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Mating Rituals

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Exploring Atlantis was always interesting. Sometimes, it was freaky, like the time they'd found an alternate Elizabeth Weir in a stasis chamber, more ancient than Egyptian mummies, ten thousand plus years old.

Ford had gotten used to the weird since arriving on Atlantis. Some of the weird was cool, some of the weird was interesting, but just plain weird, and some of it was totally freaky, as with the ancient Elizabeth Weir. Some of it was terrifying, like the nanovirus that had killed several of the scientists and had looked like it was going to kill Ford and a couple of his men, too.

Ford had to admit, however, that the huge machine in what looked like another goddamn lab was on the cool side, at least until the major and Dr. McKay had started arguing.

The machine was a mystery. But, there were instructions written in Ancient on every surface, so the major had thumbed his radio and asked Dr. Weir to send Corrigan down.

"I'm telling you, this word is transform," McKay said.

"And I'm telling you I don't care, Corrigan's on his way, and he's better at reading Ancient than anybody but Weir." The major was standing in front of machine, his jaw set stubbornly, his arms folded. "So we don't touch anything."

"Major," Ford ventured. "You're sort of standing on that metal plate there, you might want to get off."

Sheppard spared him an irritated glance. "Just relax, Ford. I'm not touching it."

Whatever. Sometimes, it was hard to tell who was more stubborn, the major or Dr. McKay. Ford folded his arms and waited.

McKay edged closer, eyeing the script, and he was standing on the metal plate, too. Ford decided against pointing that out. McKay was the scientist, not him, and surely if there was any danger, McKay would know it.

"Oh, please, Major, I'm not the one who touches things," McKay said irritably.

Sheppard shook his head. "McKay, I've seen you, you're as bad as a little kid."

"Excuse me?" McKay got into Sheppard's face.

"Or maybe one of those chimpanzees they're trying to teach to read," Sheppard said, which was uncharacteristically irritable, even for the major, Ford thought, and McKay really got into his face, then.

McKay's expression was both enraged and incredulous for about ten seconds, apparently impressing the major, and the major backed up into the machine, which was probably what led to the events that followed.

There was a blinding flash of light that enveloped both the ranking officer on Atlantis and the head of the sciences division on Atlantis, and when Ford could see again, there were two penguins standing on the metal plate. Two penguins and stacks of clothing and gear.

"Jesus Christ," Stackhouse said, sounding stunned. "What the fuck?"

Ford gaped, shook his head and the penguins were still there, regarding each other with evident surprise. They were the black and white one, Adile or Adelie or something, Ford remembered from Antarctica, the little black and white ones who used pebbles to build their nests, and why the fuck was he thinking about this now?

The shorter, broader penguin honked loudly, freed himself from his pile of clothing, and attacked the other one with beak and flippers. The taller one honked and began to waddle backward; it tripped over the pants and shoes and bumped into the machine, honked again, and then bowled the shorter one over to make an escape.

"Get the door," Ford roared. "Fuck, that's the major, stop him!"

Nobody fucking moved.

Wouldn't you know it, they could drill their asses off for emergencies, but let somebody get turned into a penguin and it all fell apart. He scrambled after the penguin he thought was Sheppard and tripped over the other penguin, who paused to give him a vicious pinch behind the knee with its goddamn beak before waddling after the first.

"Fuck," he roared. "Get them!"

Finally, finally, people started moving, but they'd seen what the McKay penguin had done to Ford, and they were too slow and too goddamn careful. Ford got his ass off the floor and to the door in time to see the second penguin vanish around a corner. "Goddammit!" he shouted.

Teyla ran past him, fleet and graceful and he was freshly grateful for the fact that nothing ever seemed to really take Teyla by surprise.

Of course, in a galaxy where life-sucking aliens harvested humans, he supposed two guys turning into penguins was small potatoes.

Ford keyed his radio. "Dr. Weir, the major and Dr. McKay just got transformed into penguins, Teyla and I are following, will attempt to capture without injuring them, but Dr. Corrigan needs to get down here and figure out how the hell this machine works."

There was a silence at the other end; he trotted after Teyla, cursing the fact that the tendon behind his knee hurt like a son of a bitch. "Dr. Weir? Do you copy?"

"Say again, Lieutenant? The major and Dr. McKay have what?"

"They got transformed into penguins, my guess is that goddamn machine, ma'am, begging your pardon, but we need Corrigan and maybe Zelenka, NOW! And nets, I need nets, I don't want to hurt them."

"Penguins?" Weir sounded perplexed. "Lieutenant, are you all right?"

He rolled his eyes and rounded the corner. He could see Teyla a fair distance ahead of him. Damn, that woman could move. "I'm fine, ma'am, please, just trust me on this, no matter how nuts it sounds and I'm heading for Pier 4, send me one of the biologists and the vet and some nets, please, or we're going to lose them."

"Understood." She still sounded perplexed, but at least she was paying attention.

By the time he caught up with Teyla, the two penguins were on the Pier and the short one was beating the snot out of the larger one. Teyla was watching, her stance cautious.

"Jesus," Ford said, a little out of breath. "What the fuck, McKay's a vicious little bastard, isn't he?" He started forward, worried about the major, but Teyla's hand on his arm stayed him.

"I do not believe they are fighting," Teyla said and her mouth quirked.

"What the hell are they doing, then?" Ford blinked. Oh, no. He was so not seeing what he thought he was seeing, was he? "Oh, my God. Don't tell me."

Teyla coughed. "I believe they are mating."

"I told you not to tell me that." Ford closed his eyes. "But they're both male. Aren't they?"

"I cannot say for certain, Lieutenant. I am not even certain what they have become." Teyla studied the two. "Birds of some kind?"

