Content Rating: Mature
Warnings: Mature Themes, Language, Pure Silliness, GFY
Summary: They do what they have to do on First Contact Missions, just to survive and make allies. What happens when policies change on Earth?
Lt. Col. John Sheppard sat stunned into silence as he stared at his ultimate Commanding Officer. He heard Dr. Weir shift in her seat next to him.
“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t understand. You want to talk about all of the….what?”
General Jack O’Neill grimaced a little. “I want to talk about all of the unsanctioned marriages in this city.”
John frowned in confusion. “But, sir, we haven’t had any. Marriages. Sanctioned or otherwise. We don’t even have the personnel for it. We’re sorely missing a chaplain, for one thing. And, um, interpersonal relationships…..”
O’Neill sighed deeply, cutting him off. “Sheppard, I appreciate that you want to cover for any indiscretions that may or may not be happening on this city, but I’ve read the reports. The IOA have read the reports. The Pentagon have read the reports. There have been marriages here, and something needs to be done about them.”
Finally understanding, Sheppard sat upright. “Sir, I’m sure you of all people understand, when in a First Contact situation, sometimes concessions must be made with the Native Population. Sure, some of our guys have done a few tea ceremonies, or held nicely arranged flowers, but it didn’t really mean anything. Just, well, technicalities to get through meet and greets; keep the native on our side, you know?”
“Oh, I know, Colonel. I do know very well.” O’Neill looked as if he’d just swallowed a porcupine. “You may be late getting a lot of memos, and we’re trying to fix that, but attitudes on Earth have been shifting in a major way. The fact it, there have been strong pushes to legalize marriage equality all over the board, in most civilized countries. Sure, the places ruled by religious extremists are still in the dark about this, but the United States has begun to join the ranks, along with France, Germany, Italy, and Greece, of all places. Canada and Great Britain already allowed it, and the SGC gets most of its ranks from those countries, so it behooves us to follow along.
“With the sudden shift in public morality, the IOA has begun monitoring ‘relationships’ among the SGC personnel, to make sure nothing unethical is going on. I’m all for freedom of relationships, believe me, and since we’ve been able to allow people to fall in love where they will, the angst level under the mountain has decreased immensely.”
John cocked one eyebrow in disbelief. “I’m sure my personnel here in Atlantis will be relieved to hear that, sir. I still have no idea what you’re talking about with the marriage bit.”
O’Neill glared at him for a moment. “Okay, I’m going to lay it all out for you, before Woolsey from the IOA comes out here and makes everyone really uncomfortable. The new ‘Morality Rules’ that the IOA are imposing on the SGC and its staff mean that if you care enough to say it out-loud, then you have to carry forth and live with it. This means that, from this point on, when any of your teams undergo an off-world marriage/mating/fertility/whatever ceremony, for whatever reason, the rite sticks. If one of your men or women joins, even ceremonially, with a Native Personnel, then the IOA will consider that union legal, and your soldier or geek will now have a new dependent.”
O’Neill shrugged almost carelessly. “Yeah, I know, Sheppard, I know. This is why I’ve managed to convince the Joint Chiefs to ignore any ‘weddings’ that have been logged into your reports up to this point. For one thing, a lot of those names in the reports overlap into several rites. We’re opening up for new marriage laws, but polygamy is not on the list. I have the official new policy here, in digital and hard-copy. You are to review it, and dole it out to the personnel, and make them all understand that we’re making this stick. It’s mostly to keep you safe, you know. We’ve had instances in our home galaxy where married personnel had to go through the motions of a mating rite off-world, and they didn’t like it because it felt like they were cheating on their spouses. This new policy gives everyone that failsafe—the ‘No thanks, I’m married and happy’ card. I know out here in Pegasus, you’ve not really had that to consider, because we don’t tend to send family-oriented personnel here.”
“No, sir, that hasn’t been an issue really. I mean, some of the scientists have spouses and families back home, but not the soldiers. And those scientists keep to the labs, and don’t go off-world. How are we going to deal with this new policy? What do I say to the soldiers?”
O’Neill leveled a look at the younger man. “You tell everyone, and I mean everyone, that when this situation presents itself, they should think long and hard about how permanent they want their unions to be. If a Gate-team is presented with the Marry-Or-Die scenario, they either risk irritating the native populace or they find a partner that they won’t mind being joined with on a permanent basis. And that they seriously avoid being mated with indigenous personnel, because that will mean bringing the new spouse back to Atlantis as an official dependent.”
John grimaced as he accepted the manila folder containing the new regulations. “This is not going to be fun, sir.”
“I never expected otherwise.”
John Sheppard had had better days. Seriously. The day he was almost court-marshaled and dropped out of the Air Force was a good day compared to this. And now he had to spread the misery all over his otherwise happy city. He was grumbling to himself as he stalked through the halls toward the science labs. Elizabeth Weir had maintained that he should be the one to break the news to the military, and Dr. McKay would be the one to tell the science staff. Coward that she was, she would tell the medical staff. Like they ever went off-world. Ha!
It was a testament to his mood that the lights in the hallways dimmed as he walked, instead of brightening as they usually did. Even the city could feel his discomfort. Arriving at Lab 5, McKay’s favorite haunt, John activated the door and walked in, immediately seeking out his erstwhile best friend. If John was having a hard time with this, Rodney would positively throw a fit. He hated passing along IOA directives along to his geeks, as he felt they had no pertinence to his scientific study. In this case, he wouldn’t really be wrong. Still, there was that hunting group on PG4-2899 that had access to a possible Ancient outpost and wanted to ‘join with’ Parrish for the privilege of searching the area.
“Rodney, we have to talk…what are you doing?”
“Oh, um, I had to replace almost every crystal in this control panel, so I figured I’d cannibalize the unused panels from Lab 14. What do we have to talk about? What did O’Neill want? He almost never comes out here alone. Usually Jackson is with him.”
