with as well."
He returned her look calmly. "Can you give me a reason why? Getting rid of those can have the potential of really screwing up how things work on my end of things."
Kate nodded. "I understand, Colonel, but we aren't in regular peacetime *or* war conditions. Any connections that our people can make at this point will be one more thing that will help prevent them from giving in to despair."
He tilted his head to the side for a moment in thought, then dipped his head in acknowledgment. "You have a point. Okay, fine, sure. I was going to recommend that we abolish any rules like Don't Ask Don't Tell that pertained to people's personal lives anyways. We'll just have to come up with new rules to cover any problems that arise if things start to get weird."
Kate gave him a small smile and relaxed into her chair a bit. "Thank you, Colonel. We're going to have to be flexible about these things in order to make it on our own here."
Elizabeth watched John give a brief shrug and retreat back into a bland expression. He then pulled a CD out of his jacket and pushed it towards her. "Speaking of which, Lorne and I are going to have to pull out the anti-frat regs now, but here's your copy of our proposed Atlantean code of military conduct. We finished it yesterday."
She picked up the CD and put it with her files. "I'll take a look at it tonight, thank you."
"Are we done with this topic yet?" Rodney asked. "I have a wake and a funeral to assist with planning of as well as packing my room *and* the rest of my job after we finish with the rest of this meeting."
Elizabeth winced at the devastation she saw in Rodney. He truly cared for his people in his own way, and this loss was ripping him to shreds where he sat. She went to pat him on the arm, but was beaten to it by John putting a hand on his shoulder. "Hey, buddy, don't worry about your room. I'll pack that up for you. And Teyla said she'd help you out with the wake and funeral."
Rodney acknowledged John's offer with another uncertain look. "Good, good. Thank you. Thank you, both."
John squeezed his shoulder. "No problem, buddy. Ronon and I will pick out a suite with a nice view and a balcony for us."
What they were talking about finally clicked in Elizabeth's head. She said in a surprised tone, "You want to start moving everyone into the suites today?"
John squeezed Rodney's shoulder again and withdrew his hand. "No time like the present," he answered. "And if we lead the way, I think there will be less pissing and moaning over the whole thing."
"I agree with the Colonel. We should announce the policy and start getting people moved together for their emotional health immediately," Kate interjected. "Dr. Simpson's death has rattled everyone and we were all already struggling to cope with the news about losing Earth. The closer people are to each other, the better, right now."
Elizabeth sighed and bowed to Kate's wisdom. She was right. All they had left was each other. Wearily, she looked at her notes to see what point they needed to cover next in the meeting.
John walked down the hall towards Rodney's room after the meeting was finally over. He kept telling himself that he was just making sure that Rodney had friends around that understood him, but he'd never been *that* successful at lying to himself. Jesus, he was pathetic. He rounded the corner and saw Ronon leaning by the door.
"Hey." Ronon rumbled. "I scouted out a place. Think you'll like it. It's got the balcony you asked for."
John nodded briefly in acknowledgment. It didn't matter if he liked it or not as long as Rodney and everybody else on the team did. "Ready to pack up?"
"I've already moved," Ronon replied.
Of course he had, John thought as he raised his eyes skyward. The guy didn't own anything except knives, a couple changes of clothing and a kick ass gun. "I mean Rodney's stuff."
"Sure," Ronon acknowledged with an impish grin as John opened the door to Rodney's quarters. John smacked him in the arm for being a smartass and they spent the next couple of hours packing things into containers.
They hauled the first load over to the new suite of rooms, John following Ronon into one of the bedrooms. He halted in the doorway. There, hanging over one of the beds in the room, was his poster of Johnny Cash. He looked around and saw his book on the bed below the poster and his picture of him posing with Evel Knievel on the bedside table. "Ronon, " he asked slowly, "did you move all my stuff in here already?"
Ronon gave him brief look as he dumped the container he was carrying onto the other bed. "Yeah. Figured I'd get a head start on getting everyone moved in."
John's mind skipped over how Ronon had managed to get into his room in the first place. It probably involved knives, anyway. "Why did you decide to bunk me up with Rodney?"
Ronon pulled the container John was hold out of his arms. "You know why, Sheppard," he replied with a smirk.
"No, I don't," John insisted, yanking the box back. "I thought we'd bunk him up with Teyla or you."
Ronon folded his massive arms and stared down at John. He hated that. It always made him feel like the puny little guy he used to be in elementary and middle school before his growth spurt finally hit. "Teyla asked to share one of the rooms with me. That left the two of you together to go in the other one," Ronon finally responded with a dismissive eye roll. "You don't like it, take it up with her."
Well, fuck. There was no way he'd be able to talk Teyla about how this particular set up wasn't going to work out for him. She'd want *reasons*. All John could do right now was suck it up and deal. "Fine. At least he doesn't snore like you," John replied through gritted teeth.
Ronon snorted in amusement and pulled the container away from him again. He tossed it onto the bed as well and said, "You stay here and put this crap somewhere where McKay won't bitch about it. I'll go get more of his stuff."
John sighed in defeat and stepped inside the room. He went over to the boxes and Ronon left the room. John marveled briefly at how a guy that big could be so quiet in motion and then turned his attention to the boxes. Rodney was going to be his roommate. This was going to suck big time.
Ronon decided that the announcement to room people together had been not been as unpopular a decision as Dr. Weir had thought it would be as he looked around the new living quarters. He saw many people starting to move boxes of their things into rooms as he headed back to the old residential area to get the last of Teyla's stuff. He then turned a corner and saw the accident coming but for once was unable to dodge in time.
Ronon bent over and reached out a hand to pull Dr. Zelenka up off the floor of the corridor. The little guy had literally bounced off of him because he'd been carrying so much stuff he couldn't see where he'd been going. "You okay, Zelenka?"
Zelenka blinked and pushed his glass back up his nose. "Yes, thank you, Ronon." He looked around at his scattered belongings with a slightly confused air. "I did not see you," he said distractedly.
Ronon took in the slightly blank look in Zelenka's face and waved a hand in front of his eyes to try and catch his attention. "Can I help you carry something?"
Zelenka blinked again and his attention sharpened to focus in on Ronon. "Oh. Yes, please."
Ronon picked up the two biggest boxes while Zelenka collected up the smaller box and the random articles that had been piled haphazardly on top of all of them. Once Zelenka had everything, Ronon followed him down the hall.
"So, you okay with the moving business?" Ronon asked, loping easily to the side of the swiftly moving man.
Zelenka looked at him and then back to where he was going. "Yes. My grandmother always said that in time of a crisis it is better to be surrounded by family." He swallowed heavily and continued, "In our case, friends will have to suffice."
"Friends are good," Ronon agreed amicably. "Who you staying with?"
"Miko and two of the chemists that I play chess with regularly." Zelenka replied. "Miko is...she is very upset. She shared lab duties with Dr. Simpson."
Ronon grunted in sympathy. He watched Zelenka's mournful face for a moment and then asked, "And how about you?"
Zelenka grimaced. "I hate to admit it, but I think I am angry at Simpson. I want to throw things against walls. It is very embarrassing."
"No. Just natural," Ronon countered. He knew about the rage that accompanied great grief. There wouldn't have been a single unsmashed item left in Atlantis if he'd given in to his when he'd first seen the remnants of Sateda. "You want to spar sometime? Get it off your chest?"
Zelenka gave him a weak smile. "Only if you promise not to break me in half. I am not a muscle bound Marine lacking in sense God gave a brick."
Ronon huffed a laugh. That was a fairly good description of a couple of the Marines that he regularly had to beat some sense into. "Fair enough. I'll treat you like my invalid grandmother."
"Who could no doubt beat me senseless using only her pinky, if she was anything like mine." Zelenka said wryly.
Ronon laughed again. "Yeah. Maybe they went to grandmother school together."
Zelenka briefly chuckled as well and then came to a halt at a door. He braced the stuff he was carrying on one knee and used his freed up hand to open the door. He then dumped his items in the doorway and turned and took the remaining boxes from Ronon. "Thank you for carrying these, Ronon," he said politely.
"No problem. Try not to carry so much, next load." Ronon replied. He liked Dr. Zelenka. Anybody that could deal back anything that McKay dished out was a pretty sturdy person in Ronon's estimation.
"I won't," Zelenka promised. He hesitated for a moment, then added, "And thank Teyla for me."
"Teyla?" Ronon asked, curious.
Zelenka gave him a serious look. "Yes. I have seen what she is doing to try and help us now that we are alone and stuck here in the Pegasus galaxy." His expression grew serious and he said with sober intent, "Let her know that I am available to help. I can be another voice of reason for her to use as well."
Ronon's estimation of Zelenka rose at that moment. "I'll tell her," he replied.
"Thank you." Zelenka rejoined, then turned and nudged the box in the doorway into the room with his foot as he carried the rest inside.
Ronon watched the door close, then went back the way he came, heading toward Teyla's old place. With luck he might even catch her there.
Teyla lay on her new bed that night, smiling in satisfaction at what Ronon had told her earlier that evening. She was honored that Dr. Zelenka wished to be an intermediary for her. With some of the others of the expedition she'd had to deal with recently, she'd had to manage them very carefully into acknowledging that her words held importance and that Dr. Weir needed to be informed of them. It was one thing to manipulate a person during trade negotiations, but it made her uncomfortable to do it to people whom she considered friends. It would be good to have another person in addition to Major Lorne and Dr. Colquitt who understood that she, as a Pegasus native, had valuable information that they needed to heed.
She rolled onto her side and looked over to the other bed where Ronon lay sleeping in the moonlight. She had seen Dr. Weir's resistance to the idea of housing people together, even in the face of all of her command staff recommending it. Had she brought the idea up herself the idea would have been dismissed out of hand by Elizabeth and everyone would still be suffering through their grief alone in their rooms. Dr. Weir had exhibited a consistent bias over the years towards listening to only her fellow Earthers on most issues. The ill-considered experimentation on Michael that Elizabeth had authorized had proven that to Teyla.
She sighed to herself. Many of these people could be so *blind* at times, and Elizabeth even more so than most when she was stressed. It was a dangerous trait for a leader to have, to so totally disregard the fact that they were new to this galaxy and its intrigues and dangers. On one hand, it gave them an edge in some situations because they thought in ways that people in this galaxy were unaccustomed to. But, on the other, that same thinking caused them to make some terrible mistakes. She shifted under her covers attempting to settle into a more comfortable position.
"Can't sleep?" Ronon asked quietly, turning in his bed to look at her.
"I apologize for waking you," Teyla murmured back. "I was just thinking."
"About what?" Ronon inquired as he propped his head up on one arm.
She smiled at him wryly. "That I wish I could combine the best of both the Atlantean mindset and those of our own and then pack the result into the heads of everyone I meet."
Ronon snorted. "Good luck with that." He pulled up his blanket from where he had kicked it off and held the edge of it in a fist against his stomach. "You think Sheppard is ever going to get his head out of his ass?"
She shrugged with one eyebrow. "John comes from what was apparently a very provincial country on Earth. It must have been hard on him to grow up with the customs and taboos they seemed to have had against what he is. I think that experience has perhaps damaged him in many ways, Ronon. It is hard to overcome such things."
"He wants McKay so bad that even his men whisper about it, despite that stupid rule. They don't really seem to mind it, even most of the ones with the same flag patch he has. They're too busy making bets on when it will happen. But he won't do anything obvious to get McKay's attention," Ronon replied, sounding slightly annoyed.
"That is why I am hoping that putting them in the same room will help things along in that regard," Teyla said, tucking the blanket under her chin.
Ronon barked a dry laugh. "You're a dreamer. McKay doesn't even *recognize* that he's insanely jealous of anyone touching Sheppard and Sheppard will just sit there and pretend he isn't interested in anything but flying puddlejumpers."
Teyla nodded in acknowledgment of these truths. "I agree. But physical proximity breaks down many barriers over time."
"If they don't get a clue within the next couple of months, I'm locking them into that room and not letting them out until they've screwed each other senseless," Ronon said bluntly. "I'm tired of them being idiots."
Teyla laughed softly. "If you can manage to keep Rodney trapped in there long enough for them to start, you will have my blessing."
"I can deal," Ronon snorted with good humor. "Now that we have a plan to deal with those two, you think we can get some sleep?"
Teyla smiled, amused at Ronon's idea of a 'plan'. "Very well. Good night, Ronon," she replied and closed her eyes. She heard him grunt and roll back over. His breath evened out quickly into faint snores and she set aside what she needed to do next within her mind and soon followed him.
John lay in his new bed staring at the ceiling. This was going to kill him. He looked over a Rodney's lax body, splayed face first down on his own bed. He heard a faint whistle and knew that Rodney's sinuses were bothering him tonight. Probably from the carefully hidden crying he'd done today. Losing Dr. Simpson had been the last straw for a bunch of folks, Rodney among them.
John shifted restlessly. He didn't want to be here. Not in this room. Not with Rodney. He was never going to get to sleep. God damn Teyla and her getting dibs on Ronon. He sighed heavily.
He heard a moan and he looked back over to Rodney. His face was creased up and the hand that John could see was twitching spasmodically. Rodney moaned again and his breathing had become rapid and shallow. He gave an inarticulate cry and his hand twitched spasmodically. John threw aside his covers and he got up, padded over to the side of Rodney's bed and carefully sat down next to him. John reached out and put a gentle hand on Rodney's back. "Easy there, buddy," he said softly as he rubbed small circles into Rodney's back. "It's okay. Everything's fine."
Rodney gave another distressed noise, but his hand slowed in its twitching and his breathing started to slow. "You're okay, Rodney. I'm here for you, everything's fine," John murmured, moving his other hand to squeeze Rodney's shoulder while he continued to rub his back.
Rodney's hand stopped and he made an interrogative noise. "Yes, everything's okay now," John replied to the questioning tone. "You're fine, it's okay."
Rodney sighed and his face relaxed while his breathing deepened. John gave his shoulder another squeeze and then released it. He continued rubbing Rodney's back until Rodney gave a small hum and smiled in his sleep. "There ya go. Have fun with the good dreams for me, okay?" John whispered, slowly pulling his hand away. He watched Rodney for a little while longer to make sure the nightmare didn't come back and after Rodney chuckled in his sleep he decided it was safe enough and went back to his own bed.
John huddled back under the covers, wadded up his pillow and stuffed it under his head. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to force his muscles to relax. He'd missed his usual workout today due to the day's hectic move and he could feel it in the underlying tension that refused to go away. He stared off into the distance, veering his eyes away from his sleeping roommate. This was really going to suck. In the past when things like this had happened, he'd at least had the advantage of being able to gain some physical distance until he'd gotten over it. But in this, as in everything else, the Pegasus galaxy had other ideas.
Not sleeping in his new quarters after being so gung-ho about it at the meeting was extremely likely to get him dumped into Heightmeyer's office. He gave an ill-tempered groan and flopped over onto his other side. To be honest, if it were anybody else, he'd approve of it. They were all worn down with grief and on emotionally shaky ground right now. And getting everyone to bunk together was a good idea. He just wished...well it didn't matter what he wished, it wasn't going to happen so he might as well learn how to cope.
Rodney mumbled something indistinct. "You said it, buddy," John replied as he closed his eyes with determination and grimly began to count sheep.
Rodney sat on the sofa the next morning, clutching his mug of sort-of-coffee and sipping carefully from it. If he was being honest, it was better than actual coffee. It had sort of caramel-y, chocolate-y overtones to it that made him not miss Tim Horton's quite so much anymore. And the caffeine-like substance it contained didn't raise his blood pressure or make his hands jitter either, although drinking it in the evening was a definite no-no if he wanted to ever go to sleep. This stuff definitely woke him up on command. He'd have given his eyeteeth for this stuff during grad school.
He looked over at his team slash roommates. Ronon, as usual, was his disgustingly alert self and stood in the center of the room, cramming a large slab of Athosian sweet bread into his mouth. After seeing the remnants of Sateda, Rodney decided that Ronon had probably not been a barbarian as he initially thought, but the Satedan equivalent of a beer swilling frat boy before the destruction of his world. He certainly ate like one.
Teyla was doing some kind of yoga-like thing over in the corner, having just finished her stout tea. He picked up his own piece of bread off the plate in his lap and took another bite out of it. Mildly sweet and stuffed with nuts and dried fruits that were thankfully of the non-citrus variety, it made a rather pleasant and filling breakfast on the days it was served.
He then looked over at John. In contrast to the other two, John looked like he hadn't slept at all. His eyes had dark circles under them and his eyelids kept sagging shut as he leaned his head on the arm he had propped up on the table that he sat at. The other hand was wrapped loosely around a mug of sort-of-coffee which John had yet to take a drink of. His plate of bread sat undisturbed as well.
"For god sakes, Colonel, go back to bed." Rodney snapped, feeling slightly annoyed. "You look like death warmed over."
John jerked at the sound of Rodney's voice and nearly overset his mug. "Jesus, Rodney, do you have to shout?" he grumbled as he grabbed a napkin and wiped up the spill.
"I didn't shout, sleepyhead. I merely woke your sorry ass up." Rodney replied with an eyeroll. Even clearly in need of more sleep John still looked like sex on wheels, the bastard. "Go back to bed. I don't know why you bothered to get up anyway. You clearly need more rest."
"I got up because *somebody* hauled me out by the arm," John said grumpily as he shot Ronon a bleary-eyed, evil look.
Ronon shrugged and grabbed another chunk of bread off the table. "Sorry. Thought you'd gotten enough sleep."
John rubbed his eyes tiredly with one hand. "Yeah, well, I'd have had to get up for work eventually anyways."
"Oh, you are so not going to work like that," Rodney interjected. Seriously, Sheppard needed a keeper if he neglected himself this much. Rodney knew that John normally fell asleep within minutes out in the field but woke quickly when danger threatened. It concerned him that John had obviously spent most of the night awake in a place that he should have felt safe in.
John's chin took on a mulish set. "Yes, I am, Rodney. It's my *job*. You know, defending Atlantis and saving your life on an ongoing basis?"
"If Atlantis or myself need your services, we will certainly call you," Rodney shot back. "But right now we don't and you look worse than that squirrel my cat brought home to me the day she got out of my apartment. *Go to bed*."
John stubbornly sat at the table and took a sip from his mug. Rodney flung his hands up in disgust. "Teyla, tell our fearless leader to go the hell back to bed!"
"Go the hell back to bed, John," Teyla parroted back obediently as she did some kind of complicated stretch on the floor. John blinked in surprise at Teyla's usage of a swear word and Rodney shot her a suspicious look. Was she mocking him?
Teyla caught his look. "I am not making fun of you, Rodney," she said as she got up off the floor. She looked over at John who now had both hands clutched around his mug, as if daring people to take it away from him. "John, Rodney is right. You need more rest and the city will be fine while you get some. I am calling Dr. Keller and Dr. Weir and informing them that you will be taking today off as well as Rodney."
"Wait, what?" Rodney said, surprised. "Who said anything about me taking a day off? I know I didn't!" He *had* to work. It kept his mind off of things better left alone.
"Hey!" John simultaneously chimed in with an offended tone. "I'm perfectly capable of doing my job!"
Teyla gave both of them a quelling look. "Dr. Keller put you on leave last night, Rodney. You had a very unpleasant and distressing experience yesterday and you need some time to recuperate. You *will* follow her orders. And you, John Sheppard, are not required for any emergencies right now so you *will* go lay back down and go back to sleep, even if I have to request that Ronon to tie you to your bed!"
Ronon smirked silently at them both as Rodney blinked at Teyla's vehemence and turned to look at John. John looked blankly back at him, equally taken aback by her outburst.
Teyla crossed her arms. "Now, John," she said firmly, one eyebrow lifted threateningly.
John's lips tightened into a thin line and he gave Rodney a furious look before he wordlessly got up and stalked off through the doorway to their shared room. Rodney got the distinct impression that if it had been a doorway to a house on Earth, the door would have been slammed shut so hard that the walls would have rattled. "Oh, thank you. Now he's mad at *me* again!" Rodney exclaimed, throwing a hand outward and slumping into the sofa. "Also? I have to work! ZPMs to reverse-engineer, cities to keep afloat!"
"A coworker whom you found dead to mourn," Teyla countered quietly, sitting down next to him.
Rodney swallowed around the sudden lump in his throat and covered his face with one hand. Once he'd gotten his control back, he removed his hand and looked over to Teyla. "I'd really prefer to work. It makes it easier. To, to deal with. You know?"
"Rodney, it is perfectly acceptable to cry over the loss of someone with whom you have worked closely with and felt responsible for," Teyla soothed, one hand reaching over to rub his knee.
"I did that yesterday. It made my sinuses hurt," Rodney said dully. "You were there while I looked through her file for her will and interment request. You gave me tissues."
Ronon dropped down onto the couch on the other side of him. "I can go get your work computer from the lab for you if you want, McKay."
Rodney looked over to him. "I appreciate that that you're willing to take time out of your undoubtedly busy schedule of beating up marines, Ronon, but how about I save you the trip and just go to work instead?"
Ronon shook his head. "No deal. If Teyla says you take a day off, then you're taking the day off. But I can get you the computer so you're not bored."
