Size: ~16,290 words
Genre: Gen, Humor.
A/N: Many thanks to my beta who shall also remain anonymous until the reveal.
Spoilers: S5 through 5.13 Inquisition.
Summary: It's just like a mission, only not.
In Which Our Mr. Woolsey Has A Plan
"It has come to my attention through recent events," Woolsey declared, "that Atlantis has an image problem."
"Really?" Rodney muttered. "What gave it away? The monkey trial? The times I've been shot, much less shot at, the arrow in the ass-"
"Now that was really Ronon's fault if you think about it," John mused, "not ours."
Ronon glared at him and then kicked him under the table. John shuffled his chair side ways, away from Ronon's long legs and heavy boots.
"Or the Wraith," he hurriedly corrected himself, "Really, all the Wraith's fault."
Teyla kicked him.
"In any case," Woolsey said. "I believe that if Atlantis is perceived to be making an effort toward integrating with Pegasus culture, our image will be improved greatly."
"I'll bet you have an idea," John said.
This time Rodney kicked him. His shins were going to be black and blue at this rate.
Suck up, Rodney mouthed at him.
John shrugged back at him. Woolsey had the good Scotch from Earth and Cuban stogies. Of course he was sucking up.
Woolsey smiled, oblivious to their wordless exchange.
"Actually, Miss Emmagan had a suggestion."
"Oh, goody," Rodney said.
John pulled his legs back under his chair, just to on the safe side, even if the one Teyla was currently glaring at was Rodney.
"I mentioned to Mr. Woolsey an Athosian tradition," Teyla said.
"Okay," John drawled.
That wide smile, that was the one that she got when she laid a smackdown on Ronon in the gym. It did not inspire happy anticipation in John's heart. Nor Rodney's from the faint whine coming from him. Even Ronon looked mildly apprehensive.
"Though it will have to be somewhat truncated considering all of your duties here in Atlantis, I'm authorizing SGA-1 to conduct a, what was the term you used, Teyla?"
Teyla's smile got even wider.
Ronon slapped his hand over his face and groaned.
That did not bode well.
In Which Our Heroes Go A-Wandering (To the Nearest Alehouse)
"Exactly how is the 'wandering' going to improve Atlantis' 'image' if we don't actually tell anyone who we are and where we're from?" Rodney asked. He tugged at the collar of his homespun shirt distastefully.
"When we sit at a negotiating table, we will be able to share tales of our experiences in a traditional Pegasan rite of passage," Teyla said tranquilly. "It will be strange enough that we are doing this as a group and one comprised of adults without explaining that we come from the City of the Ancestors."
Ronon grunted again.
"I get the idea you aren't all enthusiasm for this, big guy," John remarked. He wasn't, himself. He already missed his comfortable BDUs, his properly broken in boots, his sunglasses, his P90, and a goddamned pack that didn't cut into the side of his neck. This disguise shit sucked.
"Seven years," Ronon grumbled.
Oh yeah. That sort of put John and Rodney in their place, didn't it?
"I am sorry, Ronon," Teyla said. "My own wandering was so enjoyable, I did not consider that you would not have similar memories."
"I think I'm getting hives from this shirt," Rodney said. "My skin is sensitive. Artificial fibers-"
"You're wearing homespun," John pointed out. Oh, good, he thought, there was the inn where they were going to stay the night. They could get some rooms, grab something to eat in the associated tavern, finagle another gate address from the innkeeper, then sack out for the night.
"Artificial fibers are better for me." Rodney looked at Teyla. "This is some kind of wool, isn't it? My nipples are already irritated-"
John held up his hand. "No nipple talk."
Rodney glared at him, then shut up with a pout.
Ronon opened the inn door with a crash and stalked in ahead of them. Teyla followed him placidly. With a shared glance of near despair, John and Rodney followed.
Twenty minutes later, they had secured three rooms. A hasty game of Rock, Paper, Scissors followed (or as Ronon called it, Fist, Slap, Gun) and Teyla had a room to herself, Ronon had a room to himself, and John was sharing a bug-infested straw mattress with Rodney again. He didn't know why he bothered trying for any other arrangement; besides, Teyla had ruined the perfect alien princess picture long ago: she snored.
The innkeeper advised them not to leave anything they wanted to still find there in their rooms before hurrying away, so they took their packs back downstairs with them.
Down in the inn's main room, Ronon signaled the bar keep and a serving wench (there was no other way to describe a woman wearing an off the shoulder blouse and a bust-popper bodice) wandered over to the free table they occupied.
"Ale's a cromer a mug, three for a pitcher," she recited. "Stew's another cromer, for two you get bread and a second serving. Got nothing else."
"Ale," Ronon said, slapping down some of the coin they'd brought along. The wench picked out a silver piece and weighed it in her hand. "This'll get you the stew too."
"Fine," Ronon said.
John fished out a similar coin and held up. "One mug and stew with bread."
Rodney did the same with a jerky nod.
"Do you have tea?" Teyla asked.
The wench gave her a scornful look. "Does this look like a teahouse?"