"Penguins," Ford said and was relieved when both of them got up again, even if they began to groom each other in a decidedly intense way. "From Earth."

"Ah," Teyla said and crouched. "I am not sure how they might be captured without harm."

"Nets," Ford said. "For sure. McKay bit the fuck out of my leg before he took off. Oh, fuck, don't do that, you guys!"

The Major was looking curiously over the side of the pier and honking at McKay. And Ford wished he hadn't just thought that; two anonymous penguins were a lot easier to think about, and he was still having trouble wrapping his mind around the whole mating thing.

No way was that going in his report to Weir.

McKay stood next to the Major and honked back, and they both took a dive, even as Ford decided it was worth taking the risk to do a home run slide to try and stop them.

His fingertips brushed webbed feet and one of the penguins—he wasn't sure which this time--surfaced and honked irritably at him before going under.

"Goddammit!" he yelled and slapped his hand against the decking. "Now what the hell are we gonna do?"

Teyla knelt beside him. "What are they doing?"

"I don't know. Swimming." He pushed himself up to his knees. "No, wait, look."

One of them surfaced with a fish in its—er, his beak, and swallowed it. The other one surfaced immediately after and did the same. They honked at each other with what sounded suspiciously like glee and dove again.

"Fish," Ford said, "We need fish. Or something. We need to lure 'em back up on the pier."

Teyla nodded solemnly and keyed her radio. "Dr. Weir. We need something with which to lure the major and Dr. McKay back out of the water."

"Before something decides they're tasty," Ford agreed.

"Understood." Weir's voice was even more perplexed, but Ford had to give her credit, she was going with it without argument. "Dr. Beckett's on the way down with one of the vets, two marines and some netting."

Ford nodded.

"Understood," Teyla said and sighed. "We had better move back from the edge," she suggested. "If they are truly thinking as wild creatures, they may not wish to return to the pier if we are so close."

"I suppose," Ford said reluctantly. "Aw, Jesus, come on, guys, get out of the water before something decides you look good for lunch, please?"

Teyla shook her head. "I do not think they are listening, Lieutenant."

No shit. Ford got up, backed away from the edge of the pier, and crouched where he could keep an eye on the penguins.

They were still waiting for bait and the biologists when both penguins clambered back up on the pier. More grooming and then, to Ford's dismay, more mating, this time with the major on top.

He covered his eyes. "I should so not be seeing this."

Teyla smiled faintly.

Ford had to admit, the major was a little clumsy, not that McKay seemed to mind particularly, even if he did end up with wet footprints on his back when they were done. McKay's performance had seemed a little smoother, and, God, he couldn't believe he had even noticed that, for God's sake and he never wanted to notice it again.

When Ford uncovered his eyes, they were back to grooming each other, honking happily at each other, curving their necks to allow for more access. Maybe it was the penguin equivalent of necking, he thought and no, he had not just thought that.

Pegasus galaxy was totally ruining his equanimity.

A clatter from the entrance to the pier startled both penguins and they froze, staring in that direction.

Ford turned his head, saw two of the members of the life sciences department, Dr. Beckett and two Marines, Chavez and Riordan. The latter carried netting. He held up a hand in warning and everyone slowed.

Teyla went to meet them, came back carrying a plastic bag with what he supposed was raw fish, from the look of it.

She smiled faintly at Ford and approached the penguins slowly, crouched and reached into the bag.

McKay honked in warning and the major tilted his head curiously to watch her. She put some of the raw fish on the deck, two small piles, and McKay honked again, not so harshly, but in an almost friendly way.

"Yes," Teyla said softly, "This is for you. We do not wish you to dive in the water for fear something larger may find you an interesting meal. But we have fish in plenty for you."

It was weird. Both penguins appeared to be listening carefully. The major honked and approached the fish, and McKay followed, dipped his beak to eat.

"Here, Lieutenant," Riordan said softly. "Here's a net."

Ford took the net from Riordan. "Thanks."

Teyla extended her hand and McKay backed up warily. The major, however, shook himself all over and honked happily at her, rubbed his head on her fingertips. After a moment, McKay joined him. "There," Teyla murmured, "That is better. You know me, we are friends, all of us." She held her other hand out and let McKay rub his head against it.

Ford looked at Riordan. "You take the taller one," he murmured. "I'll get the other one. On my mark."

Riordan nodded.

The two penguins were hooting and honking at Teyla as if explaining things to her. If Ford had to describe their tone, he would have said 'earnest'.

The back of his leg throbbed and he looked at Riordan, looked back at the penguins. It seemed like a good idea to actually take advantage of their focus on Teyla, he thought. "Go," he said and leapt at McKay.

He'd been totally right, McKay was vicious; he barely got the little bastard's head caught in the net and the netting wasn't big enough to keep that beak from poking through and catching his fingers. "Ow, ow, ow! Goddammit," he yelped, and managed to grip McKay's beak with his other hand long enough to yank his bleeding fingers free and the only reason he could do that is that the little bastard kept trying to free his flippers, which made it a helluva lot easier for Ford to free himself. Closing his undamaged hand around McKay's beak, he shook at him. "Cut it out, goddammit!" he shouted.

The major, halfway wrapped in Riordan's net, honked angrily and lunged at Ford, nearly freeing himself and pinching Ford's upper arm painfully.

"Get him!" he shouted at Riordan. "Dammit!"

Teyla snatched McKay away from him. "Lieutenant, you are going to injure him," she said angrily. "I had matters under control, that was not necessary." She held McKay around the middle and smoothed the feathers on his head.

The major let go of Ford's arm and strained toward Teyla.

"Him? I'm bleeding!" Ford told her wrathfully. "They're mean little bastards."

