I. 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.

"A Wandering."

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.

Ronon grunted.

"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--"

Rodney snickered.

"-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."

"Uh huh."

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."

"You'll see."

"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."

"You sure."

"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.

Lerdat snored.

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!"

Followed by:

"Get them!"

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.

"Big bug."

"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.

"Uh, Ronon..."

"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.


Everyone ran.

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."

Pimat nodded.

"He does."

"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.

In Which Our Heroes Drink and Dance

The cats gave up during the night. A careful survey of the plain revealed them - or their doubles - chowing down on some poor animal far, far away. The way was clear. Down the tree they went and back to the stargate at a fast trot.

"Pimat, Delli, I'd say it's been nice," John started to say.

"But it's been a nightmare," Rodney interrupted to finish for him. He touched his right pec with a grimace. "Ow, ow, ow."

"Hurry up, Ronon," Teyla called.

Ronon picked up his pace, but his face twisted into an expression of discomfort. John thanked whatever remnant of sanity had made him stick with earrings himself.

"Anyway, you guys will be all right?" he asked. Teyla gave him an approving nod.

They were at the DHD by then. Delli went forward and began dialing out.

"Oh, yes. We'll meet with my cousin's troupe and stay away from Talaruba for a while, but it will be fine," Delli said.

"I'm going to learn sword-swallowing," Pimat added.

There was a joke there, but John decided to leave it alone. Teyla was within kicking distance of his shins.

"Bye," Rodney muttered as the stargate whooshed open and they parted ways with Delli and Pimat, off to live happily ever after together.

Once the stargate disengaged after them, John dialed up the gate address Lerdat had given them and they headed through too.

They exited onto another plain, but with normal height grass and a slender girl in a beaded loin cloth, many necklaces and corn-rowed hair hopping up and down before the DHD (which was covered in white splats of bird crap along with the stargate) and yelling at them.

"You messed everything up! You made it stop. I was going to join the Lanteans and fight wraith!" the girl shouted.

"You know how to get to Atlantis?" Ronon asked her.

Her expression turned mulish. "I'd find someone who would tell me."


John kept his eyes above her collarbones, because Jesus, jailbait for one thing and it just felt wrong anyway; from the way she dressed her culture didn't make a big thing of breasts, but his did, and him staring would therefore be skeevy.

He reached over and thwapped the back of Rodney's head. "Eyes forward and up."

"I was looking at her necklaces!" Rodney protested. "I think some of those beads are naquadah."

"Sure you were."

"Don't talk to me."

"I have heard the Lanteans guard the way to their home, keeping it a secret even from those they most trust, and without the proper pass words, to try to pass through the gate to Atlantis is death," Teyla told the girl. "They do not wish anyone to surprise them, even allies."

"They would me," she insisted.

"If they knew you, perhaps," Teyla said gently. She slid her arm around the girl's narrow shoulders. "What is your name?"

"Garu of the Harupa."

"I'm Teyla and these are my friends, Dex, Atchoo and Gesundheit," Teyla introduced them with a wicked smile.

John winced and stomped on Rodney's foot to keep him quiet. If Garu had heard of Atlantis enough to want to come and fight wraith with them, then she might know the names of its most (in)famous gate team.

"Could you guide us back to your people?" Teyla asked. "We are wanderers in search of new friends."

"Oh, fine, I guess I can do that," Garu admitted.

It took two hours to get to the Harupa camp and they met a search party out looking for Garu shortly after they sighted the yurts. By then, Rodney had quizzed Garu about where her beads came from and Teyla had complimented her on the intricate braids decorating her elegant skull. Also the rich red ocher coloring them. Ronon had just looked more and more pinched around the mouth and walked hunched over a little.

Garu didn't know where the beads came from. Her father had traded for them offworld when he sold half their herd of gorps the summer before last and came back with stories of the brave Lanteans who killed whole hives of Wraith. Her aunt did her hair. The color came from the mud from the greatest river that split the plains her tribe grazed their herds on. She fingered Teyla's hair and grinned at her, saying they could fix it, even though it was very straight.

No one asked why Ronon was walking hunched over.

To be frank, none of them wanted to know.

Garu also failed to mention her father was the chief of the Harupa.

Chief Jund was delighted that they had returned Garu, who had snuck away before dawn and scared the crap out of him when he thought she might have made it through the stargate. Like his daughter, he wore a loincloth, only his was heavily beaded and had tassels that brushed the dusty ground. He wore even more necklaces, anklets and bracelets than his daughter too. His hair had been dressed with a heavy white clay into thick wavy spikes radiating from his head in a stylized sunburst.

Delighted translated as party time among the Harupa.

Of course, it looked like in between following their gorp herds across the plain and once in a while selling any excess through the stargate, everything and anything was an excuse to party for the Harupa.

John liked that in a people.

He wasn't as enthusiastic about the fermented gorp milk, served hot with dollops of gorp butter floating on the surface. The smell alone made him cautious. Teyla shoved a pointy elbow into his ribs though and told him in a hard undertone, while smiling at the Harupa, "Drink or they will be insulted and cut our heads off."

