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Title: Forever Home
Author: kassrachel
Pairing: John/Rodney
Rating: explicit
Recipient: aesc
Spoilers: None

Summary: "The point is, at the end of the day I can tell you a lot more about their music -- unsurprisingly based on octaves -- and their math, which is in octal just like the Ancients' -- but not a damn thing about the location of this planet's stargate."

Author's Note: Happy yuletide season, aesc! I hope you enjoy!

Forever Home



I yearn for you as the southern wind
Yearns to touch the swirling sands.

O kiss me with the kisses of your mouth!
You sweeten my days like wildflower honey.

Even were I exiled from the city of my youth
With you beside me I am forever home.

-- From "Verses to my beloved," Henok of the household Libi, 12th century of the common reckoning


1.



"Please, friend. Wake up."

The man's voice sounds like it's coming from a great distance, and it's not a voice Rodney recognizes. Slowly he becomes aware of himself: he's hot, sweat pooling everywhere that skin is touching fabric or touching skin, and his mouth is painfully dry. He doesn't want to open his eyes because he can tell through his eyelids that it's really bright out there. But someone is shaking his shoulder insistently, so he makes an effort.

The world swims a little. A veiled figure is kneeling in front of him, blocking the light, but even through the hazy clouds the sun is strong enough to make his dusty eyes water.

"Wh--" he croaks, meaning to ask "where am I" or "who are you" or "what the hell is going on," but his throat won't quite work.

The stranger helps him sit up, one hand steadying him, and gives him a canteen made from what he suspects is animal skin.

"Not so fast," the man cautions, "just a sip," but Rodney's already gulped half the container; he doesn't care if it makes him sick, it feels so good going down.

"Save some for your friend," the man says, gesturing to Rodney's left, and that stops him on a dime: Rodney's head whips around and he sees another guy in a yashmak helping a shaky-looking and sandy John to his feet. John's tac vest is missing, and his thigh holster. Rodney's is, too, and where the hell are Ronon and Teyla?

"John," Rodney says, urgent and suddenly afraid. "Are you okay?"

"'M fine," John manages, and Rodney shakes off his guy and wobbles over to John as fast as he can, pushing the canteen into his hands. John takes three small measured sips, breathes a little, takes three sips again.

"Okay, what the fuck is going on?" Rodney demands, turning to face the two veiled men who are standing together next to a small wagon hitched to two donkey-like beasts and watching them drink. "Who are you? Where are we, where are our friends, and how did we get here?"

"We were hoping you could tell us at least some of those things," the taller man says smoothly, stepping forward and bowing in greeting. "I'm Janam and this is my partner Sami, of the household Dibbah. I don't know how you got out here, but you're lucky we found you. Please come with us; we need to get you out of the sun."

"Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, and this is Dr. Rodney McKay. We're from Atlantis," John says, and how does he manage to stand up so straight and look so in-control when his hair is unkempt and he's covered with fine-grained sand?

"It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance," Sami says, and gestures to the covered wagon. "Please. After you."

*

"I assure you, if your friends were in the desert we would have seen them. And there were no tracks leading to or from your position," Janam says, sounding regretful. "I am sorry."

"Great," Rodney says. His mouth tastes like sand.

"The last thing I remember, we were with Ronon and Teyla," John says.

"On M34-L68," Rodney agrees. The wagon is bumping along the pebbled desert floor; Janam is with them inside the tent, Sami's driving the donkeys. The interior holds the three of them, but it's a tight squeeze; half of the cart is loaded with burlap sacks of something, lentils or rice, which Janam shifted around to make room for John and Rodney to sit on top. It's stiflingly hot without the desert breeze, but the shade makes up for it. Mostly.

"We stopped for a drink." John's voice is rueful.

"Goddamned Tyrithian ale," Rodney says, smiling a little despite himself. Teyla had insisted they stop. She hadn't indulged since the start of the pregnancy, and when they found out there was a Tyrithian brewhouse in town, well -- they figured they could be half an hour late back to the gate without Woolsey freaking out.