John sneered in an almost unflattering manner as he thought about the new regs. “He probably came alone to make sure he actually got to go back in a timely manner. Dr. Jackson never wants to leave.”
Rodney snorted as he sorted through the wreckage that surrounded him. “I can’t blame him for that. I hated to leave even for the few weeks we were back on Earth last year to pick new staff. What did he want?”
“Can you please stand up? I need to have a serious conversation, and I refuse to have it with your knees.”
Grumbling softly, McKay crawled out from under the consol and stood, wiping his hands with a soft rag. “Okay, I’m standing. The least you could do is not look at my knees now.”
“Right.” John looked into the clear blue eyes of his best friend and swallowed deeply. “There have been policy changes on Earth. As usual, we haven’t been getting the social memos. O’Neill said he’s going to be looking into that. Anyway, it seems the other IOA-sponsoring countries have decided to go along with Canada and Great Britain and recognize all marriages as legal.”
“It’s about time on that. The United States, too? Good. What does that have to do with us? I mean, sure, there are a few city-wide relationships that can now come out of the closet, but they’ve been quiet so far so they’re not really bothering anyone. Oh, does this mean we can get rid of those homophobic assholes that came in on the last transport?”
John rubbed a hand roughly along the back of his neck. “I don’t know what I’m going to do about those guys, other than to gleefully tell them that they can shut-up or get off my city. No, O’Neill had more to say than that. Here,” he handed a manila file and bright-red flash drive to his friend. “This is the new ‘Moral Code’ that the IOA is now imposing on the SGC, both military and civilian. I have to post it to all personnel under my command, and Elizabeth wants you to inform the geeks. You’ll want to read it through, first, because it’s a hoot. From what O’Neill told me, we’re getting off easy, because the Joint Chiefs decided to grandfather us out of this. A lot of people would be in trouble otherwise.”
John watched as Rodney opened the file and read the pertinent highlights. He could tell by the raising of the eyebrows when Rodney found the marriage clause.
“Oh, you have got to be kidding me! We have to be ‘careful about partaking in greeting rituals’? Every population we’ve met out here in the last two years has had some kind of greeting ritual. We’ll never make allies if we can’t play nice.”
John rolled his eyes. “It doesn’t say not to play nice, Rodney. It says to play careful. It says to make sure that if sipping the nice, bitter tea means we’re actually showing interest in mating and sharing genes, then we should either say ‘no thanks’ or pick carefully who we’re sipping the tea with. And then never do it again. Do you realize that you and I have both married Ford? Twice. In two months!”
Rodney scowled. “Yes, I realize. I also realize that Parrish almost had a permanent high-priestess wife, by this policy, and the poor man is so gay, rainbows follow him around. Fine, I’ll e-mail the file to the geeks, and arrange a mandatory meeting where we shall all be affronted and offended by this policy.”
John snorted in commisseration. “Yeah, so when are you going to do this? Because I have to do the same with the military, and I’d rather not have too much of a lag with the information.”
“I’ll do it today, and arrange for the meeting tomorrow morning.” Rodney looked carefully at his friend and frowned slightly. “I do not envy you your job, John. A lot of the soldiers are going to have a hard time accepting this.”
“I know. Maybe this will be the catalyst to ridding the city of the assholes. O’Neill did kind of indicate that all of the SGC was cleaning house because of the new ‘Moral Code’.
The meeting with the military personnel went about as badly as John had expected. The homophobes, of which there were unfortunately quite a few, demanded the right to object loudly, to which John responded with highlighted portions of the new official ‘Moral Code’. They shut up quickly, probably realizing that even if they sorted back to Earth, the times were a changing, and they would be left behind. The more surprising reaction was the number of soldiers requesting reassignments of Gate-teams.
Not because of homophobia, but because they wanted to be assigned with their lovers, just in case of possible mating rites. They didn’t want to miss the opportunity to make allies because their chosen mates were on other teams and rites couldn’t be completed.
The whole thing gave John a headache. So, off to the Mess he went, in search of coffee and passable food.
He found Rodney sitting at his usual table in the far corner, near a window, and joined his friend.
“Hey, how did your meeting go?”
Rodney looked up, an expression of dire disgust on his face. “They all want to know if we’re going to pay dowry for forced marriages.”
“No. Not all of them. A few. Remember, some of my ‘brilliant minds’ are from countries where arranged marriages are predominant. Actually, the geeks who are not on Gate-teams are trying to switch with geeks who are on Gate-teams. They are completely disregarding the fact that they aren’t on teams for a reason. And a few were asking if we’re getting a Chaplain to preside in case any ceremonies have to take place on the city.”
John sighed. “I suppose we should come up with some very serious answers for those queries. I do know that we are not getting a Chaplain. For one thing, could you imagine a Pastor out here, trying to prosthelytize to the Pegasus natives—all of whom seem to think the Ancients were their gods? And Chaplains in war zones are not known for thinking about marriage rituals, so that’s out.”
Rodney snickered. “I sincerely hope nobody thinks we’re going to open a Wedding Bazaar on the main concourse.”
John swallowed the last of his sandwich. “This whole thing has ‘Huge Mess’ written all over it. I’m all for taking marriage seriously. I wouldn’t be divorced if my ex-wife took our marriage as seriously as I did. I gave her my all, and ignored my own wants and needs, and it turned out she was only in it for the status of Officer’s wife.”
Rodney frowned at the inclusion of so much personal information. “Why did you get divorced, anyway?”
John shrugged. “After Afghanistan, when my last mission went FUBAR and I got black-marked to hell and back, she opted out, thinking I was going to be bounced out of the military and let loose on civilian life. She loved to lord it all over the Officer’s Club that her husband was a decorated pilot. The shame was too much for her. Then O’Neill stepped in and got a review of my sanction, and I got the promotion and this prime assignment.”