"They are defending one another," Teyla snapped and cradled McKay to make sure he wasn't hurt. He honked plaintively and Ford swore he was snuggling against her and playing it for all it was worth. Teyla made soothing sounds and kept smoothing his feathers.

"Ow!" Riordan tried to wrap the net around the major again, but the major struggled crazily against Riordan's grip, making furious braying and honking sounds.

"Corporal," Teyla ordered, "Bring the major here so he may see McKay is not injured."

Riordan obeyed, dammit, and the major stopped struggling, honked back at McKay. They poked at each other through the netting, checking each other out a little frantically.

"Hold on to him," Ford ordered Riordan irritably. "Unless you want to see something you'd rather not."

"Huh?" Riordan sounded puzzled.

Teyla gave him a reproachful look.

Damn.

Beckett hurried over and crouched near Teyla, scowled at Ford. "You might have injured him, Lieutenant. Marla, you're the vet, come and have a look at this one."

"He was biting me!" Ford complained and took a second look at Marla. She was very, very pretty, except for the reproachful look she gave him before crouching.

Sure, they were cute, but was Ford the only one to notice they were demented and vicious? He glanced at the major, found the major staring at him with hot penguin death in his eyes. "Hey, I'm sorry, but he was biting me!" he said and then felt really foolish when everyone looked at him. "I was talking to the major."

The major honked at Teyla again, a sad little sound, and he poked at McKay again. Teyla murmured something and McKay made a sound like a tired sort of trill.

The major gave him another death look.

He was so in trouble when the major was back to human, Ford thought and covered his eyes again.

------------------------------------

"Dr. McKay might have a slight concussion," Marla Phillips said ruefully. "But I think he'll be fine. Major Sheppard seems to be perfectly well, although Corporal Riordan did have to wrap him up fairly snugly to keep him from doing Lieutenant Ford any more damage."

Weir looked at Ford, who shifted from foot to foot like a guilty child.

"Look, Dr McKay was biting me, I was just trying to get him to stop." He held his bandaged hand up forlornly. "I didn't mean to hurt him."

"I understand, Lieutenant." And really, she did. The lieutenant was actually bleeding in a couple of places. She was very glad Teyla had intervened and just wished Ford hadn't given Rodney a concussion.

"Tell the major that," Ford said and looked away unhappily.

Inside the holding cell, the penguin Teyla had identified as John honked at them angrily.

"The major is very protective of Dr. McKay," Phillips added needlessly.

No kidding. Rodney was bobbing in the shallow pool Phillips had set up, and John was practically welded to him.

"Is there any indication that their personalities and memories are intact?" Weir asked and looked back at the little knot of scientists observing the two from a safe distance from the bars.

They all looked at each other instead of answering, and if she wasn't mistaken, they looked uneasy. "It's difficult to say," Beckett hedged, and looked at Kate Heightmeyer. "Kate?"

"I have no idea," Heightmeyer said and sighed. "Although it would seem that there's at least part of their personalities remain intact, given the major's protective behavior. Although I'd never noticed before that Rodney was particularly hostile to the lieutenant."

"I do not believe that he is," Teyla said, "I believe he was afraid."

They all looked at Ford.

"I didn't mean to scare him," Ford said plaintively. "I just didn't want anything big to eat him."

"I know, Lieutenant," Weir said kindly. "And I'm glad you were thinking ahead."

"And after that, of course, the major was attempting to defend Dr. McKay." Teyla looked at Ford. "Which is why Corporal Riordan was bitten."

Riordan was still getting his hand disinfected and bandaged. Fortunately, everyone's tetanus shots were up to date.

"And that's how the major's feathers got so?" Weir gestured vaguely.

"Disarranged," Teyla agreed. "The Corporal had wrapped the net very tightly in an effort to protect the major for injuring himself, and to protect Lieutenant Ford from the major."

Weir looked back at the penguins. "Rodney seems to be feeling better," she commented. Both of them had gotten out of the pool and John was standing patiently while Rodney groomed the 'disarranged' feathers on John's head. "I hope John's missing feathers don't translate into bald spots," she added.

Ford winced. "Me, too, ma'am."

Heightmeyer nodded. "Teyla believes they both knew her, Elizabeth, so that's a positive sign. Even if they weren't totally aware of how or why, they did appear to trust her."

"It could have just been the fish," Ford said tactlessly.

Teyla gave him a long look. "I do not believe that is true," she said coolly. "Dr. McKay stopped fighting immediately once he realized I was holding him. I believe that indicates trust."

Ford looked as if he was wishing he could disappear. "Sorry, she's right."

Weir nodded, glanced at the cell again. John was once more grooming Rodney.

"So I'm really not sure what else we can do," Beckett said apologetically. "I've taken some genetic samples and obviously, aside from the penguin factor, these two are apparently the major and Rodney. Oh, dear," he said, looking back at the holding cell. "What now?"

Weir looked back at the penguins, who appeared to be fighting. "What in the world?" John was down on his belly and Rodney was on top of him. "Dr. Phillips?"

"They are mating," Teyla said. There was an undertone of amusement beneath her calm.

"Aren't they both males?" Weir asked, startled.

"Yes, yes, they are." Phillips sounded a little amused, too. "But that hasn't stopped them. Same-sex matings occur all across the animal world. This isn't the first time they've, ah, done this since we got them into the cell."

Ford sighed. "They were doing it out on the pier, too. It doesn't take them long, though."

Weir glanced over and saw that Zelenka and Beckett had both turned a little red. "Oh. Oh, dear." She hoped to God that this wasn't going to cause problems when they managed to return the major and Rodney to human form. On the other hand, maybe she was just oblivious, and they were already involved, and she really did not need to be thinking about this—"How are we going to get this resolved, gentlemen? We really need both of them back."