Rodney looked back at Teyla who regarded him evenly and said, "I see no reason why you could not have your work computer here as long as you stay here and off of the radio."
Rodney let out a defeated sigh and gestured his surrender. "Fine. Get me my computer and I'll spend the rest of the day trying to dodge the projectiles Sheppard throws at me for getting him grounded and sent to his room." He sipped his sort-of-coffee in resignation.
Ronon grinned at him and levered himself off the couch. "Back in a few," he said and then sprinted out the door.
"Show-off," Rodney grumbled. He then turned to Teyla and asked, "Who elected you den mother anyway?"
Teyla just smiled at him and patted him on the knee. "I must make those calls to Dr. Weir and Dr. Keller." She then gracefully rose off the sofa and went back to her room, presumably to get her radio.
Rodney huffed and sunk back into the sofa. It was weird living with his team. Ronon was acting like somebody's big brother, Teyla had this definite mom vibe going on, and John...John was being weird. John had been weird a lot lately. Shaking his head, Rodney dismissed the issue. It was obvious now that the man wasn't getting enough sleep. That was probably what the matter was.
Rodney slurped some more sort-of-coffee and thought back on the conversation he'd had a few days ago with Teyla. He wasn't sure why Teyla insisted that he think about why he got angry when the Ancient Princess of the Week showed up to grope Sheppard, but now he was curious. Why did he? It wasn't as if those bimbos ever showed any interest in him anyway. Why should it even matter to him that Sheppard was getting some use out of his dipstick? His stomach clenched tightly at those memories and he blinked. Wow. He really did react badly, didn't he?
Teyla came back into the living room and gathered up her gym bag and a slice of the bread. "I am leaving to teach a class now, " she said as she threw her bag over her shoulder, looking at Rodney. "Is there anything you need from me before I leave?"
Rodney gave her as sardonic look. "Permission to go back to work, which, I assume, I am not going to get anytime today, thank you."
Teyla smiled and shook her head no, then came up to him and touched him gently on the cheek. "Take this time as an opportunity to think about what we discussed earlier this week." She released his cheek and picked up her bag. "Some self reflection will clarify your thoughts and increase your understanding of what John is going through, Rodney."
"Yes, yes, whatever, thank you, Teyla," Rodney retorted, waving her off. She raised an eyebrow at him and he squirmed in his seat for a moment before breaking. "Okay, fine. Self reflection. Figure out why do I get mad when the Bimbo of the week attaches herself to Sheppard. Yes, mom. I'll get right on that homework assignment."
She smiled again. "Good." He watched the door shut behind her and drank some more sort-of-coffee before muttering, "Great. First den mothers and now homework assignments."
A couple of hours later, Rodney was staring at the spreadsheet he had set up on his personal computer, the work computer still lying where Ronon had left it, forgotten. He'd gotten halfway through setting up the spreadsheet detailing aspects of Sheppard's Kirking ways that irritated him when he'd had this sudden flash of realization - he'd reacted exactly the same way with his roommate David in college concerning *his* dates. Fifteen minutes after that, he'd then remembered he'd also been peaved with his next door neighbor William's procession of casual fucks that he heard through their shared bedroom wall back when he lived in DC. Then, to top it all off, came the memory of all the times he'd seethed in frustration when his co-worker Paul had talked about his most recent date with yet another girlfriend. Once he added all of *them* into the database, it became clear that this wasn't an issue he had with Sheppard, it was an issue he had, period. It was all there, obvious and in black and white.
Rodney sat back and stared at the computer screen. Now the question was, did he have this issue with every guy he knew? He didn't think so. He knew he hadn't cared who Carson was dating other than to make sure Carson had kept Cadman very, very far way from him. And he didn't give a damn what Radek did with his love life. And he hadn't given a flying fuck about any of his co-workers at Area 51, most of whom were men. Those bits of data indicated to him that it was only these four guys that he'd gotten cranky over.
Okay then, so what did David, William, Paul and Sheppard all have in common that caused him to get so angry about them having girlfriends? Rodney pulled up a blank worksheet and furiously typed in all the possible linking characteristics that he could think of for each of the four men. Then for a control, he added the names of five random men he didn't react that way to concerning their love lives, and checked off any characteristics that they had in common with the other set of men. He crunched the data into something readable and looked at the results.
All the guys whose girlfriends he was affronted by were kind of hairy, on the thin side, entertaining, smart, friendly towards him, and insanely good looking. Rodney felt like there was something he just wasn't getting that would explain all of this, but the missing piece of information stayed frustratingly out of reach. Sighing, he stood up and stretched out his back. Maybe if he got away from it for a bit, the key to this problem would quit hiding in the back of his brain and he'd figure it out.
He picked up his empty mug and dumped it into the kitchen then padded over to the doorway to his bedroom. He paused and debated going in for a minute. He didn't want to wake up John, but his iPod was in there and he needed to listen to some music to change his focus for a while. Finally, he decided to try to be extra quiet and crept gingerly into the room.
John lay on his side, sprawled in an uncomfortable looking heap on the bed with his boxers and t-shirt both rucking up his body. Rodney came closer and looked at him. John was moaning softly and had a naked, unhappy expression on his face. Rodney wanted to tuck the covers back up over him from where he'd kicked them off but figured that would probably only make John wake up in fighting mode due to his vigilance even during sleep. Rodney personally thought that there were some PSTD issues there, though not as bad as Ronon's, thank god. After the one time Teyla had accidentally touched Ronon in his sleep Rodney had made it a point to stay as far away from Ronon as was possible in a tent. He was beyond terrifying when awoken suddenly.
Rodney went over to his side of the room and rooted around a bit before finding where his iPod had been stowed away. He sat on his bed and started scrolling through the music to try and find something that he wanted to hear. He heard a distressed noise from John and he looked up to see him thrashing weakly in his sleep. Rodney set down his iPod, leaned forward and said quietly, "Quit freaking out, Colonel. Whatever it is, I've solved the problem and saved the day, *again*. Go back to your regularly scheduled wet dream consisting of Ascended floozies."
John stopped thrashing but moaned loudly. Rodney sighed. That had always worked on Jeannie's nightmares. He wondered if this was a normal night-time habit when the Colonel was in Atlantis. Rodney had only ever seen John asleep when they shared a tent out in the field and the man had slept quietly then. "Come on John, think puppies, kittens, Johnny Cash. You're on a Ferris wheel or something. Just stop being upset, okay?" These nightmares were really going to make life as Sheppard's roommate suck if this was usual for him. Rodney got woken up by enough nightmares of his own, although he'd slept through the entirety of last night for a change. He wondered why briefly, then shook his head. It wasn't important.
Sheppard seemed to calm a little at that. "That's right, John, have a good time at the amusement park with somebody you like, or whatever constitutes happy land for you," Rodney encouraged him and then went back to perusing his music choices. Typical. There was nothing he was in the mood to listen to today on this thing. He looked up again and saw that John had settled down and now had a slightly confused air on his slack face. Figures that all it really took was the suggestion of a theme park. He was probably dreaming about which roller coaster looked the most dangerous to ride next.
Disgusted with the iPod's inadequacies, Rodney tossed it onto his bed, leaned an elbow on one knee and cupped his chin in the palm of his hand. His eyes swept over John's muscular thighs exposed by the creeping boxers, gilded with late morning light streaming from the nearby window. While John was a thin man, Rodney noted that he was not by any means scrawny like Rodney had been in his youth. John had what a lot of people called a swimmer's build, whatever *that* meant. Rodney's eyes flicked to John's displayed hairy abdomen and he watched as the skin there rose and fell with John's breathing. Sheppard must have really not been sleeping well for a while, Rodney mused, because he was completely sacked out now.
Rodney stood up and headed back to the living room. There was nothing else to do in here but stare at Sheppard and that wasn't going to forward the progress of science, or inform him of why he resented John being such a Kirk. He might as well boot up his work computer and go over those damned energy conversions again. If he let the data process in the back of his brain long enough, an answer for Teyla's question would eventually pop out. It wasn't as if it were an emergency that he needed to solve right now, anyway.
Major Lorne waved a greeting at Dr. Zelenka as he walked into the gym. "Glad you could make it, Dr. Z. How'd you escape the lab?" Lorne asked from his seat on the bench by the window.
Zelenka came to a stop beside him, pushing his glasses back up his nose and smiling thinly. "Dr. Heightmeyer recommended that everyone in the lab that didn't have a pending experiment take today off. I had to go in, but my experiment is finished now, so I left as soon as it was done." He took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose with a pained expression on his face. "It is difficult for people to be in the lab right now. Too many memories."
Lorne stood and clapped a sympathetic hand onto Zelenka's shoulder. "I'm really sorry about Dr. Simpson, Dr. Z."
Zelenka sighed. "Thank you, Major. It was a terrible blow for us." He put his glasses back on and looked steadily at Evan. "And please, call me Radek." He cleared his throat awkwardly. "I am given to believe that we should encourage familiarity with one another and we will both be working closely with Teyla."
Lorne nodded solemnly. "If you'll call me Evan, it's a deal, Radek."
Radek inclined his head in acknowledgment. "You have a deal, Evan."
Evan smiled encouragingly and gestured for Radek to have a seat. "Teyla called and said she was heading our way. Take a load off. She should be here soon."
Radek sat on the bench and Evan joined him. "So," Radek asked as he opened his jacket and made himself comfortable, "what convinced you to become a voice for Teyla?"
Evan shrugged. "She had a good point. We aren't from around here. Our ancestors weren't from around here. It stands to reason that we'd be missing some pretty vital skills needed to survive here." He flashed Radek a quick smile before continuing, "And no offense, but technology isn't the solution to everything."
Radek gave him a sly look. "Neither is firepower."
Evan snorted a laugh. "No, it isn't. I won't disagree with you there." He tilted his head curiously. "What about you?"
Radek shrugged. "I see her working to make sure that we will survive here and I wish to help. " He looked over at Evan ruefully. "Elizabeth is a good woman, but I will admit that in the pressure cooker that is Pegasus, she tends to fall back into the typical American arrogance your country is so well known for without realizing it. I am hoping that my participation in Teyla's efforts will help ease that problem."
Evan returned the rueful look. "You would think that Weir wouldn't do that with her training as a diplomat and negotiator, wouldn't you?"
Radek shrugged again. "If it were Earth, I don't think she would do the things that she does here in Atlantis. She is out of her depth here." He grimaced. "We all are. And she is in a bad position for someone who is struggling. She is, for all intents and purposes, supreme ruler of Atlantis. There are no checks and balances."
Evan's lips thinned out. "I hadn't thought of it that way, but you're right. The only real challenge to her authority would be if Sheppard or McKay decided to call her on it."
Teyla paced into the gym at that moment and both men stood up to greet her. "Evan, Radek," she said, greeting them both with a smile, "Thank you both for agreeing to meet me here."
"Our pleasure, ma'am," Evan replied with easy grace. "You said you wanted to talk with both of us?"
Teyla inclined her head and replied, "Yes, I did, Evan." She gestured to the floor of the gym, "Shall we be seated?"
They all settled onto the mats on the floor and Radek leaned his back against the bench. Teyla composed her expression into neutrality and began. "I asked that we all meet so that we may speak frankly of the one of the issues I see at hand for Atlantis." At the two men's encouraging nods, she continued, "In order for your people to survive here in this galaxy, there are some methods of living that all of you will have to learn and adopt." She looked at them steadily. "One of the ways your people will have to adjust is that they will need to form family groups. All of you are very poorly supported emotionally."
"It is true that families can be a great support, Teyla, but many who have come here do not have a history of that to draw upon," Radek pointed out. "You will have enormous learning curve for everyone to overcome."
"And none of us are actually related to have those kind of bonds already," Evan added. "And the male/female ratio is just a little out of whack here with all the military we have. We don't have enough women for all the guys to get hitched to, if you're thinking of getting everyone married off."
Teyla shook her head impatiently. "Not solely couples. A family grouping of that nature is much too fragile on its own to survive the dangers of this galaxy. I am speaking of perhaps several people coming together and forming a...clan of sorts?" She looked uncertain for a moment. "If I understand the word correctly, that is what I speak of."
"You mean like a commune?" Evan asked. He dropped his head into his hands and groaned, "Oh, Jesus, I can't believe this."
Teyla gave him a look and said sternly, "I am sorry if you have a problem with that, but it is your best hope of survival here. You had indicated to me that you were open to the idea of radical solutions to the problems presented to you here."
Evan gave an uneven chuckle and raised his head. "It's not what you think, Teyla." He gave another slightly hysterical laugh and rubbed the back of his neck. "I was *raised* in a commune. My mom was a hippy. I thought I'd left that all behind me when I joined the military." He blinked a bit and covered his eyes with a hand and sniffled.
Radek reached out and hesitantly patted Evan on the shoulder as Teyla leaned forward and gripped his ankle in sympathy. "I apologize, Evan. I knew that family groups other than single couples were very rare in your culture. It never occurred to me that any of you would actually have come from such a family grouping."
Evan sniffed and rubbed his eyes. "Sorry guys. I don't usually break up like that. It's just..."
"We are all grieving for the loss of our families back on Earth, Evan," Radek interrupted quietly. "I miss all of my extended relations coming over to drink and play cards. My family all lived very close together. I was the first to leave home in many years. I used to think it was because I could not stand the feel of them pressing all around me all of the time." Radek shrugged. "Now I would give anything to have it all back."
They sat quietly for a moment, giving Evan time to collect himself. After a while he dropped his hand and raised his eyes back up to meet theirs. "Thanks, guys."
Teyla squeezed his ankle and Radek patted him again on the shoulder. "You are welcome," Radek replied.
Teyla released Evan's ankle and sat back on the mats. "So, the two of you understand the value of having an extended family grouping already, I take it." Both men nodded and smiled wanly at her. She dipped her head for a moment in thought and then looked back up at them. "Who do you think of the expedition is likely to have the most trouble with the idea? I do not suggest it to replace the more usual reproductive pairings your people have but to augment them."
"The Americans most definitely. They have a fetish about independence," Radek replied. "The Canadians. Possibly the Australians and New Zealanders. Not so much so with the people from the European countries. Those from the Asian countries will probably deal the best because they are very family oriented." Radek replied.
"Definitely the Americans." Evan confirmed. "Many people in America generally wound up living far away from any of their relatives once they got out of school. It was probably the same way in Canada too. I don't know about anybody else. I'm not an anthropologist."
Teyla listened intently, then asked, "Do you think that they would be unable to accept this adjustment to their ways at all?"
Even and Radek looked at each other thoughtfully.
"No, I think they probably eventually will if they have to, as long as it isn't anything *too* weird." Evan responded slowly. "They'll just be the ones most resistant. I think if they are given a good enough incentive they'll do it, although I wouldn't be surprised it there is a heap of belly aching that will go along with it."
Radek nodded in agreement. "Giving them an incentive will be key. Our scientists are more likely to be willing to try it if the facts are laid out for them. As you have found from speaking with Dr. Colquitt and others of his department, we are not stupid and can extrapolate our survival based off of the data given to us."
"And the guys in the military that made it here to Atlantis are pretty open minded. Anybody that couldn't think flexibly generally didn't last long in the Stargate program." Evan added. "There may be a few stick in the muds, but we can deal with that when we get to it."
"And if the...stick in the mud...is Dr. Weir?" Teyla asked seriously. "She *is* the one who rules Atlantis."
Both men winced at that. It was uncomfortably close to what they'd been talking about before she'd arrived. They both looked at one another, then finally Radek turned to Teyla and said, "It would be best if you got both the Colonel and Dr. McKay on your side, in addition to the social scientists and Dr. Heightmeyer."
"I thought as much." Teyla returned wryly. "Fortunately, I had already come to that conclusion." She then smiled openly at the two of them. "And I also have both of you. You are the seconds for both the Colonel and Dr. McKay."
Evan and Radek both looked at each other in shock. "That's true," Evan replied wryly, as Radek gave a 'what can you do?' shrug.
"Just out of curiosity, what kind of 'clan' were you thinking of, Teyla?" Radek asked curiously. "My understanding of a clan is that it is a group of extended relations, aunts, uncles, cousins many times removed. Obviously we cannot form a clan of that sort."
Teyla inclined her head towards Radek. "A good question, Radek. Do you know how Athosian family structures work?" At the negative shake of his head, she continued, "A group of individuals who are normally unrelated by blood or only distantly so, will come together and declare a formal oath that they have become a *menat*. Your people might call it something like a clan marriage group. That *menat* then has claim rights for assistance from every *menat* that each person within the group originated from." She checked their faces to see if they were following along. Seeing no confusion in their eyes, she went on. "This strengthens the bonds between all groups involved and provides the maximum support when disaster strikes. It also guards against children losing all of their caregivers during a culling. It ensures that there are usually at least one or two adults of a *menat* still left to care for the children so none are left orphaned."
"Does everyone in the *menat* have sex with each other?" Evan hesitantly asked.
"It varies," she replied. "The individuals in a particular *menat* will decided that amongst themselves."
"What about children, then?" Radek asked, puzzled. "If a *menat* decides to not have sex with one another, how can they reproduce?"
"Some *menatos* will have individuals who produce children together, but most will contract partnerships with other *menatos* to produce children and raise them in both *menatos* in order to further strengthen bonds and support lines. Both are acceptable," Teyla allowed.
Evan scratched his head. "I'm a little confused. Do the people in a *menat* live together? And how does that work with contracting alliances to have kids?"
"A *menat* generally lives together," Teyla replied. She shifted where she sat and made a circle of her hands to illustrate. "There is a central tent that houses the children and whoever is taking a turn at caring for them and side tents clustered around that house everyone else in the *menat*. Some of the *menat* may share tents. Some of the *menat* may share their tent with their reproductive partners while the relationship lasts."
"I take it that the reproductive partnership has no permanent status?" Radek asked as he pushed his glasses up his nose.
Teyla smiled. "Not as such, although on occasion the partnership is lifelong for those involved. Charin had one such partnership. She mourned his passing greatly."
"Well, that would certainly solve the divorce issue at least." Evan muttered.
Teyla looked at him quizzically. "I beg your pardon?"
Evan grimaced. "American marriages have had this tendency to implode a lot the last few decades. People get bored with their partners, grow apart, cheat on each other." He shrugged. "It can be pretty traumatic for the kids."
"Do people only set up a *menat* for alliance purposes and mutual assistance, then?" Radek questioned.
Teyla smiled enigmatically. "There are many reasons to declare a *menat*. Alliance and assistance, yes, but also mutual interests, friendship, comfort...even love. The only limitations for putting together a *menat* rest with those who create it." She cocked her head to the side and asked, "How does a *menat* compare with your commune, Evan?"
Evan scratched his head for a moment. "Well, there are a few similarities. My mother and father joined an artist's commune in an enormous Victorian house back in the sixties because they were both artists. There were about ten other couples in the group when I was young. My dad left when I was six but mom stayed and Ernie and Dylan kind of took over the fathering duties. They were a gay couple in the commune." He smiled in reminiscence. "They were a riot. Sheppard and McKay remind me of them sometimes." He shook his head and quirked one corner of his mouth into a smile. "Two couples left over time but the rest of us remained really close. Holidays rocked."
"For someone in the American military, you come from a wildly alternative lifestyle background," Radek commented, his eyebrows lifted in surprise.
"Yeah, I guess so. Youthful rebellion, what can I say?" Evan replied, shrugging elaborately. "Anything to drive mom up the wall, you know? She got over it in time once it turned out that I really did love what I was doing and wasn't doing it just to piss her off."
Teyla and Radek grinned back at him. "Lucky for you." Radek responded. "My mother never stopped trying to convince me to come back home and marry the girl next door. It would not have been so bad if the girl's face had not resembled that of a horse."
Everyone laughed quietly at that. After the chuckles died down, Teyla looked at them both. "I need your honest assessment. Would some form of *menat* work for those here in Atlantis?"
Radek looked troubled. "I am not expert in such things. What does Dr. Colquitt think?"
"Dr. Colquitt thinks that it is a remarkably robust familial structure well suited to the stresses of this galaxy," Teyla responded dryly. "What I need to know is how someone who is *not* one of your social scientists thinks it will work in regards to themselves."
"I'm cool with the idea, but I'm not exactly representative," Evan stated.
Radek bowed his head in thought for a moment then brought it back up to regard Teyla. "I am required to break the laws of physics as we currently know them at least once a week around here. It is not so big a step to get involved in an alternative family lifestyle. Particularly if it sounds like a reasonable way to do things considering the danger we are all in just living here." He lifted one shoulder carelessly. "It may work." He raised a warning finger. "But," he cautioned, "I think that the idea needs to be introduced slowly."
Teyla nodded. "I realize that. In times of despair people will naturally cling to that which is familiar to bring some order into their lives and are not inclined to try new things." A sudden enigmatic smile flitted onto her face and she leaned back with her arms behind her. "Perhaps if they were led by example?"
Evan and Radek looked at her steadily for a moment. "What do you have in mind?" Evan replied.
John stumbled out of the bedroom, yawning and blinking his eyes sleepily. Damn it, Teyla had been right. He really had needed the sleep and since no one had disturbed him the city apparently hadn't needed him. He grimaced and scratched his head. He was all sweaty and needed a shower. He looked around and saw Rodney tapping away on a computer. "What time is it?"