No one in their right mind would mistake the downstairs of the inn for teahouse. Or anything but an alehouse, with furniture that could be cheaply replaced after a brawl (and the pieces used to feed the big hearth fire), a dark and dingy ambiance, and the smell of rancid alcohol and unwashed bodies. At that, it wasn't as bad as some of the places the team had sat down to eat over the years. The preserved heads of various animals were mounted on the walls, watching them glassily.
Teyla sighed and handed over her own coin.
The wench swished away.
Rodney shifted then cursed.
"I just got a splinter in my ass from this so-called bench." Rodney glared at Teyla. "This is just a wonderful beginning to your 'adventure.'"
"Quitcherbitchin'," Ronon grumbled.
They sat in sullen silence, Rodney surreptitiously shifting now and then and groping at his own ass, until their ale and stew arrived. The tankards were made of pot metal and the bowls and spoons were carved wood. Rodney immediately began on the hygienic deficiencies of wood. Ronon shoved a chunk of bread into his mouth, effectively choking him silent.
John chewed his own bread without comment, telling himself the grit he could hear grinding between his teeth was just a like a mineral supplement. The stew wasn't bad, as long as he didn't think about what it consisted of. The slime lizards on P4G-335 had tasted great until he got a glimpse of one before preparation. He'd spent the next two days puking.
"It's gorp," Ronon said when Rodney poked suspiciously at a piece of meat in his own bowl. He pointed to one of the preserved heads on the wall over the hearth. The three horns weren't so bad. The three eyes were a little creepy, though. "Good eating."
A cold draft swirled around their feet as the afternoon slid over into evening and the room filled up with villagers.
Ronon finished his pitcher of ale and bought another. John couldn't think of anything better to do and ordered another tankard too. Voices rose making the room louder and louder and people were at every place at every table, eating, until finally a sweaty, overweight fellow approached them.
"Good sirs, lovely lady, in the spirit of comfort, may I join your table?" he asked with a nervous smile. He was dressed better than the rest of the locals. Fed better too from the width of his waist.
"Of course," Teyla said before Rodney could open his mouth.
"Belder Bingal." He lowered himself onto the end of the bench next to Teyla and let a leather satchel drop to the floor to rest between his feet. He let out a gusty sigh of relief.
"Gesundheit," Rodney said.
"Ah, well met, Gesundheit," Belder said.
"My name's not-"
John kicked him. Rodney's name was a little too well known in Pegasus lately. "Hi," he said. "I'm Atchoo."
Teyla and Ronon rolled their eyes at each other.
"Call me Belder," Belder said with a head bob. "What brings you here?"
"Wandering," Teyla answered.
Belder looked surprised after studying the four of them. "Forgive me, but aren't you all rather..."
"Old," Ronon growled.
"Err, pardon, of course I have no idea when your people come of age," Belder backpedaled.
"Naw, it's okay," John said. "We're late bloomers."
Rodney gave him an annoyed look.
John ignored him - it was a talent he'd honed over the years - and smiled at Belder. Because this was what they were supposed to be doing, chatting and getting on friendly terms with Pegasans the way Pegasans did. "Yeah, truth is, we were just too busy back when we were kids. Then one day you look up and - poof - you aren't a kid anymore, right?"
Belder nodded agreement.
"Poof," Rodney muttered. He winced as Teyla kicked him and said nothing more.
"I remember my own Wandering," he said, sounding almost dreamy. The serving wench showed up and set a bowl of stew and bread in front of him. He dove in with Rodney-like enthusiasm. Eventually, he grimaced a bit at the bread and tore it apart to sop of the stew. "I met my wife on it." He held up the bread. "My wonderful Geselda. She is a far better baker than Tinin."
He ate the bread anyway.
"But she's ill tonight." Belder shook his head sadly. "'Belder,' she said. 'Belder, I am sick, sick, and sick of cooking for you too. Go to the inn. Let Tinin fill your belly for once.' Then she kicked me out of the house."
"She kicked you out?" Ronon asked.
"Just to get dinner," Belder said, unruffled. "She said something about throwing up in whatever she had to cook too, so I took her at her word."
"Ewww," Rodney muttered. He shoved his own empty bowl a little further away from himself.
"Also, she throws things."
Hopefully not the pot she'd just barfed in, John thought. Nancy had thrown a Meissen figurine at him once. Not because she'd been sick. She'd just been pissed. John had checked into a hotel and stayed there through the rest of his leave. The divorce papers had come in the mail four months later. Since the figurine had been hers anyway and he'd ducked, he hadn't been too bothered anyway, though the divorce had taken him by surprise. He never saw it coming.
Belder chewed and swallowed his last bite of bread.
"Now, then," he said, smiling at all of them. "You're a-wandering and I am in a bit of dither. My lovely Geselda and I were to attend a wedding tomorrow on Talaruba. I am a merchant and the Talarubans are among my finest contacts. However, I cannot leave poor Geselda sick and alone."
"Of course not," John agreed.
"Of course not," Rodney muttered, glaring at the table.
John kicked at him only to hit Teyla's foot on its way. They both subsided, but Rodney still jumped, so Ronon much have connected.
"Talaruba is a lovely, lovely world," Belder went on.
"Sounds lovely," John said.
Teyla kicked him. He definitely was going to have bruises on his shins.
"It is," Belder agreed. "Of course, they have some strange customs."