“You consider Atlantis ‘prime’?”
John swallowed a mouth-full of coffee before answering, “Right now, I consider any assignment without a gold- and status-digging wife a prime assignment. The hours are lousy, and the Wraith suck—no pun intended—and I have soldiers that press all of my buttons on a regular basis, but the city is a personal paradise for me. And if I didn’t have the magic gene, the review, promotion, and assignment would never have happened. I’m just glad we never had children. Sure, my father could have had more grandkids to spoil, but the thought of passing Nancy’s personal short-comings onto another generation practically sickens me.”
Rodney snorted and reached for his own mug. “She sounds like a lovely piece of work. I’m glad you’re well done of her. How did your meeting go?”
“I have soldiers begging me to switch around Gate-teams on the just-in-case. There are ‘couples’ here, which I knew about unofficially, that now want to be known officially, and they want to be on the same teams now.”
“Just in case they have a meet-n-greet where some High Priest or village chancellor has decided that a marriage rite is needed before anyone talks about alliance or trade. None of the military have the impression that a Chaplain will be sent out here, so I can avoid that argument. But these happy couples don’t want to chance not getting leave at the same time so they can travel back to Earth and make things official there. And of course, if they do make it to Earth for a marriage ceremony, there is the unfortunate chance that the United States Military Machine will do what it has done to traditional couples over the past forty years, and split them up for the rest of their term in service. If they ‘happen’ to get mated off out here, then they can stay out here together. It’s a minefield, and I get to trip through it.”
“Are you going to trade assignments?” Rodney asked, mildly concerned.
“I’m willing to go over the assignments with Team leaders and Dr. Weir, to see if any switches are feasible. The Teams were assigned for a reason, as each member has a specific skill. I can’t reasonably put a geologist on a cultural team. It just won’t work.”
“I don’t suppose any of the switches being requested involve any of my geeks?”
“I have only a few personal requests. No names were mentioned, either military or civilian, so I’m not sure who is involved.”
Rodney sat back and sighed. “I’d really like to find out which IOA idiot came up with this policy change, and beat him or her soundly. I cannot believe our reports really read like some trashy polyamourous romance adventure. I barely remember the few times we’ve encountered any people who insisted that we marry or leave the village.”
John snorted a short laugh. “Oh, I remember them. All four of them. I remember having my wrists tied to both you and Ford, while Teyla tried to explain that Atlantis soldiers ‘Do NOT bond in that way’. And I remember Ford and I being offered that nasty fruit juice while negotiating harvest rights on PG8-2246, and we still were never permitted to bring the botanists out to survey the land. And I remember both morning tea ceremonies where you and Ford, and then me and Ford, had to avoid the Chieftain’s rather lusty daughters—and the disgruntled way the whole Royal Family looked at all of us while your geek squad ran tests on the rocky outcropping near the Gate. I always thought those missions were odd, but when the IOA deemed them marriage or mating ceremonies, they made sense. Not good sense, but sense.”
Rodney’s eyes widened a bit in realization. “Ah, yes, now I remember them. You’re right, it wasn’t good sense. Still, we’d best be better prepared before any more First Contact missions. Have you told Teyla about the new policies yet? Since she’s our resident expert on the people of the Pegasus Galaxy, she should be made aware of our new stance on meeting the natives.”
John nodded absently. “I’m meeting her in an hour. I’m not looking forward to that meeting. She’s so Zen all the time, but looking back on those four missions, I realize that she always had a peculiar look on her face when we gave in to the social requests. I’m thinking that we should have asked her opinion more often about how we interact with new cultures, especially if she maybe knew we were all getting married. Jesus, she must think the Tauri are all polygamous. Yeah, this meeting is going to suck more than the last one.”
“Better you than me.”
“Thanks, Rodney. You’re all heart.”
“Teyla, please sit down. I have a few things I need to discuss with you.” John waved his new friend into his office with a polite greeting.
“Thank you, John. Do any of these things happen to be about why Aiden is walking about the South Pier mumbling about a nice girl like his mother wanted?”
John ran a hand over his face as he settled behind his desk. “Ah, geez, I guess I need to talk to him again. Yes, actually this has absolutely to do with that. But first, could you do me the favour of explaining how marriages work here in the Pegasus Galaxy—at least among the peoples that the Athosians know personally?”
Teyla considered the request for a moment. “Marriages? The word is unfamiliar.”
“Um, mating bonds, maybe? Pairings? That sort of thing.”
Teyla’s expression cleared. “Ah, the mating bonds. Since the time that the Wraith have come, long ago, and began to cull the peoples in this galaxy, our lives have been spent trying to survive and build families safely. Among our peoples, at least those I have encountered personally, bonds are created between two parties on either end of a trading or working agreement. This bond is made to last the duration of a full harvest—from plow and sow to reap and rest—and the hope is that the bond will result in a child to aid in the population growth. Sometimes a child is never mentioned in the bond negotiations, and the bond is simply to show trust and regard. Bond-mates live together in the home of the more prosperous party, and once the term of the bond is met, both parties separate to go back to their own homes. You yourself have entered bonds to show trust with new acquaintances.”
“Yes, and trust is what we were hoping to show. But yesterday I was given a new set of guidelines and moral laws that mean to change all of that.”
“I do not understand.”
John sighed. “In Earth culture, the moral norm is for two people of opposite gender to unite in marriage, until such a time as death should separate the two. Or a mutual dissolution, commonly known as divorce. Recently, the social mores have changed to allow members of the same gender to socially acknowledge love for each other and unite in marriage, so the marriage can be a man and woman, a man and another man, or a woman and another woman. But only two persons take part in such a relationship at one time. We believe in ‘forever after’, or as close as we can get to it. And the new policy that I was given clearly states that our ruling governments on Earth, which we follow even out here, shall consider any new ‘bonding rites’ as legal marriages under our own laws.”