John drank, smacked his lips and handed the gourd to Rodney, who did everything but hold his nose, but got it down too.

Ronon grinned at the gourd when it reach him and emptied it. "Just like Mom made," he said. He up-ended the gourd to show the Harupa he'd emptied it. "Mother's milk."

"Now I'm really grateful we'll never have to try Satedan cuisine," Rodney muttered.

John kicked him.

The gourd had been refilled and was being passed around again. The alcohol had hit on John's empty stomach and left him feeling warm and loose and he drank a little deeper the next time. The awful taste didn't seem as awful after a couple more turns and Rodney had flushed pink and begun swaying to the sound of the drums that were starting up.

After a day spent drinking and eating sweet beans, roasted tubers and gorp steaks, the Harupa began dancing as the sun went down. Even Rodney joined them, bouncing from foot to foot and up and down, arms up, arms down, head bobbing. If John hadn't been right there with him, he'd have laughed like a hyena.

Jund finagled out of John - it wasn't hard - that he was the team's leader. This needed to be honored, Jund insisted, gesturing to his own head. It percolated through John's that no one else among the Harupa had a white mud coiffure. After another gourd, he thought Jund was absolutely right and he needed one too.

He was very, very drunk.

Garu and four or five other women - it could have been more, but they kept doubling - were braiding beads into Teyla's hair. Firelight gleamed off all of them, sharp reflections stabbing off the shiny naquadah beads and stabbing into John's eyes.

Rodney had passed out. He sprawled with their packs, an empty gourd next to him, snoring loudly, spit bubbling at the corner of his mouth.

Two of the Harupa boys were holding Rodney's hands up and giggling over the orange coloring.

Ronon was still bopping with the other dancers between gourds of Mother's milk, dreads flying in every direction, often hitting those too close in the face. That just made everyone laugh and fall down.

Jund dragged John to his yurt and brought out a basket pot filled to the brim with noxious white mud. After a second of sane second thoughts, John bent his head and let his new buddy work the stuff into his hair. After all, it was mud; he would rinse it out when they left.


Waking up in a yurt wasn't so bad.

Waking up in a yurt with a snoring team-mate lying across his stomach was.

Waking up in a yurt with a snoring team-mate lying across his stomach, who smelled like sour milk and stale alcohol, was worse.

Experiencing that to the auditory and olfactory accompaniment of another team-mate determinedly puking up everything he had ever eaten in the last nine years could be described as very near to waking up in hell.

Doing so while suffering the worst hangover in the history of drinking, could and did lead to John rolling on to his side and vomiting onto the dirt floor. Rodney flopped off him and off the mat John occupied with a thump and a pained groan.

"Death," Rodney gagged. "Death to you."

That sounded like a mercy to John.

His head felt the size of a planet. One being nuked from orbit. Another volcanic explosion finished emptying his stomach and he clutched at the mat under him, riding out the ensuing earthquake. He squinted his eyes open. On the other side of the yurt, Ronon went on puking like it was a new Olympic sport. Teyla bent over him, holding his scarlet dreadlocks away from his face.


"What the hell happened to your hair?" Rodney demanded. Every word set off another bomb in John's head.

"Stop shouting," he whispered. Stop the bombing. He'd been bombed last night. He wished he'd stopped. "Oooooooh."

Someone had dyed Ronon's hair red.

"I'm not shouting," Rodney said, still entirely too loudly for John. "I am speaking in a reasonable voice and oh my God! What happened to you, you look like a Colonel Sanders Ken Doll!"

John's hand went immediately to his crotch, finding everything still attached, to his relief.

Ronon moaned and barfed some more.

"John. Rodney. Please stop shouting. I have a small headache this morning," Teyla said. "Also, you are making Ronon worse."

"Could anything make Ronon worse?" Rodney mumbled. A whiff of whatever had come up and out hit them and Rodney clapped his hands over his nose and mouth, moaning as he did so.

"Rodney," John whispered. Please let him be talking about Ronon. Or hallucinating. John was afraid feel his head and find out. "What are you talking about? Ken Doll?"

"Colonel Sanders," Rodney replied. "White hair. Plastic head."

John whimpered and lifted his fingers apprehensively to his head and hit something hard. Something hard and attached to his scalp. He moaned, remembering the mud and Jund and too many gourds of Mother's milk.


"It will come out," she said. "Eventually."

"What do you mean, eventually?" Rodney asked.

John squeezed his eyes shut.

"It has to dry and flake off. That can take up to a week, according to Garu," Teyla replied. "If you try to wash it out, the mud will only cling longer. The water rejuvenates it."

He really hated Teyla right then.

Rolling over and seeing that someone had dyed Rodney's thinning hair the same brilliant red as Ronon's only helped a little bit. Deciding not to tell him helped a little more. Between Ronon and Rodney and Teyla's new corn-rows, at least when they made it back to Atlantis, he wouldn't be the only one being stared at.

John covered his eyes with his arm and pretended he couldn't hear Ronon starting to heave again.

"I can't stand it," Rodney declared and crawled to the door of the yurt, where he clawed his way up onto his feet and staggered outside with a shriek of pain as the sun hit his eyes.