"And we woke up here," John says, spreading his hands.

"Hm." Janam sounds contemplative.

"'Hm'? Is that all you've got?" Rodney bursts out.

"McKay," John says quietly, laying a hand on Rodney's arm, and it works; Rodney shuts up. But he does not like this, not at all, and he shoots John a look to make sure he knows it.

"My best guess is, you're a gift from the Quartet," Janam says finally.

"A -- what?" Rodney's voice cracks. Must be the dryness.

"The gods do mysterious things," and Janam has spread his hands now, mimicking John's gesture of uncertainty.

"Okay, I don't know what kind of 'gods' you worship around here, but we're not a gift, we've been kidnapped," Rodney snaps, "and you'd better get us back to the stargate so we can get back to Atlantis stat."

"'Star...gate'?" Janam repeats, sounding confused.

"Oh, no," Rodney groans. He can feel himself shaking with what might be panic and might be laughter. "You have got to be kidding me." John leans against him for a second, hard and comforting.

"All I know," Janam says, "is that in the heat of the day, in those dark clothes? I'm glad you didn't fry your brains like eggs on a hot stone." Janam's tone has grown tarter. Rodney realizes he should probably try to be pleasanter, say thank you or something, but his head is spinning and he's trying not to panic; he can't spare the energy to be polite.

"Thank you for that extremely appetizing mental image," Rodney mutters.

"Given that we didn't fry our brains," John says, "we must not have been out there all that long. Maybe whoever did this to us is still out there."

Janam grimaces. "Highly unlikely. We didn't see any tracks at all; it's as though you were dropped from the sky."

"Perhaps by something that can fly," Rodney offered.

"Small craft," John agrees, but Janam looks confused.

"Anyway, it's almost the end of Seva," Janam says, "Shmonit begins at sundown, and there won't be any traffic in or outside the city all day tomorrow; you're lucky we found you."

"Lucky," John agrees drily. "Right."

The cart slows down and Rodney can hear the sound of iron scraping against iron: the opening of a gate, maybe? City walls?

"Report," a woman's voice says, from outside the fabric of their tent.

"Two members of the household Dibbah," Sami says from the driver's seat, "and two unarmed strangers we found in the desert. We accept responsibility."

"In the desert! Elements protect us. Open, please."

Janam unhooks the drapery and Rodney squints in the sudden light. A woman in a drab olive-colored robe and veil peers in at them and then, apparently satisfied, steps back and nods.

"A sweet Shmonit to you and yours," the woman says, and the curtain falls closed as they jolt into motion again.

"I would really like to know what the hell is going on," Rodney says, to no one in particular.

"Well, in the immediate sense, we're taking you home," Jannam says. "You'll spend Shmonit with the four of us, and then we'll see if we can ascertain what happened to you and how you came to be outside our city walls."

"Shmonit," John repeats, quizzically.

Janam blinks. "Day of rest?" When neither of them shows any sign of comprehension he gives a little shrug and recites, "'And on the eighth day the Quartet rested from the labors of creation. Earth and water, air and fire: having combined their forces to shape Alma, the elements rested one with the other and were content'?"

"That's not how I remember it," Rodney huffs. "The sabbath is the seventh day where we come from, and there are definitely no elements involved, though God knows I might have had an easier time buying the story if there had been--"

"Where are you from that you don't celebrate the eighth day?" Janam asks, sounding honestly baffled.

"Atlantis. Which we'd like to get back to, thank you very much," Rodney adds, unable to resist editorializing.

Janam shakes his head. "I'm sorry; I don't know Atlantis. How many days' journey is it across the sands?"

"Oh, this is so not good," Rodney says: to John, to Janam, to the universe.

"It's going to be fine," John murmurs back, putting a little extra english on the last word like he wants to give Rodney something to hold on to.

The cart's motion stops. "We're here," Sami calls.

"Home sweet home," Janam calls back, and above the veil Rodney can see the crinkles around his eyes that telegraph a smile.



