What the eye has seen cannot be unseen. However, Richard Woolsey learned early on in his career as a lawyer that while the things he witnessed could not be unseen, they didn't necessarily have to be noticed. Life in the Pegasus Galaxy has only reinforced this viewpoint for him, over and over again.
Richard P. Woolsey (MBA and L.L.B. Harvard, thank you) leaned back in the comfortable chair he’d had brought from his study back on Earth and contemplated the Bordeaux in his wine glass. In the background, Mitsuko Uchida’s interpretation of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 18 in D played softly over the stereo interface Dr. McKay had set up for him as an apology for…
Richard coughed hastily and turned to stare determinedly at the magnificent view of the sunset over the western pier afforded by the floor to ceiling windows in his new quarters.
The less he thought about why he had new quarters, the better.
He had thought his years as a litigation lawyer had taught him everything he needed to know about human nature. Then he’d started working as legal counsel to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and realized he didn’t know that much. Working for the NID had shown him more about humans than he thought he’d ever wanted to know. But even that paled when he started working for the International Oversight Committee, and through them, Stargate Command.
That had taught Richard that he actually knew very little about humans, period. Not to mention the occasional monsters pretending to be humans.
He shuddered and took a sip of the Bordeaux, savoring the soft, silky, rich flavor as it burst across his tongue. It soothed his body, the way the soft notes of the piano soothed his soul.
Life in the Pegasus Galaxy taught him to throw everything he knew about humans and monsters out the window and start over again.
Perhaps, he thought as he watched the fading reds of the sun tint the sky long after it had sunk below the sea, he should write his memoirs when he finally retired from public service. It would be the dignified thing to do, and the wealth and breadth of his experiences would ensure any such memoir would be a fascinating read. Surely, the Stargate program would be made public by the time he was retired.
Then Richard snorted, unable to avoid being honest with himself. Really, what was he thinking? Even if the Stargate Program were to become public knowledge, there was no way he’d ever be able to write about the things that had happened in Pegasus. Well, no way he could write about it and have anyone take it seriously. At best, it would come across too much as a comedy, and at worst… nobody would believe him.
He wasn’t sure he believed him.
Richard stood and walked to the windows, wineglass in hand, reaching up to straighten his tie as he moved. It was ridiculous, the way things happened here. And sometimes, all he had to do was just… take a walk around the city.
Mozart faded, the next song started, and as Richard heard the beginning strains of the Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” filled the air, Richard knew precisely who to blame, and why…
It never failed, every time he needed to stretch his legs, or had to hunt down one of the many who failed to turn in their reports in a timely manner, he’d run into them.
Sheppard and McKay.
Sometimes, Richard was certain they were a pair of pre-adolescent boys trapped in the bodies of adults. It was only the after-reports of missions and attacks on Atlantis that convinced him that maybe they weren’t, but it was a close thing.
He caught them once, when he was walking to supply to talk to the Quartermaster about a boot shortage. He had taken a shortcut through the section where all the city’s supplies were kept and found his usual route blocked. Figuring that an inventory was being taken, or perhaps the Quartermaster had sent his minions to search for the missing boots, Richard simply chose another corridor and was about to take the stairs when he heard an odd humming sound. While there were those in the city, mostly among the scientific community, who were convinced Richard had had the curiosity trained out of him (if he’d ever had any to begin with), Richard Woolsey had his fair share of it, and when he heard the humming sound, his curiosity got the better of him.
Following the sound led him out into a balcony overlooking one of those many open plaza like areas that seemed to fill Atlantis. Richard found himself looking down at a cityscape in miniature, seemingly created from crates, creatively stacked tires of varying sizes, string, battered cartons with scenes in Sharpie marker drawn on their sides, boards, and surprisingly enough, Legos.
The humming sound was explained when two small race cars came zipping out from under a “bridge” made of two crates, six battered two by fours, two twisted steel rods, and some string before disappearing around an approximation of the Empire State building. He frowned.
“I’ve got you beat now, McKay!” a familiar voice shouted excitedly, and Richard closed his eyes with a grimace as the scientist answered.
“That’s what you think, Colonel, you just wait!”
There was a screech, and a bang before Sheppard said, “That’s cheating, McKay! We both pinky-swore, no more tri-cell LiPo packs in the cars!”
The cars drove wildly over the aforementioned bridge, and that was when Richard saw them, standing on the balcony opposite, remote controls in hand. Sheppard had a fixed look of concentration on his face while McKay’s mouth was fixed in a maniacal grin, eyes bugged out as he watched the cars with a glee that would have made Richard nervous if McKay had been anywhere but here, doing this.
“Pinky swears are for children, Colonel,” McKay said, tongue in the corner of his mouth as he turned his car around a Lego version of a Victorian mansion that Richard very much suspected was liberated from Sgt. Yamato’s collection, hopefully with his permission. “Who’s tripping on who’s skirt now?”
“Keep talking, Grandma,” said Sheppard gleefully as the black car with the red flames shot past the yellow car after heading down a straight that passed through something that might have been the Arc de Triomphe, made out of cardboard boxes with the words, Boots, Military, Men’s, crossed out. “I think your petticoat’s showing!”
“Gentlemen,” Richard said before it could go any further.
Both men looked up, startled, and the cars hit the tower of tires with a resounding crash.
“Really?” McKay said angrily, glaring at Richard. “You couldn’t wait two more minutes?”
“Is there something wrong, Mr. Woolsey?” Sheppard asked respectfully, and Richard ignored McKay’s muttered, “Suck-up.”
“I won’t ask what you’re doing, as it is fairly obvious what you’re doing,” Richard said, bringing his hands behind him and clasping them tightly together. “However, I would like to know where all of … this came from.” He nodded at the items that had become their track.
It was interesting that it was McKay who flinched guiltily, and Sheppard who simply grinned. “We got the majority of it from the junk and recycling rooms,” Sheppard said with an easy smile. Which didn’t reassure Richard at all. “And the rest of it is… on loan.”
McKay cleared his throat hastily. “Yes, so, if you don’t mind, we’d like to get back to it, so…”
“That’s fine,” said Richard, aware of an undercurrent that made him slightly uncomfortable. “Except I think you should return that particular stack,” and he pointed to the cartons of boots, “before the end of the day.”
“The Arc de Triomphe?” Sheppard asked, sounding wounded as he confirmed Richard’s suspicions. “But that’s the best part of the track!”
“Nevertheless, those cartons must be returned,” Richard said firmly. He’d found firmness was very much needed. At their affronted expressions, he tried not to smile. “Gentlemen, I do realize today is your off day, which is why I specified they should be returned before the end of this day. You do have some hours left, do you not?”
As usual, Sheppard caught on first. “All right, McKay, let’s get back to it!”
They back their cars away from the wall they’d crashed into and got back into it. Richard watched for a moment, then once he was satisfied they were happily absorbed again, he smiled and started to take his leave.
“Hey, McKay, the old folks home called, they want their scooter back!” Sheppard crowed gleefully.
“Come on, you’ve used that one before, it doesn’t count,” McKay said stiffly. “Wait, did you mod your car’s turning axis? I thought we agreed no mods!”
“Nope, no mods needed when you have a pilot at the wheel! And… yes!! I won!!”
Richard left the balcony, wondering what sort of outrageous behavior they’d see in the mess hall tonight, because it was a sure bet some sort of dare had been involved, with the losing party having to do something ridiculous.
“That’s not fair! You modded your car! There’s no way you should have won!” McKay complained.
“You can check it yourself, Rodney,” Sheppard said smugly. “I won fair and square. Your ass is mine tonight.”
Richard froze. Wha-a-at?
McKay sighed expressively. “Fine. I’ll make sure to bring the extra large tube of lube.”
“Will you give me a backrub first, to make sure I’m nice and relaxed?” McKay asked, sounding almost plaintive.
Sheppard laughed softly. “Sure, anything for my…”
Richard clamped his hands firmly over his ears, fleeing for his life before he had to hear whatever pet name Colonel Sheppard had for Dr. McKay. And if he was a little wild-eyed by the time he got to the Quartermaster’s office, who could blame him?
Of course, that wasn’t the only time he’d run into the Sheppard/McKay brand of crazy. Another time, he was walking down to the newly appointed IT department, laptop in hand, hoping they could figure out why it kept freezing up when he was writing reports. McKay had cleared an entire lab just for the computer geeks, led by the surprisingly formidable Dr. Miko Kusanagi, and it was Richard’s first opportunity to take a peek and see how it was going.
Instead, he heard the sound of two familiar voices arguing as he passed an open door and he reluctantly back-tracked and looked in.
McKay threw down a white card and said, “Twenty five points, Picard withstood a Cardassian interrogation and never gave one thing away!”
Sheppard smirked, and pulled a white card out of the collection fanned out in his hand. “Thirty points, Kirk was abandoned on a planet with a Gorn, and built a rocket launcher from stuff he found around him, and defeated an enemy that was like… ten times stronger than he was!”
“Yeah, but he didn’t kill him!” McKay said, waving his hands. “And you can’t just give Kirk thirty points for that!”
“Why not?” asked Sheppard reasonably. “You gave Picard twenty five!”
“Gentlemen,” Richard said, unable to stop himself. “What is going on here?”
Sheppard looked up and beamed at him. “Oh, hey, Mr. Woolsey! Rodney and I are just trying to decide which Star Trek captain is more bad-ass, Kirk or Picard.”
“I think Picard is more bad-ass, because he didn’t have to fight and get his shirt torn to prove how superior he was as a Captain,” said McKay, his arms crossed on his chest. “Plus, he was a scientist, and he also didn’t have a long line of alien women in every port.”
“No, just a few alien women in two or three ports,” retorted Sheppard. “And a lot of those alien women came on to Kirk, not the other way around. He didn’t sleep with all of them!”
“It was implied,” McKay said, laying his cards down deliberately, and Richard suddenly realized why his notecards had been disappearing recently. “Plus, Picard not only negotiated with the Klingons, he took part in their rituals and gained their respect!” He pulled a card out of his hand and laid it down on the stack between himself and Sheppard. “Forty points!”
“Kirk solved a murder, escaped a prison on Rura Penthe, and kept the Klingon Empire from self-destructing!” said Sheppard triumphantly, throwing down one of his cards. “Sixty points.”
Richard snorted and drew a blank card from the stack near Sheppard’s elbow, grabbed a Sharpie, and started writing. “Captain Kathryn Janeway went on a retirement cruise and chased down a Maquis ship, then got lost in the Delta Quadrant with her quarry. She convinced the Maquis crew survivors to join with the survivors on her own ship to give them all the best chance to make their way back to the Alpha Quadrant and kept crew and ship intact despite enemies from within and without, omnipotent beings, space anomalies, the Borg, and a time-traveling older version of herself, and she brought them all home. All for five thousand plus points of bad-assery, as you put it, and sheer awesome.”
Throwing down his card, Richard stood and took in their dumbfounded expressions. He couldn’t help smirking. “And that, gentlemen, is how you play the game.”
He turned and walked away, satisfied to have had the last word, for once.
Of course, he couldn’t help hearing, as he walked away, McKay say, “Janeway? Janeway??”
“Hey, I’m just impressed he knows what Star Trek is!” replied Sheppard.
Richard decided then and there to plan a Janeway retrospective in revenge.
This, of course, didn’t count the many times Richard was out and about in the city and had both the colonel and the doctor springing unexpectedly out of storage closets, Jumpers, from behind columns, or even one of the many alcoves located here and there on Atlantis. They were usually a combination of flushed and sweaty, sometimes their clothes were rumpled or in complete disarray, and one memorable time, Dr. McKay’s sparse hair had actually been mussed.
Richard definitely did not want to know about any of that. He considered himself a tolerant man, having several gay friends, and a cousin who was determinedly transgender, despite family opposition, so really, Richard personally didn’t care where his personnel chose to dip their collective wicks.
Officially, however, Richard was very aware that while the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was in the works, it hadn’t happened yet, and he really, most sincerely did not want to be placed in a position where he’d have to replace his chief military officer.
Richard wasn’t stupid.
So he pointedly ignored the bite marks on Sheppard’s neck that were visible because his shirt was unbuttoned and open at the throat, and he ignored the wet spots on their hastily done up BDUs, and he stolidly ignored the musky sent that wafted out after them when they emerged from their closets and unexpected alcoves, because he did not want to know. He did not need to know.