John prayed for death or unconsciousness.

In Which Our Intrepid Team Pays For It

Chief Jund gave them the gate address to the world where the Harupa sold their excess gorps at breakfast. That was when Teyla finally lost her cool too. Rodney wouldn't even come near the pots and John had waved his away without even looking, while Ronon was off sticking his head in a bucket of water. The bowl Jund handed Teyla had something alive in it. She took one look, squealed and dropped the bowl before darting off to the edge of the camp. The tell-tale sound of gagging reached them soon.

One of the Harupa reached for the black, slimy thing humping along the muddy spot where Teyla had flung it, but it looked entirely too much like a cross between a starfish and leech for John's peace of mind. He casually shuffled to the side and stomped it flat.

"Thank you," Rodney whispered and John guessed he'd checked out the scanner pictures of the Second Childhood parasite and felt about it the same way John did large bugs.

"We've got to make a start for the stargate," he told Jund before anyone could offer them anything else the Harupa considered a tasty breakfast. If Ronon kept puking he was going to strain something.

Jund took the hint, but did press a loincloth that matched his into John's hands.

They stumbled off toward the stargate; each of them squinting against the awful light of the sun and the painful impact on their skulls of every step they took.

John compulsively kept feeling the hardened spikes on his head and imagining what it looked like.

They dialed Grepta and went through without any discussion.

The crowd that had cleared space for the activating stargate didn't give them more than a passing glance as they stepped into the hot, dusty afternoon of the stockyard town that had built up around Grepta's gate.

The crowd seemed made up of people from more than one different world; their differences great enough the team didn't draw any special attention at all. They were migrating away from the gate plaza toward the other end of town, out where the stockyard smells were stronger.

"What's going on?" John asked as he bumped into the man ahead of him.

"They're hanging a Wraith collaborator."

John shared a glance with his team and the let the crowd propel them forward until, with a little judicious maneuvering, they could all see the gallows built from part of a dismantled corral fence.

The crowd around them muttered and growled furiously as the guilty party, bound and gagged and bearing more than a few visible bruises, was dragged out and brought before them.

Another man stood up and declared the guilty sentence.

"This is Aming Hopht. The Council of Grepta has found him guilty of deliberately killing his brother Padet Hopht during the last Wraith culling. Padet's wife and three other witness saw Aming push his brother into a culling beam."

The roar from the crowd made Ronon clutch at his head, but Teyla stared up at the man with an expression just as hard as everyone's around them.

John expected some more talk, anything but the abrupt dropping of the noose over Hopht's neck and two men on the ground drawing the rope taut until he had to balance on his toes, tears streaming down his reddened face.

The speaker jumped down from the platform. He raised his voice.

"The verdict is death."

The platform was unceremoniously kicked out from under Hopht's feet. He fell with a snap that made John flinch. Beside him, Ronon grunted. John turned away, noticing that Rodney already had.

"I can understand it," Rodney said, "but I can't make myself like it."

John nodded.

"Let's get out of here and find some place to stay the night."

Easier said than done. It seemed everyone that Grepta supplied with animals from their stockyards had come to see the hanging. The town was by no means large in the first place, but it had three inns, which was two more than most villages in Pegasus, and every one of them was booked up. John wouldn't have minded camping out for the night if it hadn't been for the manure reek and the strong possibility of getting trampled by something hundreds of pounds heavier than him in the night.

They wandered through the town aimlessly, hoping to find someone willing to sell them the floor in a spare room or even a store room and having no luck.

"Couldn't we just go home?" Rodney whined.

"Rodney, you agreed to the seven day plan," Teyla remonstrated him.

"Yeah, Rodney, you agreed," John backed her up.

People poured around their little group, either heading for the auction yard or the various taverns that dotted the town. It bore an eerie resemblance to an Old West town in a movie. Only none of the movies John had ever seen had included smell-o-vision. The popularity of Westerns would have petered out much more quickly if they had.

Rodney folded his arms and gave John a mulish glare.

"You just don't want to go back until that stuff in your hair falls off," he accused John.

The tips of John's ears went hot in embarrassment. He'd been pretending that nothing was wrong with his hair. Interestingly, Grepta was cosmopolitan enough no one had given him or Rodney or Ronon a second glance. All second glances bent Teyla's way were of the admiring sort she always got.

Some time during the day, Rodney had become aware of the state of his own hair, too. Ronon's snickers might have been the give away.

"If I have to go back like this," Rodney now said, "so do you."

John couldn't help kidding him.

"Aw, Rodney, you make a good redhead."

"I'm hungry," Ronon stated before Rodney could come up with a come back.

"What, now?"

"Yeah, I didn't get breakfast."

"That would be because you were busy throwing up the universe," Rodney pointed out.

Ronon's stomach rumbled.

"Great. Fine. Let's find somewhere to eat. Maybe we can find some place to sleep afterward. I still say we could just go through the stargate to the next planet that isn't over run with execution groupies."

"Deserved it," Ronon said.

"I agree," Teyla added in a cool tone.