“And this is a problem?” Teyla frowned, confused.
“It has potential to be a problem, Teyla. Take poor Aiden Ford, for instance. He eventually wants to return to Earth, meet a nice young woman, fall in love, get married and raise a family. If he is persuaded to engage in another ‘I-Trust-You’ bond, no matter how innocent, our government will consider that bond a binding marriage. No going home to meet that mystery girl for him. He’ll have his spouse, right here in Pegasus, with someone he has only just met, who won’t be morally constrained in the same way. And if that happens, then he definitely can’t take part in any more bonding rites thereafter, because it’s one marriage per person as the law. The same rule follows for everybody that is part of the Pegasus expedition.”
Teyla’s eyes widened, and she sat back in her seat. “I see how this could be a difficult situation as you go out and meet more cultures here. What can I do to aid you with this new policy?”
“For starters, you can try to explain the new policy and law to the other Athosians who act as ‘Friendly Native Guides’ for our Gate-teams. If a Pegasus native explains to other Pegasus natives that we cannot, morally, take part in these rites and ceremonies, maybe that will smooth the way for better negotiations, or at least a more clear understanding of how we differ culturally no matter that we want to be friends. We need allies out here. We need trading partners. But there is no member of this expedition that would be willing to enter into a temporary marriage or agree to mother or father a child outside of what we would consider marriage. We like the Athosian people, and we enjoy our interactions, but Teyla, we do have our limits. And the way the new law was written, we can only offer friendship, medical aid, and trade. We cannot offer our bodies or our personal relationships. At least, not right now we can’t. Maybe once we get to know people here, relationships can grow.”
Teyla smiled. “I’ll be certain to explain this thoroughly to my fellow guides. And I’ll also be sure to let Nardath know that after some time has passed, there may be a chance for her to better know Dr. Zelenka. She says he makes her heart warm.”
John smiled back at Teyla, and managed to refrain from banging his head against his desk.
“So, I just had to have yet another talk with Ford.”
John strolled into Rodney’s lab just before the dinner hour, hoping for some sane company. From the state of the console Rodney had buried himself under, he wasn’t going to get it.
“Uh-huh. And how did this talk go?” came the muffled response.
“Oh, much more uncomfortably, thanks. It took me over an hour to convince him that he wasn’t really married to me. Or to you. He was really worried about that one.”
“I don’t blame him. I’m not a nice person. Nobody who is as intrinsically pleasant as Ford should ever be saddled with me as a spouse. I’d drive him to drink in mere months.”
“You haven’t driven me to drink yet,” John drawled humorously.
Rodney poked his head out of the console. “WE are not married. We are friends, and we know how to retreat to our respective quarters when the tension gets too high between us. Were we married, your sanctuary would also be my sanctuary, and no sanctuary would be found.”
John shrugged and poked his hands into his jacket pockets. “I could always hide in a Jumper. They like me more than they like you.”
“The Jumpers like Zelenka more than they like me.”
“This is true. Are you ever going to get this thing repaired?”
“I have only a few more adjustments to make, and then the crystals can be calibrated. Why? Did we have plans?”
“Not exactly,” John said as he rocked back on his heels. “But I last saw you several hours ago, and it’s now dinner time, and I know you haven’t eaten since lunch. You get caught up in your work, and you lose track of time, and you really do need to eat regularly. You get awfully cranky when you don’t eat.”
“It’s that late already?”
“Yes, Rodney. The second moon is almost up. And that’s a sentence I’ll never get tired of saying.”
“Right. Let me climb out of here, and we can go eat. I’ll have to come back here afterwards, because I really can’t let this sit until tomorrow.”
“I’ll help after dinner, and then maybe we can get some decent sleep for once.”
“Sounds good to me. Hand me that rag, would you?”
The early dinner rush was just ending when John and Rodney entered the Mess. They quickly gathered their trays and chose a table near the back of the dining room, away from the balcony. They had just begun to eat when they were joined by Elizabeth Weir.
John looked up at her as she settled into a chair. “Well, my meeting with the military contingent was interesting. How did the medical briefing go?”
Elizabeth sighed. “Well, the main medical staff could care less. They are the ones who staff the emergency infirmary, and they never leave the city. The research technicians were a bit mortified. I didn’t know that ritual tea was necessary before Dr. Ryan was allowed to gather plant samples near the Vixtar settlement. She has a fiancée back on Earth, and she was looking forward to taking her research back to the SGC in three months and reuniting with him. She was in a fair panic for a while there.”
Rodney snorted. “I do hope you assured her that we were getting a pass on anything we may have inadvertently done up until yesterday.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Yes, I did. And I made sure they all knew that they needed to make sure they are understood from this point on about reluctance to join in celebrations of any kind when off-world. For all we know, all of those ‘Thank-goodness-our-new-well-works’ parties we’ve been partaking in could be mass weddings. And I know from speaking with Teyla that the Athosian harvest festivals have many meanings.”
“Yeah,” said John, “We covered some of that this afternoon. I can sort of understand the viewpoint of the Pegasus Natives. I mean, they get culled—eaten, basically—so they have to find reasons to celebrate life. And their brief unions are geared toward increasing populations and building necessary alliances with hope to survive the Wraith.”
Elizabeth turned her attention to her other companion. “I meant to ask, Rodney, how did the talk with the science staff go?”
Rodney hummed while finishing his pudding. “It went okay, until I actually pointed out how easy it is to accidently get married out here. Suddenly Parrish wants to never leave the city again. I’m going to assign Zelenka to talk him into resuming his botanical surveys. I might have to find a way to fashion a chastity devise for him before he feels safe dealing with any more native citizens.”