"Dr. Corrigan has been studying the machine," Zelenka said, "And we've cross-referenced what he's translated with the Ancient database and started a search. It may take a bit of time to locate the records we need, but we'll find them. Then it's a matter of reversing the process." He cleared his throat, averted his eyes from the two penguins. "I, ah, I'll go back to the lab and see if I can help Dr. Corrigan."

Weir nodded.

Beckett cleared his throat, too. "And since they're penguins, there's not much for me to do until they're human, Elizabeth. I'll be in the infirmary if you need me."

Phillips looked at Weir, her mouth twitching, but didn't say anything.

"I, ah, I'm going to get back to work," Ford mumbled and followed them.

When the men were gone, Phillips grinned outright. "I think they're a little uncomfortable."

Heightmeyer just rolled her eyes. "Oh, yes, very."

Weir couldn't help laughing. "Because of penguins."

"These are penguins they know. Sort of." Heightmeyer was trying not to smile.

"I do not understand," Teyla said, clearly amused. "Is this discomfort with the notion that the major and Dr. McKay are both male, yet choose each other as mates?"

"Remind me later, Teyla, to explain don't ask and don't tell," Phillips said.

Weir sighed. "In our culture, Teyla, same-sex relationships are, well, controversial, despite the fact that they have occurred as long as human beings have existed."

Heightmeyer nodded. "And because sexuality is a very sensitive issue in our culture." She glanced at Phillips, shrugged.

Teyla frowned slightly. "That makes little sense."

"There are religious strictures against same-sex relationships," Weir said, "But there are also cultural restrictions. Some people believe it goes back to a patriarchal structure wherein only those who breed are considered worthwhile. I think it's a combination of a lot of things, including the fact that both religion and state have tried to control sexuality from the earliest recorded history."

Heightmeyer's expression was thoughtful, but she remained silent.

"How odd," Teyla said, managing not to make it sound like an insult? "What will happen to the major and Dr. McKay once they are returned to their human form? Will they be treated with disrespect by their colleagues?"

Weir arched an eyebrow. "Not if I can prevent that."

"They will not be punished?" Teyla eyed her.

"No," Weir said firmly. "In fact, I think we should keep this particular aspect of their transformation quiet. Lieutenant Ford, I think, will keep this private." She looked back at the penguins. Randy little devils, they were. "Oh, look, they've switched places." And she could not believe she'd just said that. It was bizarre to think that she was watching the chief scientist and chief military officer of Atlantis copulating on the floor of a holding cell.

Teyla looked, frowned faintly. "Should we not do more to protect their privacy than merely keep silent?"

Weir blinked. "Well, at the moment, they're penguins."

Teyla shrugged. "I believe that the major and Dr. McKay recognized me on the pier."

Heightmeyer nodded. "Actually, Elizabeth, it might be the best way to reduce emotional trauma later on."

There was that, Weir thought. "Well, perhaps if we limit observers that will be enough. If they do have any memories of being human, Rodney's likely to figure a way out of the holding cell so I don't want to leave them unwatched."

"I'll stay," Phillips said, amused. "And if we want to keep the gossip down, maybe Teyla and I can alternate."

"I would be willing," Teyla agreed.

Weir nodded. "They really are very cute," she said, unable to prevent herself. Cute and evidently insatiable, although at least they'd finished for the moment and were now playing with the pebbles and rocks.

"Adelie penguins are," Phillips agreed. "They've just exchanged pebbles."

"Exchanged pebbles?" Weir eyed Phillips.

Phillips nodded. "It's a pair-bonding sort of thing with Adelie penguins," she told Weir. "And it does appear that they're starting to build a nest."

"I find that odd," Weir admitted. "Surely they know they're not going to have any chicks."

"I have no idea what they know," Phillips admitted. "And nest-building is really an instinct, you know. Since they apparently recognize each other as mates, that could be the impetus."

"Hmmmm," Weir said and rubbed her forehead. "Well, keep me updated, please."

"I will take first watch, if you like," Teyla offered, "But I think I should be inside the holding cell. It seems to me that they trusted me on the pier, even after Lieutenant Ford's temper overcame him."

"Actually, that's not a bad idea," Heightmeyer said thoughtfully. "If they do have memories of themselves as human, Teyla's presence may very well reinforce those. And God knows what being penguins will do to their psyches and sense of self."

Weir nodded. "Especially if they remember being penguin mates," she said.

All four women smiled involuntarily, and Weir sighed.

It really wasn't funny. But they really were so cute.

-------------------------------------------------------------

The major, Teyla thought, several hours later, was still a little mistrustful of her after Ford's loss of temper. McKay, however, edged toward her now and again, and when she extended her hand, rubbed his head on her fingertips.

McKay was very restful as a penguin. He was also very playful. He apparently was teaching the major to play, as well. Once the nest had been more or less constructed of pebbles, McKay had splashed water on the holding cell floor and taught the major how to slide.

They did seem to enjoy themselves sliding across the floor. Teyla sat cross-legged on the blankets she'd placed on the metal bunk against one side of the cell and watched the two play the way that Athosian children played in the snow. Once the major understood the game, he was the more reckless, she thought, and smiled as McKay honked in warning when the major slid too close to the bars and thus the energy shield.

If the major was protective of McKay, McKay was equally so of the major.

McKay waddled over to the major and again they mated. She averted her eyes to grant them some small measure of privacy, but fortunately, it was soon over. She rose then and approached both of them with the container of raw fish Dr. Phillips had provided. "You must eat, McKay," she said and sat down on the floor on a dry spot. "And you also, major."