Rodney looked from her to Ronon and sighed. John knew how he felt. It wasn't that Teyla and Ronon were more ruthless than them, but that they didn't experience the doubts and regrets anyone from Earth did.

"I'm just not comfortable with making punishment and death into an entertainment opportunity," Rodney said.

Ronon stared at him until the grumbling from his stomach became disturbing.

"Let's just get that food," John said.

Grepta didn't have much in the way of restaurants. Food could be bought in the taverns and the main rooms of the inns, but they were packed too tight to even try getting a meal there. They settled on meat and vegetable kebabs from a street vendor and leaned against a wall out of the way of most passers-by as they ate.

A local bought a kebab and sidled over next to them. She cocked her hip as she nibbled at her kebab and studied the four of them.

"Saw you earlier," she said.

"We didn't see you," Rodney said.

They really should have. She had on a red leather bustier, a ragged skirt of something filmy, a black-and-white checkerboard stockings, and clunky sandals with red wooden heels. Her hair was teased out into a blond cloud. A yellow flower was painted onto the top of her left breast.

Hooker, that meant. Well, what it really meant according to Halling - Teyla had refused to explain - was that she wouldn't expect anyone to marry her after sex. It was kind of a universal sign all across Pegasus, anyway. Instead of marriage, the wearer would expect a gift, something usually worked out before there was sex.

She lifted her shoulders and rolled them into a full-body shrug that advertised a very nice body.

"I'm Kela."

"Hi," John said, smiling at her until Rodney stepped down hard on his foot. He turned a glare on him. "Hey!"

"Space clap."

Kela rolled her eyes and addressed Teyla. "Town's full up, but you could hire a girl," here she glanced at John, making him blush, "or a boy for the night at Jale Madel's and stay in the room."

Rodney opened and closed his mouth several times, while Teyla frowned, answering, "I do not believe we will need to take such...measures."

"Wait, wait, wait," Rodney said. "Would there be beds?"

Kela did her ripply shrug again, making everything in the stiff leather bustier shift and jiggle and Rodney's eyes bug out a little.

"A bed," she replied. She grinned, tore off a mouthful of kebab and licked the hint of shiny grease from her lips after she'd swallowed. "Pay enough and you could get the big bed."

Rodney turned to John.

"A bed," he said.

"Rodney," Teyla interrupted.

Rodney waved her off. "A bed, not a mat, not a freaking nest, but a genuine bed. I say we do it."

"Rodney," John muttered, leaning in close so his words wouldn't carry to Kela, "think for a minute about what's gone on in it."

"I'll spray it down," Rodney dismissed it.

Well, that gave a new meaning to sleeping in the wet spot.

"Let's go," Ronon declared.

"John," Teyla appealed to him, looking even more disturbed than John felt.

He held up his hands and nodded at Rodney and Ronon, who were already following Kela away in search of the local whorehouse.

"I think we've been over ruled."

Teyla gave him a suspicious look, obviously thinking he hadn't argued very hard.


"It's an orgy bed."

Rodney's description hit the nail on the head. The bed took up pretty much the entire room, leaving just enough room to walk around its edges. Bent over, thanks to the eaves that came down on one side.

"It'll do," John told Jale and handed over the money for the night.

She looked at Teyla, then Ronon, then Rodney and then back to John and shook her head a little. "You need anyone else?" she asked.

"No," he said, choking a little at what she thought they were going to be doing. Together. To each other.

"I'll have Toba bring up some supplies," she said.

"That will not be necessary," Teyla said in a severe tone.

"No, no, wait," Rodney interrupted. "Towels?"

"Towels and wash water in the room at the end of the corridor," Jale told them.

Toba, who looked and sounded a lot like Cher, if she'd had a bigger Adam's apple and wrists, grinned at them over Jale's shoulder. "Sure you don't want a little more company?" The look sent Ronon's way was sheerly predatory, enough so that Ronon had a spooked expression on his face for once.

"No, thank you," Teyla stated.

"My loss," Toba said, still cheerful, and, "Back in a tick."

Jale followed her away.

Rodney rummaged through his pack and pulled out a bottle which he handed to John. "Here. Spray this on the bed."


"Do you want to bring home some six or eight-legged passengers?"

John shuddered and told Teyla and Ronon, "Stand back."

"I'm going to wash up as much as I can," Rodney declared and headed down the corridor.

John began spraying the bed and hoped the smell of the bug spray would dissipate quickly.

It did and they all fitted into the bed with room enough to sleep as comfortably as they had since leaving Atlantis.

Or, perhaps, a little too well.

Their packs, right down to their clothes, were gone when they woke in the morning.

Jale's mouth went thin and angry when John stumbled down the stairs wrapped in a sheet he'd forcibly torn out of Rodney's hands, and told her they'd been robbed.

"Quisla!" she screamed.

John followed her to the back of the house, where there were smaller rooms that belonged to the girls and boys working there.

Quisla's had been cleaned out.

While he stumbled along behind the madam, trying not to trip over the hem of the sheet, Jale checked through the house, discovering that Quisla had done a number on several of her co-workers and three other customers, who were still out cold and bare-ass naked.

