In Search Of...
“Colonel?” Elizabeth asked as Teyla, Ronon, Rodney, and John walked back through the Gate. “John? Why are you…oily?”
Teyla gave a small smile and John and Rodney exchanged a hasty glance before John answered. “Well, that’s a long story.”
There was a small smile, almost smug, on Teyla’s face as they hit the other side of the wormhole, but John shrugged it off.
“So, what are we doing here, again?” Rodney asked, looking around at the forest with obvious distaste.
The smile became more pronounced for a moment as Teyla replied. “The Magdean are renowned as scholars, Dr. McKay. We are here because you want more ZPMs and these are the best people to ask for information on locations. They have access to their own history as well as dozens of other peoples. If they do not know about it, it is likely that no one does.”
“And why didn’t we go there in the first place?” Rodney asked sourly.
There was that smile again. “They have some rather..rigid..requirements. I thought it best to wait until necessary.”
“And a massive onslaught of Wraith didn’t seem important enough to you?”
John had to admit. Rodney had a point.
“I did ask,” she said patiently. “But they were in hiding until the Wraith vessels passed through this area. The Wraith have left their area for the moment and, as such, they have opened their homes to visitors again.”
“Oh,” Rodney replied, only looking slightly mollified. They walked along in relative silence the rest of the way to the village Teyla had mentioned. Rodney, of course, had a running monologue going the entire way, but that was mostly normal. John would have been worried if Rodney hadn’t said anything. As it was, by the time they reached the village, Rodney had talked himself out, so it was in complete silence that they entered the village.
The village is certainly lively, was John’s first thought. Children were running around while parents looked on indulgently, women were grouped around a large tub filled with water and were chatting amiably, men were sitting sharpening hunting weapons. People were everywhere and it was obvious that they were all cheerful. After a moment, a young girl rushed up to them.
“Welcome,” she said, addressing Teyla. “I was sent to fetch you. Grandmother wishes to preside over the Rite.”
“The Rite?” John asked warily. Teyla hadn’t said anything about a rite.
The girl ignored him and spoke to Teyla again. “You will come with me?” It was a question and, instead of waiting for an answer, she turned around and headed off into the village. Teyla turned to John and gave him a pointed look. John shrugged and headed after the girl.
A few minutes later, they were a large, round building that looked to be at the north end of the village. The girl brushed aside the fabric covering the entrance and gestured them inside. “Grandmother.”
Warily, John walked through, giving a look at Ronon, silently telling him to bring up the rear. He walked through the entrance into a large room. An elderly-looking woman was sitting in the center. Once they were all in, the woman nodded at Teyla.
“Teyla Emmagen. It is good to see your face, again.”
“As it is yours, Grandmother,” Teyla said, nodding back.
“Ronon Dex,” the woman said suddenly. “Is that you I spy? It has been many years since I last saw your face. You were but a boy then.”
“It is, Grandmother,” he rumbled, bowing. “I am long past ready to participate in the Rite.”
Rodney gave John a worried look. “Uhh, look, I don’t mean to pester, but what is this supposed rite?”
The woman gave Rodney a bland look. “It is the Rite. The ritual into adulthood. You are but children until you participate.”
“Children, right,” Rodney said, still looking wary. “And what does this ritual entail?”
“You will lose your virginity,” she said simply.
The answer to Rodney’s question brought John up short. “With all due respect, ma’am, I’m, at least, not a virgin.”
“Are you really saying you think I’m a virgin, Colonel?” Rodney started. Then he got a look of pure amusement. “You know, I almost think I could live with it with the thought of you being a virgin, too. Colonel John Sheppard, the Kirk of the Pegasus galaxy, a virgin.”
“Rodney,” John said, warning in his tone.
“No, no, please,’ Rodney said, holding up a stalling hand. “I think I may have to write this down for posterity. Videotape it, even. Or maybe not, since apparently my words are landing on virgin ears.”
“I am not a virgin,” John growled.
Rodney grinned. “She says you are. And she is Grandmother, after all. She can’t be wrong.”
“Are you saying you’re a virgin, then, Rodney?” Sheppard drawled, turning the tables on him.
“Well, I…of course not. I mean, really. I have had…at least, I mean…” He trailed off, looking suddenly uncomfortable. Which made John raise an eyebrow.