"Of course they do," Rodney mumbled while John winced and surreptitiously pointed at Rodney when Teyla glared harder than ever.
"But they don't expect anyone else to abide by them. Now, I think we can help each other. You need the ring path to another fine world to continue your wandering tomorrow and I need someone to deliver a wedding gift. Could anything be more perfect?"
"We would be delighted to take your gift through the Ancestor's Ring," Teyla said.
"Do you think they'll have cake?" Rodney asked, perking up.
"Oh," Belder said, "Gesundheit, they will have such delicacies!" He patted his stomach. "I wish that I dared go without my lovely Geselda. But she would surely make me eat moldy oats for a week if I did."
John snickered. Gesundheit.
Belder bent and picked through the bag he had thumped down at his feet when he first sat. He pulled out a genuinely beautiful wooden chest , seven by six by five inches, the finish satin smooth, the tiger-striped grain glowing in even in the poor light of the inn.
"That is beautiful," Teyla said.
John had to agree.
"Gehri work," Ronon said in approval.
Belder smiled. "Oh, you know them. Yes. I think Nilas will be pleased by the gift. It's her daughter who is marrying. I don't actually know the girl. Or the boy. But Nilas is a powerful trader on Talaruba."
"We are honored you would trust us to deliver your gift," Teyla said.
Belder shrugged. "If you don't, I can still honestly say it was sent, and Nilas will not be insulted." He ran a pudgy finger over the domed top of the box. He pulled a tiny brass key from his pocket and handed it to Teyla. "Give that to the bride. Not Nilas."
"Why?" John asked.
Belder flushed a little. "Ah, Atchoo--"
"-I have included certain items of pleasure from Emtreba inside that a young bride and groom might enjoy, as my Geselda and I did, inside. I do not think Nilas would, ahem, approve."
John looked at Belder with amused, rueful respect.
"Let me buy you a drink," he said.
"So what do you think is in that box?" Rodney asked. He leaned against the wall in the upstairs corridor along with Teyla and John, clutching his towel and a net bag of soap and toothpaste and other things John wasn't interested in investigating. He thought he saw a tin of foot powder in there. Ronon had snagged the single washroom first. "Sex toys? Aphrodisiacs?"
John slumped against the wall, letting it hold him up. That last tankard of ale had been a mistake he'd be paying for in the morning. He'd considered faceplanting into the bed, pokey as it was, but the prospect of what his mouth would taste like in the morning if he didn't brush had sent him lurching after Rodney.
At least the inn had running water.
"Birth control," Teyla said.
"What?" squawked Rodney.
She gave them both a truly wicked smile. "I do not know the customs of Talaruba, but the Emtreba make a sheath for a man to wear..."
Rodney's mouth dropped open. "Condoms."
John sniggered. It wasn't that surprising. He hoped they weren't made from the Pegasus equivalent of sheep gut. "French letters," he said, then burped helplessly, which made him giggle.
"You would know that," Rodney said. "Also, you're drunk."
Teyla kept smiling. "Yes, very like your condoms. Only the Emtreba's are soaked in a salve that tingles most pleasantly. Most pleasantly."
Rodney clapped his hands over his ears. "Stop it, Teyla. I don't want to think about you having sex - you'll only hit me if I do."
Ronon opened the washroom door and stomped out. Teyla slipped in.
John slithered down the wall, landed on his butt, and began laughing.
"What?" Ronon asked.
Rodney waved his hand at the now closed again washroom door. "Teyla. Condoms. Tingly."
"Don't let Kanaan here you say that," Ronon advised before heading for his room.
In Which Our Heroes Explore New Career Options
"Does this look like a bug bite?" Rodney asked as they stepped through the stargate. They stepped out and he continued, rolling up his sleeve and waving his bared arm in front of his team-mates' faces. "It looks like a bug bite to me." He glared at John.
John didn't see anything on Rodney's arm, but it was moving so much he a hard time focusing through his headache, and the town they'd arrived in had his attention anyway. The two-story buildings were half-timbered and stuccoed and decorated everywhere with fresh green leaves the size of a ham and pink flowers that looked like a cross between a water lily and a magnolia.
Rodney didn't even notice. He was busy poking at a freckle on his arm, messing with it until it was going pink and inflamed. "See!"
Ronon peered at it and grunted. "Could be."
"Ronon," Teyla warned him. Don't encourage him.
Ronon shrugged. He reached out and fingered one of the shiny, succulent looking leaves. John fervently prayed that wasn't taboo.
"I told you you should have let me spray the bed with bug spray again!" Rodney crowed at John.
"Rodney, you sprayed the bed. I just didn't let you soak it," John pointed out. He could still smell the stuff in his hair, damn it. Which, okay, at least he didn't have to worry about any creepy-crawlies taking up residence in his hair, but it made his head throb even more. "If you'd done it one more time, I was going to suffer pesticide-induced psychosis and kill you in your sleep."
"I'd think you'd be a little more grateful considering your entomophobia."
He had a perfectly justified distaste for insects, not a phobia, John assured himself.
"I don't even think it is a bug bite."
"Rodney," Teyla said. "Please." No more.
He pouted but shut up for a minute.