McKay preened himself and the major and then dipped his beak into the container, tipped his head back to swallow. The major regarded her with shiny black eyes before following suit.

Ah, at last, she thought and held out her hand to McKay again. The major was just unhappy that she had not been able to prevent Ford from shaking McKay, but her quick action in rescuing McKay had obviously led him to forgive her. McKay rubbed his head against her fingers again, honked at the major.

The major swallowed the fish and eyed her again, edged a little closer. She raised her other hand and sat very still until he ducked his head against her palm very quickly.

She was forgiven, Teyla thought, amused and touched at the same time.

"How the hell do you do that?" Lieutenant Ford's tone was plaintive.

The two penguins turned to eye Ford and they both honked angrily at him, waving their flippers.

Teyla shook her head. "You frightened and hurt one of them," she said, pitching her voice to be heard over the honking. "I did not. And, I think perhaps they do remember a little of their human selves."

"Then why the hell is McKay so vicious?" Ford complained.

Teyla considered. "Perhaps he did not realize that when you stumbled in the lab it was an accident, not an attack."

Ford considered that. "Well," he said grudgingly, "There is that."

"And you did try to keep them from diving into the sea," Teyla added, "They may not have realized you were acting out of concern for their welfare."

Ford crouched. "Yeah, that could be," he agreed, "I mean, they are penguins. They might not realize that there could be things out there that would eat them."

"Or they might have been acting on instinct, and not realized that there may be many new predators in this foreign environment." Teyla sighed. "Major, Dr. McKay, Ford will not harm you. You see, he is outside the shield." She rose and touched her palm briefly to the shield to demonstrate, felt the small shock. "He cannot reach you."

McKay backed up, honked once more, and then waddled back to the container of fish. The major stopped the honking, but he stayed ready, standing guard warily, flippers ready to strike.

Teyla couldn't help smiling. "Major, he cannot come in."

The major shook himself and turned his back on Ford, joined McKay at the container and honked once more in an aggrieved manner before beginning to eat.

Teyla laughed softly. "I do not think he is inclined to forgive you yet, Lieutenant."

Ford looked unhappy. "Maybe when he's human again," he said and turned to go.

"Perhaps." Teyla sat back down again, smiling a little at the dejected set of Ford's shoulders. However uncomfortable Ford might be with the mating behavior of the major and Dr. McKay, it was apparent that he felt badly.

Hopefully, neither the major nor McKay would remember why they were angry once they were themselves again.

The penguins stopped eating and began vocalizing again, waddled back to the pool.

Teyla found herself marveling that their penguin exchanges were so much more peaceful than their human conversation. Perhaps she could remind them of this when things were back to normal.

It would be very interesting to see how they reacted.

-------------------------------------------------------------

Marla Phillips liked penguins. Well, really, who didn't? Penguins were cute, even if they could be incredibly bad tempered on occasion. They were interesting little devils, and the major and Rodney McKay were more interesting than most.

Phillips couldn't help wondering if they'd been involved before being transformed. Only in another galaxy, she thought, would she be able to think 'before being transformed' and not have it be something out of a fairy tale.

Things just kept getting weirder and weirder here.

The major and McKay had regarded her warily when she'd replaced Teyla as their penguin-sitter, and McKay had honked at her nervously when she'd approached to check his beak and head. She'd held out her hands harmlessly and let both of them examine her before attempting to touch either of them, had kept her touch light and careful and stayed crouched in place when they'd at first backed away.

The major had honked at McKay and McKay had honked back, and then they had relaxed, had allowed her to examine them both. The major really had lost a few clumps of feathers to that net, she found, but the spots were small, and not bleeding. She was pretty sure McKay's beak was a little tender, from the way he flinched when she touched him, and maybe his head and body, too.

It didn't seem to stop either of them from playing, though. Or having sex at fairly regular intervals: comfort sex, celebration sex, just for the hell of it sex, knock-down wrestling sex, joyful honking sex—she kept making notes because as far as she'd ever observed, the regularity and style of their matings were both more human then penguin. Which was a good sign, given concerns about their personalities and psyches.

The major slid into the bars and shield and honked, a short, sharp sound that brought McKay waddling as fast as he could to examine the Major with beak and flippers, honking in concern. That lasted as long as it took the major to honk back in reassurance, and then there they went again, comfort sex.

At least Phillips supposed it was comfort sex. Maybe it was celebration sex, although the completion of the pebble nest had seen what she would have defined as celebration sex. They even had sex in the pool. She hadn't realized that Adelie penguins could even mate in the water.

It wasn't just the sex that amazed her, either. The two were really very sweet together, and she was never going to be able to take irascible McKay seriously again. The major would divide the fish so that McKay got the greater part, and McKay would honk at him and shove part of it back to the major and whack him once or twice until the major just accepted the division and ate it. They kept grooming each other thoroughly, and maybe she was totally anthromorphizing, but there was something akin to tenderness in the care they showed each other.

Marla kept taking notes. There was a surveillance camera in the area of the holding cells, but she had to talk to Weir about erasing the file. These two really deserved their privacy, and then there was the whole military thing. Ford was a good kid and he'd keep his mouth shut; Teyla was Athosian and thought Earth homophobia was insane.

Beckett and Zelenka were scientists, no matter how uncomfortable they were watching these two gleefully and frequently consummate their pair-bond.

McKay slid across the floor on his belly, honking happily and the major waddled over to do the equivalent of a penguin high-five when McKay came to a stop short of the bars and shield.

Phillips grinned. They were sure having a lot of fun, between the splashing and bobbing in the pool and the splashing and the sliding on the floor.

It was too bad you couldn't housebreak penguins.