2.



"Guest quarters" at Janam and Sami's house turns out to mean a whitewashed room with a single enormous bed -- far wider than a Terran king-sized bed but no shorter; Rodney has a fast flash of completely inappropriate fantasy when he sees it -- and a bathroom with plumbing that's premodern but bearable. There's a watering-can spout hung high, connected to coppery tubing that goes up through the ceiling; probably a rainwater cistern on the roof, or something. There's a stack of clean towels, thin but sizeable, striped in bright colors. Four white robes or cloaks hang on hooks on the wall.

John showers first, quick and efficient, and comes out with one of the striped towels wrapped around his waist. Rodney ignores the tantalizing droplets of water on his torso, the familiar scars on his back and neck, and ducks past him into the bathroom for his own turn at getting clean.

The water feels so good, washing the grit away, that it takes a serious effort of will to limit himself...but who knows how infrequent rain might be in a place like this? When Rodney emerges, one of the hooks is missing its robe and John is nowhere to be seen, though his clothes are folded neatly in a pile on the floor.

Including his boxer briefs. Rodney swallows hard. John's out there in a robe with no underwear. Something to add to Rodney's list of kinks, apparently.

He considers his own pile of sandy clothing, and opts to follow John's example.

Fortunately, there's no trick to putting on the robe. It's off-white, made of something lightweight, with a stiff round embroidered collar and embroidery trailing down the front and the sleeves. There are two buttons at the neck, which Rodney stares at for a while but leaves unfastened; it's just too hot to think of being buttoned-up. It comes to just above his ankle.

"I look ridiculous," Rodney says to himself, and then takes a deep breath and pushes open the heavy wooden door.

*

The sound of voices lures Rodney through a curtain of hanging beads into what looks like a living room: a low square table surrounded by short couches and piles of floor pillows, in a room dominated by big arched windows screened with intricately carved stone. John's on one of the couches, talking with Sami and a woman who are sharing the couch across the table from him. He manages to make the robe look good, which is further evidence of the unfairness of the universe, though the fact that nobody's wearing a veil indoors makes Rodney feel slightly more at-ease.

There's a pitcher of water on the table between them, and six glasses. Thirst pricks the back of Rodney's throat again. Before he can figure out how to make his presence known, the woman spots him. "Oh!" she exclaims, standing up. "You must be Dr. McKay."

"Hey," John says.

"Yes, hello," Rodney reaches out his hand and then freezes, realizing he's not sure whether people shake hands here, or press foreheads, or what. The woman clasps his hand in both of hers and gives a little bow.

"I'm Rina," she says.

"Colonel Sheppard was just telling us about where you come from," Sami adds. He's already filling a glass of water for Rodney; it tastes faintly like mint.

"So," Rodney begins, looking at John for direction.

"There's no gate here, no space travel, no familarity with Ancient tech," John says crisply.

"It's possible they may know Ancient tech by some other name," Rodney points out. "Ring of the Ancestors? ZPMs -- these little cylindrical power sources," his hands sketching the shape and size instinctively. But Sami and Rina look regretful, which is not a good sign.

"Sorry," Rina says. She's sitting close to Sami, leaning on him a little in a way that -- okay, Rodney restructures his assumptions, because the way Janam had said "my partner" had led him to think they were...partners. But obviously that's not the case.

"On Ehd we'll take you to see the Council," Sami promises. "Nothing's open tomorrow, of course, but first thing Ehd morning--"

Rodney looks to John, who gives a microscopic shrug. Nothing they can do.

"Okay, fine," Rodney says, slumping back into the couch a little bit. A split second later a loud horn startles him almost out of his skin. One horn blast, and then another, and soon it sounds like they're coming from everywhere -- sharp and piercing, like someone's sounding the alarm all over the city. "What the hell is that?!"

John has snapped to alertness too, though Sami and Rina are still leaning against each other on the couch.

"Oh, I'm sorry," Sami says, "I should have warned you; that's the blast to let us know the sun has crossed the horizon and Shmonit has started. It's the official end to the work-week."