Just then, John’s radio sparked to life.
**Colonel Sheppard, please come in.**
“Sheppard here. What’s up, Chuck?” John ducked his head away as Rodney tossed a balled napkin at him.
**We have had transmission from SGA4. Major Davies has had a bad run-in with the locals, and his team has landed in the brig. His words, not mine. He’s requesting back-up, and he’s in constant motion now that the locals have tracked him to the Gate.**
“Shit. We’re on our way. I’ll want my Jumper prepped, as well as Jumper Three. Get Miller’s team en route as well. We’ll go in silent and invisible, from the orbital Space Gate over the next planet.”
**On it, Colonel.**
John and Rodney met Teyla and Ford in the armory outside of the Jumper Bay, and John radioed Miller’s team while they suited up. The request was simple: grab several bored Marines for a possible rescue mission and meet John’s Jumper at the edge of the Space Gate, and keep it cloaked. Then SGA1 boarded the Jumper and launched through the Atlantis Gate.
“What happened, Colonel?”
“I’m not sure, Ford. But this whole thing hits me as very suspicious.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean SGA4 left for this First Contact meeting, without Friendly Native Guide, right after my Company-wide meeting about the new policy and regulations about mating rites. Given the timing, I’m willing to bet that they were requested to take part in some greeting ceremony and they refused. Davies is a pretty calm and centered person, it’s why he’s such a good leader, but he’s a staunch rule-follower. His team runs tight because of it, but this time it may have caused the trouble.”
Teyla leaned forward into the piloting area. “What will you do if this is the case?”
John frowned. “I’m not willing to force anyone to break our new rules, and I’m not going to compromise the integrity of our personnel. I’d rather roll over these people with superior fire-power than allow anyone under my command to cave to pressure to meet-and-mate.”
“Perhaps there will be another way, then.”
“If there is, I’m willing to hear it. Miller, are you and your troupe with me?”
**Yes, Sir! I have the usual team and six more besides. What is the plan?**
“We’ll be close enough for radio contact in twenty minutes. Keep cloaked, and I’ll try to reach Davies by radio. We’ll keep the channel open and get the sit-rep. We’ll locate him planet-side and figure out our best chance to get everyone out safely.”
**Roger that, Sir!**
“Sir,” said Ford from the rear seats, “What if this is about the new regulations? Are we really going to kill to keep the policy?”
John shook his head. “I’ve never killed in regards to relationships before, Ford, and I’m not going to start now. We’ll figure something out, but I’d like to have the heavily-armed back-up just in case things get hairy.”
“You’re divorced, right, sir?”
“Yeah. Long time ago.”
“What ended that?”
“The ex-wife ended that. She was a status-climber, Ford. Watch out for those. I wasn’t really thinking clearly when I asked her to marry me—it just seemed like the thing to do, to make my father sort of forgive me for joining the Air Force rather than joining the family business. And even he could tell that Nancy was against my regular type. But once I was in, I was all in. I gave into her demands for a status house, when we could have lived on-post, and I allowed her a substantial piece of my trust fund to decorate to her liking. I let her make her deal with the Officer’s Club crowd. One of her besties was the Base Commander’s wife, and that’s how Nancy found out about my last horrible mission in Afghanistan. She had the divorce papers ready by the time I was billeted back to the States, and I was too depressed to fight it. My father made sure she got the minimum in the settlement—he cited emotional abandonment during war times, and it stuck.”
“Have you ever thought about getting married again?”
John looked toward Rodney, who appeared to be studying the instrument panels.
“I’ve thought about it. The one thing I did decide is that if I ever get married again, it’s going to be based on mutual trust and respect. I’d rather be struck blind with care and regard than a pretty face hiding an ugly soul. Already did that one.”
Rodney looked at him. “That’s the most sensible thing I’ve ever heard anyone say about marriage.”
Ford redirected his attention toward Rodney. “What about you, Dr. McKay? You ever been married?”
“No, Major, I have not. I would never be able to settle down with just anyone. I dated in college and graduate school, both men and women, and while the pretty faces were nice to look at, I need a more intellectual bond. I don’t expect a genius like me, but I’d like to bond with someone who can at least mostly keep up with me.”
“And being friends first would help, right? That’s what my grandmother always said: Be friends first, love can come later.”
“Your grandmother seems very wise, Ford,” said John softly.
“She is, sir. That’s why I was so freaked out about the possibility of already accidently being married. I respect both you and Dr. McKay, but he’s way too smart for my own good, and you’re my commanding officer. I’d have been out of my league on either front. Besides which, I really do have my heart set on marrying a woman. No offense.”
John laughed. “None taken, Ford. Okay—Miller, keep this channel open; I’m going to try Davies now. Davies, this is Sheppard, do you read?”
**I read, Colonel.**
“We’re about ten minutes out from you, where are you located?”
**I’ve managed to hole-up in the rocks near the Gate, up high. I can make it to the plateau without being seen by the time you get here.**
“We’re coming in cloaked from orbit. We’ll land on the plateau. Can you tell me what happened?”
**Gosh, Sir, It had to have been some misunderstanding. We were chatting with the general populace, and I was asking the Tribal Leaders about what crops they grew, and how hardy they were, and one of the younger women mentioned joining with one of the Team members. She must have been about thirteen years old, sir, and I tried to explain out taboos about age, when the Tribal Chieftain said that the joining was ceremonial, and we could join each other if only to prove how earnest we were about trading and making friends. And I tried to explain about our rules against that, but by the time I got that started, this young girl had signaled a whole troop of huge guys, and they separated the rest of my team from me and got them disarmed. I ran for the hills, hoping to get a signal back to the city. They were almost on my by the time the Gate dialed.**
John sighed. “Okay, I figured something like this could happen. I hoped we’d be able to come up with contingency plans first. Get to the plateau, we’re almost there.”