"Dr. Phillips," Teyla said from outside and the shield flashed briefly and went off. The cell door opened slightly and Teyla slipped through with a tray. "I have brought you something to eat."

Phillips looked at the penguins.

Dr. Weir had been right about McKay. Every time the shield went off, his beady little eyes studied the bars as if wondering if it were safe to dart through.

The major honked at him, whacked him gently with a flipper, and waddled back toward the pool. McKay honked back, and waddled after him.

"Thanks, Teyla," Phillips said. "They're surprisingly fast, aren't they?"

"And graceful," Teyla agreed. "Are they still playing the sliding game?"

"Yes. The major's getting a little more cautious; he's gotten stung by the shield a few times and it upsets Dr. McKay." Phillips shifted on the bunk; let Teyla put the tray between them. "I have to say, though, they seem to be having a good time."

"That is not surprising," Teyla said and smiled as the major slid across the floor again. "They need worry about nothing but eating, playing and sleeping."

Phillips grinned. And having sex, but Teyla was definitely being tactful. "And Lieutenant Ford," she said and laughed. "He came by again, tried to make up for the concussion he gave Dr. McKay with some fresh fish, but neither of them were having any of it."

"How did they behave?" Teyla asked, amused.

"Violently," Phillips said and chuckled. "We barely got him out and the shield up in time. Luckily they're both bit too plump to make it through the bars quickly."

"The major is slightly taller and thinner than McKay, but McKay is broader," Teyla said. "Just as they are in human form."

"I can't imagine what the machine was intended to do," Phillips said and picked up a sandwich. "But I can't believe it was meant to turn humans into animals."

Teyla's expression was thoughtful. "Perhaps it was not, but they do appear to be enjoying themselves. Perhaps because they do not have the responsibilities they carry as either soldier or scientist."

The major honked joyfully and Phillips glanced over. They were 'celebrating' in the pool again. "And then there's the frequent sex," she said drily. "I don't know about the major and Dr. McKay, but they've had more sex since they got turned into penguins than I've had in a year."

Teyla laughed. "Let us hope they do not find being human again disappointing. Dr. Zelenka and Dr. Corrigan are very close to completing the necessary translations."

Phillips took a bite. "You know, I'm going to miss them being penguins," she said thoughtfully. "Dr. McKay is a lot more cheerful and a lot more fun this way."

"So," Teyla said confidentially, "is the major."

Phillips grinned.

-------------------------------------------------------

The good news was that Zelenka and Corrigan had figured it out. The bad news, Weir thought, was that they had to get the penguins down to the lab to accomplish the reversal.

"Oh, they're fine, Dr. Weir, " Phillips told her cheerfully on the way to the holding cell. "Although they aren't exactly normal penguins."

"You mean their mating behavior?" Weir asked, thinking 'gay penguin sex'.

"Well, not the fact that they're both males, but the, um, frequency." Phillips grinned. "You know that penguins have a mating season?"

Well, she hadn't thought about it, but she nodded.

"I asked Dr. Zelenka to calculate the date on Earth, and this is not the traditional mating season for Adelie penguins." Phillips touched the control on the console to turn off the shield. "These two seem completely non-instinctual about their mating habits."

Weir arched an eyebrow. "And that means?"

Phillips grinned again. "It means, Dr. Weir, that they're acting like human beings with regard to their sexual frequency. And they're very solicitous of each other, more so than natural penguins. That could mean that there's more of the major and Dr. McKay inside those little penguin heads than we feared."

"That's good news," Weir said, a little relieved and they turned the corner to see Teyla sipping tea from a thermos.

"How are the boys this morning, Teyla?" Phillips asked.

Teyla rose gracefully from the bunk. "They appear to be very well, Dr. Phillips. I believe that Dr. McKay is feeling better, and shows no sign of concussion now."

Rodney and John seemed to asleep in their nest, leaning against each other, each of them with a flipper over their head. They really were adorable, Weir thought and bit her lip to keep from laughing.

Phillips pressed the control to open the door and both penguins startled awake and honked in alarm.

"It is all right," Teyla said soothingly. "It is only Dr. Phillips and Dr. Weir." She moved to crouch near the nest. "You know they will not hurt you." She held her hands out, not too close and Rodney, surprisingly, was the first to clamber out of the pebble nest and rub his head on her fingers. "We would like to take you to the lab, Major," Teyla told John, "Will you allow Dr. Phillips to carry you? I promise, I will take very good care of Dr. McKay."

Weir was bemused to see John's head tilt, as if he were considering it. She was more bemused when John honked softly.

"See what I mean?" Phillips said softly. "Logically and scientifically, I can't swear that she's right, but I'd bet my paycheck, if I were getting paid." Quick sidelong grin and she crouched, let John study her before picking him up.

"Shouldn't they be restrained," Weir asked softly. "I mean, when they get to the lab, they might be a little alarmed."

"I think they will be fine," Teyla said and used a fingertip to mock-groom Rodney's white chest. "If we give them reason to trust us, they will trust, yes?"

"Yes," Weir admitted. "All right, let's go, then."

Rodney honked at her, but it sounded more like a greeting than a complaint.

"Hello, Rodney," she said, just in case. "Ready to get back to normal? Dr. Zelenka and Dr. Corrigan think they have the answer."

Rodney honked again, sounding cheerful.

Shaking her head at herself, Weir led the way to the transporter.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

Ford was glad that Weir had ordered the lab closed to all but essential personnel. He didn't think Major Sheppard was going to be happy when he rematerialized as a human and found himself stark naked. For that matter, he might not be all that happy when he rematerialized and saw Ford, although Ford was still holding onto the admittedly frail hope that Sheppard wouldn't remember much about being a penguin.