"She had to have had help," Jale snarled. "If she ever comes back here, I'll have her shaved and marked as a thief."

John tightened his grip on the sheet with one hand while rubbing his neck with the other. He had a headache on par with his hangover of the day before, only without the fun of the party. He wondered what Quisla had used to knock everyone out. It had even taken Ronon out.

"You figure she took off through the stargate," he said.

Jale gave him a contemptuous look. "Of course she did."

Toba stumbled out of her room, wrapped in a short, semi-transparent robe. She needed to shave, but she smiled at John. He smiled back weakly.

"Clothes," he said. "We need clothes."

"Buy some," Jale said.

"Yeah, well, your light-fingered friend took all our money along with our clothes," he pointed out.

"Not my problem."

"Jale...," Toba murmured.

John narrowed his eyes at her. "You don't really want everyone in town knowing you had a thief working for you. They'll find somewhere else to get their kicks and you'll end up out of business."

Jale frowned at him, then turned to Toba. "Fine. You and the others, get these four and the other idiots some clothes."

Toba smiled. "Oooh, fun."

John buried his face in his hands. The sheet fell.

"Ooooh," Toba said again.


Of course Quisla had left the loincloth. It was the only thing that had been left. Even Rodney's bug spray had been taken. The loincloth had fallen and been kicked half under the bed, though, and forgotten.

"I don't know what you're complaining about," Rodney snapped. He tugged at the hem of his shorts. The tiger-striped leather refused to shift, clinging so skintight there was absolutely no reason for him to wear the suspender-harness that came with them. "I'm the one about to rupture something. External genitalia were never meant to be compressed to this extent."

"There's a draft," John complained.

"I can barely walk," Teyla added. The candy apple red Capri hot pants looked like they'd been sprayed onto her. Which wasn't necessarily a bad thing: Teyla's legs and ass were outstanding. But Teyla was not happy. She plucked at the equally tight white halter top and scowled.

"As soon as we get to the next world, we'll all buy new clothes," John promised. They still had money after Harupa, Talaruba and the Land of the Lost.

"With what?" Rodney asked darkly. "Did the scum-sucking thief who took our clothes conveniently leave behind our money?"

He'd forgotten.


The thought of coming back to Atlantis in the Harupa loincloth and the net shirt the whores had given him, dangling earrings in his ears, and his hair twirled into demented spikes coated in white mud made John's privates shrivel. He thought even Rodney might agree that just stripping off and going back naked would be better.

Toba and Kela led Ronon back in at that point and even Rodney fell silent.

Nudity, John decided. Nudity would be be preferable. Also death.

Ronon's dreadlocks were still a searing red thanks to the Harupa. That should have been enough to make anyone stare, but took a backseat to the 'clothes' he'd been dressed in.

"Ronon," Teyla croaked, somewhere between hysterics and hilarity.

Ronon crossed his arms and scowled. The bustier strapped around his chest threatened to bust and take out someone's eye the first time he took a deep breath. The matching purple mini-skirt just skimmed his thighs and threatened to flash more than John's loincloth. The worst part, and the part that made John wonder if Ronon might still be high on fermented milk or color blind or both, was the artfully torn, pink lace thigh-high stockings.

"It's like he's auditioning for the Best Little Rocky Horrorhouse in Pegasus," Rodney said.

In addition, the whores had made him up with lip paint, eyeshadow, eyeliner and rouge. Tim Curry never growled that low, though.

John resisted the urge to cover his eyes and muttered, "The bustier actually looks a lot like that vest he used to wear. Remember it?"

"No matter how hard I try to forget." He turned and watched as John donned the tangerine satin robe Toba had offered him. At least it was long enough to reach his ankles, thanks to Toba's unusual height. "Not that you get to make any remarks, Elton John."

"You think this crap ever happened to SG-1?"

Rodney shook his head. "If it did, they sanitized the records before I read them."

"Speaking of..."

"I'm already writing the program to hack the gate room close circuit feed and wipe all visual records of when we return," Rodney said.

"You're a good man, Rodney."

In Which Our Heroes Get Sent Up River and Visit the Big House

Toba and the others at Jale's give them a handful of gate addresses, places they'd come from or been to or just heard about from a client. The team picked Elseer, since it was supposed to have a library open to offworlders.

No one mentioned that everyone on Elseer had to be married if they were out in public.

Even the guards at the gate were married.

They didn't blink at the team's get-ups, but they explained that either they all had to marry each other for the extent of their visit to Elseer or turn around and leave.

"It's no big deal. Visitors get married here all the time. We divorce them when they're ready to leave," one guard explained. "Me and Cilbet'll get divorced at the end of our shift. We do it every day."

"And we may...marry...all of each other?" Teyla asked.

"Why not?"

"Yeah," Ronon teased her. "Why not?" He grinned: a truly terrifying sight with the make-up. "You got something against us?"

Teyla gave out a despairing sigh. "No one mentions this to Kanaan."

"We'll let Ronon do our reports," John agreed.

"Went wandering. Came back. End report," Rodney recited.

John pointed at him. "Exactly. That is exactly what I'm writing too."