The site of the wedding seemed to be up the street from them. Bedecked tents and chairs were set out in the town plaza. A tall woman in a blue robe was ordering people around in a voice that carried down the street. "No, no, no, not like that. What did I tell you..." They weren't close enough to see her face, but she sounded almost McKay-ish.
"Yes it is," Rodney hissed at John, unable to stay silent any longer. "Ronon. Tell him."
"Could be," Ronon said. "Can't tell yet."
"What do you mean yet?"
"Could be a spider."
Rodney trotted to catch up with Ronon's longer strides. "What happens if it is?" he asked.
"Your arm swells up and goes bad. Then it falls off." Ronon paused and added matter-of-factly, "Unless you cut it off first."
"Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," Rodney whimpered.
John looked at Teyla, hoping her face would tell him whether Ronon was screwing with Rodney again. Teyla was watching the people scurrying around, rearranging the chairs, and draping bunting along the rows between them. So he still had no idea, though he didn't believe Ronon would brush off a real threat to Rodney or Rodney's arm.
They were strolling up the aisle between the chairs by then and had the attention of everyone. Teyla brought out the big guns and smiled at the woman in charge, identifying them as wanderers and mentioning Belder's name. She brought the gift out of her satchel and offered it up.
Nilas, who looked like the love child of Margaret Thatcher and Mike Ditka up close, accepted the gift, the excuses for Belder's absence, and waved them off. "Go see the cook, she'll feed you something, just get out of the way," she dismissed them and bugled a reprimand at some poor fool incautious enough to shift one of the chairs in the back row.
A shared glance had the four of them retreating toward the tent with the cooking going on.
Before they could say anything, the cook had them by the arms - impressive, since there are four of them and she had the normal hominid array of two arms and two legs, no extra hands or feet, not even a freaky extra finger (John checked) and was dragging, herding, and haranguing them forward.
"Thank Borwid's behind, it's about time. What took you so long?"
"I think you have us confused with someone else," Teyla said, delicately extricating herself from the cook's clutches.
"Oh no," the cook wailed. Up went her hands to the heavens, then she clutched at her hair, "no, no. You're not here to serve the wedding?" Her moon-face went unsettlingly pale under the sheen of perspiration dewing it.
"We're wandering," Ronon said.
"She is so awful, she's driven away everyone I usually work with," the cook snapped, glaring over their shoulders. "I sent to Iddeford Town just for people to work for me for this wedding, but they aren't here." Her shoulders slumped. "She'll ruin me if this wedding isn't perfect."
"What do you need done?" Ronon asked.
John took an instinctive step back. Rodney opened his mouth, the protest already springing forth, "What are you- "
"Prep work," the cook declared.
Somehow after that, John found himself wearing a tan smock over his clothes, trailing Teyla around as she set out utensils and he set down the plates on the long tables in another tent. Back with the cook, Rodney had been relegated to peeling vegetables, while Ronon was wielding a cleaver like some Reggae-targeted Ginsu knife commercial.
He couldn't help overhearing the bride have a screaming match with Nilas not long after Teyla slipped her the key to Belder's box. Wow, she really didn't want to marry the guy Nilas had picked out...if declaring she'd rather peel the skin off her face with a hoof file first meant anything. The groom's mother, also dressed in another shade of lighter blue than Nilas, appeared to be praying.
"I'm thinking we might want to get out of here," he told Teyla. He just had one of those feelings.
She shot him a dark look.
"Don't be ridiculous, John. It is a wedding, a celebration of two lives entwining in joy and the hope for the future."
"I hate him! I hate all of this! I hate you and I hope I fall over dead before your precious business merger is completed!" the bride shrieked. "No, he does!"
"Right, joyous," John said. He winced thinking how close he'd come to a similar wedding snafu before he'd made his first break with his father. Nancy had been a mistake, but she'd never actually wanted him dead that he knew of. He wondered if Talaruba had divorces.
"I am sure she is just suffering from nerves," Teyla murmured.
The bride grabbed a length of green bunting, tore it loose from the legs of the chair it had decorated and flung it into Nilas' face before stomping away.
With the dining tent arranged satisfactorily, they returned to the cook tent. After Teyla burned the tart filling, the cook - Lerdat - had John replace her at the pot, stirring and pouring in a sweet syrup, while Teyla peeled and mangled the fruit. Rodney had finished two baskets worth of vegetables and started on a third. His fingers were stained orange.
Ronon moved on to kneading dough along with Lerdat.
They watched through the open sides of the tent as a troupe of entertainers, obviously from offworld, showed up and began to work the arriving crowd. The brightly dressed group were a mixture of women and men, acrobats, sleight-of-hand magicians, and musicians, and kept the wedding guests distracted and happy. At least one of them, a slight young man with dark hair, didn't appear to possess any bones whatsoever. Everyone watched his sinuous contortions in amazement. Lerdat sent Teyla out with trays of iced fruit punch and the local innkeeper arrived with his son and a keg-filled wagon to serve the more alcoholically inclined.
The bride kept poking her head out of her private tent, watching the musicians. Finally, she waved one of them over. John's eyebrows went up when he spotted the red-haired man disappearing inside the tent, but it was none of his business.