“Is there something you want to tell us, Rodney?”
Rodney glared at him. “No thank you, Colonel. I have had—well, I have had before.”
“Are you sure about that?” Sheppard drawled.
He could almost see the heated response forming in Rodney’s brain when Teyla stepped between them.
“Gentlemen,” she said quietly but firmly. “Grandmother is never wrong about this. You therefore are virgins and will be treated as such. And I ask,” she said, in a voice much quieter, “that you treat her with the respect she deserves. If for no other reason than she may be the keeper for the location of your ZPM, Dr. McKay. You two are not children. Please don’t behave like it.”
A flush crawled up John’s face. “You’re right.” He turned past her to bow at the old woman. “You have my apologies,” he said, bowing and giving Rodney a sidelong glance. After a moment, Rodney repeated the words and bowed, too. His look at John, though, promised payback.
“Good,” Grandmother said, finally. “You are beginning to act like adults. As neither of you have experience with the Rite, you will have the opportunity to prepare together. Normally, each person is prepared separately, as Ronon will be.”
The soldier in John didn’t like that statement. Didn’t like that Ronon was going to be ‘prepared’ somewhere that he wasn’t. But Teyla gave him a reassuring glance and he relaxed minutely. Grandmother made a small gesture and, though John swore that there was no one else in the room, the flap in front of the entrance opened and two young girls entered.
“You will help prepare these boys,” Grandmother said, gesturing at Rodney, John, and Ronon. “Ronon has witnessed the Rite before, but the other two men haven’t. They are to be prepared together.”
The girls curtsied. “Yes, Grandmother,” one said, and took John by one hand and Rodney by the other. “It will be done,” the other said, and took Ronon’s hand.
The girls took them out of the house and down a dirt path. After a while, the girl holding Ronon’s hand veered off, and John’s eyes followed them until they were out of sight. A few minutes later, he and Rodney were standing outside of a small, wood building. The girl tugged them inside and John blinked. There was a whirlpool in the center of the room.
The girl gestured at the whirlpool. “You are to remove your clothing and cleanse yourself. You will be in here an hour, but I will return in fifteen minutes to assure that all is well.” That being said, she left the room.
John looked over at Rodney who, for some reason, looked unaccountably nervous. “It’s fine, Rodney. It’s just a public bath. Romans had to do the same thing. I’ll even keep my back turned.” He did turn his back and waited until he heard the gentle splashing of a body going into the water before quickly shedding his own clothes and crawling into the water. The very, very warm water.
“See?” he finally said. “Not so bad.”
“Of course not, Colonel,” Rodney said, sending him a glare. John grinned back and relaxed even more. “Why do you think they think we’re virgins?” Rodney finally asked.
“I have no idea,” he said, shrugging. “Local custom, I guess. I didn’t think Ronon would be the type to buy into this, though,” he mused. “And I really hope the girls that brought us in here aren’t meant to be the ones to – er – cure our virginity.”
“Oh, god,” Rodney said, giving a visible shudder. “Those girls can’t be older than thirteen. I’d happily stay a virgin if it meant not sleeping with them.”
The statement sounded odd to John and it took him a minute to realize that Rodney hadn’t added something to the effect of ‘a virgin in their eyes’. Huh, odd. But he didn’t want to have to think about this anymore. The water was hot and relaxing and he had the man who was essentially his best friend in here with him. Much pleasanter than having Ronon. Although when he’d started equating Rodney with pleasantness was anyone’s guess. So instead of thinking, he let out a happy sigh and closed his eyes, stretching out in the water.
“Colonel?” Rodney’s tone was a little worried, but that wasn’t very unusual coming from Rodney. John opened one eye lazily.
“You don’t think they’re going to make us have sex to become non-virgins, do you?”
“How many times have we been put in that situation?”
John laughed and cut him off. “How many times haven’t I gotten us out of it?”
A beat and then, “Never.”
“Good, then,” he said, closing his eye again. “It won’t happen this time, either.”
He felt what seemed to be a hand on his knee but he was too comfortable to wonder about it. It didn’t leave, but it didn’t move, either, so he was content to let it be. What could have been minutes or hours later one of the girls stuck her head back in.
“It is time. You are to be prepared.”