No, there was no way Richard could write about any of that in his memoirs. Not at all.
What the eye has seen cannot be unseen. However, Richard Woolsey learned early on in his career as a lawyer that while the things he witnessed could not be unseen, they didn't necessarily have to be noticed. Life in the Pegasus Galaxy has only reinforced this viewpoint for him, over and over again.
Written for the July 2014 RoughTrade Challenge.
Of course, not all his adventures involved finding Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay in unexpected places.
There was supposed to be a library. Well, there was a library, set up at the same time as the new IT department. It wasn’t just for information and study, either. The new librarian, a Dr. Flynn Carson, had made sure to bring a wide variety of DVDs of movies and television shows, music CDs, video games that covered a wide range of consoles, and board and card games for the entertainment of Atlantis personnel. He had also made sure to have DVD players and game consoles for people to check out as well. Richard thought this was a stroke of genius on the librarian’s part and wanted to show his approval and support by making an appearance. However, unlike the IT department which was comparatively easy to find, the library was much more elusive. Richard had been walking for some time, following both the hand-drawn map Dr. Carson had given him and the LSD Dr. Zelenka had modified for him to keep him from getting lost, with very little success.
Just as Richard decided he was so lost he should probably call Control had have someone sent to retrieve him, he found himself in a new part of the city that was actually rather familiar to him. It had been opened by the science department several months ago and taken over by the botanists, who had started work immediately, planting both Earth and Pegasus species to see what their compatibility would be like and what environmental conditions would be most conducive to both species.
It was an amazing success, to Richard’s mind, and proved that species from both galaxies had been transferred back and forth. He found it soothing to walk through the garden and orchard greenhouses, as well as the large arboretum, which was very park-like under its large transparent dome, eager to see what had been planted, and what was thriving. How he’d ended up here when he knew it was on completely the opposite side of the city from where he’d intended to go was anybody’s guess.
Sighing, Richard decided an appearance in the Library to show support for the new venture could wait. His nose twitched, enticed by the fresh green smell coming out of the arboretum. Always eager to explore the gardens, Richard decided on a detour.
He took in a deep breath as he walked in through the airlock. The air around Atlantis was fresh and unpolluted, but there was an ever-present tang of salt to it, thanks to the city floating on the ocean. And sometimes, if the wind was just right, they picked up a pungent smell from places where the city had been flooded that hadn’t been cleaned and repaired yet. Walking through the arboretum was like walking through the forest near the Athosian village on the mainland. He liked to think of it as the breath of the trees.
“This is beautiful, Ronon! But why are we here?”
Richard stopped, thrown by the woman’s voice. A deeper rumble answered her, making her laugh, and he paused again at the rippling quality of it. They were just ahead of him, so he moved carefully and hopefully quietly through the glade of apple trees, until he was peering into an open area, hoping that the surrounding foliage would keep him concealed.
Ronon was standing in front of … was that Tech Specialist Banks? Now that Richard thought about it, he’d seen the two together a lot lately. And every time AR-1 had a mission through the gate, Ronon always looked at her and nodded before he stepped through the wormhole.
Richard really shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, Michael’s invasion had been an intense event.
He peered through the leaves and was surprised when he realized Ronon had foregone his usual leathers and coarse woven shirt. Today, he was wearing a fine linen shirt, his trousers the tan of buckskin, and moreover, to Richard’s shock, Ronon was… well, not to put too fine a point on it, he was clean.
The man practically sparkled.
Richard sensed a disturbance in the Force.
Shaking his head at his undisciplined imagination, Richard focused on the scene before him and tried not to feel like a voyeur. “If any sex happens,” he murmured to himself, “I’m out of here. Because that would be wrong. And Ronon can smash me like a rotten tomato.”
Amelia faced Ronon in what looked like a plain shift made of the same fine linen Ronon was wearing, her hair free of its usual tight bun and falling loosely about her shoulders. She smiled shyly at Ronon, watching him with sparkling eyes.
Ronon nodded to her, then slowly knelt and leaned down to touch her bare feet with reverent hands, smiling when she giggled nervously. “These feet,” he said, looking up at her with a raised brow, “are solidly planted on the ground. They are the feet of a woman who knows where she stands. They are the feet of a woman who will not be moved when she knows she is right.” His big hands seemed to engulf her feet as he covered them. “I honor these feet for all the places they have been, and for all the places they will go. I honor them for the stance of a strong woman, a woman who will stand neither in front of me nor behind me, but at my side, for she is the woman I admire and respect, and I pray that her feet will walk with mine for all the years of our lives.”
And to Richard’s astonishment, Ronon, the proud Runner who never gave in to the Wraith, who refused to bend his head to anyone, leaned down and kissed the top of Amelia’s feet. Richard looked up quickly at her face and saw that though she was blushing, she was transfixed.
Ronon sat back on his heels and looked up at Amelia, then slid his hands up to her knees. “These legs are strong legs. These legs have run and walked for miles. These legs have struck down our enemies with their strength and their cunning. These legs have stood guard for hours, and they have walked with friends to share joy and sorrow.” Ronon looked at his hands on her knees. “These legs have stood with me and stood by me. These legs have defended me from the enemy and wrapped around me with love. I honor these legs and pray that they match my stride and keep me on my path for all the years of our lives.” Ronon bent and kissed each knee.
Amelia touched his face with light fingers, and Ronon smiled, then placed his hands firmly on her hips. “These hips hold balance and keep this woman centered and steady. These hips are strong and one day, if she so wishes, these hips will cradle our unborn child until birth. I pray these hips will keep this woman balanced and steady for all the years of our lives.” He kissed each hip.
Richard stepped back, realizing he’d walked into some sort of intensely private courting, or for all he knew, marriage ritual. But as much as he wanted to leave them to their privacy, another part of him wanted to stay and see it through.
That part of him won.
Ronon reached up and took Amelia’s hands in his own, and he looked at them, studying them intently, before turning his face back up to hers. “These hands are strong and graceful. I see the hands of a warrior, a maker, hands that create, and hands that destroy. They are hands that have defended me, soothed my hurts and fevered brow, touched me with love, and held me up when I was weak. These hands have told stories, and kept silence. I love and honor these hands, the work that they have done and will do, and I pray that they continue to hold mine through all the years of our lives.” Ronon turned them up and kissed each palm.
By this time, Amelia was completely focused on Ronon, no longer looking shy. Her face was transcendent with joy, and Richard was awed and humbled by it.
Ronon stood slowly, and laid a hand over Amelia’s heart.
“This heart,” Ronon began, and stopped, his voice breaking for the first time. She reached up and laid her hand over his, watching him and saying nothing, and after a moment, Ronon took a deep breath and cleared his throat to begin again.
“This heart,” Ronon said, his eyes on their hands over her heart, “ this heart is a very strong, very loyal heart. It beats firmly, with a steadfast rhythm, and never varies. It is a shy heart, but strong, and when this heart loves, it loves completely and with all of itself. It is a brave heart, rushing forth to do what is necessary and right, no matter the cost.” Ronon met her eyes steadily. “This heart is strong, and while it is not fearless, it does not let fear rule it. I am honored to be loved by this heart, and I honor it, I honor the trust this heart shows me every single day and vow not to break that trust. I pray that this heart knows how much it is loved by my heart, I pray that it beats with mine and shares that love for all the years of our lives.”
Those were not tears stinging Richard’s eyes. Evidently, there was pollen in the air of the arboretum, and his eyes were watering in reaction to it. WATERING.
Ronon leaned forward to kiss Amelia’s chest over her heart. Then he raised his hands and laid them on her shoulders. “These shoulders,” he said, as her eyes shone up at him, “are broad and strong. These shoulders have borne many burdens, from the books this woman has studied, to the friends and comrades she has listened to and helped over the years. These shoulders have born secrets and have felt the lash of the enemy. These shoulders have born pain. These shoulders have held burdens that should have crushed them, but this woman is strong, and this woman will not break, not while I am here to share her burdens. I honor these shoulders, and the strength that upholds them, and I pray that they allow me to share our burdens and make them all lighter for all the years of our lives.”
He kissed Amelia’s shoulders, and there was no mistaking the tears on her cheeks now. And it was clear to Richard that Ronon’s cheeks were wet as well, but his voice remained steady and clear.
Finally, Ronon laid his hands on top of her head, as if blessing her, but Richard suspecting that was not the case.
Sure enough, Ronon began speaking. “This head possesses a fine mind. Under this gleaming dark hair lies a mind that solves puzzles and problems. This mind sees things that are broken and knows how to fix them. This mind speaks the language of numbers and codes, this mind takes them and makes them anew. This mind is a mind that I love and honor, for all the split second decisions it makes, for the way it assesses any given situation and comes to the correct conclusion. I honor this mind, and pray that it continues to see me with favor for all the years of our lives.” Cradling Amelia’s face in his hands, Ronon kissed her forehead tenderly, then knelt before her again, taking her hands in his and bringing them to his heart.
“Amelia Janine Banks, daughter of Sonia and Patrick, I have told you, here before the Ancestors and our Witness Unseen, all that I love and honor of you. I pledge to honor and love you for all the days of our lives, to defend you, to listen to you, to bring you chocolate when you demand it, to share sorrow and joy, and walk beside you always for all the years of our lives.” He stood and lifted her up over his head. “I will raise you to the sky, to reach the heights, for you are my sun.” He set her gently on her feet again. “I will ground you on the earth, so that you have an anchor, to keep you steady.” He lifted her hands to his mouth. “I will speak only truth to you and I will listen to you and hear you. If you are lost, I will find you. If you are lonely, I will bear you company. If you are taken, I will come for you and take you back. This is what I pledge to you, Amelia. Will you have me?”
Amelia, her face radiant, stepped closer to him, looking up at him with joy. “Yes, Ronon. Yes, I will have you.” She drew in breath that was almost a sob and said, “I will be your sun, and you will be my earth. I will speak only truth to you, and I will listen to you and hear you. If you are lost, I will find you and bring you home. If you are lonely, I will bear you company, and if you are taken… I will come for you, and I will bring you back.” It made him smile and Amelia stared up at him with determination in her eyes. “This… is what I pledge to you, Ronon Dex, son of Rona and Damon,” she said softly. “You brought love back into my life, and I will treasure that, and you, all the days and years of our lives.”
Richard fished out a handkerchief and pulled off his glasses to wipe his inexplicably wet face while they kissed. Somehow, listening to this ceremony allowed him to let go of the last remaining vestiges of regret he held over his failed marriage. His petty, shallow, cold marriage of convenience, he saw that now. It had been more of a détente than an actual marriage, and it had fallen apart quickly when his wife realized he wasn’t going to abandon his career and dance to her tune.
No, he thought as he dried his glasses, I know nothing of marriage. I know nothing of love, I see that now.
“I call to the Witness Unseen, to affirm that my courtship of Amelia is good and true,” said Ronon.
Richard frowned and waited, wondering who would come out of hiding. He was understandably curious.
After several long moments, Amelia laughed and said, “Come out, Mr. Woolsey. We’re glad you were able to make it!”
Mouth falling open in shock and surprise, Richard moved slowly out of hiding and came to where Ronon and Amelia were standing, smiling at him happily as they held hands. “You… you knew I was standing there?”
“Of course,” said Amelia, eyes sparkling with mischief. “Who do you think programmed the LSD to make sure you got here in time?”
Ronon grinned at him. “I helped Dr. Carson draw the map.”
As he stared at them in shock, Amelia took his hand. “Please don’t be upset, Mr. Woolsey. It wasn’t something we could explain. According to Satedan custom, the Witness Unseen can’t be warned ahead of time. He or she can only be led to the right place, and I am very glad you decided to stay and watch.”
“What would you do if I hadn’t?” Richard asked, unable to wrap his mind around the fact that they’d known he was standing there the entire time.
Amelia looked up at Ronon, who smirked. “Kept trying until you decided to stay,” Ronon said. “Eventually, you would have caught on, I guess.”
All Richard could do was nod. “So… what do we do next?”
“There’s a reception waiting for us in the library,” Amelia said with a smile. “I think a glass of champagne is just what you need, Mr. Woolsey. Besides, we have a Satedan wedding to plan!”