Once the breads had been prepared and set to rising, they moved on to pastry. John finished the filling and Lerdat rewarded them all with some of the freshest berries that would go into a second dessert.
He stepped outside for a few minutes to get away from the cook-fire's heat. Rodney joined him. "For this, I got three PhDs."
John watched the musician from earlier crawl under the rear edge of the bride's tent and furtively dart over to the groom's tent. The guy was going to have grass stains on his knees. The bottom edge of the back of the tent was lifted from the inside and the musician snuck inside.
"What do you think that's about?" he asked.
Rodney looked up from his hands and glanced around for a threat. "What? What? Did you see something wrong? I don't see any spears. Maybe we can sneak back to the stargate."
"No spears." John chuckled. Maybe they did need this 'wandering'; the entire team had begun reacting to everything as a sign of impending disaster. "I was just wondering - you know, forget it."
He wiped the sweat from his forehead and headed back to the tent.
"Great. Fine. Give me a heart attack next time," Rodney grumbled, following him.
The day passed in a blur of cooking, feeding the fires heating Lerdat's ovens and the spits holding four pig things, assembling the desserts, washing pots and utensils, serving the food, and cleaning up, which meant more washing. On Talaruba, the wedding feast came before the ceremony.
Turned out that was a good thing for the guests.
The orange didn't come off Rodney's fingers, making him complain bitterly.
Not as bitterly as Nilas did however as the day reached its pinnacle.
The ceremony resembled an Earth one just enough that the differences made it seem really strange. The bride was escorted to the altar by two hulking women in light blue. She was decked in blue too, but darker, though not as dark as Nilas. The color of the clothes correlated with the standing of the person wearing them: darker equaling older and more powerful.
The bride, Nimar, seemed far more composed than earlier, so maybe Teyla had been right. Or maybe she'd spent the afternoon in her tent smoking something tranquilizing. One of the entertainers had been selling little bundles of something to various guests on the sly. The little smirk playing at the corners of her mouth - which was pretty, so she'd taken after her father in looks luckily - looked familiar to John. It was the same sort of 'fuck you' smirk he'd had to suppress every time he did an end run on his father during his teenage years. Then again, Nimar was a teenager, so maybe getting stoned on her wedding day would be the extent of her rebellion.
Somehow, he didn't think so. Nimar might have taken after her father in appearance, but he'd bet his last bag of chips she got her personality from Nilas.
Lerdat joined them in the open front of the cook tent and watched with the team.
"Thank you all," she said. "The tents won't come down until tomorrow, so you can sleep here. The cook-fires should keep you warm enough even if the weather turns.
Ronon checked the horizon for clouds. "Rain?"
"Tomorrow," Lerdat said.
The groom's mother and sister marched him up the aisle. Marched somebody up the aisle, anyway, the guy was so wrapped up in scarves wound round and round him he looked like a green and pink mummy. Not an inch of his skin showed. Green suede gloves were on his hands, green leather slippers on the feet that toe-peeped under the lower robe's hem, and a green and pink turban hid any hair. A hot pink scarf swathed over his face and a heavy veil hid even his eyes.
"I'm glad I'm not a Talaruban," John murmured.
"Oh yeah," Rodney agreed.
"Shhhh," Teyla hissed at them.
"Stupid," was Ronon's only comment and John couldn't decide if he meant the Talarubans or himself and Rodney for pissing off Teyla with their lack of proper cultural respect. Maybe both.
The...figure of authority overseeing and conducting the ceremony, because the little old lady in a loincloth was certainly no priest, started in chanting as soon as the groom's mother parked him next to Nimar. There weren't many women from Earth who could have stood like that without some awareness of their body, but the Talaruban religiouse managed it, and with real dignity. The contrast of her near nudity and the groom's mummy-like outfit tickled John's fancy. It didn't keep Rodney from wincing every time her voice cracked or hit a bad note and Ronon, of all people, looked scandalized by her dried up, bare body.
The ceremony segued into a sort of call and response portion, all the answers coming from Nimar.
It finished with the religiouse clapping her hands together. Nimar reached out and pushed the over-robe off her new husband's shoulders. Then she began unwinding the dozens of scarves wrapping him up. Each one she dropped to the ground revealed a little bit more until skin began showing. It seemed possible that the whole thing would end in more nudity.
The groom's mother made a shocked noise when Nimar took off one of his gloves.
A rustle of whispers ran through the guests as she tugged the end of one cloth and the turban on his head unraveled in a slither of green, revealing a head of coppery red hair.
"Oh crap," John muttered, recognizing that hair.
With a theatrical flourish, Nimar swept the scarf away from her husband's face. The groom's mother clapped both hands over her mouth. Nilas shrieked like an electroshocked peacock.
Nimar threw her arms around the shoulders of the musician from earlier and planted a big smacking kiss on his lips.
"Great, just wonderful," Lerdat said. "That is not Pimat. I'll be lucky to get Nilas to pay me now and there sure won't be a bonus."
Nilas was busy shouting at Nimar, at Nimar's husband, and at Pimat's mother. The religious had wondered off, followed by a couple of acolytes trying to get her to put on a nearly black robe.
"Oh dear," Teyla commented.