"Very relaxing," Rodney mutters, gulping down the rest of his glass of mint-water and feeling perturbed.

"Janam and Ani are putting dinner together," Rina offers. "For now," she bumps Sami's shoulder playfully, "I was thinking about opening some wine. Do you drink?"

"That's what got us into this mess." Rodney can't help being churlish; they were supposed to be home by now, not settling in for some obscure religious holiday on a world they've never heard of, wearing...dresses.

"Sure, why not," John drawls. When Rodney glances at him, he shrugs one shoulder elaborately, as if to say: it's Pegasus! Roll with it!

So Rodney does. "Yes, okay, I wouldn't mind a glass." It's not exactly gracious, but he's trying. How often does he get to have a drink, anyway? One night of vacation; they might as well enjoy it.

*

"So much water; it's almost inconceivable!" Janam sounds gobsmacked. It's bizarre: this place is lit by basically kerosene lamps, there's no Ancient tech, no space travel, no awareness of the gate system, and yet what these people find hardest to believe about their story is that New Lantea is comprised mostly of ocean.

"Yeah, it's nice," John agrees. "We don't really have the waves for surfing, but otherwise, it's just about perfect."

Janam blinks, but doesn't ask. Smart man, Rodney thinks.

"We have seen the largest body of water on our world -- the Sea of Tehom," Ani points out. "It's amazing."

"What a trip! We should do that again someday," Rina says.

"Mm, yes, and all we need to do is save our earnings for another four years!" Sami doesn't roll his eyes, but the vocal tone is there. Rodney respects that.

"That was right after we formed a quartet," Rina says, sounding wistful.

"It'll be a year at the water-drawing festival," Sami says, beaming at her. "More wine, dear?"

Without waiting for a response, he tops off Rina's glass, and Ani's, and Jamal's. He seems to be flirting with everybody. Rodney makes a mental note to ask John later whether he's seeing that too.

"A quartet," John repeats, as if he's trying the word out in his mouth.

"We'd been a pair from boyhood on," Jamal explains, jerking his head toward Sami and smiling fondly, "and we'd been wondering whether these two would want to make a household--"

"We'd been on the lookout for a second pair who wouldn't drive us insane," Ani adds tartly.

"So we were all hoping to balance the elements at midsummer," Rina finishes, beaming at all of them as though this conversation were actually making sense.

"Balance the elements? Is that some kind of euphemism?" Rodney asks, and John kicks him under the table. "Ow," he hisses, glaring at John for a second.

Sami and Janam exchange indulgent glances, and Ani giggles.

"So, the elements," John says, smiling winningly at Rina.

"You know, 'the elements gathered together to form creation out of a droplet of water, a spark of fire, a breath of wind, and a grain of sand,'" she says, in the tone of someone who's reciting childhood catechism.

"And they've ruled together ever since," Janam says drily, "the divine household on which all worldly households are based."

"Ladies and their consorts," Ani says, with satsfaction.

"I'd say Lords and their wives," Janam corrects her, though it sounds like a longstanding joke; all four of them look amused.

"But the women are always on top," Rina assures them, serving herself another helping of stew.

"Oh? We'll see about that!" There's high color in Sami's cheeks, and the look on his face makes Rodney glance away fast. John is eating his stew, not seeming fazed at all, and Rodney has the sudden horrible feeling that maybe John is missing this altogether.

"I'm sorry, are they embarrassing you?" Rina gives Rodney a sheepish smile. "We're not usually like this around guests, I apologize."

"It's just -- it's our first year as a household, and on Shmonit, no one has to wake early for work," Janam says, and yes, he's definitely blushing.

"Right, yes, you know what, this dinner has been delicious, thank you," Rodney says, aware that he's talking way too fast but really not giving a damn. "We've had a long day, I think it's probably time for us to turn in. Don't worry about us in the morning, I'm sure we can entertain ourselves--"

"There are some games in the wooden chest in the living room," Rina offers. "And a small collection of scrolls in the library. We'll be up by midday, I'm sure."