Richard would have wobbled if Ronon hadn’t grabbed his elbow. A wedding? “There doesn’t have to be another Witness Unseen, does there?” he asked as they started walking. He didn’t think he could do that again.
“No,” rumbled Ronon gently. “But we would like it if you would perform the ceremony. Dr. Lindquist is helping me translate Satedan into your language, so you should be able to memorize all eighty six pages before the wedding.”
As Richard tried to absorb that, he firmly resolved to never trust a map drawn by Dr. Carson or an LSD modded by Dr. Zelenka again.
What the eye has seen cannot be unseen. However, Richard Woolsey learned early on in his career as a lawyer that while the things he witnessed could not be unseen, they didn't necessarily have to be noticed. Life in the Pegasus Galaxy has only reinforced this viewpoint for him, over and over again.
If anyone is curious to know about the etching of the portraits into the Wall, I had the Korean War Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. in mind. For an image of this wall, go here:
I found these portraits intriguing, beautiful, and ghostly when I saw them in 2008 with my kids. When we walked up to the wall to study the closely, we found they were actually etched into the wall rather than carved. Definitely worth a look if you’re ever in D.C.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sometimes, when faced with a difficult decision, Richard made his way to Atlantis’ Memorial Wall. It was a simple wall on the south side of the city, a long, broad, solid expanse facing an open park that had been recently planted with Pegasus-native species by the botany department. It was an open, restful and quiet place with benches and several fountains, giving it a peaceful air suitable for contemplation. People went there often to remember and mourn their dead… and their lost.
The Athosians had discovered a quarry of a blue-green granite like stone that the expedition’s geologists had pronounced suitable for memorials, and soon, between Athosian artisans and those among the city’s population with a talent for sculpture, placques had been mounted on the Wall, each with the name, birth and death date of the fallen carved into the stone, each with a portrait from their mission photos etched into the stone by an extremely talented Marine. Richard found them haunting and beautiful, these faces that had been smiling into the camera, eager and looking forward to the adventure of stepping through the stargate to the city of Ancients, now set into the blue-gray stone the Ancients had used to build their city, here to smile possibly for the next 10,000 years.
Richard often came here when he needed perspective. When he’d taken over the office held by Dr. Elizabeth Weir and Dr. Samantha Carter, he’d been determined to make his own mark as a leader, to show the undisciplined, far too altruistic personnel on Atlantis that it was possible to do things exactly by the book and remind them that their obligation was to think of their home, of Earth, before doing anything for the people of Pegasus. After all, the people of the Pegasus galaxy had existed well enough for millennia before the Taur’i had come along, surely they would continue to exist whether or not the people of Atlantis helped them. Or not.
He had thought himself well prepared for the realities of Atlantis and Pegasus, having been in the city several times during a crisis. He thought he knew what to expect, and how to handle things. They just needed reminding their first obligation was to their home planet and galaxy. To say that Richard had been under more than a few erroneous conclusions about Atlantis and the people who lived and served on her would be a vast understatement. After more than a few painful mistakes and missteps, Richard vowed to himself to never lose sight of the individual components that made up the big picture, and to remember that sometimes, the Rules, and the Book, were just plain wrong. That the parameters set by the IOA and the SGC on Earth were sometimes far too narrow.
Or just plain untenable.
Richard made his way to the bench across from Elizabeth Weir’s memorial , sitting down and studying her amused half-smile and keen eyes. He’d known Dr. Weir in life, impressed with the force of her personality and her skills as a negotiator. There were those who’d thought her too delicate, or too inflexible to lead the Atlantis Expedition, especially when the Pegasus galaxy served them a big fat helping of Murphy’s Law on Steroids, but Richard had seen her face down an angry mob of Chechin rebels with nothing more than her voice, her eyes, and her incredible resolve.
He wondered, as he studied her face in the stone, what she would think of him now.
“Hello, Elizabeth,” Richard said softly, looking down at the single white rose wrapped in a ribbon that lay across the foot of her stone. That rose appeared every single morning, with no one claiming responsibility, though Richard had his suspicions. He looked back up at her face. “As you probably realize, I am in need of counsel again. I know you aren’t really here, but somehow, I always feel better after I come here and… talk… to you. After all, you understand just how difficult this job is, how hard some of these decisions are.“ He sighed, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees, clasping his hands together and raising them to his lips. “I know that I should follow the orders sent to me from the SGC, but sometimes, Elizabeth, I am truly torn. Not all orders are going to be to my liking, and sometimes, they are going to hurt these people that I now think of as… mine.” He laughed self-deprecatingly. “My people. God, I thought I knew what that meant before I came here. And after, I realized I never knew what that meant at all. These current orders, Elizabeth… how can I in good conscience order my people to follow them? And yet, how can I ignore them? How can I run the risk of them being harmed, of losing their jobs, their careers, because I find this personally distasteful?” He shook his head, looking down at his hands. “The one thing I never expected, Elizabeth, is how much I would come to love them. Every… single… one of them. Somehow, I think you did, too. Otherwise, you could never have sacrificed yourself for them.”
He looked up at her face again, and a warm breeze, bringing the spicy-sweet scent of the white flowers on the bushes in the park, swirled around him, ruffling his scant hair and moving over his face and shoulders like a caress, like light fingers tracing over his skin.
“That’s what I thought,” Richard said with a soft smile. “Still, I sometimes find myself at a loss, balancing the needs of the city and our personnel against the IOA and Earth. How… how did you do it?”
He sighed, bringing his hands up to his chin and looking down at the rose, brooding over the the impossible orders that had been sent in the morning’s message burst from the SGC. The wind changed, coming from a different direction now, pushing at him slightly.
“You… were the best friend I ever had.”
Richard blinked and sat up, frowning. Surely Elizabeth’s voice hadn’t been so deep?
“I knew, when we met that first day at MOS school. I knew we were going to be friends. That you were gonna be one of the most important people in my life. And you were, Jase. You were.”
Turning with the gentle urging of the breeze, Richard finally saw one of the Marines taking a knee in front of what Richard now knew was called a battle cross. A decommissioned P-90, too damaged to be repaired, was mounted in the ground. A pair of battered and stained boots were in front of it. A battered helmet with a pair of goggles still strapped into place rested on the butt of the P-90 and glittering in the sun, Richard could see the chain of a set of dog-tags dangled from the helmet, swaying slightly in the breeze. There were many such displays in front of the Wall, along with flowers, bottles of alcohol or cans of beer. There were even a few Dia de los Muertas alters here and there, with their accompanying ofrendas.
“I didn’t expect to love you so damn much, Jase,” the Marine was saying as he draped a lei of the flowers the Athosians used for lovers, and Richard suddenly understood. “I was just lucky you loved me back. My only regret to my dying day will be that we had to hide it. That I couldn’t hold your hand, or wrap my arm around you. I couldn’t brag to everyone how amazing my man was, or explain why my uniforms fit so well, because my man knew his way around a needle. I couldn’t tell them how… how beautiful, how… how god-damned special you were.” He pressed a shaking hand to the laughing face of the portrait in the stone. “To everyone else, we were just buddies. Just… Stackhouse and Markham, two peas in a pod, always assign them duty together, because they get along, you know. But… when it was just us, we were Marcus and Jason, two guys who loved each other.”
Richard closed his eyes, realizing who this was. Damn you, Elizabeth, he thought bitterly.
“When I got my orders for Atlantis, I… I was trying to figure out how to turn it down. I mean, I wanted to go… but I couldn’t leave you. I never expected you to volunteer for the mission so you could join me, but you did, and I should have known better. And when you turned out to have the gene, I worried they’d take you and leave me behind.” Stackhouse leaned forward, pressing his face to the stone, his hand spread against it. “Shoulda known better. You … you never let me down, Jase. Never. In all the adventures we had, you never left my side. Not until…” and here Stackhouse’s voice broke. “Why didn’t you wait, Jase? I told you I was coming. Ten more seconds, I woulda been on that Jumper with you! Fuck orders, I was ready to go with you! I know you had to go, but… didn’t you know I’d be your extra eyes? If I’d been with you, maybe you’d still be here. Or… or maybe it still would have ended the same way, but… we’d be together.” Stackhouse closed his eyes, his forehead pressed to the stone. “It’s been four years, Jase. It still hurts, but… it’s softer now. I go whole weeks without thinking of you, and then something reminds me of you, and… it doesn’t knock me flat anymore. The worst part has been hiding it, pretending you were just my buddy.” He sat back on his heels, looking at Jason Markham’s portrait, reaching up to trace the line of his lover’s jaw. “You weren’t my buddy. You were my husband. I would have married you, Jason Markham. I would have married you in front of God and everybody, man, because I loved you that damn much.”
Richard got up, wanting… needing to offer comfort, but Stackhouse leaned forward and kissed the portrait, then stood, wiping his eyes. “I miss you, and I will love you until the day I die, and I hope we meet again. But four years is long enough. I won’t be coming weekly any more. You’d kick my ass if you knew how much I’ve been coming here, I know that. So… once a year. That’ll be enough. Right, buddy? I’m… I’m letting you go, and… getting back to the business of living. Teyla’s right. Doing this, hanging on to you and using my grief as an excuse to keep everyone away is… letting the Wraith win. So… goodbye for now, Jason. I love you, and I’ll never forget you, and I’ll do my best to live my life and… learn to love again.”
Richard watched him walk away and knew he’d gotten his answer. He took in a deep breath, pulling off his glasses and pulling his handkerchief out to wipe his eyes. “Thank you, Elizabeth,” he said softly as he turned back to look at her memorial, reaching out to touch her portrait respectfully.
Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen of the IOA, Generals Landry and O’Neill and anyone else this concerns:
I read with interest your directive that we, the command staff of the Atlantis Expedition, enforce the law known as DADT, according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, with our military personnel until such time as said law is repealed.
I would like to point out, however, that our military force on Atlantis is international in makeup, as are our civilian personnel, and our international military personnel are from countries where there was never any sort of ban on LGBT personnel serving, or those bans have been long repealed. As a result, I, and my staff, feel it is not only unfair, but entirely inhumane to enforce such a cruel subversion of human rights on only our U.S. military personnel. And quite frankly, ladies and gentlemen, neither I nor the other members of the command staff have the time or the inclination to go around policing the barracks and making sure they are all sleeping boy/girl, boy/girl.
These people are adults, living in a galaxy fraught with danger and mayhem. They never know from one day to the next whether they will live or die due to an ally’s betrayal or invasion by Wraith. They face horrors on a daily basis that you dare not dream of, and as we well know, these horrors are entirely too capable of showing up on our veritable doorstep. These men and women keep the horrors from our doorsteps, ladies and gentlemen, and for that alone, they deserve the dignity of privacy in their relationships. Far be it from me, or indeed, any of you, to tell them who they may or may not sleep with. Let them seek comfort from whom they wish. Love is love, and that is all that need be said.
As lead administrator and head of the Atlantis Expedition, I hereby duly declare the city ofAtlantis a DADT-free zone. Any who wish to object are welcome to come through the gate and face a Wraith. Only then would they be qualified to have any say in the matter. Otherwise, they should all simply shut the fuck up.
Richard P. Woolsey
City of Atlantis, Pegasus Galaxy
I was listening to “She Keeps Me Warm” by Mary Lambert as I wrote this.
His office felt stuffy and confining. Though two walls of the office were made up of windows, there was no window to the outside, only to Control and the gateroom.
Most of the time, Richard hardly noticed. He would be so focused on his work, on reading through reports and trying to decipher just what the hell “four velociraptors on stilts and steroids with too many teeth and hella bad attitude” were and how he was going to put that in a concise report that wouldn’t give the IOA fits. Then he’d shrug and think, Fuck ‘em, four velociprators on stilts and steroids with too many teeth and hella bad attitude it is, while realizing that having Sgt. Mehra assigned to him for escort duty was having a very bad affect on his attitude.
Every once in a while, like today, Richard couldn’t take it and he’d get up, zip up his jacket, and head for the door. “I’m taking a break,” he said to Chuck as he walked calmly through the Control Center (not running, not running). “I’m wearing my radio, and I’ll be in Greenhouse 4 if anyone needs me.”
“Yes, sir,” said Chuck with a nod. “Dr. Parrish said the World Peace roses were due to bloom this week,” he added.