"Wonder what happened to Pimat?" Ronon said.
"So do we take back the wedding gift?" Rodney asked.
Teyla hit him.
Pimat had apparently done a runner. Nilas was melting down, the guests were melting away, and SGA-1, discretion being the better part of not getting involved, melted into the shadows.
They joined a very morose Lerdat in the cook-tent, then sat around and stuffed themselves with the food that had never been served. The sweet rolls were particularly good. Ronon ate a dozen.
Three sour looking, over-muscled women carrying stout cudgels poked their heads in once. They looked over the team and then the shortest one, who wore the darkest tunic, demanded, "We're looking for any of the entertainers."
"Haven't seen them since this afternoon," Lerdat snapped back. "We were busy cooking."
"Of course I am." Lerdat waved her hand at the table full of goodies that had never been distributed. "Do you think these appear out of thin air?"
The tallest cudgel bearer swiped one and bit into it, her eyes closing in bliss. "'s good," she mumbled around a mouthful.
Lerdat just sighed. "Go ahead, take some."
A plate of tarts was passed around.
"They look like offworlders," short and sour said. She pointed at John's team.
"Oh, now not only am I not going to get paid for all my work, you're going to cost me my best servitors?" Lerdat complained. "That's typical. It's no wonder that boy ran away rather than marry her."
"You'd best keep you mouth shut," the third woman warned Lerdat. Her glare encompassed the team too.
"Come on, Detal," the tall one said. "We can keep checking, but you know those offworlders already snuck out through the Ancestor's Ring."
"Except for Nimar's new husband," chuckled Delat, her sour expression melting into wicked amusement for a moment. She nodded to Lerdat. "You'd all best stay in this tent for the night. Nilas and Edenir's families have declared blood feud on each other over this."
"Oh, we'll do that," Lerdat said.
Rodney and John nodded, Ronon shrugged, and Teyla smiled agreement.
Lerdat looked at the four of them critically after the three guards had left. Then her gaze strayed around the tent. "Huddle up near the fire," she said finally.
So they did. John slept with his head on his pack and the others arranged themselves as comfortably as they could. Lerdat covered them with tablecloths, before curling next to a large basket of tubers.
So did Ronon and Rodney, though, so it didn't make much difference, and Teyla was loudest of all.
In Which Boredom Gets the Better of Our Heroes
Loaded up with Lerdat's sweet rolls, string bags of fruit, and a gate address, they headed for the stargate the next morning.
Rodney was moaning that his back would never recover and over his still orange fingers. Ronon was eating from a head-sized wheel of cheese he'd wheedled out of Lerdat, shaving off slices with one of his knives. Teyla was humming.
John felt quite cheerful himself.
It might have been the lack of a hangover. Or people shooting at them. Or even getting away from the Atlantis pressure cooker for a few days.
Of course it couldn't last.
They reached the stargate just as it activated, the blue whoosh of the forming event horizon illuminating two slim figures at the DHD. They weren't the only ones to see them either.
A guard yelled.
"There they are!"
Unfortunately, another guard had to add, "Right there! With the outworlders!"
It didn't really matter where the two fugitives were going, since if the team stayed behind to explain they hadn't had anything to do with whatever those two were wanted for, they might find themselves stuck for a very long time. And no one in Atlantis knew where they had gone after gating to Balus. He'd known this wandering idea sucked.
John made a command decision.
They sprinted for the stargate after the two young men dodging through it. Ronon bowled his wheel of cheese along the ground toward the guards running at them, sending them off their feet like ten pins in a perfect bowling strike.
They bolted through the wormhole still running, a thrown cudgel and a spear following them through before the stargate deactivated.
Everything beyond the stargate splash zone was obscured by head high grass, just turning from green to gold. A glance up revealed a pale blue sky and some really big birds. Or pterodactyls.
They crashed through the giant grass for another moment before losing momentum and coming to a stop.
"Anyone see a DHD back there?" John called.
"Yes," Teyla answered.
It really looked like grass, hand's-width flat blades rising toward the sun. It was stiffer than grass, though, probably so it didn't fall over under its own weight. The edges were too wide to cut. The botanists back home would be interested in it. Moving through it was like shouldering through heavy canvas curtains.
"We need to get out of here," Ronon said.
"Why?" asked one of the men they'd followed through.
After a second, John realized it was the acrobat from the wedding. Sans bright, loose clothing and a painted face, he looked about sixteen. The velvet fuzz of his shaved close dark hair only added to the effect. He gave John a doe-eyed look before moving a step closer to the other man.
With a sense of inevitability, John asked the acrobat's companion, "You're Pimat, aren't you?"
"Sheppard, we need to get out of here now," Ronon interrupted, swinging around to face back the way they'd come and pulling his energy pistol out of his pack. John was officially peeved over that. Woolsey had ordered them all to leave behind any weaponry identifiable as belonging to Atlantis, but Ronon had brought along the pistol anyway, along with all of his knives. He would have even if it had been Atlantean, too.
"Why?" Rodney asked in a small voice.
The long grass rustled. John wished he'd ignored Woolsey's orders.
"Been here before," Ronon replied. John really wished he'd ignored orders, because a P90 would have been really nice right then.