Still, making sure they both had clean clothes for when they did rematerialize as human surely had to earn Ford at least some brownie points.

Teyla stood next to Ford, waiting while Corrigan explained things to Weir. She nodded at last, and smiled brightly at Ford and Teyla. "Dr. Zelenka is going to give it a try. So focus on thinking about the major and Dr. McKay as they were, not as they are."

Ford nodded. He appreciated the positive approach. Obviously, Weir knew that telling someone not to think about something was a sure fire way to make them think of nothing but the forbidden subject.

Thinking about Sheppard as he was, however, was somewhat unsettling, considering he fully expected to be on the receiving end of the kind of tirade that had made Stackhouse once consider jumping off the pier.

Sheppard was pretty laid back most of the time, but if you made him mad, you were totally fucked, as the Genii and Stackhouse had discovered. At least, Sheppard wasn't inclined to shoot his own people.

At least, not with a gun.

Ford wasn't sure Sheppard was above shooting any of them with a Wraith stunner, though; he was going to have a word with Bates about keeping the armory codes lost for a day or so.

Zelenka pressed a button the machine, and yup, that would have been where the major was standing the other day when McKay had gotten in his face and backed him into it. Really, McKay had no one but himself to blame for this whole mess, Ford thought virtuously and squinted against the bright flash of light.

Sheppard and McKay stood there when the light faded, entirely human and as bare as the day they were born.

"Fish?" McKay asked, and then frowned. "Wait a minute," he added and looked at Sheppard.

Sheppard looked back.

They both suddenly noticed they were naked and did that whole hands clasped in front of them which, Ford was interested to note, actually hid very little. He'd have to remember that next time he was in a similar situation, even though he was fairly certain he had more to hide.

Of course, it was chilly in the lab, so maybe that was unfair.

"Clothes?" Sheppard said plaintively.

"Here, sir," Ford said, stepping forward with the pile of neatly laundered items. "Yours and Dr. McKay's."

McKay scowled at him. He was horrified to notice that there was a bruise on one side of McKay's face. A bruise shaped like a handprint. Then, of course, there was the whole bruising around the midsection, from where he'd held on too tightly while shaking McKay hard enough his little penguin brain rattled.

Sheppard's glare at him was…incendiary.

Shit. So much for memory loss.

Ford almost flinched, but held his ground. If necessary, he could always remind the major of his extra-curricular activities as a penguin to regain some lost ground. "Underwear and socks, too, sir," he said helpfully, with more aplomb than he felt.

They both snatched after their clothes and Weir politely turned her back to allow them a minute to get dressed, even though her mouth was twitching suspiciously.

Teyla didn't bother turning around and she whapped Ford in the ribs with an elbow when McKay turned enough that they could see that the bruising around his midsection extended on around his back. Even worse, but so not his problem, Major Sheppard had a little, er, frayed spot on the side of his head. Ford was so tossing Riordan in without a life preserver on that one. Anyone who knew the major knew that you just didn't mess with the guy's hair.

Naturally, Beckett was in there trying to check them out before they got dressed.

"Stop, Carson," McKay finally snarled. "I'm fine, I'm just a little bruised." He gave Ford a sidelong look.

Sheppard, however, gave him a dead on glare. "Lieutenant, it ever occur to you that something one tenth of your size might be just a little more fragile than you?"

Shit. "Sir, it was an accident. Besides, he was biting me, I wasn't thinking." Oh, fuck, when McKay turned his head that way, Ford could see the slender bruise that was, fuck, his thumbprint from when he'd closed his fingers over penguin McKay's beak and shaken him by it. Ford took a prudent step backward and tried to ignore the fact that Teyla was smirking.

Sheppard pulled his shirt on and rubbed the side of his head. "What the hell did Riordan do to me, anyway?"

"It was the net," Ford offered. "He kept trying to wrap it around you, but you, ah, weren't being very cooperative." Okay, so maybe he wasn't going to throw Riordan in without a life preserver, he had to at least try to protect his men.

Sheppard's glare didn't diminish.

On the other hand....

Weir smiled at Sheppard anyway. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine, fine, fine," McKay said and fended Beckett off. "I'm fine!"

"Except for the concussion," Beckett said.

Sheppard turned on Ford again. "You gave him a concussion?"

Thank God, Weir stepped in. "It was an accident, John, Ford was trying to keep both of you from becoming lunch for anything larger in the water that might find penguins tasty."

To Ford's relief and amazement, Sheppard blushed and avoided Weir's gaze. "Yeah, well, he didn't have to be so damn rough about it."

"I'm fine," McKay said, not quite as crankily. "Really."

The two of them stared at each other for a moment.

Ford felt the urge to put his hands over his eyes again. There were some things a junior officer should just not know about his commanding officer.

Even if he already did.

-----------------------------------------------------------

John was standing outside the holding cell, his hands in his pockets when Weir found him.

"Hi," she said and stood beside him, her arms folded. "You feeling okay?"

"Yeah," he said morosely. "Pretty much. What happened to the surveillance files?"

"Erased," Weir said and her mouth twitched. "Some strange accident, Grodin couldn't explain it."

John nodded. There was that, he thought gratefully; AVI files of wild gay penguin sex wouldn't end up on the LAN, at least. "What happened to the uh, nest?"

"The pebbles? I think they got swept up and tossed out," Weir said and her mouth twitched again. "How much do you remember?"

"I remember Ford beating the crap out of Rodney," he said, taking the position that the best defense was a good offense. "And eating lots of fish. And swimming. Teyla was nice, though."

"Yes, she was." Weir smiled faintly. "And so was Dr. Phillips, the vet."