“Well, that sounds foreboding,” John said with false cheer. And then he waited for her to go away. When she didn’t, he sent her a look. “Can you leave? So we can get out and get dressed?”
She shook her head. “You must come to be prepared as you were born.”
“Colonel…” Rodney started, but John waved a hand at him.
“My frie—I’m shy. Maybe we could have a towel or something? Just a towel. One for each.”
The girl looked confused for a moment and her head disappeared. A few minutes later she was back with two small towels. Very small.
“I can barely fit in one of these, Colonel.”
“You can fit, Rodney, and that’s what matters. It sounds like we’ll have something to wear after this ‘cleansing’ thing, so it’s only temporarily.”
John shooed the girl out again so that they could put on the towels. He glanced warily at the weapons he was leaving behind. Teyla swore that these people could be trusted, but she’d said that about the Genii. It was something that Ronon said the same thing. That he’d known them as a child. With a small shrug, he headed out and followed the girl down a small trail to another building. “Cleansing,” she said and held the entrance sheet open for them.
It was with a surprised blink that he took in the contents of the building. Two women – and these were women and not girls – scantily clad standing next to two flat…tables? They looked more like couches than tables, but they didn’t have a back or sides to them. Next to the couch/table was a smaller table filled with what looked to be a selection of oils.
“Colonel,” Rodney said in a quiet mutter, “this had better be just a massage. That doesn’t include certain sensitive areas.”
“Relax, Rodney,” John said, but he was pretty sure he wasn’t very convincing. At least not since he couldn’t convince himself. How did he manage to get in these situations?
“You will lie down,” one of the girls said, pointing to John and patting the table.
“Right.” He moved to sit, but she stopped him, putting a hand on the top of the towel.
“You do not need this,” she said, and removed it from his grip.
Well, it’s not like I’ve never had public showers before, even if they didn’t include women, he thought to himself. Or Rodney. He hopped up on the table and lay on his stomach.
“Good,” she said with a pleased sound and moments later his back was getting oils rubbed into it. He turned his head slightly and looked at Rodney’s blissful expression at the ministrations being performed on him.
“Happy there, Rodney,” John said with a small laugh.
“As a clam, Colonel. We need to have this done more often.”
“And here you were worri—“ he said, breaking off when she reached a rather sensitive spot. And there was the problem with having a massage from a beautiful woman. Certain parts reacted without him wanting them too
“Of course I was worried, Colonel,” Rodney said, continuing the conversation as if John had never stopped speaking. “And will be worried again once this massage is over with. For the moment? This lovely lady can do anything she wants to. Anything at all.” And then Rodney gave a rather gutteral moan and stretched. John could almost see the laziness take Rodney’s body over. Finally, John closed his eyes, cursing the image that had just burned itself into his brain.
At some point later, he was handed a loose robe and the women left the room. Thanking his lucky stars for that, John put it on carefully, making sure that everything was covered properly.
“Colonel…” Rodney started, a worried tone bleeding into the contentment he’d had since the massage had began.
“Don’t, Rodney.” He finally turned around and saw the almost panicked expression on Rodney’s face. John walked up to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t,” he said again. And they shared a look. What that look was, John wasn’t precisely sure, but it seemed to reassure Rodney and he relaxed, nodding.
“Okay, Colonel,” he finally said, grinning a little. “I suppose it’ll be worth it to see you get yourself out of this.”
“That’s the spirit,” John said, returning the grin. He turned when the two young girls came in.
“You will come with us, now.” Rodney and John shared a look and, as one, headed for the entrance. They traveled back over the path they’d first come down, passing the spot that Ronon had left to and continuing back down to Grandmother’s house. They saw Ronon and Teyla waiting outside the front entrance. John almost didn’t recognize Ronon. He had a rather… peaceful expression on his face. It was disturbing.
“Ronon? Everything okay?” John asked, even as the girls continued to lead him away.
“Of course, Colonel. Wonderful.” And then he smiled.
Just before they went through the entrance to Grandmother’s house, John grabbed Rodney’s arm and pulled him off to the side of the house, away from prying eyes. “I think we’re screwed.”
“No, really? How did you come to that conclusion, Colonel? The orgasmic look on Ronon’s face? Or him saying things were wonderful? Please enlighten me.” The look of panic was back.
“Fine. I may have misjudged things.”