"Oh. Okay. So you made some enemies of the locals, big deal. They might not even know we're here and if they do, I'm thinking the rest of us could just pretend we don't know you," Rodney said. His hands were spasming like they missed carrying a weapon or at the very least a lifesign detector as well.
Teyla crouched gracefully and came up with a fist-sized rock in her hand. Three for three in wanting to be armed after all.
"We don't know any of you," Pimat added reasonably.
The acrobat thwapped his arm.
"Delli!" Pimat protested.
"Shut up," Ronon hissed.
The grass rustled again. John grabbed Rodney's arm and began backing toward Ronon. Teyla took their three o'clock to watch for any threats without comment.
Pimat and Delli began backing up with them, casting scared looks around, though so far the only reason they had to worry was Ronon's tension.
The grass rustled one more time and then a bug the size of a beer keg erupted into the air, wings buzzing like a lawnmower. John clamped his hand tight around Rodney's arm and Rodney squeaked. If he'd had his P90, John would have emptied its clip right into the bug.
The rustling in the grass stopped. So did every other noise except the whistle of John's breath going in and out. He had to concentrate to slow it down. The last thing he needed to do was hyperventilate. God, he hated bugs. Especially big, big, big bugs.
Rodney whimpered and began prying John's fingers off his arm. "Sheppard," he hissed.
"Bug," John heard himself say.
"I know." Rodney sounded kind. He finished getting John's hand loose. The grass suddenly whispered and soughed, the sound of something big moving through it, and John gulped and grabbed Rodney's hand. If that was another bug...
This was officially a bad, bad planet in John's book.
"Yes, yes, very big, but it's gone."
"John-" Teyla started to say.
John was scanning everywhere around them for another one of those huge, probably life-sucking, creeping, crawling, chittering, flying, damn insects. That's why he saw the eye.
The large golden eye with the slit cat-pupil the size of a baseball at least and belonging to the giant freaking cat that was stalking them.
"Oh my God," Rodney whimpered.
Ronon spun, aimed and fired in one move. Red energy sizzled over the cat's head, making it yowl and stumble, its front paws going out from under it and its chin hitting the dirt.
The yowl was accompanied by a roar from behind Ronon. A second, even larger cat came bounding toward them, strings of saliva trailing off its tusks. Teyla wound up and let fly with her rock, nailing the cat in one eye, sending it shying aside just before it hit Ronon. Instead of tearing him to shreds, its shoulder slammed into him, sending him to the ground. Ronon rolled onto his back and shot it too, slowing it down, but that was all.
"Oh shit," Rodney said.
John resorted to the same order he'd given earlier.
Unfortunately, they were running away from the stargate. Perfect.
As usual, Teyla outran him and Rodney. Pimat and Delli turned out to have a good turn of speed too, but were soon panting and red-faced compared to John's team. Ronon caught up and began dragging them along, shouting, "Faster!"
Behind them, the cats were already after them again, the stun effects already shaken off.
"Ronon!" John yelled. "Shoot to kill next time!"
"I did!" Ronon shouted back. He half-turned enough to shoot both cats again, making them stumble, yowl in pain, and slow down, but that was the extent of the pistol's effect on them.
Everyone ran faster, shouldering blindly through the head high grass, and spooking more of the giant bugs into the air as they passed.
Rodney pointed to something looming above the grass.
"They're cats!" John yelled at him.
"No retractable claws!" Rodney panted back. "I don't think they can climb."
"You better be right!"
They sprinted for the tree, which twisted and loomed like a tortured baobab high over the super-grass.
Ronon shot the cats one more time and everyone scrambled up the tree trunk, climbing higher and higher, well beyond where the cats' weight would let them climb in any case.
Clinging to the limbs with arms and legs, they watched the cats prowl the ground beneath the tree, then out across a vast plain dotted with more trees and distant herds of what looked like mammoths on steroids.
Twisting his neck, John could look back the way they'd come and spot the stargate. Definitely too far to sprint back ahead of the sabretooth twins and have time to dial the DHD. Crap.
"There appears to be an abandoned nest in the upper fork to the left," Teyla called. "We might be more comfortable there."
"Until Mama Big Bird comes back," Rodney mumbled. He'd actually climbed higher and faster than John. Imminent death always did wonders for his speed and coordination. Grumbling the entire time, he climbed down after John far enough to work his way up a different set of limbs to the huge nest of dead gray sticks and logs at the top of the tree. The interior had been lined in dried up clay mud, down, and dried grass and was festooned with bones, pieces of dried up shell and bits of fur.
Teyla, Pimat and Delli fitted themselves inside, then John and Ronon. They all had room to stretch their legs out. It did look like Teyla was right and the nest had been abandoned. There were no signs of any recent meals in it, just the old bones.
Rodney picked out one dried up bone the length of his arm and held it up. "You've got to be kidding me," he said. He peered suspiciously at the empty blue sky. "What is up with this galaxy?" he shouted before throwing the bone down at the giant cats. "Did it throw away the freaking square-cube law with the rest of physics!?"
John looked at Ronon.
"This happen last time you were here?"
Ronon shrugged. "Ran in a circle and made it back to the stargate."
"Think those cats will lose interest any time soon?"