John shrugged. The truth was, he mostly remembered being happy with Rodney. Teyla was memorable for helping him protect Rodney from Ford. He had to get over this irrational resentment of Ford, who really had taken some whacks from Rodney. "So how's Rodney? No more concussion?"

"Beckett released him," Weir said mildly. "Are you sure you're okay, John?"

John shrugged. "I'm fine. Tired. A little bruised. You know. The usual effect of being turned into a penguin and manhandled by my own troops."

Weir winced. "They really were just trying to keep both of you safe, you know."

"I know. That's why Ford's still alive." John frowned. "Well, I'm going to get some rest, Elizabeth. Thanks. I mean, for—" He gestured at the camera placements.

She nodded and walked out of the security area with him. "You know, John, this is Atlantis."

John looked at her, wondering if he'd missed something key during the days he was a penguin. "Uh, yeah. I know that."

"It's not Earth." She wasn't quite looking at him. "Or the United States."

Well, duh. "Right," he said cautiously.

"So even if we hadn't had an accident with the surveillance files, there's no such thing as Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Weir still wasn't looking at him, and he was grateful for that, because his face went hot as hell. "Right," he agreed, and, "Night, Elizabeth."

"Good night, John," she said and started up the stairs.

John thought about it, though, all the way back to the area they'd set aside as living quarters. She was right. And more, she was telling him something.

He just wished the pebbles hadn't gotten thrown away.

He stopped by Rodney's quarters, knocked on the door.

"Come in." Irritable tone.

John opened the door anyway, walked in, and let them shut behind him. Rodney was standing in the middle of the room, towel drying his hair. "Hey, how's the head? And face?"

Rodney emerged from under the towel and scowled. "Bruised. What do you want?"

Taken aback, John frowned. "I wanted to see how you were doing, if you were okay."

"I'm fine," Rodney said, astonishingly truculent. "So you can go now."

"Hey, don't be a bastard to me," John said, and it was astonishing how much that hurt. "I'm not the one who did it." He glanced around the room, trying to keep some kind of composure and there, sitting on Rodney's table, were two largish pebbles. One of them looked very familiar. "Hey, that's mine!"

"What's yours?" Rodney said, and moved between him and the table.

"That," John said hotly, suddenly furious. "That's my pebble."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Rodney said shortly. "Out, Major."

"That's my pebble," John said through his teeth, "You gave it to me. Give it back!"

"You're insane," Rodney told him and shoved him.

John shoved back. "It's really lousy to give somebody something and take it back, you, you…" Oh, great, he sounded like a twelve-year-old girl now. "You bastard!"

Now Rodney looked taken aback. "You really are insane."

John couldn't go through Rodney, so he went around, took his pebble back, and shook it at Rodney. "Look, you gave it to me, it's mine." Yes, he'd been partly right. Only he sounded like a four-year-old girl. He hadn't even made it as far as twelve.

"What are you, four?" Rodney asked, his tone interested.

John should have known, Rodney never could pass up a weak point. "Bastard," he said through his teeth again.

"Why don't you just call me an Indian giver," Rodney said and rolled his eyes. "I mean, if I'd known you wanted it, for God's sake—"

"I said it was mine!" John couldn't seem to put a padlock on his tongue. Maybe he should put the pebble in his mouth before he really made a fool out of himself.

"Well, how was I supposed to know that wasn't typical John Sheppard contrariness?" Rodney demanded.

Wait, wait, wait, what the hell did that mean, and was Rodney backing down? "Why did you think I wouldn't want it?"

Rodney rolled his eyes, walked the towel back into his attached bathroom.

John looked at the pebble in his hand. Maybe putting it in his mouth wasn't such a bad idea.

"Hello," Rodney said, re-emerging. "We're both male, or had you forgotten that?"

"We were both male as penguins, too," John said, but as ripostes went, it was pretty lame.

Rodney gave him a speculative look. "And you're okay with that?"

Best defense, John thought and held his pebble up. "You don't just give a guy a pebble and then take it back."

Rodney, from his expression, thought he was nuts, but was charmed anyway. "Do you hear yourself? I ask only from academic curiosity."

He was winning this one, John thought. "It means we're married, that's what it means. And you can't just take it back."

Both Rodney's eyebrows rose. "Married?"

John folded his arms. "Hey, I was at McMurdo for eleven months, I know about penguins."

Rodney stared at him.

John cleared his throat. "Hey, there's not much else to do at McMurdo."

"So you observed penguin mating behavior?" Rodney asked, still charmed, but obviously still concerned about his mental health.

John figured the charmed part meant he was still winning. "Well, not just their mating behavior," he said and cleared his throat again. He edged closer. "But I know what giving another penguin a pebble means. Especially if you accept it. And I did. And you accepted mine, too," he added.

Rodney's mouth twitched. "John, we were penguins."

John shrugged. "So? What's your point? I knew who I was and I knew who you were."

Rodney's mouth twitched and one corner lifted. "Well, I kept mine. And yours."

John felt unfairly judged. "I went back for it," he said hotly, "But they'd gotten rid of 'em. And when the hell did you get the chance to go get them?"

Rodney folded his arms, smirked. "I asked Phillips what they did with them."

John stood his ground. "So you cheated."

"I didn't cheat, I merely exercised superior forethought."

Okay, he was winning overall, but he was losing this one. John edged forward, leaned in and kissed Rodney's mouth.

For a minute, he thought he'd miscalculated badly, but then, he was flat on his back on Rodney's bed and Rodney was on top of him and he hooted with laughter. "You're as easy as I am," he told Rodney.

"Nobody's as easy as you are," Rodney told him and bit his ear lobe. "I mean, really, John, we were penguins."

John hooked one leg over Rodney's and shook his head. He really didn't care.

He just hoped the sex lasted longer now they were back to being human.