Teyla frowned through the entire thing, but the guards proceeded to marry them all to each other, and then directed them to the ferry boat that would take them upriver from the tiny island that supported the stargate on Elseer to the city.

"All your worldly goods," John speculated as the boat started chugging upstream. The deck rocked under their feet and Teyla turned an interest shade of chartreuse as soon as it did.

"You can't have my M&Ms," Rodney told him. "We're getting divorced as soon as we leave here."

"Not even in the settlement?" John wheedled.

Teyla ran for the railing, leaned over it and began heaving.

John sighed. This 'wandering' was cursed. He didn't think Teyla would be so quick to suggest 'traditional' Pegasus cultural crap after this. No one on the team had proven immune this time. She'd held out longest, but at this point they'd all upchucked at least once or more on this trip through the gates. He wished they could have done it in Woolsey's office. He made a point of noting to himself that she got seasick and crossed off any boat trips if he ever got the team back to Earth for a vacation. No amusement parks, since mascots freaked Ronon out. Mexico was out, since almost everything there had lime in it. Chartering a yacht and relaxing on the water with no one to trigger his team mates' more lethal reflexes had been a possibility, but not if it meant Teyla being sick the whole time.

Maybe they'd just stay in Atlantis. It would be safer, judging from this trip.

As she bent farther over the rail, the red hot pants pulled taut over her butt gave out an alarming creak and then ripped right down the seam, garnering the attention of the team and every man on the boat.

"And the day only gets better," Rodney commented. "I'm not looking, Teyla. I swear."

Teyla just moaned.

With a sigh, John whipped off the tangerine robe that had really been the only thing between him and complete humiliation. Ronon moved to block anyone else seeing, Rodney steadied her while she went on gagging dribbles in the river, and John carefully threaded the robe onto Teyla's arms so she was covered again. They stayed clumped around her miserable figure until the boat docked and they were shooed off.

Teyla finally recovered enough to belt the robe tight around her. She looked exhausted, pissed off, and miserable.

"We will never speak of this again," she declared in a dead calm tone that put the fear of her wrath into all three of them. "Do you all understand?"

"Of course."


"Are you crazy?"

That last was Rodney.

Teyla turned a gimlet-eyed look on him. He threw up his arms in front of him. "I mean, I'd have to be crazy to ever want to tell anyone about the thing that we aren't talking about ever because it didn't happen," he babbled.

She nodded.

"Very well. Let us visit this library, so that we may move on."

"It probably will be pointless," Rodney muttered. He brightened. "But if it is, we can go back to the stargate and go on to another world and that will be it, won't it? We'll be able to go home. Seven worlds. That's what was agreed to, right?"

Sounded good to John.

Of course nothing ever went that simply in Pegasus, though Rodney did get into the library, despite several people who raised their eyebrows at his clothes.

Rodney just lifted his chin and snapped, "What are you looking at? This?" He plucked at a suspender. "This is the traditional scholars' garb of Kinkaju." He pointed at Ronon. "See his hair? That is my husband-assistant." He patted his head. "When he finishes his apprenticeship, he will be allowed to cut off that rat's nest and glory in a proper professor's tonsure."

John started choking about then. Teyla took entirely too much pleasure in thumping his back.

The Elseer librarians still wouldn't let anyone but Rodney inside despite his explanation that not only was Ronon his assistant, but that John and Teyla were his concubine and his bodyguard.

With a sigh, John sat down on the front steps of the library along with Ronon and Teyla.

"We'll just wait out here."

"I won't be too long," Rodney promised. "I mean, what are the odds they'll have anything useful to us?"

Three hours later, Rodney wasn't back.

Four hours later, Rodney wasn't back.

Five hours later, the local cops arrested the three of them for loitering with intent to prostitute.

Since arriving in Pegasus John had not in fact become deeply familiar with the various world's penal systems and facilities, no matter how often Rodney made remarks about being locked up. He had, however, confirmed his abiding dislike of incarceration. Not that he'd needed to do that. It seemed self-evident that being locked up was not pleasant; that was after all one of the salient points of imprisonment: punishment. Comfortable jail cells were contradictions in aim.

John had been locked up by: the Genii, the Asurans, a village full of people bent on selling Ronon back to the Wraith, his own people under various extenuating circumstances involving retroviruses and Lucius Lavin, and most recently, by the Pegasus Coalition.

He rated the Elseer city jail as a solid four. Ten being the worst he'd ever endured - that had been on Earth, ironically, and he only remembered it in nightmares. The Elseer cell had a water faucet that provided cold water, a bucket in one corner and a central drain in the floor, wooden shelf bunks bolted to the stone walls, and the traditional metal bars in front. A single high window provided daylight. Even at midday, the cell was cool and would become chilly over night.

The Elseer got points for not beating them up or groping Teyla and more points for processing them fast.

Conviction followed arrest within an hour. They were marched before a man in a gray suit, found guilty and sentenced to an overnight stay in jail and deportation through the stargate the next day. The Elseer didn't really care about prostitution, but one of the librarians had sent a messenger complaining about them sitting on the front steps.