Ronon peered over the edge of the nest.
He shrugged again.
"Probably by morning."
"Probably?" Rodney squeaked.
"Depends on if they're really hungry."
"That's just great."
"At least we have food with us," Teyla remarked. She smiled at Delli and Pimat. "And you?"
"Nothing," Pimat said sulkily.
"How did you choose this world?" she asked Delli.
Delli ducked his head. "My hand slipped. I hit the wrong sigil."
"Oh. Oh my God," Rodney squawked. "We could have all died. We could have emerged into vacuum if you'd accidentally dialed an orbital gate!"
"We didn't, though," John said.
Rodney gave him a look as sulky as Pimat's, crossed his arms over his chest, and wiggled his way into a more comfortable seating position.
"Gimme one of those rolls Lerdat gave you," he demanded. He extended his open hand and snapped his fingers.
"Eat one of your own," John told him crossly.
Rodney sniffed. 'You owe me for dragging me along on this fiasco."
"It wasn't my idea!" John protested.
Teyla dropped a meat-filled roll into Rodney's hand. "I'm sorry, Rodney," she said. "I didn't anticipate this."
"Who could?" John tried to comfort her while Rodney tore into the roll and Pimat looked on wistfully. Presumably he was remembering that that food could have been his if he had married Nimar the day before.
The nest got hot as the sun reached its apex. The sabretooths sprawled on the ground beneath their perch, panting loudly, in between standing up against the trunk and giving out coughing roars and grooming each other.
Teyla took a nap. Then John did. Rodney took a double nap. Ronon perched on the edge of the nest and watched the mammoth herd in the distance. Pimat and Delli talked and cuddled and when John woke up again, they were making out. He rapidly closed his eyes again. Delli was just as flexible as he'd appeared to be while performing at the wedding. Pimat really needed to get more sun - but not all at once. His ass was going to sunburn.
Sometime near but before sundown, they all ate again and Delli produced a bag of leaves and a pipe, lit up, and passed it around. It was such a bad idea, but Rodney was making horrified faces and waving the smoke away from his face, nattering about fried brain cells and John's hair, so John accepted it when it came around and definitely inhaled. After that he teased Rodney about being a bigger fraidy cat than the sabretooths downstairs until he took a hit too. The smoke smelled like lavender, made Ronon giggle - which would have been far more disturbing if John hadn't been stoned by then himself - and Teyla sleepy. Everything slowed way, way down.
Of course, it made Rodney hungry.
Everything made Rodney hungry.
Except eating and John wasn't sure about that.
It seemed perfectly natural for Delli to compliment Ronon on his tattoos, then show off his own. Next, they all had to show each other their scars. Since they all had collected quite a few, that took a while. John felt he was clearly winning any competition, though, with his trifecta of feeding marks: neck (Iratus), arm (Ellia), and chest (Todd). Plus two bullet wounds in his arm (Superwraith and Rodney) and two separate gut wounds, and assorted nicks and scratches accumulated through out a rough and tumble lifetime.
"All that proves is that you are incredibly stupid and lucky," Rodney griped, but that was just sour grapes. All he had were the two scars from the arrow in his ass and the time John thought he was the enemy and shot him.
Ronon sulked because Rodney had healed all his scars while on his way to nearly ascending.
Pimat just looked on wide-eyed.
"My mother was very careful that I never become marked in any way," Pimat admitted. He leaned forward and poked at the scar on Rodney's side, tracing the twist of keloid until Rodney twisted away, grumbling in a high voice, "That's tickles."
He should never have done that.
Ronon tackled him and began tickling him until Rodney was shrieking and thrashing and nearly kicked Teyla in the face. She woke up with a yell, grabbed a bone and brought it down on Ronon's ass.
"Have you got any good scars?" Delli asked her from the farthest edge of the nest he could retreat to.
Teyla gave him a heavy-eyed look, then took in the state of undress their scar comparison had engendered. She sniffed.
"I have given birth in a Wraith cruiser," she said, effectively winning that contest.
After they'd all gone quiet for a while and the giant damn cats had both backed up and sprayed the tree trunk - the smell wafted up to them and made everyones' eyes water so much they all had to have another toke off Delli's pipe, Pimat touched the earrings in his lobes and asked, "Do none of you have any jewelry?"
'Not me," Rodney declared. He leaned forward. "Did it hurt?"
Pimat grinned. "Not at all. Delli did it last night while we were waiting to get away."
"How many pipes had you had?" Teyla asked.
"Three," Pimat admitted.
Delli pulled his shirt up and displayed the carved rings in his nipples and a circle of gold rings in his navel.
"Wow," John said.
"I have others too."
"Show us," Ronon demanded.
Things devolved after that. A third pipe was smoked. The rest of the rolls were consumed. Rodney rigged up torches from bits of the nest. Then they had to put out the fire that threatened to consume everything, including Delli's bag of weed. John wasn't completely clear on the order of events following.
All he could really say was that Pimat was a liar.
The damn earrings hurt like hell, though probably not as bad as the barbell Rodney woke up with in one of his nipples.
Teyla kept fingering the stud in her navel, which looked very good, but John didn't even ask why Ronon was walking so funny.