“Misjudge? Misjudge?! Excuse me. Try ‘totally fucked up’. That might be closer to the truth.”
John ran a hand over his face. “Look, I’m sorry, Rodney. If I’d have known… Why are you so dead set against this, anyway? It’s not like you’re a virgin.” Then he saw the look of discomfort on Rodney’s face. “You’re not a virgin, right, Rodney?”
“I’ve had sex before,” Rodney muttered, an almost hurt tone to his voice.
“Great. We’ve both had sex with women. This is just…” He trailed off when he saw Rodney fidget. “What?”
Rodney heaved a long sigh, sort of like John was being intentionally dense. No intentional about it this time, though. John had no – oh. His internal monologue cut off when Rodney’s lips met his. Almost as suddenly, they were gone again and Rodney was heading back to the entrance to the house. Feeling a little dazed, John joined him and they entered the house together.
He quickly looked around for their partners. There was no one in the room but himself, Rodney and Grandmother. He was about to ask when Grandmother began.
“You are virgins. You are not an adult until you pass the Rite. Only adults can ask such questions as you seek answers to. Therefore, you must pass the Rite.”
“Yes, Grandmother,” John started, trying to sound appropriately polite. Again, Grandmother cut off what he was going to say.
“Most of our children go through the Rite at thirteen cycles.” Thirteen?! John saw a similarly apalled expression on Rodney’s face. “And the Rite is done in public, in full view of the community, as was Ronon’s.” John tried not to shudder. Public sex. That was a step further than even he would go. “But I have been told that your Dr. McKay may be shy and so was convinced to have your Rite be private. The citizens will take my word that you are adults.” She looked between the two of them. “Whichever one wishes to may begin.”
Rodney and John exchanged a look. Begin? With no partners? Then the look changed meaning. Begin? With each other? Okay, so certain parts of him found that idea interesting, but definitely not in front of Grandmother. That idea put a heavy damper on any interest he might have had.
“Begin, Grandmother?” Rodney finally asked, actually managing to sound diffident.
“Yes, begin,” she said, clearly expecting a response. She looked between the two of them and a sudden grin lit her face – disturbingly similar to Teyla’s. “So, she has not told you of the Rite. We are a people who have no need of books.”
That confused John enough for him to ask, “Then how do you retain the knowledge of dozens of peoples, like Teyla told us?”
“It is an oral history, Colonel. Books can too easily be destroyed.”
“So can people,” Rodney said grumpily.
“They can, Dr. McKay. But if many people know the full content of one book, it is more likely that the book’s knowledge would survive. The Wraith are interested in physical representations of knowledge that might be dangerous to them. Books. Computers. Technology.” She tapped her head. “They don’t pay as much attention if the knowledge is here.”
Random memories clicked together in John’s head. “So then the Rite is…”
“It is also called the Telling. Each of you must tell a story from your life.”
The shock of relief that John felt was almost staggering and as he began talking, he shared a relieved grin with Rodney.
Finally, after they were done, Grandmother let them leave. “You will come back in two days time and I will have all those that have the knowledge you seek gathered together.”
The girls brought them back to their clothes and the pair changed back quickly. No shower, of course, so they were still a bit greasy from the oils that had been used for their massage. But at least they were in their own clothes. And John also knew why Ronon had had that peaceful expression. It was very cathartic telling a stranger a story from his past. And telling Rodney.
Finally, they met back up with Teyla and Ronon. Teyla had that small smile on her face again, but John wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of bringing it up. With a nod, he led them back to the Gate and back home.
“A long story, John? Sounds like something I’m going to have to hear.”
He grinned up at Elizabeth. “Mind if we go get cleaned off first?”
She shook her head. “No, go ahead. I have a meeting with Lorne’s team right now, anyway. Say four hours?”
John glanced around at his team and then nodded. They all broke off and John headed back to his room. Ten minutes later, he heard a quiet knock on his door. He opened it and saw Rodney looking incredibly nervous. “Rodney?”
“Hi. Uhh, the thing is, I’m really not all that good at this.”
This? Then he saw Rodney look at him. Or, more accurately, looking at his lips. Oh. And yes, those same parts still found the idea interesting. John grinned and pulled Rodney in. “You know, don’t tell? But I stole one of the jars of massage oil,” he said, shutting the door behind them.