Rodney looked up from his work computer. "Ah, Sleeping Beauty arises," he said in a mocking tone. "It's three in the afternoon. You didn't get *any* sleep last night, did you?"
John blinked. "Wow. I didn't think it was that late." And no, he'd not slept for shit last night, not that he'd ever tell anybody that. Although with this roommate situation, he might not have to, damn it. His team was entirely too observant; even Rodney when he wanted to be. Having people who knew him be this close to him all the time was threatening to really freak him out. Still, it was for the best, he told himself. Rodney really needed all the support from his team that he could get right now.
"Yes, Rip Van Winkle, I could tell," Rodney shot back over the top of the computer screen. "You want any food? Ronon brought some sandwiches and stuff from the mess hall."
"Yeah, I could eat," John replied. He sauntered over to the kitchen and looked in the cold storage unit that was the Ancient's equivalent of a refrigerator. There he found a plate of sandwiches that looked like Rodney had made already made substantial inroads on. His stomach gurgled ferociously from missing breakfast and lunch so he pulled out the entire plateful and sat down at the dining table. He picked up a sandwich and started eating hungrily.
Rodney closed down his computer and came over to sit down next to John. "You're looking better," Rodney commented as he grabbed another sandwich and inspected under the bread. "The bags under your eyes are gone."
John grunted, picking up another sandwich and taking a huge bite, deliberately not looking at Rodney. It wasn't turkey, but those bird thingies from M7X-223 tasted pretty damn close and were fortunately easy to raise.
They ate in silence for a while. John finished off his third sandwich and leaned back in his chair, feeling reasonably full. "So, where's Teyla and Ronon?" John wanted them here so he wasn't alone with Rodney. He wanted the buffer that their two team members would provide.
Rodney shrugged as he looked suspiciously under the bread of another sandwich he had just picked up. "Ronon's been in and out. I think he's currently terrorizing the Marines. Teyla's left this morning to teach a stick class and hasn't been back since. Does this look like mayonnaise to you?" he asked, shoving the suspect sandwich under John's nose.
John sighed and looked under the bread. "Yeah, I think it is."
"Eeuw!" Rodney exclaimed, dropping the sandwich in front of John. "Do you know that stuff is made with lemon juice? What if it had contaminated the rest of the sandwiches?"
John picked up the rejected sandwich and put it back on the plate. "Then you'd have used that epi-pen that you always have on you and I would have called the infirmary. Mayo doesn't migrate, Rodney. You're fine."
"You make fun of my allergies, but I assure you that they are deadly serious, Colonel," Rodney snapped.
John felt anger boil up in his chest. One prank and the guy was never going to forgive him. "I said I was sorry about the god damned lemon incident with Mitchell, Rodney. Seeing as how the guy's *dead* now, don't you think it's time to let it go?"
They both faltered in the uncomfortable silence that ensued. Rodney stared down at the table and John covered his face with his hands. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that," John mumbled into his hands after a time. His temper was completely shot still, that much was obvious. He was running on empty right now and a few hours of sleep wasn't enough recovery time. He was just thankful that the Wraith problem was postponed at the moment with all the Hive ships currently over on the other side of the galaxy according to current intel. He dropped his hands away from his face and gave Rodney an apologetic look.
"No, you're right," Rodney replied in a broken tone. "It's just...it's hard. I miss Sam. I miss..." he halted and swallowed noisily.
"You miss Jeannie?" John finished for him softly. Despite his efforts at distancing himself, he couldn't help but worry about Rodney. All that crusty bluster covered a soft, if clueless, interior. Rodney took losing people very, very badly.
Rodney nodded spasmodically and stared back down at the table. "Do...do you miss anyone? I've never asked, because you don't talk about stuff like that, but, but...if you need to, I could...I could listen." He shrugged his shoulders dismissively. "You listen to me."
John stared at Rodney, panic stricken. "I..." he started, then stumbled to a stop. What could he say to that? That he was fine? To buzz off? Everyone else from Earth had lost someone. It was reasonable for Rodney to assume that John wouldn't be any different just because he didn't talk about it. Rodney was trying real hard to be a nice guy here. It would be rude to blow him off. He sighed and tried to loosen the tension in his shoulders. "Rodney...thanks, buddy." He ran a finger over the rim of the sandwich plate in front of him, trying to put together the words. "I really didn't have anybody left to miss," he finally said, reluctantly. "I haven't for a long time. But I appreciate the offer." John swallowed and added, "What hurts right now is...is seeing everyone else hurting." He stopped and scrubbed at his face with both hands. Jesus, he was bad at this.
"Oh," Rodney croaked. "I'm sorry." And that seemed to end the conversation for both of them. They looked away from each other uncomfortably. John's stomach rolled the sandwiches he'd eaten around painfully and he picked nervously at flaw in the table top.
After an endless amount of silence, John finally couldn't take anymore. "I'm going back to bed." he announced, surging up from the table. He left the sandwiches on the table and fled to the bedroom.
Elizabeth walked towards her quarters reluctantly that evening. She'd stayed in her own room in the original living area, but with the vast majority of the expedition moved out to the new quarters, the halls to her room echoed emptily with the ringing of her steps. She just wanted some time alone at night so she could just be herself and not the Head of the Atlantis Expedition, but she was now becoming aware of how isolated she'd just made herself. Doctors Kate Heightmeyer, Jennifer Keller, and Margaret Biro had decided to room together and Kate had invited her to join them, but she'd refused. Last night had been hard. The halls were too quiet and she'd had to squelch the impulse to break things and have a screaming fit just so there would be a little more noise. Her door came up all too soon and she was surprised to see Kate standing by it. Kate looked up from a computer tablet she was working from and gave her a small smile. "Hi, Elizabeth. I thought I'd do my regular check on you now, if you don't mind."
Elizabeth froze momentarily. Oh. Everyone still living alone was being checked on regularly to see how they were holding up. How had she forgotten? She mustered up a diplomatic smile despite her weariness. "I see no problem with that. Would you care to come in?"
Kate tilted her head in the affirmative. "Thank you, I think will." They both went through the door, found seats and made themselves comfortable. "How'd your day go?" Kate asked after she'd settled in.
The day had sucked since she'd spent much of it in her office attempting to write a speech for the memorial Kate had suggested they have in order to gain some closure for everyone. The problem was that she didn't know what to say. Her entire career had depended on her facility with words and that skill had now seemingly deserted her. "Rough," Elizabeth replied with a brittle smile. "You?"
Kate gave her a wry look. "Rough." She set her tablet down on the coffee table. "I've had to referee a few disagreements among some people living in the new quarters today. Who knew archaeologists would have such a hard time getting along with each other?"
Elizabeth's smile twisted cynically. In her opinion, it was only a matter of time before there was bloodshed over the roommate issue. She'd been really surprised that so many had opted to live together. She wondered what it said about her that the idea of roommates made her queasy. "How's the roommate situation with you, Kate?"
"Remarkably well, actually. I checked in with them earlier. Jennifer's already crashed for the night and Margaret won't be off duty for another hour yet." Kate tossed her hair back over one shoulder. "Want anything to eat? I don't remember seeing you at the mess for dinner."
Elizabeth wriggled more comfortably into a chair and kicked her shoes off. "I had some sandwiches brought to me during one of my meetings." She stretched her toes out and wiggled them. "And it's too late for me to eat again. I really wish we had some wine, though. I could use a glass of chardonnay at the moment."
Kate nodded wistfully in agreement, then asked, "How's your speech for the memorial going? I was thinking that we should do it right after Penny Simpson's funeral tomorrow. Get all the mourning out in the open at once."
"Like ripping off a band-aid?" Elizabeth said with a sardonic twist to her lips.
Kate's mouth twitched into a smile at one corner. "Something like that, yes."
Elizabeth swept a hand over her hair in irritation. "Frankly, I don't know what to say, Kate. This...how does one write a eulogy for an entire planet? So *many* people, so many cultures, all just...gone. Can words even describe the loss?" She dropped her head back against the back of chair in frustration.
"Maybe you're going about it wrong, then," Kate replied, shifting forward in her seat. "Maybe you don't need to say the words at all."
The next day the entirety of the expedition, minus a volunteer skeleton crew, stood solemnly gathered at the pier that the Daedelus used to land on.
"...and I would like to conclude that in addition to being a physicist of the highest caliber, she was a fine human being who made me proud to have her working by my side. We will miss her brilliance, her wit and her humanity," Rodney finished brokenly and then stepped away from the podium, lowered his head and pinched his nose. John and Ronon both reached over and laid a hand on each of his shoulders and squeezed while Teyla reached up and pulled his forehead down to meet hers.
Elizabeth watched them with a sharp pang. As always, John's team closed ranks and protected one of their own. She tried not to feel jealous of it, knowing that the trust between them had been wrought in fires that she'd not experienced and so couldn't really comprehend, but just once she wished that she had that with someone too. Simon was the closest she'd gotten and in retrospect she could see that she had never really trusted him enough to actually let him very close. She'd certainly found it easy enough to leave him for the Pegasus galaxy, and that should have alerted her to how lacking their relationship had been all along. She brushed that thought aside. It was water under the bridge, now. She stiffened her spine and stepped forward to the podium as the marines carefully loaded Simpson's coffin into the waiting puddlejumper for a burial at sea. Everyone bowed their heads for a moment of silence.
As everyone's head came back up, Elizabeth drew a deep breath and began. "In addition to mourning the loss of a fine scientist, we gather together today to say farewell to our home, Earth." She looked across the crowd, noting every face. "There are no words I can say that can encompass the loss we have all suffered. Too much was lost. But we can come together and remember our loved ones as we carry on in their stead and make them proud of us." She lifted a small tea light candle in her shaking hand, identical to the ones that had been passed out to everyone in the crowd, and lit it from the candle glowing on the podium. "I remember Sedge, Mom, and Simon. I will miss you," she said with a firmness she didn't feel, then walked over to the edge of the pier and set it on the decking. She straightened up and closed her eyes for a moment to hold the tears in before walking back to her spot between Dr. Keller and Kate.
One by one, expedition members gradually came up and lit their candle, recited the names of their dead and deposited their candle on pier. She listened in a numb haze as Miko broke down and sobbed as she recited her names. Radek listed his with a tremble to his lips that he couldn't quite control. Evan listed his names with a clear voice while tears rolled freely down his face. Kate was serene, her voice only cracking on the last name. Chuck mumbled his so quietly that Elizabeth missed hearing most of them. Eventually, everyone except John's team had gone and Elizabeth turned to look at them. To her surprise, Ronon stepped forward first, lit a candle, recited a what seemed to be a long list of every soldier who had been rotated through Atlantis from Earth ending with, "They were warriors," stalked over to the crowd of candles and set it down.
Rodney stepped forward next. "Jeannie. Caleb. Madison. My cat, Einstein. I'll...I'll miss them. And Sam, Vala, Colonel Mitchell, T'ealc, and Dr. Daniel Jackson. Dr. Lee, even as stupid as he was. That hiccuping woman, um, Dr. Lindsay. And, and the lunch lady at the SGC who always saved me something without citrus even when I was a real dick to her. They were...they were...they were good colleagues," he said unevenly, then place his candle with the rest.
John came up and after a moment's hesitation, lit his candle. "General Landry. General O'Neill. Colonel Caldwell. The people of the SGC. The crew of the Daedelus. It was an honor." He placed the candle with the others, then straightened and gave a crisp salute, which every soldier echoed. He then lowered his hand and walked back to his team, face blank and unreadable.
Teyla came forward and lit her candle and said in a clear ringing voice. "I light this candle in remembrance of all those of Earth whom we never had the fortune of knowing. May they find peace." She walked over to the massed candles and set it down, the last. She lowered her head and the rest of the expedition followed, united in a moment of silence broken only by sniffling.
One of the soldiers played "Taps" on a trumpet he'd brought to Atlantis as the puddlejumper lifted off and it was done. Elizabeth managed to maintain her usual poise as she watched the crowd break up into clumps as people turned to each other for consolation before leaving the pier. She turned right to say something to Kate, but discovered her and Dr. Keller hugging one another as they quietly wept. She looked left towards John's team and saw that they had surrounded Rodney protectively, John awkwardly rubbing him on the back while silent tears streamed down Rodney's face. Elizabeth turned forward and shut her eyes. She'd never felt so alone.
A couple of days after the memorial, Evan Lorne looked around at the soldiers assembling in one of the larger rooms in Atlantis. There was some jostling and joking going on, although it was more muted than it would usually be. It was good to see that everyone seemed to be in better spirits. The memorial had clearly lanced some of the festering grief and the roommate policy was going a long way in helping people cope. He'd even seen some evidence of the military and science divisions starting making more of an effort to get to know one another that morning when a couple of marines had tentatively gone over to a table full of scientists and asked if any of them would be interested in starting a role-playing game with them.
As the last man drifted in, he heard footsteps behind him and turned to see the Colonel saunter up beside him. "That the last one, Lorne?" Sheppard asked with a tilt of his head to the soldier, now wandering over to some of his buddies.
Evan looked over the group of men and women standing before them and made a quick survey of faces. "Excepting for Lt. Tormod's squad on security duty, I'd say so." He looked at Sheppard. "You want me to call them to order now, sir?"
Sheppard rocked on his heels casually. "Yeah, let's get this over with."
Lorne stepped forward, sucked in a chest full of air and let loose. "Attention!"
The chatter cut off and everyone in the room came to attention, eyes intent on Lorne and Sheppard. Evan stepped back to where Sheppard stood and Sheppard gave him a nod. "Thank you, Major." Sheppard then stepped forward and observed those assembled before him for a moment before saying, "At ease, everyone."
Evan watched as the troops relaxed into a parade rest and Sheppard pulled a disc out of his jacket. "This," Sheppard said, waving the disc lazily in the air over his head, "is the military code of conduct for the new Atlantean United Armed Forces. It's posted on the database. Read it. We took a bunch of the stupid shit out when we wrote this. Do not do even stupider shit that will cause us put the aforementioned stupid shit back in, got it?"
A chorus of "yes, sirs" came back. Sheppard put the disc back into his jacket and clasped his hands behind him. "The day to day assignments you currently have will remain approximately the same with some small changes that will transmitted via e-mail. Fail to check your inbox and I will kick your ass. There are two things that have changed that I wished to inform you of personally, which is why you are here today. The first is in regards to the anti-fraternization regs and the second concerns the adoption of a unified code regarding same sex relations."
Evan watched as the troops focused in with razor sharp interest and Sheppard's back tightened up although his face remained easy-going. "As of today," Sheppard continued, "the anti-fraternization regs have been suspended due to the unusual situation in which we now find ourselves." Sheppard's eyes hardened to a cold, piercing glare. "Anyone attempting to take advantage of this policy by using their superior rank to coerce someone of lower rank into doing something they don't want to do will find out just how much fun I can be when I am pissed off. In other words, don't do it."
Several of the soldiers gulped. The story of the Genii invasion during the expedition's first year here was well known. The marines who'd been here from the beginning told it frequently with a certain amount of awe over the Colonel's bad-assed defense of the city. Lorne smiled. That one threat alone from the Colonel had probably nipped any potential problems in the bud.
Shepperd shifted uncomfortably and then continued; "As for the issue of same sex relations, they are no longer prohibited to anyone by the command structure. What you do and who you do on your own time is your own damn business as long as it's consensual to everyone involved and doesn't interfere with your job here in Atlantis." He stopped and looked down at his boots for a moment, then raised his head back up and went on tightly. "Gaybashing will be met with severe penalties for those engaging in it. I have neither the time nor the patience to deal with any idiots who'd waste time and energy beating up one of our own instead of the Wraith. Have I made myself clear?"
The troops all shouted "yes, sir!" and then Sgt. Fisher, an American and a perpetual cut up, loudly said, "In that case sir, may I inform Sgt. Wiener before he asks me for a date that he'll need to bring candy and flowers if he's serious? I'm not a cheap date and anything less would be insulting. You know what they say about free milk and a cow."
Lorne noted that the set look on Sheppard's face eased slightly as he laughed involuntarily and the troops started falling all over themselves laughing. Sgt. Wiener shouted good-naturedly back in a slight German accent, "Guess I have to go to the mainland and pick some daisies, then!"
John sat alone in his office wishing he had some Jack Daniel's or any other sort of alcohol in his desk. He wasn't a big drinker, but a good stiff drink right now would really calm his nerves. Announcing the changes in regs to the troops had been the most nerve-racking thing he'd done in a while. He gave a small hysterical giggle, glad that he was alone for the moment, because anyone hearing him laughing like this would think he was nuts. He was fine with all the crazy shit that Pegasus kept throwing at him, but announcing that gay sex wasn't an issue for the military anymore had left him shaky with reaction. He put his face in his hands and took a deep breath to try and calm himself.
He jumped as his door slid open and Lorne came strolling in. He drew his hands away from his face as Lorne came to a halt with a concerned expression on his face. "Sir? You doing okay? You look a little pale there."
"Nothing. Headache," John lied quickly and asked, "You need me for something?"
Lorne came over and sat down in the chair on the other side of the desk. He put a bottle of what looked suspiciously like Zelenka's smurf piss and a couple of glasses on the desk and leaned back into his chair. "I know we covered drinking on duty in the regs, but I figured one shot to celebrate the founding of the Atlantean United Armed Forces wouldn't be out of place." He raised an eyebrow. "Unless you disagree, sir."
John thought for the umpteenth time that Lorne must have been sent to him by his guardian angel. "No, I'm up for it." He leaned over and grabbed a glass and the bottle and quickly poured himself some before handing the bottle over to Lorne.
Lorne poured himself some of the pale blue liquid and raised his glass in a toast. "To the Atlantean United Armed Forces."
"To the Atlantean United Armed Forces," John echoed, then clinked his glass against Lorne's. He took a healthy swallow and repressed a shudder as the alcohol burned its way down into his stomach.
Lorne slugged back a mouthful, then coughed and blinked a couple of times as his eyes watered. "Christ. And Zelenka drinks this stuff all the time? He's tougher than I thought," he gasped out.
John smirked at him. "Don't be such a lightweight, Lorne," he mocked and took another swallow. The burn was less severe this time as the nerves in his mouth and throat gave up under the onslaught. He felt the alcohol sliding through his system, easing his nerves.
Lorne gave him a sardonic look. "Right. I forgot that this was all you guys had for alcohol that first year."
John swirled around the liquid in his glass thoughtfully. "Yeah. This stuff is actually pretty smooth in comparison. Guess Dr. Z's actually had time to let this batch age a bit. Back then we were drinking it pretty much straight out of the still and it was raw enough to strip paint." It was a good thing he'd kept his tolerance to this stuff up in the intervening years. It was probably the only hooch they'd have available other than Athosian ale for quite some time.
Lorne took another careful drink and leaned back into his chair again. "So, the announcements went pretty well, don't you think?"
John shrugged his shoulders. "I didn't expect fights to break out then and there, so we'll see." He caught Lorne's brief look of exasperation and decided to throw him a bone. "At least everyone seemed to be in pretty good humor, considering."
Lorne sat there quietly sipping his drink for a moment then said, "Captain Dolan and Sgt. Williams from the former American forces came to me a little while ago and filled out paperwork to make each the other's beneficiary if one of them dies."
John had suspected that pairing for a couple of years now. "Good for them. I'll keep an eye out, make sure nobody gives them any grief," he replied casually.
"I saw Lieutenants Peterson and Chavez making out in the hallway today, too." Lorne said with a significant nod.
"I hope they were off duty," John replied as he brought his glass back up to his lips. He was not going to talk about this no matter how Lorne danced around it.
Lorne sighed and rolled his eyes. "Yes, they were, sir."
John swallowed some more of the rotgut and put his glass down. "Well, then I hope they weren't impeding traffic," he stated with a closed-mouth smile and raised eyebrows.
Lorne looked at him for a moment, then shook his head. "Okay Colonel, have it your way. But you know I'll cover your six no matter what, right?"
"Well if you don't, you'll just wind up with my job," John replied with a smirk. There's nothing to see here Lorne, move along. Just once he'd like for that Jedi mind trick to actually work.
Lorne dropped his eyes and looked into his drink for a moment before raising them back up to met John's gaze. "Sheppard? Can I say something, as a friend, not your XO?"
And fuck all if that damned Jedi mind trick hadn't failed him *again*. "Okay," John said reluctantly.
"I was raised by my mom and these two guys, Ernie and Dylan. They were great guys, both of them," Lorne stated intently, his eyes firmly pinned to John's. "It's not a crime to be gay. Not here, anyway."
John sighed and looked down into his glass to avoid his XO's gaze. "Never said it was." God, he fucking hated his life right now. Teyla had probably put him up to this. "I'm just not..." Holy Jesus, how did he get in these conversations anyway? "It's just that...I don't....ah, fuck," he finished and ran a frustrated hand through his hair. "Jesus Christ, could we drop it, please? There isn't enough booze in all of Atlantis at the moment to cover the topic of this conversation and I'm still on duty."
Lorne looked at him sympathetically for a moment and then nodded. "Fine. Just think about what I said, will ya?"