Rodney snorted softly, without humor. “Well, I’m sure the IOA had no idea what a cluster-fuck this policy change would turn in to.”
John rolled his eyes and checked the HUD display again. “Rodney, I’m never sure what the IOA thinks. Teyla, are you familiar at all with these people? I think they’re called Vendozians. Davies and his Team met them a few days ago on that Swap-meet Planet.”
Teyla was quiet for a moment before answering. “The Athosians have traded with them on the Trade Planets, but they are more ritualistic than we are. There has not been social interaction between our peoples in many generations.”
“Do you think you can play spokes-person for us?”
“Now that I understand the Earth policy on mating ceremonies, I think I can explain to the Vendozian Leader what has transpired.”
“Good. Hopefully this whole thing will just turn into a long negotiation for fertile land usage and trade. I’d love nothing more than to talk agriculture rather than shooting up a village because they have my people hostage.”
John quickly spotted his missing Team Leader and landed the Jumper on the ground near him. Davies ran to meet the team as the Jumper door opened.
“Sir, am I glad to see you!”
“I’m happy to see you in one piece as well, Davies. Miller, take your cloaked Jumper and land near the settlement. Davies will join my team, and we’ll walk in through the front gate. Let’s move out, people.”
John listened as Major Davies described the village and the Tribal Leaders. The place seemed well fortified, with a high stone wall and thick wooden gate. Of course, it wouldn’t keep out the Wraith, but then, nothing did when they were determined. Outside the gate were fields upon fields for planting a variety of crops and the Vendozians were known for trading fairly with other peoples at the Trade Planet open market. There was a council of four leaders, and while they didn’t have projectile or energy weapons, their guards did wield swords and daggers viciously. And they were apparently large. This is good to know going in.
Soon enough, John could see for himself how large and imposing the guards were, as his small group approached the village gate. Four well-muscled men, each standing over six-and-one-half feet tall, stood to either side of the gate. In the open doorway was a slightly smaller older man, identified by Davies as the Tribal Chieftain, Dorlam. Because he was in charge, John took initiative with the greetings.
“Greetings, Chieftain Dorlam. I am Lt. Colonel John Sheppard of the city Atlantis. This is Teyla Emmagon, of the Athosian people, and my personal envoy. My team is Dr. McKay and Major Ford. We come to you in supplication, hoping to free the rest of my people and re-open negotiations with your people.”
“I return greetings, Lt. Colonel Sheppard. I regret to inform you that your people have gravely insulted the Vendozian people. We are holding them in solitude until the insult has been answered.”
John motioned Teyla to step forward and do her thing. She was possibly the best addition to his team, because nothing really rattled her, and she was quick to respond in dangerous situations. Of course, being raised in the Pegasus Galaxy with the threat of the Wraith hanging over her constantly helped.
“Chieftain Dorlam, may we enter your village? I would hear of the insult given to your people. I know these men from the city of Atlantis. They are good people, and fair, and I am certain that they meant no insult. Perhaps it is just a simple misunderstanding that we can correct quickly.”
“We shall see, Teyla of Athos.”
John allowed Teyla and Dorlam to lead the way back into the village while he surreptitiously radioed Miller and the rescue team to settle in and get comfy for the long haul. Then he got permission for Ford—with escort—to return to the Gate to send a message back to Atlantis that they were fine and were staying as long as it took to find a resolution to the situation. Then he sat next to Teyla at a long table and listened closely as the grievances were levied against his people.
The list wasn’t long, but it was enough to make John long for the days when a shooting solution was his best option.
“Lt. Colonel Sheppard, your men entered our village stating intent to negotiate planting options in our fields and trade agreements. They accepted water from our wells, but refused food when offered. This was a minor insult, but one I was willing to ignore for the moment. We wished to establish trust between our peoples, you understand. Showing a willingness to accept food would have helped in that regard.”
John looked earnestly at the Chieftan. “I can only apologize for that, Chieftain Dorlam. For reasons that may seem entirely silly, my people have been instructed to refuse food or drink items that may indicate any sort of ritual. It was not intended to be an insult; they are merely getting used to new regulations, and they may seem rough around the edges in this regard.”
“I see. And these regulations also forbid the joining of people?”
John hedged for a moment before answering, “Please describe this ‘joining you speak of.”
“We had offered a young woman in first bloom to bond with the leader of your team. This shows immense trust on our part, to offer one so prime to a new potential ally.”
John sighed deeply and looked hard at Teyla. “Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of. Chieftain Dorlam, this is honestly a new one for our people. I haven’t even spoken of this to Teyla, because it hasn’t ever come up at all in the last year or so. In our culture, we believe that a person has not fully mentally matured until they reach at least twenty years of age. I know this seems like a long time to the people of this galaxy, but we have many years of medical research that proves this to be true. So, following this belief, taking a person in ‘first bloom’ is abuse in our culture. We have severe punishments for those who allow this to happen. There is no way, even to show willingness to trust, that any of my men would bed—hell, would even hold hands with a person of this age. It’s a vile act to us, and it just would not happen. By refusing, they were showing respect to your people if not respect to your rituals.”
Dorlam smiled. “I see. Then they would also refuse to join with any other of my people of any age?”
John nodded. “Yes. Our culture views joining like this to be indicative of a major commitment. We don’t know you or your people. We take these commitments very seriously, as in lifetime seriously. For one of my men or women to agree to a joining would mean a lifetime commitment for them. They would have to set aside the opportunity to find a proper mate on their own, the opportunity have a permanent family, and I’m not willing to allow them to do that. I would mean breaking the laws that govern us on a basic level.”
Dorlam eyed John shrewdly. “You seem to believe in honor, Lt. Colonel Sheppard.”