Considering they meant to leave Elseer the next day anyway, John caught Ronon's gaze, shook his head, and they silently agreed there was no reason to try to escape. It seemed likely Rodney would hear about the arrests once he finally surfaced.

Also, they didn't have any money and the night in jail came with a meal and a roof over their heads. Courtesy of their offworld and marital status, they were even all in the same non-violent and misdemeanor offenders' cell, along with a couple pickpockets and two drunks.

Turned out their stay came with more than one meal, in fact, and the guards delivering it didn't even spit in it. Elseer moved up to number two on John's secret If I Have To Be Locked Up I Want It To Be On __________ List. (Number One wasn't a place, it was 'With My Team, Unless They Can Escape And Break Me Out Too.)

They were just tucking into the tasty Elseer equivalent of ham and cheese sandwiches, some fresh fruit, and berry tarts, when Rodney is shoved into the cell with them. The drunks were passed out on their bunk slabs, so Ronon appropriated their trays. Rodney was in mid-rant, detailing what a bunch of backward, fascistic, moronic, abusive jerks the guards were as he stumbled in. His target shifted as soon as he spotted the rest of the team.

"I can't leave you alone for five minutes without you either hitting on some priestess or princess or getting locked up! Wait, this time you did both didn't you? Prostitution! That's a new low for you, Sheppard!"

John stretched out his legs, contemplating his hairy shins, and pointed out, "Well, we are wearing cast-offs from a bordello."

"What does that mean?" Rodney demanded.

"Are you saying we looked like purveyors of sexual congress for monetary gain, John?" Teyla asked. The sweet look on her face didn't fool anyone.

"Not you," John said quickly.

"I do?" Ronon asked.

John blinked at him.

"Not really."

More like something from a bad trip, but he thought he'd keep that insight to himself.

"Well, that just leaves you," Rodney pointed out.

"And you."

"Oh no, I was arrested for staging a scene in the police station after I found out you were taken there."


John decided it would be safer to stuff his mouth full of sandwich than say anything else.

Rodney's gaze lit on the food.

"Oh, say, is that a berry tart?"

John shoved the tray his way and Rodney began eating, humming between bites, and batting at John when he reached for the second half of his sandwich.

"Mmph - 's not bad," Rodney mumbled through a mouthful of food, effectively killing John's appetite.

"The Elseer seem quite civilized," Teyla remarked.

"The library has some probably horribly inaccurate but interesting transcriptions of what might have been Ancient tech manuals," Rodney commented.

"Is that what took you so long?" Ronon asked.


"Then we should advise Mr. Woolsey to send a team back here to explore the library and perhaps initiate a trade agreement," Teyla said.

"And get more of these tarts," Rodney agreed.

They'd have to send Lorne's team. John didn't think they'd be too convincing, even if they came back in normal Atlantis mission gear. They had records here.

With a sigh, he tried to get comfortable on the wooden bunk bench. It was going to be a long and boring afternoon. Maybe he'd take a nap.

He woke for dinner and when the guards handed out blankets to wrap around them for the night.

"You're the best jail guards ever," Rodney told them sincerely. It seemed to disturb the Elseer. Come morning, they were fed, escorted to the ferry and sent on their way with what looked like great relief.

In Which Ronon Gets Squirrelly

"You know," Rodney pointed out from his seat on a rock, where he was watching Ronon turn a knife, a rock, and a handful of weeds into a fire, "the Elseer forgot to divorce us when they de-gated us this morning."

"Hmm," John said. He turned to Teyla, who was still wrapped in his tangerine robe and looking distinctly disgruntled. "Did this sort of thing happen to you on your first Wandering?"

"No," she said.

"Anyone you know?"


"Just us?"


"Did me," Ronon said.

"And you didn't say anything?" Rodney demanded.

"Didn't want to do it again, did I?" He struck the flint with his knife, expertly sending a shower of sparks into the dry, torn up pile of weeds. Flame crawled up the tinder.

"Next time just say something," John told him. He reached up and scratched at his head. His hand came away coated in white flakes.

"You look like you have the worst case of dandruff in the universe," Rodney said.

John shook his head, sending flecks of the finally dried mud onto Rodney and Teyla. Teyla glared at him and edged away.

Ronon fed sticks into the fire until it was burning steadily. Then he striped off the pink stockings.

"What's he doing now?"

John watched as Ronon used his knife on the stockings, slicing them up then tying together the pieces into a skinny rope.

"No idea," he said.

"Making a snare," Ronon told them. "I'm going to catch one of those things." He nodded toward the rodents that kept poking their heads up out of the many holes littering the ground around their proposed camp.

"Those squirrelly things?" Rodney said. He peered at one. "Do you think they'll taste good?"

"Not if they taste like squirrel," John muttered.

"Well, maybe they'll taste like rabbit."

"You two are not being helpful," Teyla said in reproof.

"Yes we are," he and Rodney chorused.

"We are not interfering with the expert," Rodney explained.

Teyla gave them a disbelieving look. With a sniff, she got up and stalked over to a rock nearer the fire.

"Think she's mad at us?" Rodney asked.


"Me too."

They turned their attention to Ronon, who was stealthily working his way closer and closer to the squirbit colony.