John dropped his head and put a hand over his face. "Sure, fine. Can we please just *stop* now?"
"Okay," Lorne replied sheepishly.
John barely heard him over the thundering of his heartbeat. Feeling near panic, he grabbed his drink and slugged back the remainder of its contents. It seared all the way down, and he noticed his hand shook slightly as he set the empty glass down on his desk. "So, that will be all, Major?" he asked, all but begging.
Lorne stood up and nodded. "Yes, sir. I'll leave the bottle with you. See you at the morning briefing." He then turned and walked out of John's office.
John eyed the bottle of Zelenka's homebrew. He had another hour or so left before he was off for the day. He then sighed and put the bottle in his bottom desk drawer, before drawing a few deep breaths and attempting to focus back in on the duty roster.
A few days later Rodney sat on the end of his bed and reluctantly laced up his boots. This was the first mission the team was heading out on since they'd lost Earth and he wasn't entirely sure if he wanted to go. The lives of his team seemed infinitely more precious now that they were literally the only family he had left and his stomach tied itself up in knots when he thought about the prospective danger that went with going through the gate. John's penchant for going on suicide runs troubled him especially at this point.
Rodney sighed. After making some kind of announcement to his troops, John had gone back to giving him the cold shoulder. After all the concern right after Simpson's death, the sudden withdrawal felt like a slap in the face. He'd asked Teyla about it and she'd given him an inscrutable look and asked if he'd had an answer for her concerning his attitude problem towards the Colonel's Slut Parade yet. He scowled at the memory. That answer kept dancing frustratingly out of reach, much to Rodney's disgust, although to be completely fair, he was a busy man and had a lot on his mind with trying to keep the city afloat.
He blew out a breath and set that bit of mental aggravation off to the side for the time being. He needed to finish gearing up and get to the gateroom with the rest of his team. They had to get back out there, for supplies if nothing else. The planet they were going to today was mentioned in the database as being rich in resources, in addition to being too cold to live on during its winter months. Fortunately for them, the MALP had confirmed that it was high summer currently. It would be a little chilly, but no worse than an early spring day had been in Toronto. He stood up and slipped on his jacket and went out to join the rest of his team in the living room.
John, as had become usual in the past few days, looked briefly at Rodney as he came out and then turned away. "Okay, let's boogie, " he said as he headed out the door, not looking at anyone else.
Teyla gave Rodney a sympathetic look and Ronon rolled his eyes and followed after Sheppard. Rodney grimaced back at Teyla and followed Ronon as Teyla let out a small sigh and brought up the rear. They maintained their silence as they stopped by the armory, picked up their weapons and tac vests and headed to the gateroom. Once there, they lined up in front of the stairs to the command center and looked up at Elizabeth as she stood next to Sgt. Campbell's console.
"Are you sure you're ready to do this? We could postpone it another few days." Elizabeth asked with concern as she looked down at them.
John shook his head. "You know we need to get back out there, Elizabeth. Postponing it isn't going to make our position here any safer."
Elizabeth looked unhappy, but nodded her acknowledgment of their situation. "Just...be safe. We can't afford to lose you. Any of you."
The whole team nodded quiet acknowledgment and Rodney pulled his energy detector out while he waited for the gate to finish dialing. As the wormhole stabilized into the familiar rippling pool of blue, he caught John giving him an odd look, but before he could call him on it, the pilot turned and walked into the event horizon. He sighed wearily and followed after Ronon and Teyla.
The first hour on the planet was strained, as the usual back and forth between Sheppard and himself was entirely absent. Rodney had made a couple of overtures in that direction that had fallen flat as pancakes before he decided he just didn't have the energy to keep up a one sided conversation and quit in disgust. The only thing that distracted him from watching his equipment were the weird looks and snorts Ronon directed towards him and the Colonel on an occasional basis.
Just as he was about to pop a gasket from annoyance and thrash it out with Sheppard regardless of the idiot's thousand mile stare into nothing, something interesting suddenly came up one the screen of his energy detector. "Hey, hey, stop!" he said quickly, halting in place and slowly turning in a circle, trying to triangulate on where the signal was coming from. He watched as the energy spiked as he swept the machine past a very large, odd looking hill and dropped away again as he moved past it. He moved the machine back towards the hill and felt a leap of excitement as the energy signature spiked again. "There!" he announced with satisfaction as he pointed towards the hill.
"There what, McKay?" Sheppard growled at him. "Fuzzy puppies?"
Rodney looked down his nose at Mister Pissy. "An energy signature, Colonel. A *very, big* energy signature."
Sheppard looked at the hill with a skeptical, yet curious look. "Okay. Is it coming from something inside the hill or is the hill itself throwing out a bunch of energy?"
Rodney rapidly reconfigured the Ancient device in his hand and pointed it at the hill again. The information that scrolled by on the data screen made his eyes widen. "It's an Ancient spaceship of some kind."
"Buried beneath the hill, Dr. McKay?" Teyla asked as she came over and looked at the data over his shoulder.
Rodney looked back up that the hill with awe. "No, it *is* the hill. Mostly. It appears to have a relatively thin coating of dirt, probably from several thousand years of plants growing over the top of it."
Sheppard's eyebrows shot up. "That's a pretty damn big spaceship, McKay. That hill is easily the size of one of the Wraith hiveships. You sure it's Ancient?"
Rodney glared at him. "Absolutely. The energy signature is all wrong for Wraith technology and exactly right for Ancients. We just found a ship bigger than the Aurora."
Teyla looked consideringly at the hill. "Do you think perhaps we might be able to dig it out?"
Rodney pointed at his scanner. "Look, the sensor gives the general outlines of the ship and previous Ancient ships we've come across have had the entrance right about here. If we can excavate the dirt away from there, we might get lucky and be able to enter it."
Sheppard came over and stared down at the information on the device for a moment and then looked back at the ship pretending to be a hill. "You're absolutely sure this isn't Wraith?"
"*Yes*." Rodney replied acidly. Had he not said that already? "Are we going to get some shovels or not?"
Sheppard continued to look at the hill for a long moment before finally saying, "Okay. Shovels it is." He then lowered his pack and pulled out his folding entrenching tool, still not looking directly at Rodney at any point. "Show me where to start."
Rodney huffed, then started trudging towards where he thought the door might be, the rest of the team following behind. As they drew nearer, the hill bulked larger and larger. Rodney revised his vision of the underlying ship. It wasn't just big. It was *enormous*. Not Atlantis enormous, but possibly larger than a Wraith hive ship. It was kind of intimidating.
Finally, they reached the area where the door potentially was and Rodney made a cutting motion with his free hand outlining a spot in the hillside. "If this follows the convention of other large Ancient ships, that's where the door ought to be. Let's get this area clear, shall we?" He looked at John expectantly.
Sheppard gave Rodney a mildly annoyed look and drove the shovel high into the side of the hill, piecing through the vines and turf. A couple shovelfuls later, they heard a hollow metallic ring. Apparently heartened by the fact that he wouldn't be digging for several feet before hitting something, Sheppard stepped up his efforts, soon clearing away enough dirt to see the seam of the of the doorway that lay underneath.
Rodney bounced on his toes and looked smug. "Am I good or what?" he asked of the general area.
Sheppard shook his head as Ronon and Teyla rolled their eyes and continued digging. Several minutes later he cleared the last shovel load of dirt away from the doorway and straightened up, stepping away from the excavation area and wiping at his brow with his wristband to rid himself of the accumulated sweat he'd acquired from the exertion despite the chill.
Rodney, seeing that Sheppard had stopped, ceased tapping away on a low priority project he had on his computer in case he got bored off world and handed the computer off to Teyla. He grabbed the Ancient scanner out of the pocket he kept it in and eagerly scanned the exposed surface. "Yes! This is definitely an Ancient alloy," he announced in a satisfied tone, and turned and asked Teyla to bring over his computer. Teyla trotted up and handed it to him, watching over his shoulder with interest as he popped the control panel and clipped leads to various crystals. Rodney grinned as the data came up on his computer. This would be easy. "Open sesame," he breathed as he typed a command into the computer. The door slid open and old stale air came rolling out, making him cough slightly. "Crap. This things was sealed tight. That had better not give me a respiratory infection," he managed to wheeze out.
Ronon slapped him briskly on the back. "You'll be fine," then walked into the ship with his weapon at the ready.
"McKay, you and Ronon go on in and check it out while Teyla and I keep watch," John said as he leaned against the side of the hill. Teyla gave him a sidelong look, which he ignored.
Okay, that was the last straw. Now Rodney was really mad. He stuffed his computer into his back pack and folded his arms. "Well, then let's just forget about it and go on back home. I'm sure that the Wraith will descend on Atlantis soon and it won't matter anyway," he snarled and started stomping towards the stargate.
John stalked up to Rodney, grabbing him by the arm and whirling him around to face him. "What the hell's wrong with you, McKay?" he yelled, his face about four inches from Rodney's.
Rodney shook his arm free of John's iron grip and thrust a finger up between the two of them. "What the hell's wrong with you, Colonel?" he shouted back. " One minute you're all best buddies with me and the next minute you can't stand to be on the same planet with me! You know as well as I do that I need you with me to explore the ship in case I need some thing activated while I'm analyzing it. If your, your...whatever it is, is more important to you than trying to find something that will keep us all alive, then we'd all better just go back to Atlantis, sit on our thumbs and kiss our asses goodbye!"
John jerked away from Rodney and blinked at him before muttering, "Jesus, Rodney, pessimistic much?"
Rodney stepped forward into John's face again and stabbed him viciously in the breastbone with an index finger. "Yes! Because you? Are an asshole!"
Teyla put a hand on each of their chests and pushed them firmly away from each other. "That is enough from both of you," she remonstrated. "Rodney, please go back to the ship and try to get the environmental controls to work. Ronon says that the air gets worse the further he goes into the ship. We will not be able to search the vessel for several days, if not weeks, if we have to wait for the air inside to clear on its own. I wish to speak with the Colonel privately," her last remark was directed towards John with an accompanying grim expression.
"Be my guest, Teyla." Rodney replied with an abrupt gesture towards Sheppard. Biting back a diatribe describing John's possible parentage in highly uncomplimentary terms, Rodney whirled on his heel and headed back to the ship as Teyla murmured sternly to their jackass of a team leader.
Marching up to the doorway of the ship, Rodney was prevented from going through the doorway by Ronon shifting in front of the doorway and laying a hand on his shoulder. "You know he likes you, don't you, McKay?"
Rodney's righteous anger abruptly deflated. "So everybody keeps telling me," he said with quiet resignation. "But I'm not seeing it and I'm beginning to understand the saying 'With friends like that, who needs enemies?'. Now if you wouldn't mind moving your not inconsiderable carcass out of my way, I'll see if I can do something about making sure we don't all choke to death on ten thousand year old air."
Ronon moved off to the side and Rodney shuffled into the ship and turned on the light on his P-90. He beamed the light across the walls, looking for the right kind of control panel that would allow him to hack an access to the environmental controls. The bizarre little thought skittered across his mind that one of his most used skills in the Pegasus galaxy amounted to the Ancient version of hotwiring cars. He hesitantly moved a little further in and after a bit more searching, found what he was looking for. He pulled the computer out of his backpack, popped the panel and hooked up with the ease of a great deal of practice and began the by now familiar and occasionally tedious process of hacking into the Ancient system. Rodney's mind slid into that focused zone that always came from working to solve a challenging problem and the next thing he knew he felt the gentle breeze of the environmental system as it started moving the air around him.
He looked up from his computer to see Ronon crouching in front of him and extending a canteen towards him. "Want some water?"
Rodney took the proffered canteen, swallowed a generous swig of water and wiped his mouth on the back of his expedition jacket sleeve. "We'll need to wait a couple of hours for the whole ship to be cleared of stagnant air, but that isn't bad considering how big this thing is. Are Teyla and Sheppard still talking?"
Ronon snorted. "Yeah. He's not looking too happy about it either."
Rodney gave a faint, lopsided smile. At least it was nice that somebody other than him was being yelled at this time. "Comprehensively pinning those elfish ears back, is she?"
Ronon looked at him, mildly confused. "If that means she mad at him and letting him know it, yeah. You people have weird sayings."
Rodney shrugged. This wasn't a new conversational topic between the native Earthers and their Pegasus friends by a long shot. He sat down on the floor of the ship, then pulled out and unwrapped a granola type bar the mess staff had started making. They made a fine substitute for powerbars and they kept his blood sugar even. He took a big bite and pulled another from his pocket and offered it up to Ronon. "Want one?" he mumbled around his mouthful.
Ronon took the proffered granola bar and efficiently stripped the wrapping off before stuffing the whole thing in his mouth. Rodney rolled his eyes. The only reason everyone picked on his bad manners instead of Ronon's was because Ronon was able to beat the snot out of people with one hand tied behind his back. That was just so unfair. They ate together in companionable silence, Ronon keeping a loose lookout while Rodney let his eyes rest from glaring at the computer screen.
The air had freshened considerably by the time John and Teyla came inside to see how things were going. Rodney had managed to access a blueprint of the ship and had just found where the bridge was when he heard someone shuffle up to him. He looked up to see Sheppard standing over him do an unhappy squinchy eyebrow thing. "Um...Rodney, could we take a moment to talk?" John asked awkwardly, casting a glance over at Teyla and wincing at the expression on her face.
Rodney looked over at Teyla and saw the imperious eyebrow of doom. Oh, shit. They usually only got that from Teyla right after they messed up really badly during a negotiation and had to run for their lives.
"Oh. Okay, sure," Rodney replied awkwardly and stood up, shoving his computer into Ronon's hands. Ronon stared at the computer in perplexity for a moment, then handed it over to Teyla.
Rodney followed John back outside the ship, crossing his arms and waiting for John to start spilling the beans.
John rubbed his hair with one hand, looking a little lost. "It has come to my attention that I've been a jerk towards you for a while now."
Rodney put on his most sarcastic face. "No kidding?"
John's face got that scrunchy, pained expression again. "Um, yeah. And I'm sorry." He took a deep breath, looked away and said, "And Teyla told me to tell you...that is...I...I'm..." he stumbled to a halt and looked like he was about to throw up.
Rodney threw up a hand and waved it to catch John's attention. "Stop, stop with the pathetic apology! We're good as long as you promise to stop being such a dickhead. And for god's sake, stop looking like you're going to heave up lunch. Teyla's not *that* scary."
Some color returned to John's face, even though he still looked distressed, "Yeah, no more being a dickhead, I promise. I'll go explore the ship with you. I just...Things have been...It's just...I...I..."
Oh, this was embarrassing to watch. Rodney seriously started to wonder just what Teyla had said to John that had gotten him this shaken up. He'd seen John be less freaked out around iratus bugs than this. Rodney laid a hand on John's shoulder and shook him briefly. "Shut up, Sheppard. What ever it is you're failing to spit out can wait 'til later. If you really need to say it, let's wait until we're back home and you've had a few belts of Radek's smurf piss so your tongue will stop tripping over itself." He let go of Sheppard's shoulder. "Now, let's go back and check out the ship. The air should be pretty good now and I'd just located the bridge."
John muttered something under his breath that sounded vaguely like, "a few bottles" then straightened up from a miserable looking slump and headed back towards the ship. Rodney followed after him and watched with puzzlement as Teyla gave a John a long, hard look which John had responded to with vague hand waving and a panicked, pleading look. Teyla's mouth set in a grim line and both she and Ronon rolled their eyes at the same time. It was annoying having his teammates carrying out an entire conversation that he wasn't privy to, so Rodney snapped as he pulled his computer from Teyla's hands, "Stop with the standing around already and let's get to work!"
"Teyla and I will stand guard outside," Ronon rumbled and he and Teyla walked past Rodney and John, Teyla giving John a significantly foreboding look as she walked past, which made John go white again.
Rodney rolled his eyes and slapped John on the chest. "Stop looking like you're going to pass out on me, damn it. And get your butt in gear, we've got a ways to walk unless this thing has transporters I can get to work."
It wound up taking them quite some time to get to the bridge, partly because Rodney wasn't able to get the transporters they ran across to work quickly enough to bother with, and partly because John kept arguing with him on which direction to take at each juncture they came to. Finally though, they made it to the bridge and Rodney fiddled around until he got the lights to come on. He turned to look at Sheppard and decided that the walk had done John some good. He no long looked like he was going to be sick and his smirk was more or less back in place.
John leaned against a wall and propped his hands on top of his P-90. "So, what are you going to do first?"
Rodney surveyed the consoles briefly and picked the one most likely to be controls for the ship based on what he remembered from the Orion. "I'm going to see in what kind of working order this ship is in. Come over here and initialize this console for me while I link up."
John sauntered over and laid a hand on the console, frowning briefly. The console lit up promptly and data started pouring in on Rodney's laptop. Rodney's eyes got wider and wider as he read through what came up. This was unbelievable. After all this time...they'd finally...
"What, Rodney? Say something. You're scaring me here, buddy!" John said worriedly, coming up to touch Rodney on the shoulder.
Rodney suddenly whirled and grabbed John up into a bear hug and swung him around in a circle, John grunting in confusion as Rodney began laughing hysterically. "ZPMs! This ship builds ZPMs! We're going to live!" He sat John back down on his feet and grabbed him by the shoulders. "We have to get the ship working again and it's running a little low on a component part, but there's still enough raw materials for it to make thirty ZPMs! Thirty!" He let go of John's shoulders as he stood there gaping at Rodney and threw himself around John again in another bear hug. "We're going to live!"
John slowly brought his arms up and returned the hug. "Really? We found a ship that makes ZPMs?" he asked with wonder in his voice, like he couldn't really believe it, but wanted to desperately.
"Yes! Yes, we did!" Rodney replied and squeezed John so hard that he gasped. And as he registered John's sweaty smelling warmth plastered up against his body his mind suddenly pulled all the facts together and presented him with the answer to Teyla's question. He was into guys. More specifically and to the point, he was into John. Oh, fuck.
Teyla was beyond annoyed at both John and Rodney. Something besides finding out that the ship manufactured ZPMs had occurred while they were exploring, because when they had come back to the doorway, they were *both* studiously ignoring each other, rather than just John ignoring Rodney. As they walked back to the stargate, Rodney alternated between manic excitement about the ship, chattering voluminously and then falling suddenly silent, looking pale and stricken. John's mental state on the other hand seemed to jump around between uncertainty, elation over the ship and barely repressed panic. She sighed to herself. She wished that it was because John had finally confessed his feelings towards Rodney, but she sincerely doubted it. He'd already shied away from doing it once today and he showed all the signs of wanting to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Finally, she could take no more and pulled Rodney off to the side for a moment while Ronon and John ranged ahead. "Rodney, what has happened? You are acting strangely."
Rodney gave her a wide-eyed look and sputtered, "I don't know what you mean. I'm perfectly fine."
She leveled a no-nonsense glare at him. "Do not make me resort to underhanded tactics, Rodney."
He looked at her in shock for a moment, then capitulated. "I ah...I figured out the answer to that question you've been bugging me about. About...about why I hate it when all those, you know, Chaya and all them...and, and Sheppard."
Finally. It had certainly taken him long enough. "And the answer is?" Teyla prodded.
He looked back at her miserably. "I've discovered that I'm...attracted to the occasional odd male, which is a hell of an epiphany about my sexual identity to have at my age and that, that...Colonel Sheppard is apparently one of them, which sucks beyond all telling, I'll have you know, because I now have no idea of how to act around him that won't be embarrassing or painful, and I feel like I'm going to start hyperventilating any minute now and then Ronon will have to carry me back to the gate and his shoulder will leave a big bruise on my stomach because he'll carry me like a damn sack of potatoes..."
Teyla laid a hand on his shoulder and interrupted, "Rodney, stop talking and breathe."
He halted his babbling flow of panicked words and took a deep shuddering breath. Unfortunately, she'd only halted him momentarily because he then said desperately, "Please don't tell him, Teyla. Please. I don't think I can handle how he'd react right now."
John and Rodney's combined issues and emotional blindness was enough to make her want to scream today, Teyla thought absently as she stared at Rodney's frantic expression. That avenue of expression however, was not open to her as it was unacceptable for a leader to be so lacking in self control, in addition to being likely to make this particular problem even worse. She drew in a stabilizing breath, then replied, "Calm yourself, Rodney. For the moment I will not speak of this to Colonel Sheppard. Right now, let us focus on our good fortune on finding this ship, and we will speak of this issue some other time."
Rodney didn't look too happy at the prospect about speaking of it ever again, but he nodded. "Okay. Happy thoughts. ZPM building spaceships." A genuine smile slowly crept over his face.
"We found a ship that builds ZPMs, Teyla. We're not going to die!"
She smiled at his genuine relief as Ronon shouted back, "You guys coming or not? I'm tired of Sheppard complaining about the cold over here!"
"I am not!" John whined back as Teyla pulled Rodney close for a quick hug before lightly shoving him before her down the path towards the ring.
They arrived back in Atlantis and the news of their discovery suddenly had the city boiling with excitement. Teyla sat quietly through the debriefing as Rodney and Radek babbled ever more enthusiastically as they looked over the data that Rodney had retrieved from the ship.