Richard paused and looked back at the gate technician. “Thank you, Chuck.”
“No problem, Mr. Woolsey,” Chuck said cheerfully and watched Richard go.
Things had gotten much better since he started getting to know the gateroom staff. He’d never get a name wrong again if he could help it.
A brisk walk through the city was just what he needed, thought Richard as he nodded to the people passing him. He smiled at those he recognized, a little pleased that that number seemed to be growing daily.
He stopped and turned. Teyla was catching up to him, a tablet in her arms. “Hello, Teyla,” he said with a smile for the Athosian leader. “Can I help you with something?”
Teyla smiled as if she was happy to see him, and Richard wondered if it were true. They had come a long way from the early days of mutual distrust. “I am glad to run into you, Mr. Woolsey,” she said, lifting up the tablet, her hand spread over the glassy surface. “Torren’s birthday is coming up and I am trying to work out a date where the majority of his family will be available.”
“I see,” said Richard slowly. “And you wish me to make sure certain people are off on that day?” He’d grown fond of Teyla’s son. The boy’s bright chirping voice when he greeted everyone upon entering a room brought smiles to many faces, and what Richard found even more amazing was that Torren seemed to like him. He always ran up to grab Richard’s hand when they were in the mess hall and never hesitated to climb up into Richard’s lap to ask for stories in more casual settings. Richard found himself digging in his memory for the stories his maternal grandfather had told him to keep Torren amused.
It was nice to have someone to pass them on to, in a way.
“You misunderstand me, Mr. Woolsey,” said Teyla gently, laying her hand lightly on his arm. “I consider you a part of Torren’s family as well. I wish to be certain you are free.”
Stunned, Richard covered her hand and patted it gently to give himself time to recover. “Well… Teyla… if I am a part of Torren’s family,” he said, his throat feeling a little tight, “then I must insist that you call me Richard. That is, when we are … in family.”
Teyla’s smile was warm and amused. “Richard,” she said, and she lifted her tablet. “When are you available? I will match that up with the rest of Torren’s family’s schedules and pick the most advantageous date.”
Five minutes later, Richard made his way to the nearest transporter, smiling and touched that Teyla considered Richard part of her son’s family. He’d never expected to have children of his own, and while he was still young enough for it to be a possibility, the idea of Torren as a “grandchild” was appealing.
The door to Greenhouse 4 seemed to spring up before he expected it, and he realized he’d spent the entire walk from the transporter lost in thought. Chuckling at himself, Richard entered his access code and strolled in through the door.
The mingled scent of roses in their many varieties filled the warm air of the greenhouse, mixed with the scents of earth, mulch, water, and compost. Richard smiled and felt the muscles in his back and neck relax. Being in here reminded him of the rose garden at his mother’s childhood home, and spending hours with his grandparents tending to them. He’d spent some of his happiest hours in their garden. In fact, it was one of his grandmother’s many lessons in the garden that had given him the idea to request the SGC to send as many bare-root rose plants as they could manage to fit in spare spaces of the crates they shipped to Atlantis as possible. Roses were a valuable trade item, especially hips from the rosa canina, or Dog Rose variety. A dependable source of vitamin C that could be easily grown, propagated, and transported was in short supply in the Pegasus galaxy. It only took a rosebush two years to bloom from cuttings, something that made it extremely valuable to people who had to sometimes leave their planet at a moment’s notice. Cuttings could be snapped off in transit and grown in pots for several years before needing to be transplanted to larger pots or to the ground in a garden.
The botanists made a habit of presenting two year old cuttings of rosa canina at every meet and greet now, along with instructions for their care, how to take and propagate cuttings, as well as recipes for rose hip jelly, syrup, and tea. People were staring to ask about the dog roses in advance.
Richard smiled as he trailed light fingers over the fat pink blooms of an antique rose, the spicy fragrance rising up from the soft petals. People who didn’t know better gave their love to the tea roses they saw in florists shops, but Richard preferred the antiques with their fat heavy heads and their rich perfumes. They, too, were becoming a valuable trade item, if only for their fragrances.
He kept his eye out, as he strolled down the paths, for the white tea rose that kept appearing in front of Elizabeth’s memorial. It had to be somewhere in Greenhouse 4, because it was there was no way someone could be shipping in a crate of roses every time the Daedelus came on. One, it would be cost-prohibitive, and two, there was no way to keep them in pristine condition. He’d seen several likely candidates over the last few months, but none had the faintly silvery undertone of the roses that were laid every morning in front of Elizabeth Weir’s stone.
As he came into the section where tea roses were kept, he saw the bright hot pink and yellow of an open World Peace and smiled. He still preferred the original “Peace” rose, but this one, in its gaudy brightness, had a nice scent, and he leaned over it to sniff appreciatively.
There was a burst of frantic laughter, then a strained voice said, “Evan, that tickles!”
Richard straightened and looked toward the more heavily foliaged area where the shrub roses were grown.
“Stop wiggling around so much and it won’t be so bad,” he heard the unmistakable voice of Atlantis’ XO say, and Richard took a hesitant stop back.
“I can’t help it, the buzzing tickles, especially when you get down around my balls,” the other man said. “I think you’re doing it on purpose!”
“No, I’m not,” Lorne said in a reasonable tone, though there was a hint of laughter in his voice. “You just keep… squirming. David… am I going to have to tie you up?”
Oh, boy, Richard thought, suddenly finding the greenhouse entirely too warm. I really don’t want to be here for this. But how to leave without sounding like an elephant crashing through the forest?
“Evaaaaan,” David… and Richard suddenly realized this was Dr. David Parrish, oh, god, Lorne and Parrish had been spending a lot of time together recently.
“Holy shit, you like the idea of that, don’t you?” Lorne sounded both surprised and aroused.
“Yeah, but Evan… why do we have to do it here?” Parrish practically whined. “Why not in my quarters?”
God help him, but he was actually moving closer. Richard had no idea his feet were even moving until he found himself just able to make them out from between the shrubs and bushes, shielded from any eyes but his by the very greenery that surrounded them. Lorne, bare to the waist, was kneeling between a pair of widely splayed bare legs. On the ground next to them was a large bowl of lightly steaming water, a couple of folded towels, two razors, a can of shaving cream and a tube of lotion.
“Can you think of a better place to… prune… a wild and… untamed… bush?” Lorne raised a battery powered beard trimmer in his hand, pressing the power button with his thumb and Richard realized the low humming he’d assumed was part of the greenhouse machinery was actually Lorne and Parrish, they’d been here since he’d entered, oh, God…
Parrish laughed, then yelped when Lorne leaned down, his legs moving and his toes curling hard. “Oh, fuck, that feels… weird…”
“That’s it,” Lorne said, turning the trimmer off and reaching into a thigh pocket. “Time for the rope,” he said, pulling coil of rope out and holding it up. “Hands over your head, David…”
Richard started backing away as David’s feet moved even as Lorne leaned forward, already making a loop in the rope. “But Evan, I’m trying to be good, really, I am, it just tickles…”
“Baby, we’ve been at this for nearly half an hour. The longer we’re here, the greater our chances of being caught,” Lorne said firmly as Richard prayed fervently not to knock anything over or trip. “That’s a good boy, all right, now raise those knees…”
Definitely time to leave, though Richard waited an extra moment to watch Lorne expertly loop the rope around his lover’s thighs before pulling them back and up. Lorne practices shibari? was his next irrelevant thought, and that was enough to have him moving quickly down the path.
“Too tight? No? Good boy…”
Richard was at the doors. The last thing he heard before he sped through was, “Sir… please…” and then the doors closed silently behind him.
It was some time before he was able to return to his office. Fortunately, Chuck was otherwise occupied when Richard arrived, and he quickly opaqued his windows in a silent bid for privacy, not wanting to be observed as he came to grips with what he’d unintentionally witnessed. He picked up his personal digital recorder. “Note to self, order variety of hemp, jute, and cotton rope for Major Lorne as well as supply of tsubaki oil for treating the rope. File under miscellaneous and sundries. Give anonymously.”
Richard turned off the recorder and shuddered. There were things he definitely did not need to know about his people.
That evening, after confirming his free days with Teyla, and speaking briefly with Sheppard about a near disaster with AR-5 that had been averted with a judicious application of flattery and chocolate, Richard headed toward the food serving area and nearly ran into Major Lorne.
“Oh, Major, forgive me!” Richard said in surprise, “I didn’t see you there.”
“That’s all right, Mr. Woolsey,” said Lorne easily, his blue eyes sparkling with a mischief that immediately put Richard on his guard. “It wasn’t intentional.”
“No, no, it wasn’t,” said Richard, staying calm, though he felt acutely uncomfortable. “I understand they’re serving a quite passable Boef a la Bourguignonne tonight, although not so much with… beef.”
“Yeah, it’s quite good, you’d better hurry while it’s still plentiful,” Lorne said, steadying Richard with one hand on his elbow. “It’s going fast.”
“Yes, thank you,” Richard said and started to turn away.
Major Lorne, however, cleared his throat and said, “David wanted to know what you thought of the World Peace rose, sir.”
Richard thanked all the powers that be that he did not blush easily, and he kept his expression open (he hoped) and made himself picture the blooming rose, making his smile more natural and easy. “It’s a very bright rose, but quite lovely as well,” he said. “Interesting varietal on the Peace Rose, I remember when it came out in the 1990’s. Where did Dr. Parrish manage to get a cutting?”
“His grandmother was one of the botanists who developed it. He brought a cutting when the first expedition came out and nursed it along on the balcony of his quarters,” Lorne said calmly, walking Richard to the food line and handing him a tray. “When you started bringing in the rose bushes for trade, David brought it into Greenhouse Four and started six more cuttings. It needs a lot of… pruning, you know.”
Richard turned to Lorne, who forestalled anything he might have said with one raised eyebrow. “You know, Mr. Woolsey, you have family here on the city. Family who might forgive you anything, especially seeing it was unintentional.”
“I… see,” Richard said slowly. “It was, you know.”
“I know, sir,” said Lorne with an easy smile. “It’s all good. A one time sort of thing, you know?” He stepped back. “You enjoy your meal, sir.”
Richard watched the major walk away, whistling as he grabbed a smaller tray and loaded it with strawberries, grapes, a bowl of whipped cream, and another of chocolate syrup.
He turned away resolutely and got his meal, then went to eat outside on the deck.
This was definitely not going into any of his memoirs!
Richard did not often go out on trade missions. It wasn’t that he wasn’t capable of negotiations, but more that he didn’t like leaving the city bare of command staff. There had been more than a few hard lessons on that subject over the years for Richard to ignore the issue. Therefore, he only left the city when there was a need for his negotiating skills or his cachet as the civilian leader of Atlantis, when a village leader or elder requested his presence, or when a team was in such dire trouble that Richard’s skills as a lawyer were needed to argue them out of it. On those occasions, there was always someone with the rank to make decisions, like Colonel Caldwell when the Daedelus was in orbit, or Major Lorne, when he wasn’t, always with the dependable Dr. Zelenka as backup.
Today, the elders of Dalos had requested to meet the new “High Elder” of Atlantis as part of their “Ritual of Confirmation.” The last Atlantean “High Elder” to participate had been Samantha Carter. It was time, the Dalosian High Elder had said, to meet and honor the new one, Richard.
Richard wasn’t a stranger to rituals any more, thanks to his role as leader of the Atlantis expedition. In fact, on two planets, he was married to Teyla. On one memorable occasion, he became Colonel Sheppard’s “Other Father.” And he was fairly certain that on P5Y-S27, he was Ronon’s concubine. It didn’t help that ever since that particular ritual, Ronon made a habit of buying dainty jewelry at trade fairs, bringing it back and giving it to Richard while saying endearing things like, “A trinket… for my Trinket,” or “For you, Concubinus,” or Richard’s personal favorite, “Here. Can we fuck now?”
He’d eyed Ronon sourly on that one, frowning at the thin gold chain with the gold dowry coin hanging on it, and said, “Does Ms. Banks know about this?”
Ronon snorted. “She helped me pick it out.”
He’d only needed one glance at Amelia’s mirth-filled eyes to confirm it. And relax. Ronon was teasing.