"There's bread in the kitchen, and olives, and cheese," Sami adds.

"I guess we're done with dinner," John says wryly, pushing back his chair and standing. "Thanks for your hospitality, Janam. Rina. Sami. Ani."

"Going now," Rodney mutters, grabbing John's wrist and making a beeline for the door. His fingers brush over the thin leather strap tied around John's wrist, which suddenly seems unbearably intimate; he lets go as if he's been burned, but John follows him anyway.

*

"Okay, does this not weird you out at all?"

John, who is lying at the far end of the bed (wearing boxers now, thankfully) shrugs.

Rodney sits on the edge of the bed. He can't stop thinking about what their four hosts might be doing right now, and it's making him...agitated. "I mean, how common is this kind of thing around here, anyway?"

"Ask Teyla tomorrow," John suggests.

Rodney snorts: like he's really going to bring this up with her?

Then a thought occurs to him that momentarily freezes him in a hot flash of mortification. "You don't think -- when we go places -- " He can't even get the words out.

John laughs. "Maybe people think we're a 'quartet'."

"Oh, God," Rodney groans, and flops back on the bed and covers his eyes with one arm.

"Hey, we could do worse," John points out. "Ronon and Teyla are pretty hot." He doesn't, of course, say anything about Rodney.

"And yet women still throw themselves at you." There's a bitter taste in Rodney's mouth. There always is, when he thinks about the string of women who've made overtures to John. They're all excited about his cool smirk and his slinky hips, but they have no idea who he really is.

Not that Rodney has the right to claim real expertise. He knows how John races remote-controlled cars, what kind of movies John likes, how John looks when he's about to do something incredibly stupid and brave -- but he's never had the courage to tell John any of the things he really wants to say.

"Get some sleep, McKay," John says, and rolls over, turning away.



3.



Rodney can't help fidgeting with his yashmak, which is off his face and in his hands because they're indoors. He hadn't realized how often he reaches for a scanner, datapad, lifesigns device just to have something to do with his fingers.

They've been standing outside the carved wooden doors of the Council's chambers for fifteen minutes, and the walls are thick stone. He can't hear anything coming from inside. John is leaning against the wall at the opposite side of the hall, his veil folded and slung over one shoulder. He looks bored.

When the doors open, John stands up straight. Janam beckons them inside.

The Council -- four men and four women; it's only their second day in the Golden City, but already the gender balance is predictable -- are seated around a big square table. Janam and Rina are at the foot of the table, with two empty chairs between them.

"Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard and Dr. Rodney McKay," says the tall dark-haired woman opposite them. "I'm Councilor Elef."

"Pleased to meetcha," John says.

"Likewise," Rodney adds belatedly.

Not for the first time, Rodney wishes Teyla were there. He's probably blown local ettiquete twenty times already today. He drags a chair away from the table and sits down next to John.

"Your hosts have apprised us of your situation, and we have given leave for you to be housed near the market for the time being."

"Housed?" The word bursts out of Rodney's mouth before he has the chance to stop himself, and now all eyes are on him. He stands up. "We don't have any intention of staying here long enough to be housed; we need to get home. Our people are going to be worried about us, and I realize these referents don't mean anything to you, but you really don't want to make Ronon and Teyla angry, not to mention Mr. Woolsey, and believe me, as much as I grouse about the IOA--"

"Doctor," the councilor says, with some force behind her voice, and Rodney shuts up.

"Please understand that we are not responsible for your...situation."

"We realize that," John cuts in smoothly, "and Councilor, we appreciate your hospitality tremendously."

Rodney sits down and fiddles some more with the increasingly-wrinkled veil crumpled in his hands.

"But Rodney's right, people are going to be worried about our disappearance."

"You suspect foul play," Elef says -- not really a question, but John nods.

"Suspect, like hell," Rodney murmurs under his breath.