"Thirty! Thirty ZPMs Rodney!" Radek said, vibrating with glee. "Even if we cannot find the materials for any more of the component that the database says it is running low on, we will have ten times more ZPMs than we require for Atlantis!"
"That's if we can get it up and running to make them. The equipment's been mothballed for ten thousand years, who knows what state it's in. I didn't get an opportunity to check in depth," Rodney cautioned, although his face still beamed at the thought of that much power available to them.
Elizabeth looked up from her laptop, which contained her own copy of what Rodney had brought back. "The ship originally landed on that planet to work on repairing some damage done to the ship by a run in with the Wraith and also to conduct a mining operation for the materials for the ZPMs when the call came to retreat back to Atlantis for the evacuation. The captain had just delivered the five ZPMs on that list the other Elizabeth Weir gave us when she received the call."
John leaned forward. "So that's where that list came from."
Elizabeth nodded and continued, looking back at the captain's log Rodney had managed to find. "She decided that it was safer to evacuate her people via the world's stargate rather than try to run a gauntlet of Wraith ships with her ship still damaged, so she sealed it up in hopes that they'd be able to return at a later time to retrieve it."
"And because that planet was uninhabitable due to its severe winters, the Wraith never ran across it." John concluded, leaning back in his chair. "I say we send a team to see if we can get it up and running again. Possibly even bring it back to Atlantis if it's still space worthy."
"Agreed. Rodney, get me a list of people to work on this. Colonel, you do the same." Elizabeth directed and both men shot up out of their seats and ran off in opposite directions to do her bidding, still not looking at one another.
Teyla sighed and again and looked at Ronon, who shrugged at her. "Want to get something to eat?" he asked.
Teyla stood up and slid her chair back under the table. "I would like that."
They walked together down to the mess hall, occasionally being interrupted by individuals asking if the rumor was true. As they confirmed that they had indeed found a ship capable of producing ZPMs, each person would look like they had dropped a great weight off of their shoulders and thank them profusely, sometimes going so far as to hug the both of them before heading off on their original destinations.
"I didn't realize everyone was so worried about the power problem," Ronon commented as he sat down with tray of food. The cafeteria workers had piled it even higher than usual and Teyla wondered if even Ronon would be able to finish all that.
"Without enough power, Atlantis would not be able to fend off an extended attack from the Wraith. Those who have been here from the beginning remember what dire straights the city was in before the Daedelus came with a ZPM." Teyla informed him as she sat down across from him. "I too, am relieved that it appears that we will not have to experience that again." She looked around at the people talking energetically around them. "Also, I believe the news has given them hope. They have had precious little of that available to them since the catastrophe on their home world."
Ronon nodded and then mumbled around a mouthful of food, "What'd you say to Sheppard today? He looked scared half to death after you were done with him."
Teyla took a sip of tea, then set her cup aside. "I informed him that he had to apologize to Rodney for his behavior and to tell Rodney that he has feelings for him before he did something that endangered the team. If he did not, I told him that I would personally inform Dr. Heightmeyer and Dr. Weir that he is a lover of men with an infatuation with Rodney and is so afraid of letting anyone know about it that he is a danger in the field. Which reminds me, I will have to inform both of them after we finish eating because he failed to do so today after he promised me that he would."
Ronon swallowed his drink. "You mean you sent him to talk to McKay about his feelings while he was sober? You're mean. It took him a few drinks just to admit to me that he'd been married once."
Teyla raised an eyebrow and paused with her fork midair. "He was married at one time?"
"Yeah. Said it didn't work out and he wasn't going there again." Ronon looked at her quizzically. "Something wrong?"
Teyla lowered her fork. "No, nothing is wrong. It is just that I never knew. It explains a few things though. He has obviously gone to great lengths in the past to conceal his sexuality."
Ronon shrugged. "Don't know for sure that he doesn't occasionally like women as well. I just noticed that he obviously prefers men a whole lot more. He's checked me out at the gym more than once."
"If he has had an interest in women in the past, I think it likely to have been motivated to provide cover for where his real interest lies. I did manage to make him admit to me today that he much prefers men to women." Teyla then sighed and sat back in her chair. "I would not like to have lived in his country."
"Sheppard's coming," Ronon warned as he saw John come into the mess hall, look around the nearly empty room, then head toward them at not quite a run.
Teyla turned to look John in the eye as he came up to their table. "John."
John came to a halt and wet his lips nervously. "Hey Ronon, Teyla. Uh, listen Teyla...about what we talked about earlier...you haven't talked to them yet, have you?"
"After I have finished lunch, I am going to go speak with Drs. Heightmeyer and Weir," Teyla informed him firmly. She did not make threats that she did not intend to carry out and it was best that John knew this up front.
John paled a little. "Teyla, please! I tried, I really did, but you know McKay. He started talking over me, telling me to stop apologizing and then tabled the rest of the conversation! It's not my fault!"
Teyla crossed her arms. She had an idea of what actually happened. "You were unable to speak a coherent sentence concerning your feelings, despite my dragging the words from you earlier and Rodney shut down the conversation in order to protect you from humiliating yourself."
John winced and dropped into a chair. "Yeah, kinda." He then brought up a finger, "But I tried! Honestly, I did try. Please, don't talk to them yet!" he ended on a pleading note.
Teyla thought for a moment. Rodney had just come to an admission of his own sexuality and it was probably best that he have some time to process that first, before dealing with John. "Very well, John," she said, uncrossing her arms and leaning back into her chair. "I will hold my action in abeyance for now. But when I tell you it is time to inform Rodney of this issue, you will do as I say or I will carry out my threat as promised. Is this understood?"
John swallowed. "Are you going to make me do it today?"
Teyla shook her head. "Not for a few days at least. You will have time to prepare yourself." She debated on whether to tell him to stop actively trying to avoid Rodney, but with Rodney's epiphany and the discovery of the ship, she decided that John probably wouldn't be seeing much of Rodney in any case for the next few days, so it was a moot point.
"Your food's getting cold," Ronon announced to Teyla.
John jumped and looked over at Ronon like he'd forgotten that the man was there. "Ah, Ronon..." he started apprehensively.
Ronon interrupted before he could get any further. "You come from a stupid country, Sheppard. Just do what Teyla says. "
John blinked a couple of times. "Ah, okay." He got up from his chair and jerked his head towards the door. I'll uh, I'll just be on my way then," then turned and made his escape.
Ronon shook his head and grabbed a piece of bread as Teyla smiled in bemusement. "Earth people are crazy. You want those vegetables?"
Evan met Teyla that afternoon in the gym. "You know that idea you had, for one of us to lead by example? The one Radek and I said we'd think about?" he asked as he stretched out his hamstrings.
Teyla whirled a banto rod idly. This was a very interesting topic to bring up. She hoped it meant what she thought it did. "I recall, yes. Have you two come to a decision on it?"
Evan shook out his arms and looked at her seriously. "Yeah, we talked about it for a while and finally decided that we might as well go for it. Radek has talked with Miko and she likes the idea. I put out the idea to Dr. Scott, she works under Colquitt, and she's decided that she's up for it too. And while we were talking, David Parrish overheard us, and after he asked some questions, he said that he'd want to be in on it as well. They all come from large families and want that kind of thing back in their lives. We're having a meeting tonight to hammer out the details."
Teyla smiled, put down her rods and took hold of Evan's hands. "I am most happy to hear this, Evan. Congratulations to you all. When do you plan on announcing it?"
Evan ducked his head shyly. "That's one of the things we'll be discussing tonight. You know, I thought I'd be weirded out by the idea, but I think I'm actually kind of excited. I feel like it's a step forward into the future."
Teyla smiled. "That is good to hear. Have any of you given any thought about children yet?" Teyla asked directly. She hoped that they had. The Atlanteans needed to reproduce so desperately.
Evan nodded. " Miko and Radek are, well, discussing it between the two of them. He's not real happy about kids, but the fact that we'll all be sharing parenting duties made him decide to give it a go. Dr. Scott is a real live wire - she's decided to sleep her way through the unattached marines until she spawns. Says it'll be fun. And David's thinking that he should probably make an alliance with one of the Athosians, since they'll understand the situation better than anyone in the expedition."
Teyla noticed that Evan had conspicuously left himself out. "And what about you?"
Evan flushed and dropped his head to stare at his feet. "I ah, I don't know yet. There's one woman I'm interested in, but... it's complicated."
Teyla laid a hand on his arm, trying to comfort him in his uncertainty. "Would that woman be Dr. Weir?" Seeing the surprise on his face as his head snapped up, she said, "I have seen how you look at her."
Evan crossed his arms, his face shuttered. "Then you know why it's complicated."
Teyla nodded wordlessly and added another item on her list of things to do as she offered what comfort she could.
Rodney sat in his lab late that evening, staring at the screen saver on his laptop while he idly drank the last dregs of the sort-of-coffee from the lab coffee pot. He was desperately tired and wanted to go to bed, but that was absolutely out of the question, what with his new found insight on his sexuality and, well, the highly inappropriate crush he had on his roommate. He wondered if he ought go back to his old room and crash there for the night.
"Rodney?" came voice from the doorway and Rodney jumped out of his skin and nearly fell off his chair. He spun around to glare at the intruder, then stopped. Oh. It was Teyla.
He gave her a weak wave, "Uh, hi Teyla. What are you doing still up?"
Teyla came in and sat down on one the chairs that were scattered around the lab. "You had not come home and I was concerned for you. It is late and you will have to get up early tomorrow to lead your team in working on the ship we found. Is there something that you are working on?"
Rodney debated lying to her but he'd caught Teyla looking significantly at his screen saver. "No. Just ah, just not ready to go home yet." He waved a hand around vaguely. "Got a lot to think about, you know, what with discovering I'm like, bisexual and everything." He winced as he realized what he'd just said.
Teyla tilted her head to the side curiously. "Is your interest in other men truly something you have just realized about yourself?"
He nodded and gave a small flailing hand gesture. "I've been attracted to guys before now, but I, I kinda didn't realize that that's what it was. I mean, I knew I was interested in women, and since that's the usual thing most guys have, I just never thought past that, you know? I'd always thought it was, was like...an aesthetic appreciation. The other guys I was interested in, I mean."
Teyla nodded her acknowledgment of what he'd said, then asked curiously, "So I take it that you have never explored this aspect of yourself."
Rodney gave a high-pitched, nervous laugh, then wiped his forehead with the palm of one hand. "Ah, no. Not, not with anybody. I'd always thought I'd get married someday, have some children. Having a boyfriend would, would kind of short-circuit those plans. Oh god, Teyla, what am I going to do? I'm more interested in getting into Sheppard's pants than I ever was in Sam's and wow, I can't believe I just said that. Sheppard's going to kill me, I'm his friend, he's straight, this is a disaster." He covered his face with both hands.
Teyla got up out of her chair, walked over to where Rodney was sitting and crouched down next to him, putting a comforting hand on one of his shoulders. "Rodney, do you remember why I originally asked you the question of why you get so angry when women show an interest in John?"
He dropped his hands away from his face and slumped further into his seat. "No, not really. Things have been a little hectic lately," he said apologetically.
"You had asked me if John was angry at you and I told you that he was angry at himself," Teyla reminded him.
"Oh, yes, that," Rodney sighed. A horrible thought then occurred to him and he sat bolt upright in his chair in terror. "Oh god! He's picked up on it! He's all weird and flipping out because I've got this big gay crush and he's figured it out!" He surged up out of his seat and began pacing back and forth, wringing his hands. "He's going to go off on some kind of suicidal run because he can't stand to be near me, but I'm vital to the expedition! Crap, I'm going to have to leave Atlantis before the idiot kills himself!"
"Rodney, stop!" Teyla shouted, grabbing him by the arm and giving him a sharp shake. "That is not what has happened! Please, calm yourself."
Rodney stared at her wild-eyed for a moment. "It's not?"
"No, it is not," Teyla replied reassuringly.
"You're sure?" Rodney asked again blankly.
"Yes I am sure," Teyla said firmly. "Rodney, please sit down and let us discuss this reasonably."
Rodney took a shaky breath and sat back down in his chair. Teyla grabbed another chair and pulled it over next to him and sat in it. "As I was saying," she continued, one eyebrow arching to pin him in place, "He has been angry at himself and it is because he is very fond of you."
Rodney blinked blankly at her. Teyla sighed. "*Very* fond of you," she said again with more emphasis.
Whatever it was Teyla was trying to imply, Rodney was quite sure that it was whizzing right over his head. "Fond of me?"
"*Very* fond of you," Teyla repeated, her eyes drilling into Rodney's.
"What does that mean?" Rodney asked meekly.
Teyla pinched the base of her nose with two fingers and closed her eyes briefly, taking and releasing a deep breath. She then dropped her hand away from her face, opened her eyes and said with a certain amount of exasperation, "Come home with me and I will have him explain to you himself."
"But..." Rodney mumbled uncertainly.
Teyla interrupted him. "Do not argue with me." She stood up and put out a imperious hand. "Come."
Rodney reluctantly took her hand, stood up, and followed her out the door, hoping that he wasn't heading towards his funeral.
Ronon grabbed John's shoulder and shook him. "Wake up, Sheppard."
John flailed awake, almost, but not quite, nailing Ronon in the face with a fist. "Wha?" he said muzzily. "What? What's up, Ronon?" He blinked rapidly, his brain coming back on line, then sat up and leaned over the edge of his bed to grab his pants up off the floor where he'd dumped them earlier. "Are we being attacked?"
"Teyla wants you in the living room." Ronon jerked his head toward the bedroom door.
"I just got to sleep," John replied blankly, still holding his pants loosely in one hand.
"Don't care. Neither does Teyla." Ronon crossed his arms and looked foreboding.
John sighed, then looked at Ronon suspiciously. He didn't have a good feeling about this. "What's this about, Ronon?"
"You and McKay are going to talk." Ronon said shortly.
John's stomach dropped. "Can't it wait 'til morning?" He hated that whining tone in his voice, but really, he wasn't ready for this yet.
"Nope." Ronon grabbed John's covers and yanked them off. "Teyla told me to carry you in there over my shoulder if you don't get up fast enough."
John narrowed his eyes. "You wouldn't."
Ronon looked back at him steadily. "I'm not going to mess with Teyla when she's in this kind of mood. Are you?"
John thought back to the verbal thrashing he'd received from Teyla back on the planet. He could swear there were welts left on his soul after she'd finished with him. That woman was scary when she was pissed. He got out of bed and started dressing. "Do I at least get to walk into the room under my own power, or have you been directed to frog-march me in there?" he grumbled as he buttoned up his pants.
Ronon put hand in the center of John's back and gave him a gentle shove towards the door. "Just go."
John gave him an evil look over his shoulder, "Fine," and then walked through the door into the living room to face his doom.
Teyla stood with her arms crossed next to a severely spooked-looking Rodney, who sat on the sofa in a miserable and tired heap.
"I thought you said you'd give me few days warning," John grumbled as his stomach did a queasy flip.
Teyla raised an eyebrow and said icily, "I lied." She then pointed to the spot next to Rodney, with an expression that clearly said, shut up and sit down, without her uttering a word.
John sat down next to Rodney and rubbed at his face with one hand. He was starting to feel nauseous. Ronon then strolled into the room and draped himself in one of the chairs with an air of expectancy. John hated him just a little for that. He felt like he was on parade here.
"Alright," Teyla said brightly, "now that he is awake, John has something that he would like to tell you, Rodney." She nudged John in the shoulder with a couple of fingers at the end of her statement.
Sweet Jesus on a boat, John thought. Where the hell did he start? "Uh, okay...you see...I'm not...that is to say...you know..." he started panicking as the words refused to come. "That is...I mean..."
"John," Teyla said, crossing her arms and interrupting his pathetic attempts to talk about, well, it. "Do not make me call Elizabeth and Kate."
Oh, fuck. "Just gimme a sec, okay?" he asked desperately, running his hands through his hair.
"Would you rather write it down?" Rodney asked, looking both slightly befuddled and impatient. "Otherwise it looks like we're going to be here all night while you fumble all over your tongue."
John buried his face in his hands. "I'm gay," he said baldly, and swallowed hard as his stomach threatened to redecorate the floor.
Rodney blinked. "What? You can't honestly expect me to understand what you're saying when you're mumbling into your hands, Sheppard."
John breathed harshly into his hands, trying to steady himself. "I'm gay," he repeated, feeling light-headed.
"You're what?" Rodney demanded. "Speak up, Sheppard."
John flung his hands away from his face and straightened up in aggravation. "God damn it, I'm gay!" he shouted at Rodney. "A homosexual, a fag, someone who fucks and gets fucked by guys! That loud enough for you?" He shot up off the couch, thinking to make a break for the door, but the look Ronon shot at him killed the idea, and he sat back down abruptly and put his face back in his hands, his stomach tied in knots and his head feeling like it was going to float away.
Rodney blinked rapidly a few times, then rallied. "But, Chaya! And, and Teer and that bimbo princess! I've hacked your files, I know you had an ex-wife!"
John just groaned. He could not believe he was having this conversation.
Rodney poked him in the ribs, hard. "You, you liar! You cock-blocked me with Norina!"
"Rodney!" Teyla said quellingly. "Be quiet. John is not finished yet."
Jesus Christ, Teyla was like a dog with a bone. Nothing would do for her but absolute and complete disclosure. John dropped his hands from his face and dangled them between his knees as he stared at his bare feet. He couldn't feel them. He couldn't feel anything at this point. "I ah...I have kind of a...thing...for you." he said haltingly, praying to god that Rodney's ears were sharp enough to hear him now, now that his hands were out of the way. He rather kill himself with a blunt spoon than repeat this bit. "And...it's been kinda getting in the way lately. Which is why I've, uh, been a little...off. I'm sorry."
Dead silence reigned in the room for at least a minute and a half. It felt like an eternity for John. His head was buzzing and he seemed to have lost his peripheral vision. If this was what Rodney felt while he was having a panic attack, no wonder the guy needed a kick in the pants to be able think again, John thought vaguely.
"Oh," Rodney finally said, faintly. "*That* kind of fond."
John watched with detached fascination as the world slowly tilted sideways. The next time anything registered for him, he was lying down on the sofa with his feet propped up, wet cloth on his forehead, and Rodney shrieking something incoherent in another room. He opened his eyes and Ronon's face swam into view. "Hey there. You okay?" Ronon rumbled.
John blinked a couple of times, wondering what happened. "I guess?"
"He's awake!" Ronon bellowed towards where Rodney's histrionics were coming from.
A flurry of steps came up to the couch and Rodney's worried face came into John's view from over the back of the sofa. "Oh my god. And they call me emotionally retarded! At least I don't *faint* when I try to talk about my feelings! Don't do that again!"
John looked up at Rodney blankly. "Faint? I fainted?"
Rodney's face scrunched up. "Yes, you did. You had a *panic attack* and *fainted*. Welcome to my world, Sheppard. But at least I have them because someone is trying to *kill* me, unlike you!"
John started to hyperventilate as he recalled just what he'd been talking about prior to finding himself laid out on the couch. Rodney reached over and slapped a hand over his mouth and pinched his nose shut. "Oh, no you don't!" Rodney said sternly. "You are not allowed to have the vapors over this, you hairy excuse of a Victorian lady! Stop hyperventilating right now!"
At the moment, John wasn't ventilating period, much less hyper, and he slapped away Rodney's hand to take a deep breath. Oddly, Rodney's ranting was a steadying influence, allowing John's breathing to slow. "Stop it, Rodney, I'm not going to pass out again."
"Faint." Rodney countered, looking supremely pissed.
"Whatever," John returned as he pulled off the wet cloth off his forehead and sat up. "Are we done now?" he demanded, desperate to leave and find a bottle of Zelenka's hooch to curl up with and hopefully kill off all the brain cells that remembered this night of humiliation.
Teyla came around to the front of the sofa and pinned him with a look. "No, we are not." She shot a look over at Rodney who paled a bit, but walked around the couch and sat down next to John. "Rodney has something to tell you as well." She stepped back, crossed her arms and gave Rodney the eyebrow of doom.
John eyed Rodney with trepidation. Rodney gulped loudly and his hands started fluttering spastically as he said, "It has recently come to my attention that I've been, um, unaware of certain aspects of my psyche and that perhaps I've been acting in such a way that was inappropriate for a friend and, and possibly giving you..."
"Rodney," Teyla said warningly, tapping one finger impatiently against her bicep.
Rodney deflated further, dropping his hands in his lap and staring at them miserably. "I've discovered I'm bisexual and that I've had the hots for you for a long time."
John blinked. "Oh." That was unexpected, to say the least. A disconcerting thought popped up then and he asked, "But what about Katie?"
Rodney straightened up defensively and snapped, "Do I have to define bisexual for you?"
John shook his head. "No, but haven't you been dating her, on and off? Wouldn't it be kind of awkward to...be interested in me at the same time?" he concluded with a vague gesture that not even he could decipher.
Rodney hunched back down. "Um, yeah. It would be."
They sat there, staring at each other uncomfortably. John was back to feeling like he was going to throw up again, though for an entirely different reason.
Teyla huffed a great sigh. "Very well. I will go speak with Dr. Brown."
Rodney's eyes got big. "What?"