The Dalosians were an established and stable ally, and so far, there had been no trouble with them. So Richard suited up and got into a Jumper, very carefully not noticing the two cloaked Jumpers that accompanied them through the gate, and waited as Sheppard landed it in the shade of a pavilion that had been clearly set up for it, and allowed the young woman who was waiting nearby to swathe him in a voluminous robe over his uniform and shove a large, wide-brimmed hat over his head, tying it under his chin, careful to obey the protocols Teyla had drilled him in. “Keep your chin up, your back straight, and do not smile, Richard. You are the High Elder of Atlantis. You must be calm and serene.”
Richard could do calm and serene. He could even manage calm, serene, and dignified, on occasion. However, it was a bit much to be asking it while walking three miles under a hot, unrelenting sun while swathed in the “Robe of Greeting,” with the “Hat of Forethought” flapping in the breeze on his head. It was difficult to maintain one’s dignity while sweating profusely and trying not to be launched into the air by one’s … hat.
Sheppard and Teyla on the other hand, while also sweating profusely, were wearing little more than paint, leaf garlands around their heads, and a length of colorful cloth wrapped around their hips. There were matching garlands around their wrists and ankles, and Richard guessed it must have happened while he was being lost in the folds of his robes.
Both carried trays with their “offerings” for trade on them. There were vials of an anti-venom Dr. Beckett the Second had come up with for a toxic scorpion-like insect on Dalos, soft tanned hides from the Athosians that the Dalosians valued for boots and leggings, and six boxes of dried rose hips to make the syrup that would keep their children healthy when harvests were thin. Bundles of dried herbs and packets of spices for medicines and food, and finally, steel ingots that could be melted down by their blacksmiths and made into knives, buckles, and whatever else the Dalosians needed.
Richard saw the top of a gigantic open tent ahead, and just kept from heaving a sigh of relief. Underneath was the wide plaza where the ritual would take place.
To his relief, once they were under the tent, it got much cooler. The tent’s open sides let the breezes in, and even better, his robes were removed and the hat untied and lifted off. The young woman who’d wrapped him up leaned forward to check his face solemnly, and he suddenly realized the robes and hat had been to protect him. That didn’t explain Sheppard’s and Teyla’s near nudity, though.
The young woman smiled and as if reading his mind, said, “Our sun is harsh to those unaccustomed to it, High Elder. Your envoys have been here many times. But on his first visit, Sar-Sheppard refused the robes, and ended up being carried here and soaked in the pool for several hours. Sar McKay’s sun ointment has been a great blessing in that regard.”
It took Richard a moment to realize she meant McKay’s home-made sunblock. “Thank you for telling me that… “ and he paused.
“Marya, High Elder,” she supplied with a bow.
“Marya,” he said with a nod. “Thank you.”
She smiled and bowed, and then served him a tall glass of a cool, tart juice that soon had him feeling much better and he was able to take a look around the tent.
Sheppard and Teyla had carried their trays to a dais on the other side of the plaza, where a tall thin elderly man stood, his silver hair a bushy nimbus that surrounded his head like a planetary ring. He raised his hands and said, “The Sar and Sare’ of Atlantis have brought their offerings. I, the High Elder of Dalos, declare them right and good. And now, the Sar and Sare’ of Dalos will bring our offerings in trade to the High Elder of Atlantis.”
A burly middle aged man with sun-bronzed skin and dark hair held back by a leather band wrapped around his head and a thin older woman with bright red hair streaked with silver, both garbed similarly to Sheppard and Teyla, approached the place where Richard sat. Remembering Teyla’s lessons, he rose as they set their trays on the dais in front of his seat.
There were rolls of the silk-like fabric that McKay said held great promise as an insulator against the energy in Ancient tech. If it worked the way the preliminary tests had shown, gloves could be made which would allow ATA users to handle Ancient tech without activating it accidently or endangering themselves. There was also a healthy sampling of the crystal that was similar in structure to that used in the energy relays on Atlantis. A selection of fruits and plants that Botany was wanting to test for use in Atlantis’ kitchens, and wonder of wonders, three bags of a berry grown in the mountains that, when roasted, promised to be very similar to coffee.
Richard checked this over carefully, then said, “High Elder of Dalos, I, the High Elder of Atlantis, have checked over the offerings brought to me by the Sar and Sare’ of Dalos, and I find them to be right and good. Let the Ritual of Confirmation begin!”
He was rewarded by a tiny smile on Teyla’s face, assuring him he’d done it right, but… why were the tips of Sheppard’s ears red? Maybe it was sunburn?
Sheppard and Teyla moved from their places by their offerings and came to meet their counterparts in the middle of the plaza, where a circle had been painted with lines radiating out from the center. Several young people rushed up with bundles of cloth which were held up as a curtain to shield the Sars and Sare’s from view, while others rushed in with trays of pots and brushes and a great amount of activity began.
There were occasional grunts from the four adults, then indignant yelps of, “Hey, I already shaved that!” and “Whoa, getting a little personal there, buddy!” from Sheppard, followed by the sound of a thwack and, “Ow, Teyla, what was that for??”
“Sar Sheppard is in rare form,” chuckled Marya, serving Richard another glass of the juice. “But Sare’ Teyla seems to have him well in hand.” She blushed, then laughed, and Richard shook his head in puzzlement.
Finally, the cloth was dropped and all was revealed. Richard had to draw on years of courtroom experience to keep his expression from revealing his reaction.
Both Sheppard’s and Teyla’s garlands were gone and their hair had been slicked and stiffened into what were basically thin, flared mohawks. Their faces were white, and a black strip had been painted horizontally over their eyes and across their throats. Their lips, however, were inexplicably bright red and curled upward at the edges. They were both topless, and had what were essentially bright blue bikini tops painted with great detail on their bodies. And where earlier cloth had been wrapped around their hips, they were bare and wearing what looked like tiny, bright blue thongs.
The only thing that convinced Richard they were wearing them and didn’t have them painted on was the fact that Sheppard’s was too small and every movement threatened to set his assets free and swinging in the breeze. The Sar of Dalos had a similar problem, except Richard had the joy of seeing that from behind. Only the intensity of Teyla’s glare, as if she could read his mind, kept Richard from covering his face with his hands and lying down to howl with laughter.
A low throaty humming arose from the villagers surrounding them, their only accompaniment sound of the tent flaps fluttering in the steady breeze. Teyla and Sheppard stepped forward to press their palms against their counterparts, rolling their hands up so their arms met and separated until they were touching elbows, and all four wriggled their fingers and chanted, “The trade is good, the trade is right, we celebrate the trade tonight.”
Richard hoped that was it, but when they stepped back and put their hands on their hips, he grabbed the glass of juice and took a long sip, hoping it would keep him from noticing if Sheppard or Sar Dalos fell out of their teeny tiny thongs.
As the Sars and Sare’s faced each other, they both jumped to the left, the thongs trembling threateningly, then took a step to the right so they were facing each other again. It was the heavy clonking sound of their feet hitting the ground that made Richard finally look down, only to find all four were wearing what were, for all intents and purposes, platform soles made of wood strapped to their feet with strips of hide. That was bad enough, but Richard’s eyes nearly bugged out when all four put their knees together then began rocking back and forth, thrusting their hips forward while chanting, “The trade is good, the trade is right, we celebrate the trade tonight.” They did this over and over again, until a boy, dressed in the same tiny thong, began to skip and caper around them, waving his arms as he sang, “Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate the trade tonight! Celebrate, celebrate, the knees and hips will thrust all night!”
In later years, Richard would wonder how he didn’t manage to break his ribs from internal pressure. Every time he was about to lose his composure, Teyla would shoot him a scarily effective glare from the corner of her eye.
This went on for some time. Hop, clonk, step, clonk, thrusting hips while chanting, while the boy danced around them, spinning faster and faster while he sang, until they all collapsed, and the Dalosian High Elder stood and raised his hands.
“The Ritual of Confirmation… is done!”
Richard couldn’t help grinning at Colonel Sheppard several hours later, when they were finally able to leave after the feast and head back to the Jumpers. Sheppard glowered at him and said flatly, “Not. One. Word.”
“But Colonel,” Richard started to say.
However, Richard did wait until after their medical checks and they were released to their quarters to saunter by the colonel, hands in his pockets as he softly sang, “Let’s do the time warp agaaaaaaain…”
The pranks he endured for the next week were entirely worth it.
There was an elaborately carved wooden bear lying on Richard’s desk and he eyed it warily for a moment, wondering if it were part of the pranks.
However, it was a carving of the bear Richard had given Torren on his first birthday. He picked it up and only then saw the note it had been holding in place, written on a paper he didn’t recognize. “Torren’s Childing Day,” it said, and listed a date and time, two days hence.
Richard touched his radio. “Teyla, are you busy?”
“No, Mr. Woolsey,” came her immediate reply. “What can I do for you?”
“I just found your invitation,” he said slowly.
Her soft laughter reassured him. “I emailed you everything you need to know, Richard.”
“Thank you, Teyla,” he said, and sat own carefully at his desk, bringing up his email on his laptop to read.
On the day of Torren’s Childing, three Jumpers stood by ready to bring his Atlantean family to the mainland. Richard was surprised to see a rather diverse crowd standing in the Jumper bay. He expected the members of AR-1, since Team was Family. But he didn’t expect to see Chuck or Dr. Zelenka. There was a woman he recognized from the serving line in the mess hall, as well as Louie, who specialized in making the cookies, pies, and sweet breads that everyone loved so much. There were four Marines, one of whom was Stackhouse, and the Air Force sergeant who fixed most of the mechanical problems with Earth equipment around the city. What was his name? Oh, Pendergrass. Dr. Carson, the librarian, was there, as was elderly Dr. Thomas, the linguist. When Amelia arrived, Richard leaned toward her. “What… is this?”
She smiled in understanding. “Torren has grown up in the city around all of us. Remember when he was so colicky as a baby, and then when he was teething?”
“Who could forget?”
“Teyla and Kanaan took turns walking all over the city with him, trying to help him and soothe him,” Amelia said. “They ran into a lot of interesting people, and some of them helped out,” and she nodded toward Stackhouse, who blushed. “Plus, we’ve all had a hand in teaching Torren, or playing with him, babysitting him, or just… being part of his neighborhood, so to speak.”
Richard suddenly understood. If Torren had grown up in a more traditional environment, they would have all been people he would encountered in his village, or town. “Interesting.”
“All right,” said Sheppard, stepping into Jumper 1, where Richard was sitting, “let’s get this show on the road. Everyone for Torren’s party, all aboard!”
When they arrived at the Athosian village, Richard saw children running through the village to the large tree that overlooked one end. He tucked his gift under his elbow and followed everyone there.
Teyla stood there with her shy husband, Kanaan, Torren standing in front of them as the villagers gathered around them. “Welcome, everyone,” she said, nodding graciously to them all. “Thank you for coming. If you would please all take your places around the circles?”
Richard watched as Torren stood on a stone surrounded by a large leather-wrapped hoop with blue ribbons on it in the center of the first circle and it took a moment for it to sink in how much the boy had grown in the last year alone. In fact his clothes were… too small and too tight.
Teyla took Richard by the arm and led him to a spot on the inner circle where he could see Torren’s face, and he was surprised. “Teyla, isn’t this for… immediate family?”
Teyla smiled. “Yes, it is.”
Halling stood across from him and nodded encouragingly to him. Sheppard, McKay, Ronon, Amelia, and Radek joined this circle along with Teyla and Kanaan. A second and third circle surrounded them, and Richard found Stackhouse and Louie standing on either side of him, but behind him. It fascinated him that he could basically see the relationships to Torren just based on where people were standing.
All grew quiet, then Teyla and Kanaan left their places and came to stand before their son, bundles in their hands that they set carefully on the ground at their feet. “I remember when Torren was born,” Teyla said in a clear voice. “I remember the fear of my birth pains, that Michael would take my baby away and I would never see him again.” She raised her eyes and looked at Dr. McKay. “And then Torren’s Uncle John ,Uncle Rodney, and Uncle Ronon came and found me, and while Uncle John and Uncle Ronon went to stop Michael’s ship from leaving, Uncle Rodney stayed to help bring Torren into the world. Torren was born and he was beautiful. I named him Torren John and brought him home to Atlantis.”