"You know," John said conversationally, "I'm disturbed by the fact that I'm not actually disturbed by the fact that I'm watching Ronon crawl around in a purple mini-skirt."

Rodney shook his head.

"Not as disturbed as I am by the way he keeps flashing us. How high did he have to get to get pierced there?"

In Which Our Heroes Return Chastened But Triumphant

Rodney needed a shave. John needed a shave really bad. Their razors, like everything else, had been in their packs. The packs that had been stolen at Jale's bordello. John hoped Quisla or whoever ended up with them nicked themselves unmercifully. Ronon didn't need a shave because he'd used his knife, but John didn't need a shave badly enough to risk cutting his throat.

Besides, Ronon wouldn't share.

Teyla's braids had leaves stuck to them. He felt this was only fair, because otherwise, she looked a fresh as a daisy. If a daisy was wearing a pair of split up the ass red hot pants.

"I need coffee," Rodney moaned.

"You need a shower," John told him.

"I need coffee and a shower," Rodney agreed.

"Breakfast," Ronon said.

"Breakfast," Rodney agreed.

John's stomach grumbled. The roasted squirbit hadn't exactly been a ribsticking meal. It had also been over twelve hours earlier.

"I am looking forward to seeing Torren again," Teyla said. A secretive smile showed before she ducked her face. "And Kanaan."

John caught Ronon and then Rodney's gazes and they all smirked. Lucky dog. Even if he had been on diaper duty for the last week.

He dusted his hands together and squinted at the rising sun. It glinted off the upper curve of the stargate at the other end of the valley. He remembered why they hadn't camped near it, but the prospect of the long walk back before they could dial Atlantis didn't make him a happy camper. "Everybody ready to get out of here?"

Rodney looked at him. "No, seriously, I thought I might relax here and try to catch a little more sleep while lying in the dirt being stabbed by every sharp rock on this planet."

"Well, if you want to..."

After another silent, but dirty look at him, Rodney started walking.

"I wonder what Zelenka's managed in the labs without you?" John teased as he caught up.

Ronon and Teyla fell into step with them.

"It'll be a miracle if the city is still in one piece when we dial," Rodney replied. He tripped over nothing and John caught his arm, steadying him automatically. Rodney looked at him, eyes round and mouth working. "Oh my God, do you still have the GDO?"

"You mean you don't?" John asked innocently.

Rodney clutched at his hair. "This is not good, this is so not-"

"I have mine," Teyla said.

"Teyla, you are officially my favorite person ever."

"Does that mean you will give me your chocolate chip muffins next time the mess serves them?" she asked.

John and Ronon both snorted and Rodney looked stricken.

"Of course," Rodney finally choked out. "I'll just - Let you have mine."

Teyla smiled again and lengthened her stride. "I believe the cooks were going to make them today."

"Was I just played?" Rodney asked.

"It's not even a question, buddy," John told him while Ronon just chuckled.

It wasn't until they reached the DHD and dialed that John started to wonder where Teyla had had her GDO.

He decided he didn't want to know. No doubt it was like Ronon's knives or another of those Pegasus Galaxy exceptions to the rules of physics that Rodney was always complaining about.

Or those swords on Highlander.

Maybe that was why Ronon liked those movies so much.

The stargate whooshed open, Teyla sent through their identities, John gave his still half-muddy head another scratch and then they marched through the event horizon and into the gate room, heads high.

Like everything else Pegasus could throw at them, his team had survived the Wandering.

"My God, what happened to you?" Woolsey exclaimed from the gate room stairs.

Now maybe they could get back their real jobs.

Driving Woolsey insane.

John grinned at him and said, "Well, we got drunk, then we went to a wedding, ended up staying the night in a bird's nest-"

Rodney waved his hands for everyone to see. "My fingers are still orange!"

Ronon took up the recital, "Got pierced-"

"Got high," Rodney added. "Got our hair done."

"Got drunk again," Ronon had to say.

Rodney mock sneered at Ronon. "Puked a lot."

"Attended a hanging," Teyla said, "and were robbed."

"Got married, went to the library, got arrested, spent the night in jail and did some camping out," John finished.

"Married?" Woolsey echoed weakly.

"Oh, like we haven't done that before anyway," Rodney dismissed it as he headed for the transporters.

With a shrug, John followed him.

"Ms. Emmagan," Woolsey murmured as Teyla stalked by, "I think perhaps we need to rethink any more attempts to conform to some Pegasus traditions."

"Good idea," Ronon said. "My first time was even worse."

Yeah, John wasn't even going to touch that one.


  • Summary:It's just like a mission, only not. Team Sheppard tours Pegasus.  
  • Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
  • Rating: Mature
  • Warnings: none
  • Author Notes: Written for sga_santa 2008, for ceitie.
  • Date: 12.14.08
  • Length: ~16,290 words
  • Genre: gen
  • Category: Humor, Team
  • Cast: Richard Woolsey, John Sheppard, Rodney McKay, Teyla Emmagan, Ronon Dex
  • Betas: dossier
  • Disclaimer: Not for profit. Transformative work written for private entertainment.

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