"I will go speak with her on this matter and negotiate some kind of conclusion to your relationship with her." Teyla patiently explained, then turned and headed towards the door.
Rodney stood up. "What? Teyla, wait!"
The door slid shut behind Teyla and Rodney dropped like a stone back down onto the sofa. "Oh my god," Rodney whimpered and put his head in both hands. "I'm a dead man."
John, so far beyond freaked out at this point that he'd achieved a preternatural calm, stood up and announced, "I think I'll take a walk," and headed out the door.
He got all the way to the jumper bay and sank down onto one of benches in Puddlejumper One. John lay down on the bench and let the feel of the jumper calm his nerves as he shut his mind off from thinking about what had just happened. There was just too much to contemplate that messed with his head at the moment. He'd apparently drifted off, because the next thing he knew, Ronon was shaking him again. "What?" he snapped as he sat up.
Ronon regarded him levelly. "Teyla sent me to get you."
John squinted up at him, disbelieving. "Do you do *everything* that woman tells you to do?"
Ronon shrugged nonchalantly. "Yeah."
John huffed in disgust. "Wish you'd follow my orders that well."
Ronon raised one eyebrow. "I do when it's important."
John waggled his head sarcastically. "Oh, well that makes me feel better then."
Ronon stuck out a hand. "Come on, let's get back."
John gave his hand a long, hard look before he reached out and grabbed it, letting Ronon pull him up to his feet. "Yeah, cause I'm so looking forward to it," he grumbled resignedly.
Ronon clapped him on the back. "You get what you deserve, Sheppard. If you'd been smart enough to say something, Teyla would have been able to avoid doing all this."
"Oh, yeah, cause she's doing this all for my benefit," John replied, rolling his eyes.
"Actually, she is," Ronon said as they walked out of the jumper. "She wants you and Rodney to be happy."
John frowned as they turned a corner. "I think Rodney was happy with Dr. Brown already."
Ronon shook his head no. "She's too weak. The minute McKay really loses his temper with her and chews her a new one, it'll be over. She's smart enough that she'd go find someone easier to deal with."
"Whereas I'm fucked up enough that I'd keep him anyway?" John said as he hit the new residential section on the transporter screen.
Ronon smirked at him.
John gave him a look as they stepped out of the transporter. "Very funny." As they turned a corner a thought occurred to John. "How come you guys aren't weirded out by...by my, um, different interest?" he asked in an undertone. "Wouldn't folks in Pegasus be even more concerned about making sure everybody's relationships provided children?"
"Maybe on some planets." Ronon replied with a shrug. "But on Sateda and Athos, people were aware that reproduction and love didn't necessarily always go together that easily. So our cultures made arrangements for that sort of thing."
John's eyebrows raised in surprise. "Oh? Like what?"
"Teyla will tell you." Ronon stated as he stopped in front of their door.
John sighed. "I was afraid you'd say that." He took a deep breath to brace himself, opened the door and walked in.
Rodney was still sitting on the couch, clutching at large mug of tea like a security blanket as Teyla talked on the comm. "...thank you, Dr. Heightmeyer. I appreciate your discretion."
John halted suddenly and looked at Teyla accusingly. "You promised me you wouldn't do that."
Teyla smiled calmly back. "Be at ease. You did as I asked..."
"Because you threatened me," he muttered under his breath.
"...and I have no reason to speak with her or Dr. Weir on that issue now. I merely asked for her to look in on Dr. Brown tonight."
John sighed and looked at Rodney. He looked a little shell shocked. "Dare I ask?"
Rodney sat his mug down with a slightly shaky hand. "Apparently she'd rather not share."
"She was slightly upset when she declined my offer to join us in a *menat* in order to continue her relationship with Rodney," Teyla concluded.
John blinked in confusion. "A what?"
"Group marriage," Ronon provided helpfully from the chair he'd splayed out on.
John fell into a chair, stunned. "When did I agree to this?"
Teyla tilted her head, listening to her comm. "This is Teyla… You have? Thank you, I'll be right there." She looked back up at the rest of them. "A problem has occurred on New Athos and Halling has requested my presence. I must go there for a small while, but I shall return soon."
"Sure, take all the time you need, honey," John said sarcastically. She left and John turned to Ronon. "No, seriously. When did I agree to become part of a, a *menat*?"
"When you confirmed that you're a lover of men." Ronon responded. "It's one of those arrangements I told you about."
"They did this on Sateda, too?" John asked blankly.
"No," Ronon quietly replied. "On Sateda, people who preferred their own gender satisfied their reproductive requirements at the temple first before moving in with the family of the person they loved."
John, flummoxed, turned and looked helplessly at Rodney who helplessly looked back at him. "Rodney?"
Rodney's eyes shot over to Ronon, then back at John. "Uh, maybe we should discuss this privately. Maybe in the, um, uh...bedroom?" he finished with a gulp.
John's face reddened. Jesus Christ, this had become awkward. "Okay, fine," he said and quickly got up and went into their bedroom.
He stood there, wiping his hands on his pants nervously while Rodney followed him in, closing the door behind him and leaning against it. "So, ah...this is really awkward, isn't it?" Rodney said with a crack in his voice.
"I'm seriously considering killing Teyla and Ronon right now," John replied earnestly. "I'm sure if I think long enough, I'll find a way to do it."
Rodney nodded in agreement. "Yeah, me too. Maybe we should go in together on it. Raise our chances."
John sighed and threw himself down onto his bed. Rodney gingerly came over and perched on the edge of the bed next to him. "So, um, maybe we should talk about our respective crushes on each other, seeing as how they're now all," Rodney made a nervous expansive gesture, "out, and, and stuff." He shuffled his feet awkwardly at John's silence. "Um, I guess I'll go first since it was my idea, " he offered weakly.
John scrubbed a hand over his face. This was going to be painful. "Okay."
Rodney got up and started pacing. "Look, all my life I've been set apart from everyone due to being massively more intelligent than the herd of morons that populate the rest of the universe. Maybe I...maybe in just one thing I might possibly have wanted to be just like everybody else. And, and so I lied to myself when I found myself attracted to, to men such as yourself. But, but the thing is...well, I've always gotten along far better with the, the men I've been drawn to than I ever did with any of my girlfriends. I, I could be myself around them, not have to worry that I was going to say something to make them cry, or hate me, or something. Like, like I can be myself around you." Rodney stopped and looked at John with wide blue eyes. "You're my friend and I really, really like you." He then fidgeted a bit and made go-ahead motions towards John. "And, and now it's your turn."
John licked his lips nervously. "I'm not real good at this, Rodney."
Rodney gave him a knowing look. "I noticed." He held up a hand, preventing John's protest. "Just, just do the best you can."
John cleared his throat awkwardly. "Sit down, Rodney." He watched as Rodney perched on his bed and looked at him expectantly. John ran a hand through his hair, sighed and picked a place to start. "So, I've had to kinda hide that, uh, aspect of myself for as long as I can remember." He crossed his legs and stared down at his feet, hoping that lack of direct eye contact would make this a little easier. "Being a military brat growing up, and then obviously after I joined the Air Force. Doing the occasional girl helped maintain the cover."
"And the ex-wife?" Rodney asked. "Was she a cover too?"
John grimaced. He wasn't proud of that part of his life. "She wasn't supposed to be. I tried to be a good husband to her, tried to like her more than I did, but it didn't work. I think I wound up hurting her a lot instead." He shrugged. "I didn't cheat on her while we were married, but she still picked up on the...lack of interest on my part. It ended kinda badly."
They were both silent for a moment, then Rodney spoke up again. "You said you had a, a thing for me earlier tonight."
John flushed, reached out and picked at the pills on his blanket. "I...might have a type that I like. Big shoulders...smart..." he wet his lips nervously and continued, "really nice ass. I might have been a little...jealous...when Norina started coming on to you."
Rodney shrugged. "Well, it's not like I didn't do something, uh, similar when it came to Chaya."
He stopped abruptly as something registered then asked, "You think I have a nice ass?"
John flushed and nodded, still not looking at Rodney.
"Huh," Rodney said.
John changed subject rapidly. "So, what's with this *menat* thing?"
"Oh, ah, apparently the Athosians form groups for alliance purposes and treat them like marriage bonds." Rodney stated, waving one hand around. "Although they aren't necessarily always in love, and they sometimes mate with others outside their group to have kids. Teyla thinks that the four of us should do that. Kind of give us a family vibe or something. That's what she talked to Katie about, you know, seeing if she would want in on it so she and I could have kids and you and I could still, uh..." he trailed off uncertainly.
"Oh," John replied. He gathered up his nerve, licked his lips again and went for it. "Uh, about that..."
"Yeah?" Rodney twitched nervously.
John gulped. "I guess you've never, ah..."
"Um, no," Rodney shook his head. "I, ah, I...no, not yet."
John flushed again. He'd never blushed so much in his life before this. "You ever uh, think...about...what you'd...with me?"
Rodney turned beet red and turned his head away. "I, ah, I, um...sometimes thought about, uh, sharing, you know, a, ah...woman with you. That was before I realized that I was, uh, and, and you were...oh god."
John took a steadying breath. He was not going hyperventilate and pass out again. He was not going to embarrass himself further than he already had. "Are you freaking out?"
Rodney sighed and flopped backwards on his bed. "I'm functioning from a severe lack of information on how things work between two guys without a middle uh, woman...so, I'd have to say yes," he finished with a wave of his hand, then reaching up to scrub briefly at his face. "Is there a, a, training wheels type of thing that we could, um...ease into?" He sat bolt upright with a panicked look on his face. "That is, if you want to. If you don't that's okay, too. In fact, just forge..."
"Yes!" John shouting, interrupting. Rodney cut off mid-word and stared silently back at him, blinking. "Um, yes there's something that we could do that would..." words failed him at this point and he mentally kicked himself. John swallowed and tried again. "We could, uh, we could kiss," he said quickly before the words dried up in his mouth.
Rodney relaxed just a bit at John's suggestion and a spark of real interest showed in his eyes amidst the panic. "Oh. Ah, good idea. Kissing is...kissing's familiar."
They stared at each other, motionless, for over a minute. Finally Rodney said, "Uh, you know, the kissing thing might work better if at least one of us moves closer to the other."
John took a shuddering breath. "Yeah. Yeah, it would."
The stared for another minute before John finally went, "Fuck it," and dove for Rodney, driving him backwards with an "Oof!" onto his bed with John splayed on top of him.
"Um, hi," Rodney said timidly as a faint, tentative smile ghosted around the edge of his lips.
"Hi, Rodney," John replied roughly as the heat of Rodney's body utterly destroyed any thought processes he might have had going.
"Since you're here, do you think that we could try the, ah, kissing...thing?" Rodney asked hopefully.
"Okay," John breathed and sealed his lips to Rodney's. John gave this kiss everything he had, trying to tell Rodney things that John couldn't say with words. He sucked on Rodney's lower lip, nibbling on it slightly. Then he moved on to the upper lip, giving it a gentle bite. John came a little undone as Rodney's mouth opened up under his and Rodney's tongue licked delicately at his lips before Rodney sucked John's top lip in and hummed lightly. John moaned and sucked in Rodney's bottom lip again. While lavishing attention on the lip he currently had in his possession, John felt Rodney's hand drift onto the back of his neck and slide up into his hair. John smiled into their kiss and let his right hand drift down Rodney's side to his hip as he maintained the rest of his weight on his left side. Rodney whined and his other hand settled, large and damp in the center of John' back, pulling him tight to Rodney, and hello! there was the evidence that Rodney was finding the kissing very interesting. John ground his own display of interest against Rodney before he could think not to.
Rodney broke off their kiss and gasped. "This is, this is good," he babbled. "I can safely say I'm pretty confident in this part, oh god, you kiss really well." Rodney grabbed John's head with his hand again and dove back in, doing some seriously raunchy things with his tongue that had John panting with arousal when it was over. John took it as a challenge and did his best to return the favor. Rodney squirmed underneath him and finally broke their kiss with a choked moan. John then nibbled his was across Rodney's face over to his ear and lavished attention on it and the area around it, feeling Rodney shudder underneath him as he bit on the tendon just underneath. "Is there ah, is there anything else we can do as well?" Rodney panted out, as he shoved his hips up against John's slightly. "That doesn't have me coming in my pants?" he added with a small squeaky moan at the end as John bit the tendon again.
John's language centers struggled to come back online under the onslaught of excitement he was experiencing. "We could ah," he panted, trying to think something other than *jesus* and *more*, feeling overwhelmed by the scent and heat of Rodney wrapping around him. "We could jerk each other off?"
"Sounds, sounds good." Rodney replied breathlessly. "I've already got that skill set from jerking myself off, that'll, that'll transfer over well to jerking you. Um, pants?"
"Pants, okay, right," John scrambled off of Rodney and fumbled his BDUs and boxers off. Feeling proactive for the moment, he ripped off his t-shirt as well. Naked. He preferred naked sex. He was getting naked to have sex with Rodney. John spared a thought in the back of his mind to wonder if perhaps he hadn't died on that planet and gone, against all odds, to Heaven. They'd found a ship that made ZPMs and Rodney was having sex with him and things this good just didn't happen to John normally. And that thing with Teyla? Definitely had all the earmarks of Purgatory. He glanced over at Rodney and saw him frantically pulling off the last of his clothing while trying to hide behind the blanket from his bed. John looked away, stupified with lust and trying to hang on when his gaze ran across the door. The door. Oh fuck, the door!
"Rodney, can you do anything with the door to make sure no one gets in?" John asked. If the answer was no, then he'd know he was in the more expected place of Hell, and that Ronon would be barging in at any minute to drag him off to Teyla, who would then make him talk about his feelings for the rest of eternity and he'd *never* get to have sex with Rodney.
Rodney peered at John in befuddlement for a second. "What?" Then that big brain of his obviously made the connection because he blanched for a moment, went, "Oh! Yes, yes the door!" He wrapped the blanket around himself and shuffled rapidly for the door, tripping over the blanket a couple of times. He then sank down next to a panel set low by the door, yanked it open and hauled out a bunch of crystals and dumped them onto the floor. "Um, door, door's done," he said, looking back at John with wide eyes. "Nobody can get in now without a blowtorch and a couple of hours free time."
John have a silent prayer of thanks and cleared his throat. "Good! That's, that's good," he wet his lips. "Where were we again?"
"We were going to jack each other off?" Rodney replied faintly, as he stood slowly back up, still clutching the blanket around himself.
John nodded vigorously. "Yeah, that's it." He stood up, walked over to Rodney, grabbed one of his hands, hauled him into an embrace and attacked that tendon in Rodney's neck again with his mouth.
Rodney's hands fluttered over John's body and the blanket slid to the ground, forgotten. "Um, here? You, you want to do it here? I mean, standing?" he managed to stutter out.
John's brain sputtered for a moment, then got it. He stopped sucking on Rodney's neck long enough to say, "Bed, bed's fine," then latched back on to that spot on Rodney's neck that he'd decided was his.
"Okay," Rodney squeaked as John bit him gently on the tendon again. "I guess, I guess it's my job to get us there, because your little brain has clearly taken over," he moaned as John clutched at him harder, making their dicks rub together. Rodney grabbed John by the hips and started pushing him back towards Rodney's bed. "Not, not that I'm complaining or anything. I like your little brain."
John ignored most of Rodney's babbling, just agreeably moved where Rodney directed until he fell backwards onto Rodney's unmade bed with "Whoof!" as Rodney's body fell on top of him.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to do that," Rodney apologized as they untangled themselves and John grabbed a couple of lungs full of air.
"S'okay," John huffed and then grabbed Rodney and awkwardly hauled them both further up onto the bed. He settled himself on his side, face to face with Rodney, and smiled. "Hi."
Rodney smiled back and ghosted a hand down John's side, raising gooseflesh in the wake of its path. "Hi. Think we can jerk off now?"
John nodded and slid a hand down down Rodney's chest. "Absolutely," he breathed as he wrapped his hand around Rodney's solid, straining dick.
Rodney stopped breathing when John's hand landed on his cock and he let out a strangled moan as John gave an experimental pull on his uncut foreskin. Rodney then sucked in a lungful of air and patted his hand randomly closer to John's crotch until it landed on John's rigid length. His fingers closed tentatively around it as John sighed and tugged encouragingly on Rodney's cock. Rodney gave a quick whine, looked down at his acquired target and wrapped his hand around it more firmly and pulled gently, mindful of the lack of loose skin on John's circumcised dick. John dove for his spot on Rodney's neck again, and sucked hard on it as his hand began pumping Rodney's cock with firm strokes. At that, Rodney's eyes rolled up into his head and he shut his eyes as his hand on John's dick tried to match John's pace stroke for stroke.
John's mind threatened to shut down completely as Rodney's followed his pace. Different pressure, different angle, different calluses, but his favorite speed, it added up to all kinds of wonderful for John's dick and he released his spot on Rodney's neck and buried his forehead against it as he breathed in ragged gasps. He wasn't going to last long, he'd wanted this for too damn long, so he adjusted his grip on Rodney so that his thumb rubbed firmly over the head of Rodney's cock on the upstroke. If he was going to shoot off that quickly he was going to make sure he did his damnedest to take Rodney with him. Rodney whimpered and clutched harder onto John's dick as he continued to match John stroke for stroke. John's breath caught at the increased pressure and his hips jerked forward to fuck his cock into Rodney's hand. In desperation, John added a twist at the end of his upstroke, rubbing Rodney's foreskin over the head of his penis in addition to flicking his thumb over the slit. Rodney gave a deep groan and arched into John's grip, coating his hand and stomach with ropey, wet strands of semen as his hand tightened almost painfully on John's cock. The feel and smell of Rodney's orgasm sent John gasping over the edge to paint Rodney's belly and hand liberally with his own come.
They lay there, quietly gasping for air as the sweat and spunk dried on their bodies, hands still loosely wrapped around each other's softening penises. Finally, John had collected together enough of his brain cells to wet his lips and ask, "So, um, have fun?"
Rodney slit open one eye to look at John. "No, I just spewed a week's worth of spooge all over you just to be polite." He reached over and wiped his come-covered hand on John's chest hair to John's bemusement. Then Rodney reached up and hauled John's head closer to kiss him sweetly before letting go. "Sleep now. It's late and we have to lead a team of scientists to the ship in a few hours. We'll schedule a date to freak out after we've got the ship up and running, okay?"
John chuckled at the thought of Rodney doing anything just to be polite. "Okay. G'night, Rodney." He snuggled up against Rodney's side and felt gratified when Rodney snaked an arm under him and pulled him close, patting John's hair gently a couple of times before going lax with sleep. They'd be stuck together something awful in the morning, but John would worry about that later. Rodney did have a point about needing to get some sleep. He yawned mightily as he hauled a wad of blanket up from the bottom of the bed to cover them both, then drifted off to the sound of Rodney's deep, even breathing.
The next morning Rodney blearily opened one eye as the alarm went off way too early for his comfort. He went to shut it off, but was stopped by a heavy weight holding him down. For a second he panicked, then he blinked both eyes into focus and realized that it was John splayed out over the top of Rodney's body and blinking back sleepily. "Shrumpthdmthg," John mumbled into his his chest, grabbing a pillow and pulling it over his head.
Rodney, cranky and not entirely awake yet, grabbed the pillow and pulled it away. "I can't shut it off because you have pinned me to the bed, you octopus." He gave a heave and managed to get out from under a clinging John without twisting his back up too badly, although he swore as he left behind a layer of skin from where their combined spunk had glued them together during the night. He was glad they'd landed in his bed last night, or Rodney's back would have been in a lot worse shape. He was going to have to weld their beds together or something just so he'd have enough room to sleep. Two people in a Ancient version of a twin-sized bed was just ridiculous. "I never would have pegged you as a cuddler," Rodney muttered as he stretched carefully and popped a few vertebrae back into place. He blinked a bit as his brain finally woke up entirely, and looked back at his bedmate who looked up at him with soft, bleary, eyes. John. This wasn't his usual morning after experience. The panic portion of his brain suddenly burst into nervous gibbering. "Um, hi," he said shyly, wondering what the morning after protocol was between two guys. He fought back that freak out that he'd told John they'd have to schedule for later.
"Morning," John said quietly, sitting up next to Rodney. He reached out and touched the dried semen on Rodney's stomach with a tentative finger. "You need a shower."
Rodney's heart rate skipped a bit as he stared down at John's light touch. "Ah, so I do." He looked back up at John and saw him peering shyly at him. He felt the tip of John's finger continue to slide over his abdomen and realized with a kind of pleasant shock that there might be the distinct possibility of morning sex in his future if he didn't screw it up. He stretched out a hand and ran it lightly over John's chest where he'd wiped the goo off his hand last night. "You, ah, you look like you could use one, too."
John peered at the clock in a fashion that completely failed to look casual. "There's not a lot of time before we have to meet with everyone." He chewed at his bottom lip for a moment, then looked coyly back at Rodney, "Maybe we should shower together? To save time, of course."
Even Rodney, as oblivious as he usually was, was able to figure out that that was an invitation to fool around in the shower. "Uh, sure. To save time," he repeated idiotically, and watched as a slow smile spread across John's face.