“When Torren was born, I was not myself,” Kanaan said. “Seeing him helped me come back to myself enough to save him and his mother… and myself. I remember seeing him, still wet from birth, and he was beautiful. I knew I could not leave my son. I could not let Michael do as he wished. So I left and let the doctors on Atlantis bring me back to myself, so that I could be Torren’s father.”
“We remember the infant that was born,” said Teyla, “and the baby he grew into.”
“We let go of the baby,” said Kanaan, raising his hands over Torren’s head. “For the baby is no more. The baby with his toddling steps, and halting words, has left us.”
Teyla covered her face. “He left us! My baby is gone!”
“But Teyla,” said Kanaan, “see who has taken his place! It is Torren, and he is walking through Childhood’s Gate.”
“Is it so?” Teyla uncovered her face and looked up. “Oh, but he cannot go through Childhood’s Gate in these clothes! Or these shoes!”
“We are his parents,” said Kanaan, leaning down to pick up his bundle. “We shall clothe him for his journey.”
All watched in silence as a giggling Torren took off his too small clothing and put on the better fitting clothes that his parents had brought. It was amazing the difference the clothes made. When had his legs gotten so long? Torren stood there, barefoot, toes wiggling against the stone.
“He has no shoes, to run with speed when the Wraith come!” Teyla said, her hands covering her mouth.
“I am his mater avo,” said Halling, bringing forth a pair of boots. “I will shod his feet, that he may run with speed and hide when the Wraith come.”
He knelt down and helped Torren step into the small boots and after touching foreheads with the boy, returned to his place.
“But, he has no bag!” said Teyla, hands clasped before her. “How will he carry those possessions most precious when he moves with speed?”
Richard smiled. “I am his pater avo,” he said, stepping forward and holding up the sturdy, child-sized backpack he’d gotten for the boy, “I will give him a bag for his possessions most precious so that he may move with speed.”
One by one, each of his inner circle family gave him a gift to help him. John gave him a Swiss Army knife. Rodney gave him an Ancient primer, to help him learn to read Ancient to keep him safe. Ronon gave him a bow and a set of arrows just his size, to help him learn the ways of the hunter. And Amelia gave him a pendant on a chain that had a locater in it, so that if he was ever lost, they could find him.
“Now,” said Teyla, “Torren is ready to step through Childhood’s Gate.” She leaned down and touched her forehead to her son’s. “Safe journey, my son.”
“You are ready,” said Kanaan. “I look forward to the child to come.” He touched his forehead to Torren’s, then said, “Safe journey, my son.”
Torren looked up at them both solemnly and touched their hands. “I will miss you,” he said, then grinned widely and said, “Can we do it now?”
His parents laughed. “Yes, we can do it now,” said Teyla, sharing a look with Kanaan.
They bent down and grasped the hoop that lay around the stone and lifted it, then took a few steps before holding it upright in front of him so that the blue ribbons hung straight down, rippling and sparkling in the soft breeze. “Walk through Childhood’s Gate, Torren,” they said. “Walk, walk, walk…”
Everyone in the circles, and around them, adults and children, took up the chant. “Walk, Torren, walk! Walk, walk, walk! Walk, Torren, walk! Walk,walk, walk!”
Laughing, Torren started to spring off the rock, then suddenly, his face went solemn, and he looked at his parents. “I… I don’t know…”
“You’re ready,” said Kanann with a loving smile. “You’re five today!”
“Yay, five!” shouted Sheppard. “It’s awesome, T. J.!”
“Walk, Torren, walk! Walk, walk, walk! Walk, Torren, walk! Walk, walk, walk!”
Rodney suddenly left his spot and went to the other side of the hoop. “You know, sometimes it helps to take a journey if you know someone who loves you is waiting on the other side.” He knelt down and held out his arms. “I caught you last time, I can catch you again!”
Richard almost laughed, impressed yet again with McKay’s compassion.
Torren smiled, then ran through the hoop and straight into Rodney’s arms. “I did it!” he said as everyone cheered and rushed up to hug him.
“You sure did, T.J.!” said Sheppard, ruffling his hair. “Look at that! It’s a kid!”
“You have taken your next step,” said Halling, touching Torren’s head. “You are now a child.”
Later, as they sat at a table, watching the children admiring Torren’s gifts, Richard leaned toward Halling. “I suppose, in a society under the threat of the Wraith, I can understand this ceremony.”
Halling eyed him over his mug of ale, then smiled. “How wonderful it must be to grow up on a world where such things never happen.” He turned to watch the children. “Our children learn from a very early age how to stay quiet, and how to hide. When they are small, we carry them when the Wraith come culling. Across our backs, clinging to our chests, handing them to the younger and faster among us. It ensures their survival. When they are too old to be easily carried, we celebrate that step with the Childing. They are big enough and strong enough to run on their own. We begin teaching them woodcraft and survival skills, and we teach them how to stretch their legs and run. We begin teaching them how to dial the gate, and make them memorize as many safe gate addresses as we can. All to give them a chance.”
Richard shook his head. “One day, Halling, I hope that your people, and many others, no longer have to teach those skills because of the Wraith.”
“May the Ancestors grant it so,” said Halling, lifting his mug.
Richard lifted his and watched the ribbons of the Childhood Gate flutter and sparkle in the breeze.
Concubinus – concubine
Mater avo- maternal grandfather
Pater avo –paternal grandfather
Richard was frowning at a report from AR-7, trying to decipher terms such as “doing the Bernie” and wondering why it would “put the major freak” on someone when his email chimed. He flicked an eye at it and sighed when he saw it was from Medical. Setting aside a discussion with Sgt. Stackhouse to have a talk with his newest team member about avoiding the use of colloquialisms in his reports, Richard opened the email and sighed when he saw a very pointed reminder from Dr. Beckett the Second about the need for a checkup.
He really needed to stop calling the man that in his head. It was going to slip out if he wasn’t careful. At least it wasn’t as bad as Dr. McKay and his “Beckett 2.0.”
He touched his radio. “Dr. Beckett, might I have a moment of your time?”
“Ah, got the email, I see,” the doctor said cheerfully. “And verra prompt, too. I only just sent it.”
Richard smiled. Beckett’s cheerfulness was at times contagious. “Yes, well, I just wanted to point out that it may be a while before I can…”
“You’ve put it off twice already, Mr. Woolsey,” cut in Beckett smoothly but firmly. “An’ with the stress yeh’ve been under lately, I’m not too comfortable with yeh puttin’ me off again. Now, I’ve got some time open this afternoon, an’ I’m puttin’ yeh down, no further arguments, Mr. Woolsey.”
If I put the man off any further, his brogue was likely to thicken past the point of comprehensibility, at least by me, thought Richard with a bit of amusement. “Very well, Doctor, you do know best,” he said mildly and was rewarded by Beckett’s warm chuckle.
“I’ll email yeh the specific time, Mr. Woolsey,” the doctor said. “Beckett out.”
Richard went back to his reports and smiled. He didn’t fight Beckett too hard on the necessity of regular checkups. Not like he did the very poor substitute they’d had after the original Beckett’s death.
Unable to stop himself from grimacing, Richard reached into his desk and pulled out a brown envelope, staring at it thoughtfully. General O’Neill, Samantha Carter, Carolyn Lam, and former President Henry Hayes. It was their insurance. Just in case.
He sat back in his chair, staring out thoughtfully over the gate room. Jennifer Keller had been a very talented doctor. Brilliant, even. But she made things so much more difficult than they had to be, and toward the end, even her friends were unwilling to put up with her shenanigans.
Richard snorted at thought, remembering why that word was in his mind…
Richard hated taking time out of his schedule for a simple checkup, but Dr. Keller’s message had been pointed and … vaguely threatening in a way that made him reconsider what pissing off a woman who had access to scalpels, dangerous drugs, and had an intimate knowledge of the human body could mean for his further survival. So he’d scheduled a checkup and headed toward the Infirmary, hoping it would be brief and his blood pressure wouldn’t be elevated by anxiety and be cause for her to do one of her more… er… comprehensive examinations.
It was odd, because one would think, because she was in a steady relationship, it would have a stabilizing effect on her.
Of course, considering it was Rodney McKay she was in a relationship with, perhaps she might be excused her… crankiness. Oddly enough, there were those who were of the solid opinion that Dr. Keller had had a calming and civilizing effect on Dr. McKay, getting him to think before opening his mouth, and not being so harsh on people, which made a lot of folks on the city very happy.
Not all of them, though. Radek had been heard to say very plainly that it was unnatural and Colonel Sheppard… well… it was hard to tell with Sheppard. He was so laid back, but there were times that Richard wondered. And it seemed lately that McKay was breaking free of that civilizing influence somewhat and maybe that was why she was so cranky and bitchy.
He was pondering this as he stepped off the transporter and was walking toward Medical when an agitated soldier plowed right in to him.
“S-Sorry, Mr. Woolsey,” the man spluttered, grabbing Richard’s shoulders to keep him from stumbling. “I didn’t see you there, sir, I was just that upset.”
“Upset, Corporal Baker?” Richard asked, looking back the direction Baker had been coming from. The infirmary. “Why? Bad news?”
Baker’s face reddened. “I’m a tolerant man, Mr. Woolsey. I kin put up with a lot, and I have ever since I put on this here uniform. But I tell you one thing, Mr. Woolsey, I ain’t puttin’ up with that woman ,” and Baker pointed dramatically back toward the infirmary, “and… and… her shenanigans!”
Shocked, Richard let the man go and watched him all but flee into the transporter. What on earth? It made him wonder if postponing his checkup yet again would be worth it, then shook his head. No, that would just make things worse. So he gave himself a bit of a shake, smoothed the front of his uniform, rolled his neck, and walked through the doors.
It was empty.
Frowning, Richard turned and looked around, leaning forward and peeking around the corner.
“Dr. Keller?” he said calmly. “Dr. Keller? Hello? Is anyone here?”
But there was no answer. Normally, there would be at least one other doctor and two or three nurses bustling around, but there was no one, and the infirmary was eerily silent.
“Well,” he said aloud to himself, just to break the nerve-wracking silence of the place, “this is odd.”
He waited a few minutes more, in case someone showed up, namely the doctor, or popped a head out a door to say something like, “Oh, sorry, Mr. Woolsey, didn’t hear you, we’re watching a video with a patient,” or something similar. But no one showed up, and no heads popped out of doors.
Finally, he started walking slowly toward Dr. Keller’s office, giving someone to appear, but he met with nothing but silence.
Her office was empty, as was the cubby she liked to frequent when on duty. The laptop screen, however, showed his file was open, and his appointment time was blinking in the corner, bright and red with the words, “Missed it again!” showing above it.
But he’d actually gotten here five minutes early.
Richard turned and looked around. Empty. He was beginning to feel like one of those stories where the protagonist goes for a walk and walks through a gate into a garden to smell the roses and when he leaves, finds the world has completely emptied and he’s the only one there.
“This is not a story, and I am not alone,” he told himself firmly, raising his hand to touch his ear. “Woolsey to Control.”
“Control here, Mr. Woolsey, this is Amelia, what can I do for you, sir?”
Her voice was warm and reassuring, and he breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m supposed to be seeing Dr. Keller for a checkup right now. Has she been called out on an emergency?”
“No, Mr. Woolsey, and I see your appointment here in the schedule,” Amelia said briskly. “Oh, I see you missed it, too,” she said, sounding amused.
“No, actually, I haven’t,” Richard said mildly. “I’m standing here in the infirmary and there’s not a soul here.”
“I see she also has an inventory of the supply room scheduled today,” Amelia said after a moment. “You might check, they probably can’t hear you, it’s way in the back.”
“Thank you, Amelia,” Richard said, knowing it wasn’t very professional to call her by her first name, but it was such a relief to hear her voice that he let it go.
“No problem, sir,” she replied, a smile in her voice. “Control out.”
Snorting, Richard squared his shoulders and headed for the supply room, taking the opportunity to peek in rooms and cubbies along the way, just in case, but the entire infirmary was as empty as it sounded. Irritated, Richard touched his radio again. “Woolsey to Keller, did you forget about our appointment?” He waited, but there was nothing. He tried again as he walked down the hall leading to the supply room. “Woolsey to Keller, can you hear me? Dr. Keller, please answer…”
His voice was taking on an odd echoing quality, and it took him a minute to realize he was hearing it both in the hall… and through his radio. He stopped and spoke again. “Dr. Keller, report!”