“Honor is important. So is integrity. We can’t trust without it. We’re willing to fight for honor, to die for honor. I can not allow my people to go against their honor, even to appease possible new allies. I’m sorry if this offends you, Chieftain Dorlam. I would like to count you as friend. I would like to make the treaty so that we can plant and harvest here, and so we can offer trade for goods and services. We need friends here, so far from our home. But I won’t allow my people to go against their most basic beliefs.” John looked at Teyla, and Rodney, and sighed again. “Frankly, I hope we can work something out here. But if you and your people are going to force this issue, then I’ll consider you all nothing but bullies. And I don’t tolerate that kind of bullying behavior from friends much less strangers. We have to be true to ourselves and our laws. It’s just who we are.”
Dorlam smiled widely. “Your integrity is inspiring, Lt Colonel Sheppard. I admire your desire to act with honor. I also admire your willingness to protect my own people, despite our cultural rites. There must be a way we can show trust to one another, and move forward into alliance. Will you open your hand with me?”
Dorlam reached for a small dagger, holding it in his left hand and opening his right hand. John smiled, and removed his boot knife from its sheath. “Opening hands is something I understand, Chieftain. This kind of trust show is very basic to my people.” He held the blade against his own right palm, and together the two men made shallow cuts on their hands, and then clasped hands together. Beside John, Rodney snorted and rolled his eyes.
“I can’t believe how easily you shed blood. This is so unsanitary, and you can believe that Carson is going to hear all about this. I don’t care if you don’t need a tetanus shot, you’re getting one anyway.”
John smirked at his friend’s bitching. “Relax, McKay. This means things are going to be okay here. And nobody has to die, and nobody had to get ritually married. Sharing blood is easier to explain than getting married.”
The rest of SGA4 was released and their field weapons were returned to them. John ordered them to return to the city through the Gate, and he and Dorlam made plans to resume treaty talks the following day. John even offered to bring food along for a celebratory meal once negotiations were complete, thus negating any accidental marriages after the fact. Then John and his team returned to their Jumper and both Jumpers flew through the Gate to return their soldiers home, all grateful for lack of bloodshed.
Rodney made sure John received his tetanus shot, just like he threatened, and then the rest of the rescue teams cleared Medical. Teyla and Rodney went to the Mess for coffee (tea for Teyla) to wait until John and SGA4 finished with their after-action reports with Dr. Weir. As they sat there, Teyla closely considered Rodney.
“This new policy of yours does not seem to bother you very much.”
Rodney shrugged. “No, I suppose it doesn’t. I guess it’s because I’ve never really been affected by the ceremonial thingies. Everybody we meet wants to offer their beauties to the leader of the group, so I always got to avoid that. I do think the new policy is stupid, though. Don’t get me wrong, I love the whole marriage equality thing—that’s long past due. It’s the forced morality that I hate. I don’t like the idea of my people being forced into marriage at all, much less with people they barely know. I didn’t even like it when we were doing it and not taking it seriously.”
Teyla inclined her head in acknowledgment of Rodney’s statement. “You said you have never considered being married. Do you not want that?”
Rodney’s gaze turned wistful for a moment. “I do want to be with someone. I’d love not to go through life alone. I want someone to be my partner in everything. I want to be happy with someone I love. I want there to be someone there when shit gets really bad. I never really had that before now. If I had a personal disaster, I used to have to deal alone. Here I have close friends for the first time; people I can go to when things are difficult to deal with.”
Teyla smiled into her tea mug. “John cares for you deeply, Rodney. As do I. I am glad you feel close to us.”
Rodney smiled at Teyla. “You’re closer to me than my own sister, you know? Jeannie and I were always at odds—a result of our parents forcing us to compete when we were young. And John….I never thought I’d have a best friend. I was younger than my classmates all through school, especially in college. And the people who were the same age as me were, well, they weren’t as smart. My intelligence kept me separate from everyone. I never knew how to deal with people. Machines and mathematical problems were easier to comprehend than people.”
“You do well with me, Rodney. I know I am not as smart as you.”
“You’re smarter than people think, Teyla. You might not be Astro-physicist smart, but you have an innate intelligence that I find very refreshing. I love when people make me think, because it doesn’t happen often. You make me think.”
“I enjoy our conversations as well, Rodney. I do learn much when we talk.”
“It’s good that you learn. I was once told by an instructor that if you don’t learn something new every day, then you’ve wasted a day. Even if I only learn that I have to use small words when explaining to the Marines that they should not touch Ancient Technology until I—or Radek—have cleared it, then I’ve learned that.”
“What have you learned from John?”
“I, um, I learned that leadership comes naturally to some people. Rank in office has nothing to do with it. Some people, like John, just instill confidence. He’s attractive—not just physically—but he has this charisma. People want to trust him, so they do, and they follow him even if they don’t know if they’ll survive. The fact that he would obviously give his life for the people under his command, well, that’s just bonus. I’m glad he’s my friend, because I’d gravitate toward him anyway. He’s genius-smart, so that makes him more attractive to me. Um….maybe that sounded better in my head?”
Teyla laughed. “I can see that you find him attractive. I often wondered that the two of you weren’t closer than you are. And when John explained what marriage is to your people, I thought that the two of you would make wonderful partners. You challenge each other so well, and complement each other as well.”
“Yes, well, we make good friends. But as for anything else….that remains to be seen. I like him, a lot. But I’d prefer to keep him as a friend if anything else would push him away. Given the terms of his divorce, I can’t blame him for not wanting to get too close to people.”
“Aw, Rodney,” came John’s voice behind him, “I’m not afraid to get close to people. I’m just afraid of female barracudas.”
Rodney jumped in his seat. “Jesus, I’m getting you a cat bell. You need to not sneak up on people.”
John smirked and took a seat across from Rodney. “If I don’t sneak up on people, how can I find out what they really think of me?”