John stood and offered a hand out to him. Rodney debated for a moment hauling the blanket along with him as a sop to his modesty, but realized that it was kind of pointless to be modest around a guy who'd had a tongue down his throat, not to mention his hands around Rodney's dick the night before. Rodney tossed aside the cover, grabbed John's hand and let himself be hauled out of bed.
John pulled him in for a whiskery kiss, which made Rodney's brain fizzle out and then tugged him into their shared bathroom. John let go of Rodney's hand and turned the shower on before grabbing him by the arm again and pulling Rodney into the shower with him. The water was pleasantly warm and Rodney ducked his face into the spray to wash the sand out of his eyes. He startled slightly as a washcloth hit his back and turned to look at John quizzically.
John froze and licked his lips. "Uh, you don't mind if I wash your back, do you?"
Rodney paused for a moment to consider, surprised. This was far more...intimate than he'd thought it would be. Then he stopped and reconsidered. For god's sake, he'd already had sex with John and was hoping to have more in the very near future. Getting freaked about being washed by him was a waste of brain power better used on more important things at this point. He knew John wasn't going to hurt him or anything. "Um, sure, go ahead. Uh, wash everything if you want to," he replied with a vague sweep of his hand.
That drew a smile from John and he said slyly. "Everything?"
Rodney blushed and folded his arms. "Uh, yes, everything. But don't tickle!"
John crowded up against him and murmured in his ear, "No tickling, got it," as he snaked the washcloth around over Rodney's crossed arms to rub over his chest. Rodney felt John's dick poking him in the butt cheek and flushed a little more.
"Move your arms, Rodney," John ordered softly, and when he had, proceeded to soap up Rodney's arms, shoulders and chest with a thoroughness that left him feeling kind of dazed. Rodney couldn't immediately recall the last time anyone had paid this kind of attention to his physique, and it was a heady experience. He briefly felt let down when John dragged the washcloth away from his chest and headed to his back instead of his half hard penis, but then suddenly found himself moaning in pleasure when John's hands dug into the knots in his back and started giving him a back massage. "Geez, Rodney, your back muscles are one big mass of knots," John murmured over his shoulder.
"I have a stressful job!" Rodney replied defensively, then slumped face first with a groan against the shower wall as John got the worst knot out. "God, that feels good." He could wait a while for a hand on his dick.
John raised his eyebrows as he kept working on Rodney's back. "I can tell." He worked the rest of the major knots out and then soaped Rodney's back as he closed his eyes and sighed in contentment against the shower wall. Pretty soon however, the washcloth drifted towards a lower location and Rodney's eyes snapped open and he waited to see what John would do next. He felt John's forehead land on his shoulder and the washcloth slowly slide down his left cheek and back up again. Then the cloth swept over and caressed his right cheek in a silky motion.
"Like what you're touching?" Rodney tried to ask casually. He failed because his voice was much too squeaky to carry it off believably.
"Yeah," John said hoarsely, then swallowed. "I, ah, I won't do anything you're not ready for, though."
Rodney felt John and the washcloth start to draw away and he said quickly, "No, no! It's ah, it's fine. Really. Keep, keep going. I ah, I did say you could touch everything. Just, nothing too advanced? Please?"
"Okay," John replied roughly and slowly settled his forehead onto Rodney shoulder again. Rodney felt the soapy cloth sweep tentatively over a butt cheek again and he tried to relax into it. He must have been successful, because the next stroke of the washcloth had a much more confident air about it. Rodney sucked his breath in as the next stroke of the cloth went down the cleft of his ass. "This alright?" John asked uncertainly.
Rodney was actually of two very different minds on that issue. One being "Oh, god, no, are you crazy?" and the other being simply "Oh, god!" He went with the second one, determined to not wimp out on this. "It's fine," he got out in a strangled tone. He then screwed up his will and spread his legs further apart. "Have at it."
That pulled a groan from John and Rodney soon felt the washcloth having its soapy way with his anus. It was hot in a really weird sort of way and Rodney felt his dick fill a little more at the stimulation. He felt John's finger through the washcloth as it circled around, soaping him cleaner than he'd possibly been in his entire life down there. John then directed one of the sprays down to rinse the soap away, which was good in Rodney's book, because that soap was a little too harsh to be leaving in delicate places like that.
Then John did the entirely unexpected by sinking to his knees, prying open Rodney's cheeks and *licking* a hot stripe across Rodney's pucker. Rodney arched up onto his toes and scrabbled at the shower wall as he emitted a garbled cry that ranged up into the area of sound that dog whistles resided at. He was still trying to collect his scattered wits to demand to know what John thought the hell he was doing when John licked his ass *again* and his higher cognitive functions went "screw it" and shut down as a Rodney made another indistinct sound. After that, Rodney simply clung to the shower wall like a limpet and moaned while John's tongue started slicking around his anus in ways way too pornographic for Rodney to contemplate. He whimpered as John's tongue did a teasing little dance around his pucker, then skipped lightly over the hole itself. Apparently John liked that particular noise, because he then proceeded to drive Rodney right out of what was left of his mind by repeating that maneuver multiple times, with small variations that had Rodney shaking in reaction. Then, just when Rodney thought that he'd manfully adjusted to the onslaught of sensation in an area of his body that he'd never think of in the same way again, John pointed the end of his tongue and slid it into the opening of Rodney's anus as deep as it would go. Rodney's entire body jerked and he gibbered and clawed at the wall as John proceeded to fuck his hole comprehensively with an extremely talented tongue. He was so lost in the sensation of what John's tongue was doing that the stroking of his flushed, hard cock by John's hand came as a sudden violent shock to his system and he came with what he flatly refused to admit was a scream all over the wall.
Rodney clung to the wall, panting and hoping that his legs would quit feeling like jelly before he fell to the floor. "You," he said slowly between gasps, "are going to kill me. And what the *hell* was that you did to me, anyway?"
John stood back up and pressed himself against Rodney's back, his cock nestled in the crease of Rodney's thoroughly licked ass. Rodney shivered in a combination of uncertainty and interest at the feeling. "It's called rimming and I've wanted to do that to you for forever," John confessed, once again lipping at that spot on Rodney's neck he'd seemed so obsessed with last night. If he didn't have a monster-sized hickey there, it'd be a miracle.
"Well, I want to thank you for performing that bit of kinkiness on me before shaving this morning. Thanks to you, I now have the unique experience of having beard burn on my butt cheeks the day of an important mission," Rodney complained for form's sake, his attention more taken up by the slight rocking motion John's hips had started doing.
"I'll kiss it and make it better," John replied impishly, wrapping his arms around Rodney's waist.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "No, thank you. That's what caused it in the first place." He felt John subtly grind his cock and against his butt and asked, "Um, is there anything I can do for you there? If you give me a minute for my legs to resolidify, I can turn around and give you a hand."
John ran the tip of his nose over the outer edge of Rodney's ear. "Would you mind if I just rubbed off against you like this?"
Rodney looked over his shoulder at John. "You have a fetish for my ass, don't you?"
John raised an eyebrow back. "Well, it is a really nice ass." His face then grew more serious. "But I won't if it makes you uncomfortable, Rodney. I went too far when I rimmed you, didn't I?"
Rodney hesitated. It had certainly been far outside his usual experiences with sex and the thought of him licking somebody there kind of grossed him out, but wasn't like it had hurt. If he was honest, he had to admit that it had been pretty mind blowing in a really kinky way. He felt John start to draw away and he came to a quick decision. "Oh, for god's sake, get back here," he snapped and grabbed John's wrists to pull him back in. "I'm going to make you brush your teeth for ten minutes and gargle with Zelenka's smurf piss to get rid of all the germs before I kiss you on the mouth again, but I'm fine. Stop treating me like a girl." He pushed his ass back against John's cock and heard John's breath hitch. "Now, you said something about wanting to rub off on me? Come on, we haven't got all day."
"You sure, Rodney?" John asked, one of his hands rubbing gently over Rodney's stomach.
Rodney laced his fingers over the top of John's. "I'm sure. Now come on. My shapely ass awaits you."
"Okay," John chuckled, then leaned into Rodney and began to rub his cock firmly against the cleft of Rodney's ass. The water slicked things up nicely so Rodney wasn't experiencing any unpleasant chafing despite the beard burn, and John started to make some interesting noises as he really started getting into it, so Rodney relaxed against the wall and pushed his ass a little more firmly into John's hard length. John gave a small moan and sped up, clutching at Rodney's body with a white knuckled grip. Rodney dick twitched as he thought about rubbing off on John like this at a later date. John was so obviously having a good time, his breath huffing in Rodney's ear as he pumped himself against Rodney's backside, that Rodney wished that his recovery time were better so he could try it out himself. John's motions became more erratic, then he ground his cock against Rodney's ass with a roaring groan and Rodney felt John's dick throb and hot splotches of come hit his back before getting washed away by the water streaming down on them both. John sagged against him and shuddered briefly, as Rodney felt John's cock soften slowly against him.
"Have fun?" Rodney asked. After all, turn about was fair play after John's asinine question of whether he'd had fun last night. Orgasms were always fun, any fool knew that.
John chuckled against his back. "The best. Your ass is the major theme attraction at the McKay amusement park."
Rodney groaned. "Just for that, your afterglow time is over. Get off me so we can finish cleaning up. We've got a ship to resurrect."
John chuckled again and pulled himself off Rodney. They somehow managed to semi-grope each other clean and get out of the shower without poking each other's eyes out. Using the sink to shave at the same time proved to be a little more problematical, but after a couple nearly disastrous elbow collisions they managed to find spots in front of the mirror where they were both mostly out of each other's way. Rodney examined the spot on his neck that John had latched onto like a lamprey last night and sure enough, there was a hickey the size of a Puddlejumper there, hopelessly above the neckline of everything except turtlenecks. John gave him a slightly sheepish look. Rodney just rolled his eyes and continued dressing. Getting two highly satisfactory orgasms inside of twenty four hours made him more inclined to be forgiving.
Cleaned and dressed, the two of them then stood at the door contemplating the hard part - facing their meddling roommates.
"You know, we could just let Teyla and Ronon go on their own with the science team while we stayed in bed," Rodney commented, staring at the crystals in his hand.
"We could," John agreed. "We could take the day off, lounge around, watch a DVD or something."
"You can feel the smugness radiating through the door as well as I can, can't you?" Rodney sighed.
John rocked on his heels. "Oh yeah."
Rodney stared at the control panel in front of him. "And there's no way in hell we can get away with acting like nothing happened, not with this hickey."
John sighed. "Sorry 'bout that." He then blinked and his face fell. "You'd rather pretend we didn't...?" Not completing the sentence, John withdrew into himself and a blank mask slid over his face. "Never mind. I understand."
Rodney winced, then dropped the crystals back onto the floor and grabbed John by the shoulders. Obviously holding off on the freakout was a struggle for both of them. "No, you don't understand, John." He looked steadily at John until John's eyes finally met his. "I just want to avoid getting razzed, not, not pretend you're not, not something in my life that, that I uh, like, like. A lot. I like you a lot, John. I always have. I just didn't realize how, how much. Until recently, that is." Rodney stepped forward and wrapped his arms around John in a hug and felt the tension ooze out of John slowly as he tentatively returned it. "I'll live with being razzed for this," Rodney murmured into John' ear. "It's worth it."
John tightened his arms around Rodney briefly and then stepped out of his embrace, blinking rapidly. "Me too," he mumbled.
Rodney waited for John to pull himself back together and when he'd finally gotten some semblance of his usual 'Colonel Sheppard, Flyboy and God of Atlantis' look back onto his face, Rodney kneeled down, picking up the crystals again, slotting them back into their proper places in the control panel before putting the cover back on. He stood up, straightened his jacket, and looked at John steadily. "Ready?"
John gave a small pout. "No."
"Me neither, but I'm starving and there's a ship out there that's going to save our lives which we have to recover." Rodney replied. "The worst they can do is tease the hell out of us. It's not like they're going to gaybash us." A thought occurred to Rodney. "You're not worried about that happening with any of the rest of the expedition, are you?"
John's eyes dropped and he looked away.
Rodney suddenly understood a whole lot more about John with just that one look. "It's happened to you before, hasn't it?"
John nodded reluctantly as he continued to study the floor intently.
"I think I understand why Teyla wants us all to do that menat thing now," Rodney said slowly, watching John with concern. "It'll give her and Ronon the right to beat anybody that tries that shit on us into greasy smears."
John continued to stare at the floor, clearly not in the same room with Rodney any more. Rodney reached over and gently gripped his elbow. "John? You okay? Come back to me."
John twitched and he looked back up at Rodney. "I'm fine."
"No, you're not." Rodney countered. He kept a hold of John's arm and pulled him through the door into the living room where Teyla and Ronon sat eating breakfast. He waved off their smirks and sat John down at the table with them and took a set next to him. Rodney fastened a grim expression on Teyla. "I am going to assume that your little conversation with Katie last night has already hit the gossip factory of Atlantis and everyone knows now that John is gay and that I'm gay...ish. What I now want to know is what you're going to do to make sure that John is protected."
Teyla's face grew serious as John muttered, "What about you, Rodney? You think you're immune because you keep the city afloat?"
"I'm not the one who's been bashed before, nor am I a part of your formerly backwards and ignorant military installation." Rodney shot back, frowning at him.
John glowered back. "I can take care of myself, Rodney."
Teyla laid a hand on one of John's. "But you do not have to do it all by yourself anymore, John. We are family and we take care of one another." She looked over at Rodney. "You think this...bashing...is likely to occur here?"
Rodney flung his hands up. "I don't know! But people are weird and some moron could decide that Sheppard's not doing his bit to pass along those Ancient genes of his for the betterment of all and decide to nudge him back towards heterosexuality using their fists."
Teyla looked over at John. "John? Rodney said this has happened to you before?"
John shifted uncomfortably in his chair and stared down at the table. "Yeah, a couple times."
"Twice?" Rodney shrilled. "God, no wonder you flirt with everything female!"
John rolled his eyes in aggravation. "Rodney!"
"Rodney, John!" Teyla interjected, glaring at them both. "Please, both of you, calm down."
Rodney crossed his arms and steeled himself. "We'll do that *menat* thing you talked about."
John spun around to stare at Rodney. "What? Rodney what are you talking about?"
Rodney pinned a glare on him. "We are talking about protecting you, us, from any stray homophobic wackos we might have running loose."
"I think if we had any they would go for Sgt. Weiner first," John replied dryly. "He's the biggest fairy we've got."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Oh, please. Sgt. Weiner's two hundred fifty pounds of blond Aryan muscle. People don't bug him about swishing when he walks because he's able to rip a person's head off using only one of those ham hocks he calls hands."
John folded his arms and raised an eyebrow. "Whereas I'm some delicate little flower that needs cossetting and round the clock protection?"
"You're the one who fainted yesterday," Rodney shot back.
"GENTLEMEN!" Teyla shouted, slamming her hands down on the table and making them all jump. She glared at them all fiercely.
Ronon put up both hands. "Hey, I was just sitting here."
Teyla's gazed narrowed at Ronon. "Be silent, Ronon." He put his hands up in surrender and pushed himself away from the table a couple of feet as Rodney sat there gaping. Teyla then turned to John. "John, a *menat* is just a family grouping. You told me some time ago that you considered all of us to be your family. What is the difference in simply declaring it formally? We already share quarters. Nothing of importance will change for us."
John winced and shrugged his shoulders. "I...I just have bad luck with families and relationships that are official, I guess. They just tend to...go bad on me and I don't want that to happen with you guys."
Rodney gripped one of John's hands tightly. "It'll be different this time." Rodney swallowed hard, then continued, "Just...trust me, us, please."
John looked at his team mates for a long time and Rodney found himself holding his breath, which was stupid because his brain needed that oxygen, so he tried to let it out with out looking odd. Finally, John squeezed Rodney's hand back and asked Teyla, "Do I have to follow your orders all the damn time like Ronon does?"
Teyla smiled wryly. "It would be nice, but I expect that you probably will not. But we will still love you, John."
John ducked his head uncomfortably and squeezed Rodney's hand again. "Well, okay then. But no mushy stuff. I'm not good with mushy stuff."
Ronon snorted. "No, but you can sure make a big possession mark on McKay's neck."
Rodney was the first person at the table to throw something at him.
John tried not to feel like there were a million eyes staring at him as they headed for the gateroom, but with his team forming an all too obvious guard around him, he wasn't succeeding too well. "Guys, you're scaring people," he hissed as yet another person scuttled out of their way, wide eyed and nervous.
"Good," Ronon said from behind him with bared teeth as Rodney clutched his P-90 tighter and glowered fiercely at yet another person further on down the hall. Teyla was her usual serene self as long as John ignored the fact that she was walking in precisely the spot to cover his left, which he wasn't.
John licked his lips and tried again. "This wasn't what I agreed to, guys. You're being over-protective. Come on, back off a bit. I don't really think anybody's going to jump me on the way to the gateroom. Actually, I don't think anybody's going to jump me at all, to be honest."
"I'll believe that when you actually genuinely relax and don't care if anyone knows you're gay or not," Rodney snarked back in an undertone.
"Rodney has a valid point. You are very tense," Teyla observed quietly as her eyes swept the corridor.
"Because you're making me nervous!" John protested, trying to keep his voice down. They all gave him a knowing look and maintained their positions around him. He sighed in frustration. His new family was never going to get the opportunity to abandon him because he was *going to kill them first*. This was the weirdest damn relationship he'd found himself in, ever.
They finally arrived in the gateroom and Elizabeth came down the stairs to greet them. She raised an eyebrow at them and said, "Anything wrong, John?"
John stepped between Teyla and Rodney, surreptitiously elbowing them in the sides with as pointy an elbow as he could manage and smiled disarmingly at Elizabeth. "Naw, they're just feeling a little clingy today."
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms. "Really." She looked at the rest of the team." Anything I need to be concerned about?"
John felt his team close in around him again and he sighed internally as Teyla smoothly replied, "Everything is well, Elizabeth. We are simply eager to get back to the ship to see if we can get it in working order."
Elizabeth gave that little head tilt that always signified that she didn't quite believe them but was going to let it pass for now. "You and everyone else in Atlantis." She nodded over to the group of scientists and soldiers milling excitedly by the gate. She then clasped her hands together. "Now that everyone's here, what say we dial the gate? Chuck?"
"Yes, ma'am, dialing the planet now," Sgt. Campbell said briskly and tapped the address quickly into the DHD.
The wormhole whooshed open, settling into a rippling pool of blue as John lead his team to the front of the waiting group who quickly picked up their packs and equipment. "Everybody good to go?" John asked, and a general rumble of affirmative came back. "Okay then, let's head out," he said and stepped through the gate.
Base camp set up went smoothly and within a short period of time, the scientists and engineers were happily swarming the ship. John was hauled from place to place within the ship to turn stuff on for a while, but after a while it seemed that he was no longer needed and he managed to finally slip the watch of his last of his teammates after he ordered Ronon to assist with some of the heavy lifting and went out for a breath of fresh air.
Lorne sidled up to John as he leaned against a large box of equipment, surveying the camp. "Hey, sir."
John waved idly back. "Oh, hey, Lorne. What's up?"
Lorne shrugged and leaned on the box next to him. "Not much. The scientists are busy and the men are digging the perimeter of the ship out. Just checked in with Atlantis and everything's good back there, too."
John refolded his arms. "Cool."
"So, rumor this morning at breakfast says that McKay sent Teyla over to dump Dr. Brown last night so he could date you instead," Lorne commented casually.
John froze with dread. "Oh, really?"
Lorne tilted his head. "Yeah." Silence filled the air between them as John tried to keep tight rein on his panic. Lorne then broke the silence with a question. "Does he make you happy, sir?"
John blinked. That wasn't a question he'd anticipated. "Um, yeah, he does," he replied awkwardly, surprised into honesty by Lorne's directness.
Lorne gave him a small encouraging smile. "Well, then, that's all that matters. You two have always squabbled like an old married couple anyway." He shifted a bit and crossed his arms. "Besides which, McKay would have eventually eaten Dr. Brown for lunch. It wouldn't have been pretty."
John looked at him, very weirded out by the entire discussion. "Right."
They lapsed into silence again for a while, while John tried to wrap his head around the conversation. Having his XO give his blessing to John's new relationship with Rodney was just surreal to him, especially after having had so many years of indoctrination that his preference in partners was less than acceptable to the military mind.
After a time, Lorne looked studiously over at a tent ten feet away from them and asked, "Since I have you here, sir, I was wondering if I could ask you to back me up on something."
"Depends on what it is, Lorne," John said warily. He hoped it wasn't something weird.
Lorne shifted uncomfortably and continued to stare at the tent. "Dr. Z, Dr, Kusenagi, Dr. Parrish, Cadman and I have been talking and we've decided that we're going to try out having an Athosian style *menat*. It's a kind of group marriage thing."
John stared at him incredulously. "Teyla convinced you guys to do that too? I swear to God I'm going to drag her off to the infirmary to see if she's developed mind control."
Lorne looked at him and chuckled. "No mind control, sir. She's just very persuasive and had some good points to her argument. So your team is going to be a *menat* too?"