He could definitely hear himself through the radio, with an almost infinitesimal delay.
There was a desk just outside the supply room, and as he approached, he could see, as clear as day, Keller’s earwig lying on the desk.
The door was slightly ajar, and he could hear the low murmur of voices beyond it. Approaching cautiously, he peeked in, then stepped back hastily.
“Mmmmm, Jennifer, you taste sooooo good,” the person he’d seen kneeling in front Dr. Keller said with a hum. “Tangy, just the way I imagined…”
Keller laughed nervously. “Well, you know… I’ve never done this before. Not… you know, not with a girl…”
Well, that confirmed for Richard that the person kneeling between Keller’s open thighs wasn’t a male soldier badly in need of a haircut.
The other woman’s laugh was throaty and knowing. “Then I’m your first?”
He really, really didn’t need to know this. Really.
Walking back hastily down the hall and around the corner, he looked for the cooler and quickly got himself a cup of water, swallowing it down before taking several deep breaths to calm himself. Clearing his throat, he straightened his jacket, then walked back toward the supply closet. This time, he called out, “Hello? Dr. Keller? Anybody back here? Hello?” He waited a heartbeat, then said aloud, “Oh, well… I’ll just reschedule” and began to turn as if to walk away.
There was the sound of hasty scrambling down the hall, then Keller, looking somewhat rumpled and starry-eyed, came rushing out. “Oh, Mr. Woolsey! I forgot completely! Just… give me a moment and…”
He smiled with a kindness he didn’t feel. “That’s all right, Dr. Keller, if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather reschedule. I just realized that I haven’t been giving you and Dr. McKay enough time off together.”
Keller blinked, then went beet red. “Oh. Oh! Well… uh… thank you, Mr. Woolsey,” she said, looking extremely grateful. “I mean, if you don’t mind, of course!” she hastily added.
“Think nothing of it,” Richard said blandly, and took his leave.
I suppose, he thought irritably as he marched back to the transporter, that that means she is no longer dating Dr. McKay.
The sound of a throat clearing brought Richard out of his mental meanderings and he looked up to see Chuck standing at the door. “I’m sorry, Chuck, were you standing there long?”
“It’s all right, Mr. Woolsey,” Chuck said, his lips twitching. “It was barely a minute. You, um… wanted to be alerted when the Daedelus arrived.”
“Oh, yes, thank you, Chuck,” Richard said, getting up. “They’re due today.”
“Yes,” said Chuck, his eyes dancing, and he hurriedly turned away. “Daedelus has landed on the east pier and is about to debark.”
Richard watched him go with a frown. That was odd.
As he made his way to the doors leading out to the east pier, he couldn’t help noticing that there seemed to be a lot of people leaving early and heading toward the opposite side of the city. Was he missing something? Was there an event happening tonight and no one had notified him?
The doors to the pier opened, and Richard was treated to a most terrifying sight, one which would haunt him for the rest of his days.
Colonel Steven Caldwell staggered through the doors, clinging to the frame, gasping and wheezing as he lifted a tear stained face to Richard’s shocked eyes.
“Colonel,” Richard said as the man’s face reddened alarmingly, reaching toward Caldwell as it looked like he was about to collapse, shaking his head and waving a hand at Richard. “Colonel, please, let me help you.”
Caldwell opened his mouth as if to warn Richard, or bequeath his last dying words… and began bellowing with laughter as he sagged helplessly against the wall.
Mouth agape with astonishment, Richard stared at him, which seemed to make it worse. Caldwell practically whined, he was laughing so hard, sliding down to sit on the floor, one hand around his middle, the other up as his eyes squinched shut, fresh tears rolling down his cheeks.
Richard shuddered. It just… wasn’t natural. Caldwell never laughed. This had to be some sort of bizarre Wraith weapon, or maybe they came across some sort of strange Ancient Ascension machine… laugh your way to Ascension or something similar.
It wouldn’t be the strangest thing the Ancients had ever done, really.
Just as Richard was about to call Medical for a mental health assessment for the man, the doors hissed open again, there was an odd squeaking and creaking sound, and Richard looked up… and was struck speechless.
A vision was walking toward him in tight bright blue pants that ended at the knee. White stockings covered his legs from knees to feet, which were clad in tight little black shoes with the biggest silver buckles Richard had ever seen outside of a “Pride and Prejudice” film retrospective. As his eyes moved up, the horror increased. The legs were topped by a billowing, frothing waterfall of lace with two waving arms sticking out of it. At the top, a familiar pair of blue eyes peered indignantly out from under a swirl of hair that was swept up in a twisting mass that looked eerily like a chocolate swirl ice cream cone, complete to the little curl on the top. When light hit the horror’s face, Richard gasped at the incongruity of seeing makeup a geisha would envy. “What… what… what the hell??” he spluttered.
The rumbling Richard had thought were the engines of the Daedelus powering down rose to a crescendo of fury, and he realized belatedly that it was the growling of the man he hadn’t recognized until the explosion of Czech burst forth.
Richard didn’t understand most of it, though he caught “Useless! Useless!” when Radek Zelenka pointed at Caldwell, and a horrified, “They called me pretty!!” at one point, though the rest of it was too fast and too… magnificent to catch.
“Dr. Zelenka,” Richard tried to say soothingly, though as the wide red mouth blasted more Czech abuse at him, the expressively lined eyes widened to glare at him, his control was strained to its limits, and he couldn’t help the little sniggers that slipped out, and they got worse as the eyes narrowed in fury. “Dr…. Dr. Zelenka… I… i can’t… under…st-st-stand you-hoo-hoo-hoo hoo hooo HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA…” and Richard was lost, laughter bursting from him in a great braying gale as his body bent forward, his hands going to his knees to keep himself from hitting the floor. The mixture of indignation, fury, and hurt in Zelenka’s eyes just made it so much worse, and when the scientist threw up his arms and shouted, “Zasrane!!” while looking expressively up to the sky, all Richard could think was, Bad Kabuki Theatre, and he was gone again.
When he could breathe, he turned to look for Colonel Caldwell, and found the man lying on the floor on his back, mouth open as he waved his hands helplessly in front of him, making little gasping noises, and Richard struggled to draw in a gasping breath, only to find an angrily pointing finger mere millimeters from the tip of his nose.
“This,” said Zelenka, his voice trembling with great emotion, eyes piercing to Richard’s very soul, “this… is why I do NOT… leave CITY!!”
And wrapping his fury (and his lace) around him like a cloak of dignity, Zelenka squeaked and creaked angrily about six steps before the ominous sound of straining fabric filled the air. Zelenka stopped, then started again. He got two more steps before the straining sound was replaced by the sound of tearing silk.
Tears streaming down his cheeks, Richard gripped his sanity and his laughter with all the strength of a desperate man until Zelenka was at the door of the transporter. The little Czech turned and pointed at Richard in a foreboding manner. “Laugh, and you will have cold showers and backed up toilet for two months,” Zelenka said darkly.
Richard clamped his hands over his mouth and watched as Dr. Zelenka backed into the transporter carefully, then turned slightly to press his destination. With one last shriek of overstressed cloth, the doors closed and Zelenka was gone.
After what seemed like hours, Richard was finally calm enough to sit up and look at Colonel Caldwell, who was still lying on his back, seemingly barely able to breathe. “What… what the hell…” Richard gasped, and Caldwell groaned, flapping an exhausted hand at him.
“Ruler… wanted… t’keep… Zelenka… as a pet,” Caldwell wheezed. “His… very own… little… engineer-heer-hee-hee haw haw haaaaaaaaaaa…”
“No!” Richard tried to say firmly, but it was difficult when he couldn’t stop sniggering. “No, do not make me laugh again…”
“He had him all dolled up,” Caldwell said, his voice high with strain, “and perched on his big ol’ knee… singing to him… while he did his haaaairrr…”
Was it really possible to die laughing?
Richard wasn’t sure how long they sprawled there, laughing and crying, until someone found them and hauled their exhausted carcasses to the Infirmary for a health check, but Richard knew he would never, to his dying day, be able to wipe the sight of Radek Zelenka, the Geisha Fop of Pegasus, from his brain.
Zasrane- fuck this shit (via Google translate)
Richard sat at one of the many tables set around the main fire, mug of Athosian ale in one hand. Jinto’s coming of age ceremony had been beautiful and touching, and he was honored to have been asked to be part of it. He watched several of the young man’s age-mates, as Halling had called them, who had already been through their own ceremonies gather around Jinto, the girls looking at him shyly. He’d have quite a report to fill out for the SGC’s anthropologists once he got back to the city.
Halling sat down next to him, his own mug of ale in hand, and he nodded toward his son. “It was a good ceremony,” he said, smiling fondly at the tall boy who was now leaning against one his male friends. “Perhaps soon, we shall be celebrating a joining as well.”
“Joining?” Richard stared in consternation at Jinto. Surely he wasn’t old enough yet? But then, considering how short the lifespans of the people here, thanks to the Wraith… but still. “Jinto is so young, how can he know…”
Halling chuckled. “My son is, indeed, not quite ready for that step, though I can see the beginnings of his cognatio even now.”
“Cognatio?” Richard knew that Ancient and Latin were very similar, but this one, he was having trouble with.
“It means… family group. But among my people, it means… the knowing.” Halling nodded toward the two young women who had moved closer to Jinto and the young man standing with him, along with a third who stood behind them now, effectively cutting the rest out. “The people that you know… will be your family. Those five have been together since they were children, and when they are ready, there will be children again.” He met Richard’s shocked eyes with a smile. “The larger the parent group, the better the chances an adult from the cognatio will survive a culling to raise any surviving children.”
“Is that what happened to you? To your… cognotio?” asked Richard, turning to study Halling’s face.
Halling sighed and looked down, contemplating the ale in his hand. “There were three in my cognatio,” he said softly. “And we were contemplating adding a fourth. We had four children, Jinto was the second youngest. Two men and a woman came through the ring, the woman was with child and she was very ill. Jinto’s mother was a midwife, and she went to help her, hoping to save the baby, but…” he shook his head.
“I’m sorry,” Richard said, able to guess the rest.
Halling nodded. “The two men buried their woman and wanted to settle with us, but by nightfall, they were both ill… and so was Jintal.” He looked up, his eyes distant with memory. “It took three days for Jintal to die. And with her, a great many of our people. That was two years before Sheppard and his men came through the ring.” Halling’s eyes moved to where Sheppard and McKay were standing near the fire, Teyla and Ronon sitting on a log close by. “I wonder if we will have a joining soon, within Sheppard’s cognatio.”
Shocked, Richard looked again at the two men who stood just close enough to brush arms from time to time, though their heads inclined together as they talked, and they bumped shoulders every once in a while. “Sheppard has a cognatio?”
“Yes,” said Halling, amused again. “I think, however, you call it a team.”
Richard snorted even as his heart ached. The last message burst they’d gotten from the SGC had said the repeal was basically a done deal, but Sheppard was still being careful, and McKay was just as militant about guarding their privacy. Richard would never tell them that he’d already quietly dealt with the three soldiers and two scientists who’d tried to file reports about their “inappropriate conduct,” and Colonel Caldwell had turned out to be a surprisingly good co-conspirator on that front.
He watched as Teyla leaned forward to tug at Rodney’s hand, laughing up at him as she handed him something from the plate in her lap. He could remember at least one time when his lead scientist and military commander had not been quite so careful…
It had been a long day. Hell, it had been a long week. Discovering three planets that had been almost completely razed by the Wraith was bad enough, but finding out that Keller had been trying, unsuccessfully, to convince the Chief Science Officer of the expedition to leave Atlantis and return to Earth was even worse. Richard had found himself filing out a number of reprimands among the engineering staff for depriving Dr. Keller of hot water for her showers, messing with the environmental controls of her quarters so that they were either too hot or too cold, and causing the lights to come on in the middle of her sleep cycle. When it got to the point that he had to reprimand the kitchen staff for adding habanero sauce to her oatmeal, Richard called the woman in for a meeting and suggested that it might be in her best interests to return to Earth as soon as possible.
“Me?” Keller stared at him, her mouth hanging open with shock before she recovered. “Why me? Why should I be the one to return and not the people who’ve been screwing around with me?”