"Our hosts have told us that some of the--" John considers, "technologies we're used to aren't a part of your lives."

"Indeed," the councilor agrees.

"There are legends of space travel," one of the men pipes up -- his hair is white, but he looks young. "But there is no record of such things anywhere in our library."

"Well, is there a bigger library?" Rodney demands.

"There is," Elef confirms, "at the Exegetical Academy."

Relief washes over Rodney like a cool breeze. If there's a library, then all is not lost. "Great; when can we go?"

The white-haired guy coughs. "It is a week's journey, and it is not our custom to allow those who are not ordained to enter the Great Library."

"Oh, come on," Rodney says, but it's for form's sake; he can tell from the audible capitalization of words (not to mention the posture of everybody in the room) that this is not going to be negotiable. "I have two PhDs! And the Colonel is extremely gifted; I'd put him up against your scholar-priests any day."

"We're already composing the missive to the head librarian," Elef continues, as if he hadn't spoken, "and if there are texts which will be helpful to you, they'll be brought in the next caravan."

"That's big of you," John says. Rodney sneaks a glance; his voice and posture seem comfortable, easy, but there's a tightness in the line of his jaw. He doesn't like this any more than Rodney does.

"If there is any other way we can be accomodating to you, we trust you won't hesitate to let us know." Elef rises, and the rest of the councilors follow suit.

"The elements bless you," Janam says, and Rina echoes him.

"And you as well," Elef says, and Rodney and John follow their hosts out the big wooden doors.

"'Extremely gifted'?" John murmurs to him as they exit, sounding amused.

"Yeah, at being a pain in the ass," Rodney retorts, but the low ache of anxiety in his chest seems just a tiny bit less intense than it was a second before.

*

As they walk to their apartment, as Janam shows them the food that's been stashed in their kitchen and the pile of metal squares and octagons he's lending them (obviously currency), Rodney is adding to his mental list of all the things he's not saying to John right now. He keeps a running tally. It usually features half a dozen variants on "I would really like to touch you in spectacularly inappropriate ways," but right now that category of unspoken thought has been pushed into the background by how badly he wants to ask John are you really okay?

It goes against their (equally unspoken) code. You don't say things like that, not unless the situation's really terrible, and Rodney's sure John would say this doesn't qualify. But that doesn't change him wanting to ask.

Maybe it's the experience of being adrift in the Pegasus galaxy without Teyla or Ronon, anyone who can interpret or contextualize. Maybe it's being on a planet where space travel is completely unknown. (Hell: the internal combustion engine appears to be completely unknown.) A planet where, if there's a stargate, no one in the Golden City seems to know about it. But there has to be a stargate; how else would they have gotten here? And who the fuck kidnapped them, and why?

"Ronon and Teyla are fine," John said yesterday. "They're probably back in Atlantis already. They've got Zelenka. We've got subcutaneous transmitters. They'll be able to figure out where we are. We just have to hang tight and wait."

It's a reasonable line of argument. Rodney's doing his best to bear it in mind.

But this feels weird, seriously weird. And he still isn't used to the sand, which gets everywhere as soon as you go outside -- he's not tying his yashmak right, so there's sand in his ears, sand between his teeth. He wants to ask John whether this is anything like being in Afghanistan, and then again he doesn't want to ask, because he doesn't want to talk about Earth. Earth is home once-removed. Jeannie and Madison and Schršdinger are pretty much the only things he cares about there, anymore.

Being away from Earth is normal. Being away from Atlantis -- being away from Ronon and Jennifer, from Teyla and Torran, from Zelenka, from the hum of their city -- just feels wrong.

Come on, Radek, he thinks. Find us, already.

A little voice in his head reminds him that tracking them via subcutaneous transmitter should have been instaneous -- a matter of keying in their transmitter codes and clicking "go," basically. Which means it's possible that their transmitters have been disabled or blocked somehow. Or that they're somewhere beyond even Atlantis' prodigious subspace sensor range. Or that things are truly FUBAR and the city has worse things to worry about than the reality that Rodney and John are missing.