“Never mind what people think of you, did you get your shot?”
John rolled his eyes at his friend. “Yes, Rodney. And I informed Elizabeth about the new negotiations that will start tomorrow. Hopefully, we’ll have a new ally and no new marriages.”
“And now what do you have planned?”
John sat and took a long, slow drink of his coffee. “Well, I need to have another ‘chat’ with the military contingent about this policy, and the new Moral Code, and how not to totally piss-off the natives. Apparently I wasn’t clear enough the first time. I think I’ll have Davies join me in the morning, before we allow Miller and his team go through the gate to deal with the Vendozians. I think they’ve had enough of Davies’ team. Then the rest of my week will be spent going over Gate-team members and their skill sets. If I have people determined to switch teams, I have to carefully decide if it’s feasible to do so.”
Teyla looked thoughtful. “Are any of the teams in danger of being completely re-staffed?”
John sat back in his chair and folded his hands together. “Actually, no. After reviewing the request list, there are only nine people making the requests. And of those nine, only three are on teams.”
“What does that mean?”
“That means that there are six people that are not on teams for one reason or another, who want to be put on teams to be with their lovers. I’m not sure how I feel about that. So I’ll look over the requests, very seriously, and consider the skill sets involved—also very seriously. Then I’ll look into why those people aren’t on teams already. Could be that they weren’t interested when we first got here, maybe only wanted to do lab work or something. Could be that they aren’t weapons qualified, or get Gate-sick. And after I go over all the requests carefully, and review all personnel records, I’m going to call all nine of these people into my office and explain—very carefully—that I am denying their requests.”
Teyla looked puzzled. “Why deny the requests?”
It was Rodney that answered. “Because Sheppard here would rather slit open his own hand than be blackmailed into forcing his soldiers into mating rites. So that means that he won’t be blackmailed by his own soldiers—or my geeks—into placing lovers on the same teams.”
“I do not think I understand.”
John sighed. “Teyla, there is a part of the Military Code of Justice that disallows fraternization. This means that we try not to allow relationships where it may be possible for one team member to favor another over the rest of the team. It also prevents sexual abuse by authority figures. Now that this Code seems to have been re-written, there is a chance for team members to enter relationships with each other. I’d rather this happen in a natural way, if it’s going to happen at all. If Davies and Marks, who have been on a team together since the beginning, find themselves drawn to each other because of their close working relationship, then that’s fine and dandy. But I’m not going to remove Marks from her team just because Davies’ girlfriend all of a sudden feels threatened by the mere thought that Davies might accidentally fall into a mating rite. I’d like to think my personnel out here are more professional than that, but if I’m proven wrong, then I’d just as soon ship the troublemakers home and start over with sensible people.”
Teyla’s troubled expression cleared. “Ah. That makes much more sense. But you are not going to discourage team-mates from falling into relationships?”
John shrugged. “In the natural course of things, we often find ourselves growing closer to those we spend a lot of time with. It happens. We either love those we’re with, or we grow to hate them. I may not be a fan of the new Moral Code, but I’m not going to be a Grinch about it if people do happen to fall in love.”
“What is a ‘Grinch’?”
John laughed. “We’ll explain that on our next movie night.”
Two weeks, and several reassignments later, John was wrapping up his paperwork and closing up his office for the day. Ford had requested to be billeted back to Earth, but only for one tour. His grandmother was getting on in years, and Ford wanted to spend some time with her. And maybe meet some nice girl from his grandmother’s church.
A knock on the open doorway caught his attention, and John looked up to find Rodney waiting for him in the hall.
“I’m almost finished here, and then we can go to dinner.”
Rodney nodded and entered the office. “The sooner the better. I hear they have chocolate tarts tonight.”
“Oh, well, then, we’d better go so you don’t miss out.”
“Do you have much to do yet before you leave?” John was returning to the SGC with the returning soldiers. Paperwork was hard, but personal reports were the real bitch.
“I’m all packed already, and I’ve got my last reports on this flash drive.”
“I can’t believe we’re finally getting rid of those assholes from Security.”
John grinned. The three homophobes they’d been having issues with before the Code change-up finally screwed themselves out of the Atlantis posting by harassing two of Dr. Beckett’s lab techs. Two very straight, very happily-committed-to-women lab techs, who were not quiet about their treatment and their disgust thereof. The complaints made it all the way to the Pentagon and the IOA, and the troublesome Marines were being called back to Earth to explain their actions.
John grabbed his things and shut off his computer. He paused in the doorway before shutting off the lights and joining Rodney in the hall so they could walk to the Mess.
“I’m also apparently picking up a new Second in Command. Do you remember a Major Evan Lorne?”
Rodney nodded. “Yeah, I worked with him once or twice. Good guy; likes to paint. Takes no shit.”
“Good. He’ll need that attitude out here.” John cleared his throat and ran a hand over his head, messing his already unruly hair. “Rodney, I’m thinking about taking some time back home. A few days or so—maybe go home for a bit. I’d, um, I’d like you to come with.”
Rodney stopped in his tracks and stared at his friend. “You want me to come back to Earth with you?”
“I know you have vacation saved up. And Zelenka can handle things here for a few weeks. It would mean a lot to me.”
“Um, okay? Why do you want me with you?”
John stopped and turned to Rodney. “I, um, want you to meet my family. I know it sounds corny, but I want them to meet someone important to me.”
Rodney grinned widely. “You want to introduce me to your parents? Are we dating, John? Not that I’d object to it…..”
John grabbed Rodney’s hand. “Look, I think we’ve been dating for over a year, and I think we should acknowledge it. And, yes, I want to introduce you to my father. I know it’s a technicality, but I’d like his approval after the debacle with Nancy.”
“Of course I’ll go with you. I have to clear it with Elizabeth first.”
“I already did.”