Richard sighed. “Because you are the one who is unhappy here,” he said, trying to be patient.
“I… don’t understand,” she said, frowning in puzzlement, and Richard sighed, rubbing his forehead, trying to push off the headache that was pounding through his head.
“Doctor, I know about your argument with Dr. McKay,” he said finally, looking up to meet her eyes frankly. “Everyone knows about your argument with Dr. McKay, which is why they are, as you put it, screwing around with you.”
Keller huffed and crossed her arms across her chest. “He’s just being stubborn and resistant to change. Believe me, Mr. Woolsey, he was talking all about how he’d like to settle down and teach a doctoral level course in physics at a university when we were on leave!”
Richard heaved a sigh. “Dr. Keller, can you really see Dr. McKay at this point in his life voluntarily taking a position at a university? Dear God, woman, can you not see how bad an idea that is? He is happy here.”
“He complains all the time,” Keller protested, “believe me, Mr. Woolsey, he is not happy here!”
“Complaining is his default mode,” said Richard, who had actually taken the time to get to know Rodney’s staff. “It’s when he’s not complaining that you have to worry.” He folded his hands together on top of his desk and fixed a keen eye on her. “Dr. Keller, what is really going on here? Why are you so determined and eager to return to Earth? For a while there, you put a great deal of distance between yourself and Dr. McKay. In fact, most of us thought you had finally decided to end things between you. Then all of a sudden, you won’t leave his side and you’re insisting that you both return to Earth. What. Happened?”
Her face went pale, but she tossed her hair back with determination. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I love Rodney, and I was very busy, if you remember, coming up with a treatment for stomach virus that swept the city. Rodney was one of the few who didn’t get it, because I stayed away from him!”
Richard snorted. “McKay didn’t get it because he was resistant to it,” he said dryly, and tilted his head to eye her. “I did not want to bring this up, Dr. Keller. I waited for you to volunteer it, but you’ve danced around it long enough. I couldn’t help but notice that you returned your attentions to Dr. McKay after Sgt. Mehra was killed.” He watched her gasp and tears begin to fill her eyes.
“You’re wrong!” Keller said adamantly. “You… how could you say such a thing! She was my… friend, but…she had… she had nothing to do with… how… what would make you say such a thing?”
Richard studied her for a long moment, then stood. “Very well, Dr. Keller. Come with me,” and he came around his desk to grip her arm, forcing her to her feet and making her walk with him.
“Stop it!” she started to shout, and he pulled her around to face him.
“I would suggest you cease this ridiculous behavior, Dr. Keller,” he said quietly. “That is, unless you want Dr. McKay’s minions who work up here in Control to hear you and plot yet more ways for you to suffer?”
Her mouth clamped shut, two red anger spots appearing high on her cheeks, and Richard nodded and pulled her along.
She waited until they were out of the gateroom and in one of the quieter corridors to demand, “Where are we going?”
“There is something you need to see,” Richard said, bracing himself, and sure enough, she started to struggle again.
“I don’t need to see anything!” she said desperately. “Rodney loves me, Mr. Woolsey. He loves me!”
“Yes, of course,” Richard said grimly, not letting go. “That’s why he came to demand why you were ignoring him.”
Keller gasped, then said, “He knew why I wasn’t seeing him! I was exposed to the virus every day, I didn’t want to run the risk of infecting him!” She tired to pull away. “He’s important to this city! We couldn’t risk him getting sick!”
“Really? If he’s so important to the city, then why are you suddenly so eager to get him away from it? Or is it a who you want to get him away from?” He pulled her down the corridor he’d seen them going down earlier, hating that he was having to do this. Richard just had to trust in his ability to find them, hoping that because he wanted to find them this time, it wouldn’t fail him.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Keller all but wailed, trying desperately to tug her arm free. “What…?”
“Hush,” he said, listening intently. He heard it again, the soft murmur of voices, male voices, and he turned to glare at her. “One last chance, Jennifer,” he said forcefully, staring into her frightened eyes. “One last chance to come clean.”
She stared at him, then shook her head in denial.
Hating himself, Richard dragged her closer to the door of the little balcony, clamping a hand firmly over her mouth as he used her own arm to effectively restrain her against him. All those hours with Ronon were paying off.
“God, Rodney… you feel so good,” they heard Sheppard say. “Why? Why’d we wait so long?”
“Because we’re both stupid,” McKay said, his voice shaking. “Because your military is backwards and stupid, and then that parasite ate my brain and… and… John… more… give me more…”
“Always,” Sheppard said, and they heard a squelching sound.
Jennifer struggled and he felt tears running over his fingers. She was still fighting him. Richard sighed, and edged them both around until they were angled so that they could both see through the doors.
The moons were full, and they could clearly see Sheppard sitting on the floor with McKay straddling his lap. Both men were naked, and there was an open tube of lubricant visible on the floor by McKay’s knee. They were pressed tightly together, Sheppard looking up as he kissed McKay’s throat… no, thought Richard. They’re not Sheppard and McKay right now. They’re just John and Rodney. John kissed his way up Rodney’s throat, one hand on Rodney’s back, the other working lower down, and it wasn’t hard to tell, by the way Rodney squirmed, what that hand was doing.
Richard could feel Keller whimper softly against his hand, but he held her ruthlessly in place. She would never believe if it she couldn’t see it. He had to destroy any hope she had of coming between them.
Rodney shuddered and moaned, “John,” and John chuckled smugly.
“Found it,” he said as Rodney shuddered again and gasped.
He swallowed thickly, then said, “Now…. now, dammit… I’m ready…”
“Yeah, you are, baby,” John said, and pulled his fingers out. Rodney reached for the bottle and poured some of the contents into his hand, then reached down between them, and John gasped and groaned. “Rodney… don’t make me come yet…”
“Fuck, you’d better not,” Rodney said, and he dropped the bottle, lifting up on his knees. Both their hands were busy under Rodney for a moment, and then Rodney slowly lowered himself, gasping a little.
“Okay?” John asked gently, kissing his throat again.
“Yeah, just… oh, God,” he said suddenly, and Richard saw John’s hand had gone down between them, clearly gripping Rodney’s cock and working it gently.
Keller gave a small sob as Rodney moaned and eased the rest of the way down. “John,” he said, his voice different now, “John… I need… I need…”
“I’ll give you everything you need, Rodney,” John said, staring up into his lover’s eyes. “I love you… I love you, Rodney…”
“I love you, John,” Rodney said plainly, cupping John’s face in his hands and leaning forward to kiss him. “I always have, even when I was being an idiot about it. I love you… love you…”
Keller moaned, and Richard pulled her back as the two men started to move together, John’s hands holding steadily on Rodney’s hips as Rodney whined needily, leaning down to kiss John again and again. Richard pulled her away, and back up the corridor until they couldn’t hear the two lovers any longer, and she wasn’t fighting him any more, moving passively at his side until he was able to set her down at his desk again. Tears were flowing down her cheeks, and he reached into his drawer for a clean handkerchief, handing it over and then getting her a glass of water, setting it where she could reach it before sitting down.
After she was calm, she looked up at him. “Why?” she asked softly.
“Because self-deception isn’t a pretty trait,” Richard said bluntly. “Because you were quite blithely ruining three lives without caring one bit about the consequences. You were very well aware it would have killed both of them, and it concerns me, Dr. Keller, that you didn’t care.”
She sipped the water and tossed her hair back as she stared at him. “I do care about Rodney,” she protested.
“No,” he said firmly. “You don’t. Because if you did, after you realized he was in love with John, you not only would have bowed out, as you so clearly did, but you would have done everything you could have to all but shove him into John’s lap. I think you were prepared to… and then Dusty Mehra was killed.”
Jennifer Keller covered her face with her hands, and Richard waited as she fought the grief back. Then it came out, and it was very ugly, indeed.
“He killed her! He killed her! She’d be alive if he hadn’t insisted that she go on that mission!” Jennifer raged, her eyes flashing dangerously. “She wasn’t supposed to go, but that stupid Baker! And all because I threw a tray of sutures and bandages at him when he was being such a fucking wimp! Baker blamed her for it, and the fucking idiot never realized she was the one who kept me from going after him and he went and deliberately broke his arm, right in front of her, because he knew she’d have to go in his place!” She stood up and began to pace. “And Sheppard… Sheppard insisted!”
Richard touched his earwig while she paced and raged, saying very softly, “Dr. Biro to my office, Dr. Keller is having a mental breakdown.”
“On my way, Mr. Woolsey,” the doctor said calmly, and Richard reached under his desk to alert the control room staff.
“She’d be alive if it weren’t for them!” Jennifer was insisting, her face a mess of tears. “So I punished Baker, and I was going to punish the Colonel by taking what was most precious to him away!”
Richard frowned. “You punished Baker? How did you punish Baker?” He, of course, knew the true story of how Corporal Baker broke his arm, since he was there when it happened. “Dr. Keller?”
She smirked. “He’s not immune to nanites,” she sing-songed, doing a little dance.
Richard toggled his radio. “Dr. Zelenka, I think Corporal Baker would benefit from an EM burst right about now. He’s infected with hostile nanites.”
“Right away,” said Zelenka just as Dr. Biro and two Marines came into Richard’s office.
“What?” said Jennifer, frowning with surprise when she spotted them. “What’s going on?”
Biro didn’t waste any time. She walked up to Jennifer and jabbed the syringe into her arm. Whatever it was, it was fast acting. Jennifer hardly had a chance to open her mouth before she was wilting into the waiting arms of a Marine, who swept her up and deposited her on the gurney that was waiting outside.
Biro turned to Richard. “Did I hear something about Corporal Baker and an EM burst?”
“She implied she’d infected him with nanites,” Richard said grimly. “I didn’t want to take a chance.”
“Fuck,” Biro said, shaking her head. “I knew she was slipping, but I hadn’t realized it was that bad. We’ve been keeping an eye on her, Mr. Woolsey, but she’s… tricky.”
“She’s dangerously intelligent is what she is,” Richard said, watching as the young doctor was strapped carefully to the gurney. “And she’s grieving.”
Biro frowned. “Grieving? For whom?”
“Sgt. Mehra,” Richard said sadly.
The doctor’s snort startled him and he blinked at her. “What?”
“Mr. Woolsey,” Biro said carefully, “Jennifer Keller may look sweet and innocent, but she’s not even close.” She looked back out where the Marines were waiting to wheel the gurney away. “She told Mehra to fuck off after two days, said she wasn’t a fucking lesbian, and she had her sights on a much bigger prize.”
“McKay,” Biro agreed. “Dusty was in love with that manipulative little Barbie doll, and she kept trying, but…” she shrugged. “I think that’s why Dusty volunteered for that mission when Baker broke his arm.” She sighed and went to the door. “I suggest we send her back to the SGC for treatment.”
“Agreed,” said Richard, shaking his head as he watched them go. “Oh, what a tangled web we weave,” he said softly, and went to his desk, sitting down and reaching to open a bottom drawer. He pulled out a bottle of bourbon and a shot glass and poured himself a shot, knocking it back. “They’re not paying me enough for this.”
Richard looked up, shaken from his contemplation of the past and found Teyla smiling down at him. “Sorry, were you speaking to me?”
She smiled. “Torren wishes to know where his pater avos has been hiding!”
“Well, then,” said Richard, standing slowly, thanks to the ale, “I guess I’d better go see the little man, then.”
Teyla smiled fondly at him, then reached up, laying her hands on his shoulders and closing her eyes expectantly.
Surprised, Richard bent down and touched his forehead to hers, surprised at the intimacy of it. Then she took his hand. “Come, Richard, your family awaits you.”
It took a moment, but he realized she was right. They were his family, all these people that he had grown to know, and found himself very fond of. Even Sheppard and McKay.
The two men were watching him as he drew near, and Torren launched himself at Richard. “Woozy!”
“That’s right,” said Sheppard with a grin. “Grandpa Woozy is here, TJ. Let’s get this party started!”
Laughing ruefully, Richard sat down and let Torren climb in his lap, taking the skewer that Ronon handed him and poking it carefully through the ritual marshmallow before helping the boy hold it over the flames. As they all began to sing Torren’s S’Mores Song, Richard thought perhaps he didn’t need to write his memoirs after all.
His best legacy was here, in this place, with these people. His family.
And maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing after all.