He shuts down that line of thought as quickly as he can.

"So," John says, interrupting his reverie. "Guess we ought to walk around, see what we can see."

"Mmm, because what I want more than anything else in the world right now is to swallow another pint of sand."

"Here, let me --" And John's right in his space, hooking the cloth over his nose and mouth and giving a deft twist to the other piece of the yashmak. "Do it this way, it'll help."

"Thanks," Rodney says, through the cloth.

"Anytime," John says, already disappearing behind his own veil.



4.



"Any luck?"

"Nothing," Rodney says, rolling his neck and trying to make it crack. "God! I hate these fucking scrolls. There is no way to read these things that's even vaguely ergonomic."

John hands him a glass of mint-water wordlessly, and Rodney drinks it down.

"I spent three hours with Hinam trying to convince him that yes, in fact, I can actually read and he can trust me in his precious reading room."

John snorts.

"Their filing system is arcane, and it's obviously a zillion years since their version of Ancient branched from the one I know, but--"

"Zillion years; that's a scientific assessment."

Rodney flips him the bird. "The point is, at the end of the day I can tell you a lot more about their music -- unsurprisingly based on octaves -- and their math, which is in octal just like the Ancients' -- but not a damn thing about the location of this planet's stargate."

"It's got to be orbital," John says, not for the first time.

"Which would be fine and dandy, if we had a jumper, but in the absence of a jumper, or any rubber bands and paper clips out of which I could attempt to engineer one..." Rodney trails off. There's no point in completing that sentence.

There's a moment of silence.

"I got a job today," John says brightly, and Rodney almost chokes on his water.

"You what?"

John shrugs. "I went down to the market to get some groceries, and I ran into Sami and that guy Rechem from next door."

A dozen of their neighbors have come, two by two, bearing little cakes and bottles of ale as housewarming gifts. Rodney's starting to suspect that this is the couples' district: where people live when they're young, paired, just starting out, maybe looking for another couple to make a happy foursome. (He glares at all of them, just to make sure nobody's getting the wrong idea.)

"So?"

"Rechem's got two stalls to manage, one selling cloth and one selling knives."

"Let me guess."

"I'm going to pick a few of these to give to Ronon," John says. "The steel's good, and the handles have a nice feel."

Neither one of them says anything about when, and how, they're going to see Teyla and Ronon again.

"So you're a knife-seller now."

"Pretty much everybody in town wants to meet the new guys, so I shouldn't have any trouble making sales."

"Great," Rodney says.

"If you get bored at the library tomorrow, come down to the market in the late afternoon," John suggests. "It's kind of cool."

"You don't have to pretend we're on vacation," Rodney says. It comes out sounding pissier than he meant it to, and he winces a little.

"They're going to find us," John says. "Look: last time I got trapped somewhere with no hope of rescue, it took six months before you guys showed up--"

"Which was not my fault in any way, shape, or form! We were working as fast as we could!"

"My point," John says, "is that you do not get to bitch about how nobody's come to get us until we've been stuck here for at least a week."

"Fine," Rodney says. "Next Shtayn, I get to bitch as much as I want." When John looks confused, he clarifies, "Tuesday. Basically."

"Ehd," John says, "Shtayn...?"

"Thulat, Arba, Khames, Shesh, Seva, Shmonit."

"They're numbers, aren't they? Not osbcure references to gods," John muses.

"Somebody really ought to write a paper about pidgins and creoles and variants on the English language in Pegasus."

John raises an eyebrow, leaning back on his couch. "Take you away from your computers for 36 hours and you're already coming up with research ideas in the soft sciences."

"Oh, don't even," Rodney snaps back. "Just for that, I'm not going to share my beer with you."

"I'll pour my own, then." John stands. "I got some kind of red dumpling soup at the market, and some kind of grain-thing, and some carroty things with raisins."

"Cool," Rodney says. Now that John's mentioned food, Rodney's stomach growls. "Let's eat."

*

Part 2

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