"Yeah, apparently." John shrugged uncomfortably. "She said we were already there anyway, so why not make it official?" He turned and looked directly at Lorne. "Doesn't the idea make you uncomfortable at all? I mean, it's not like anything we had back on Earth. I could see if you grew up with it, but none of us from Earth have. We're going to make all kinds of mistakes."
Lorne gave John a sympathetic look. "Well, yeah, it is new and there's some anxiety over the learning curve we're going to have, but honestly? I've made a hell of a lot of mistakes in relationships with my girlfriends, too. I figure I'll cope." He laid a hand on John's shoulder. "Sheppard? Relax and give it a chance. It might be easier than you expect now that you don't have to hide all the time."
John dropped his eyes and sighed. "You may have a point there. I'll try." He then shook his head saying, "Do you know how much it weirds me out that you are talking to me about my, my..."
"Gayness?" Lorne finished impishly.
"Yes, that!" John said in exasperation. "How did you know anyway? Did Teyla tell you?"
"No, I figured that out on my own shortly after I got here," Lorne replied. He refolded his arms and moved one finger from where it lay on his bicep to point at John's head. "It was the hair that tipped me off."
"Jesus Christ, not you too." John groused. "My hair naturally does this. I've got about a billion cowlicks."
Lorne shrugged casually and said with a smirk, "So, you've got naturally gay hair then."
John shoved him off the box and Lorne stumbled back, laughing. "Very funny," John said with a smile twitching in the corners of his mouth.
Lorne brought his laughing under control and leaned back on the box again. "So, to get back on topic, our *menatos* will back each other up if anybody has a cow over us going native?"
John raised any eyebrow. "Seeing as how the heads of the military and science branches as well as both their seconds are doing it, we may very well start a trend toward going native."
Lorne nodded. "That's what Teyla's hoping, sir."
John rolled his eyes. "I should have known."
A pudgy red-haired scientist huffed up to them at a slow jog. "Colonel, sir? Dr. McKay wants you back at the ship, right away."
"Was there excited arm waving involved or terrified screaming?" John asked, shoving himself away from the box he'd been leaning on.
The man blinked a bit and went, "Uh, excited arm waving I think."
John made a pleased face in Lorne's direction. "Well, probably good news then." He turned back to the guy. "Go back ahead and tell him I'll be right there."
The scientist bumbled off back in the direction of the ship and John turned to Lorne. "Lorne? Uh, thanks. For, you know..."
Lorne slapped him on the arm. "No problem. Get back to your scientist, and see if you can refrain from staring at his ass now that you're getting some of it."
John's ear reddened. "I do not stare at his ass."
Lorne just laughed and walked away. John gave a long suffering sigh. Figures. Best XO he'd ever had, didn't care if he was gay, and the fucker liked to torment him. He shook his head and set off back to the ship.
Several days later, Elizabeth watched as her premier team came back through the stargate to brief her personally on the progress on the ship. Something was going on with the four of them and she hadn't the faintest idea what it was. The previous closeness of the team seemed to have suddenly gelled into something more, which she couldn't put a name to. Before, the three trained in combat would loosely circle around Rodney on their way out. It had been reasonable and unsurprising, considering Rodney's lack of personal defense training. But within the last few days, the order had changed and now *John* of all people was in the protected middle, with Rodney in particular looking like he'd take off the head of anybody that got too close. It made no sense and she couldn't figure it out. Even more puzzling was the fact that this new formation seemed to get tighter when they returned to walk the halls of Atlantis, instead of breaking up upon their return the way the old formation had. She watched as they walked up the stairs to meet with her in front of her office. "So, what's the latest on the ZPM ship?" she asked as they reached the top.
Rodney bounced on his toes while the others looked on indulgently. "The last of it was dug out today, thanks to the extra volunteer crews, and Zelenka has confirmed that the engines and other systems that were damaged only need minimal work. We should be able to fly it out in about a week. We're still sorting out what the procedure is on manufacturing the ZPMs, but that, that linguist, what's her name, Sting?"
"You mean Dr. Singh," John replied patiently, rolling his eyes only slightly.
"Yes, her," Rodney said, pointing back at John without looking at him. "She made a big breakthrough today on translating the more esoteric technical terms concerning the construction process in the database, so we might just crack that nut before we make liftoff." He slanted a grin and bounced on his toes again. "And I was able to rig up cloaking capability for it today so the wraith won't be able to track it when we bring it back." He rubbed his hands together briskly. "Now, I'm starved. What's for dinner in the mess hall tonight?"
Ronon snorted. "You ate one of those granola bars on our way back."
Rodney looked at him, annoyed. "To keep my blood sugar from plummeting, you overgrown yeti."
Teyla turned to Rodney with a curious look. "What is a yeti?"
"Alright, kids, knock it off," John interjected. "I think I heard that it's meatloaf night tonight. Using that yak thing from M2X-902."
"Is a yeti related to a yak?" Teyla asked John.
As John started to mangle an explanation of yet another Earth reference, Elizabeth interrupted, because experience had shown her that if she didn't she'd never get a word in edgewise with this bunch when they were in this kind of mood. "John, could I see you in my office for a moment while the rest of your team get checked out in the infirmary?"
John shrugged, "Sure," and looked back at his team. "Save me some meatloaf, okay?"
Teyla stroked a hand down his arm. "We will prepare a plate for you." Ronon squeezed John's shoulder and took his P-90. Rodney then tugged at his tac vest until John pulled it off and handed it to him.
"Thanks guys," John said as his hand swept across Rodney's back and Rodney gave him one last lingering look before leaving with the rest of the team. Elizabeth lifted an eyebrow. That was another thing that was puzzling. John's team had become much more...handsy with him and he wasn't flinching or looking completely befuddled by it the way she'd noticed he was with anybody else that got inside his personal space.
They entered her office and she sat at her desk while John sprawled with his accustomed laziness in one of the guest chairs. "So, what's up, Elizabeth?" he asked as he picked up one of the statues on her desk and started tossing it absently from hand to hand.
"I wanted to speak with you about a disquieting request from Major Lorne that I received today," Elizabeth said, leaning forward to rest her elbows on her desk. "He, along with Drs. Zelenka, Parrish, Kusenagi, and Scott have put in a request be officially acknowledged as a group marriage of all things, and for their wills to be changed to add each other as beneficiaries."
John's body tensed up and he ceased tossing the statue, but his face was mild mannered as he replied, "So?"
Elizabeth's lips thinned. "So, this concerns me. I want to know if you've heard anything about why they're attempting to do this, this group marriage thing. None of these people have a history of having been in a polyamorous relationship before in their records. I don't think that this is normal behavior from any of them and I can't give my approval to this."
John sat upright and set the statue back on her desk, tense in his chair. "Well, what do you think ought to be normal behavior for them, then?"
Elizabeth was slightly taken aback at John's stiffness, but continued, "Well, naturally I expected anybody that came to me wanting to get married would be in a couple..."
"Because that's typically the way it was done back on Earth," John ended flatly. "Well excuse me Elizabeth, but I don't think that it's any of your damn business what they decide to do with their personal lives."
"Well, I think it is. I'm responsible for running this city and something out of the blue like this has the potential to seriously destabilize it!" she returned just as flatly. She wondered when a simple request for assistance in resolving this issue had suddenly turned into a defense for her right to do so.
John's face was forbidding. "And in what way *exactly* would something that is nobody's business but their own destabilize the damn city?"
"All that we have now are the laws and customs that we grew up with, John. If we abandon those, we will have complete chaos here with everyone making up their own rules. We can't afford riots happening because everyone's decided to go off and throw tradition to the winds. We have to pull together or we'll all hang separately." Elizabeth said logically, trying to rein in her confusion at John's attitude. This was not how she'd thought this conversation would go.
John's eyes narrowed. "So, let me see if I got this right. Because the predominant cultures represented here, *from a planet that doesn't exist anymore*, decreed that only two people could be in a marriage, you're going to blindly follow that because you're afraid that anything else will create anarchy?"
Elizabeth blinked, struggling to understand John's antipathy. "And your stance is what? That we throw away our entire culture? Just like that?"
"Our ways aren't all that and a bag of chips, Elizabeth. We screwed up a lot on Earth because of them. And we've screwed up even more here," John returned vehemently.
She looked at him, feeling completely caught out. "So we toss out everything that made us what we are?"
John shot to his feet. "If it fucked us up, yes!" He started to pace her office. "You have *no right* to decree who or how many people can marry each other as far as I'm concerned. If Lorne and the rest of the people in his group want to do this, then I'm going to back them up with the fullest extent of my command."
Elizabeth stood up, furious at his bald rejection of her authority. "You don't run this city, John. I do."
John stopped his pacing and gave her a look that was all sharp edges and dark threats. "You are not supreme dictator here, Elizabeth. I can and will refuse to follow you if I think you're making the wrong decisions. Don't push this, Elizabeth. You don't have the support to make a public refusal stick without me and Rodney."
"Are you threatening me?" she asked, her eyes narrow. "Rodney is uninterested in anything that doesn't pertain to science in this city."
"You'd be surprised at where Rodney's interests lie," John replied baring his teeth. "And if Rodney and I inform our respective departments that we think your decision is full of shit, you know how it will turn out."
And she did. With her two main officers publicly opposing her, she'd lose face and influence, possibly forever. John played dirty pool and he was frighteningly sure of Rodney's support. They stared intensely at each other for a long time before Elizabeth finally broke and lowered her eyes, feeling betrayed. She knew she couldn't run this city for long without their support. John had the military wrapped around his finger and the science division had been more or less programmed over time to jump whenever Rodney yelled at them to.
John nodded brusquely at her, realizing that he'd won this one. He turned and headed toward the door, then paused in the doorway and turned to look at her with a something akin to pity in his eyes. "Earth is gone, Elizabeth. You've got to let it go. We live in Pegasus now." He then turned and left.
John met up with his team, his *menat* and family he thought fiercely, in their quarters after his checkup in the infirmary. They took one look at his face as he sat down in front of the plate they'd had made for him and Rodney demanded, "What the hell happened?"
John poked at his vegetables desultorily. "Elizabeth got a request from Lorne's *menat* to be acknowledged as a marriage in the records and have their wills changed to name each other as beneficiaries." He took a steadying breath and shoved down his still simmering anger at Elizabeth. "She was going to refuse it and wanted me to ask Lorne just what the hell he thought he was doing."
Teyla sucked in her breath and Rodney asked blankly, "Lorne's setting up a *menat* too?"
Ronon moved his mouthful of food over to one cheek and answered Rodney. "Yeah. With Zelenka, Kusenagi, Parrish and Scott."
Rodney blinked in surprise and halted his fork mid air. "You're kidding me. Zelenka? Kusenagi?!"
Teyla considered John with dark, serious eyes. "I was afraid that she might react that way. What did you say to her, John?"
"What do you think? I told her she was full of shit and that she wasn't going to get any support from me or Rodney if she refused them." John replied, stabbing his fork into his meatloaf with undue violence.
"No, seriously, Zelenka?" Rodney interjected, forkful of food forgotten in his hand.
Ronon slapped a hand over Rodney's mouth. "Shut it, Rodney. Freak out over Zelenka later."
Rodney rolled his eyes, peeled Ronon's hand away from his mouth and stuffed the fork into his mouth, chewing spitefully in Ronon's direction.
John's hand began to shake and he quickly set down his fork to conceal the fact. "I can't believe Elizabeth would be so autocratic about something that was purely someone's personal business."
Rodney leaned into John's side and slid a hand over his knee under the table. "John?" he asked in an undertone. "You alright?'
Teyla reached over and laid a soothing hand on John's. "In times of great stress, we hold close those things that we know, John. Elizabeth is not any different and her position is most stressful of all. She has always been this way. It is nothing new."
"You're a leader of people too, Teyla, and you're more flexible than she is." John observed. He leaned into Rodney, silently reassuring him that he was okay.
Teyla gave a sad smile. "That is because I do not feel that I have to deny myself the comfort of companionship in order to retain my position the way Elizabeth does." She sighed, then said, "Your planet, for all its freedom from the threat of the Wraith, must have been a very difficult place to live. So many of you seem to have been deeply emotionally hurt."
John's hand drifted under the table and he laced his fingers into Rodney's and squeezed. He didn't know what to say to that. It wasn't like he could argue with her on it. It had taken the destruction of Earth for him to finally find some happiness in his personal life, and even then it had taken Teyla's interference to force him out of his self-imposed misery.
The door chime rang and Ronon got up from the table to answer it. He pressed the door release and one of his eyebrows flew up as he saw Elizabeth standing in the doorway. "May I come in?" she asked uncertainly.
Ronon moved aside to let her in and John and Rodney both turned to look at her as she came in. Elizabeth looked down where they had inadvertently pulled their joined hands out from under the table as they'd turned and then looked back up into John's face with searching eyes.
John felt his team, his *menat*, his family shift closer to him, felt their support as strongly as if it were sunlight beating down on him. "Yes, Elizabeth?"
Elizabeth broke their gaze and looked down at her hand. "May I speak with you privately?"
John looked at his team and made a decision. It was time to take a stand and admit what he was and who he loved. "Anything you want to say can be said in front of my family."
Elizabeth pursed her lips, then nodded tightly. "I've been thinking about what you said before you left my office. You're right. I've been...clinging, because it scares me to death that we're all that's left."
"We are," John affirmed, maintaining a tight grip on Rodney's hand despite the yawning pit in his stomach. "That's why we've got to change, Elizabeth. Otherwise we'll wind up just like Earth."
She looked at them all and her eyes settled back onto John and Rodney's joined palms. "Are you...?"
"Planning to do what Lorne, Zelenka and them are?" Rodney finished for her, pulling up their joined hands to rest on the table between them. John took a deep breath and fought down dizziness. "Yes we are, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth looked at them for a long moment, then nodded her head reluctantly. "May I join you for dinner?" she asked.
Ronon sat back down at the table as Teyla nodded for them all and gestured to the chair next to her as she got up and quickly made a plate for their guest. "Please do, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth sat down and quietly thanked Teyla as she deposited a plate in front of Elizabeth. "So... I think I'm going to need help planning a party for our first official marriage. Major Lorne deserves a good party for doing your paperwork the last few years, don't you think?"
John stared down at his and Rodney's still clasped hands. Maybe it was going to be okay. "Yeah, almost as much as Zelenka needs one for putting up with Rodney."
Rodney squeezed John's hand briefly. "Ha. I deserve a party for imparting some of my brilliance to him."
Elizabeth closed her eyes and looked very tired for a moment then opened them again and gave them a sad smile. "Perhaps after you've put in your request for a wedding."
Pity swept through John. Elizabeth was so alone and with him and Rodney now obviously together that left her even more isolated. "You really ought to re-think Heightmeyer's offer to move in with her, Keller, and Biro," he blurted out impulsively.
Elizabeth looked down at her food and pushed a piece of meat around with her fork. "I appreciate your concern, but I'm fine John."
"No, you're not," Ronon said bluntly.
Teyla looked faintly scandalized. "Ronon!"
Ronon folded his arms stubbornly. "She's not." He stared at Elizabeth evenly. "You've lost weight and you were too skinny to begin with. Your eyes are always red like you've been crying too."
Rodney looked at her with concern. "Elizabeth?" He reached out his other hand and curled it around her wrist. "Elizabeth...please." He visibly searched for words. "We, we can't lose you too."
Elizabeth withdrew her arm from Rodney's grasp. "I'm fine, Rodney, really." At the combined weight of everyone's disbelieving looks, she cracked just a little. "It's just...to be a woman in a position of authority I can't..."
John understood what she was trying to say. "Yeah, back on Earth that was true, but we're here now."
Elizabeth laughed bitterly. "People haven't changed just because our location has, John. People will still whisper about nepotism."
"Let 'em." John replied fiercely. "Elizabeth, I know what it means to have to keep appearances, but there is a limit. We're all we have now and you deserve to find some happiness just as much as the rest of us. You backed down and admitted I was right about Lorne's group." He stopped, took a deep breath and continued in a softer, persuasive tone, "Ignore some more of the old rules and give yourself a break, too."
Rodney cleared his throat. "Elizabeth, far be it from me to state the obvious, but we are not living in a utopia here. There will always be idiots who piss and moan about something. Maybe if you designated a second, somebody other than me, who, who is, I don't know, good with people and could take over for you in cases where there might be a genuine question of your impartiality..."
Elizabeth looked over at Teyla hesitantly. "Well...I have given some thought to making you my second in command..."
Teyla regarded her calmly for a moment. "I would wish to discuss it with you in depth before I accept your offer, Elizabeth." Teyla's eyes swept away for a moment, then bowed her head a moment as if coming to some difficult internal decision. Her eyes returned to Elizabeth and said solemnly, "There are issues I have with you about disregarding words you do not wish to hear because the person saying them is not from Earth."
Elizabeth winced and looked down at her plate. "Have I?"
"Yeah," Ronon interjected bluntly. "We told all of you that trying to change Wraith into humans was a stupid idea and you didn't listen."
John winced in memory of that particular fiasco. He glanced over to Rodney and saw him staring into his plate with a particularly discomfited expression. Yeah, that hadn't been the finest hour for the command team by any stretch of the imagination.
"There have been other issues as well," Teyla said more gracefully. "I am sorry, Elizabeth, but if you are truly considering me as your second, these are things that we must speak of before such a decision is made."
Elizabeth wilted in her chair and John ached for her. It felt really lousy to point out her leadership flaws at a time like this, but Teyla and Ronon did have a genuine point. He'd had to force Elizabeth to acknowledge a Pegasus viewpoint as being valid a few times himself and he was scarcely the best at seeing the larger picture in a Pegasus context. There had been plenty of other times that they hadn't gotten it when they really should have, and the expedition had paid the price.
"You're right," Elizabeth replied in a subdued tone. "Thank you for being honest with me."
Teyla inclined her head. "I have never been anything less with you, Elizabeth." She smiled wryly, "And I believe the word that you are actually looking for is blunt."
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows in a matching wry expression. "That, too." She pushed her food around some more then said, "Alright. Can we start our discussions tomorrow over breakfast?"
Teyla nodded. "That would be acceptable. I will make tea."
Elizabeth's mouth curled up in one corner. "Good, because I think I'm going to need it."
Rodney looked at her in earnest. "Elizabeth, please move in with somebody. I can understand if you're not interested in roommates that all practice voodoo, I mean all the bone rattling and chanting they probably do in their sleep would keep anyone up at night, but there are other options."
Elizabeth smiled a little more and nodded. "I'll keep that in mind, Rodney."
Teyla gave the team a significant look and they all took the hint, shutting up and resuming eating. Elizabeth looked relieved that the conversation was over for now and began to eat her food instead of pushing it around the plate. Dinner finished in relative silence, everyone opting to not attempt much small talk.
When it was clear that everyone had finished, John stood up and started gathering up the plates. Elizabeth stood up and volunteered to assist him and went with him to the kitchen. "John?" she asked quietly as she placed dishes next to the sink.
John looked over at her as he placed the dishes on the counter above the Ancient dishwasher. "Yes, Elizabeth?"
Elizabeth's eyes drifted over to the living room where the rest of the team had settled on the couch and were arguing over what movie to watch. "How'd this happen?"
John shrugged. She looked at him, confused, and he shrugged again. He really had no idea what to tell her. "It just did. We're close, it happened." He looked at her curiously. "Why do you want to know?"
"Aren't you afraid that it will all go horribly wrong?" Elizabeth asked. "Relationships with only two people in them are bad enough."
John nodded in understanding as he loaded the dishwasher. "Yeah, I know. The whole marriage thing didn't work out for me, either. But this is...well, this is more like family that you get to chose. It's different."
"I...see," Elizabeth said as she handed him dishes to load, clearly not seeing it at all.
John slotted the last plate in and closed the dishwasher up. As it automatically started, he leaned against the counter edge and crossed his arms. "Watch and see what happens, Elizabeth. This *menat* thing my team and Lorne's group has going isn't going to eclipse couples getting together. We're not ditching Earth customs so much as we're...adapting and adding to them to fit new circumstances."
Elizabeth looked at him for a long time before finally nodding. "Alright, I will. Now, if you will excuse me, I believe I need to go congratulate the new...group and ask them when they want to have their wedding party."
"I'll walk you to the door," John offered and he followed her back into the living room and to the door.
"Thank you for dinner," Elizabeth said as the door slid open.
"Anytime, Elizabeth. We were glad to have you," John replied. Elizabeth walked out and John watched the door slide shut after her. John let out a sigh and hoped that she'd be okay.
John sat down next to Rodney as Ronon leaned forward to look at John. "I can break into her room and move her stuff in with the doctors."
John liked the way Ronon thought. "Now that's an idea."
Teyla crossed her arms and frowned at them both. "That will not work the way you want it to, John. You and Rodney were ready for a family. Elizabeth clearly is not."
Ronon leaned back in his chair and folded his arms in disappointment. John made a face at Teyla and complained, "Aw, you're no fun."
Teyla then smiled slyly. "However, I will need your help in convincing her to pair up with Evan. I believe he wishes to become more than just friendly with her."
Teyla was a meddling matchmaker, thought John and he looked over at Rodney who squeezed his hand. John smiled at him and squeezed back. But he couldn't deny that she delivered fabulous results. "Okay, I'm in," he replied and smiled.