torch, flambeau@strangeplaces.net
April 8-9, 2005

Disclaimer: there is no Dr. Chasez on the Atlantis expedition, really. The rest of it, I'm not even going to disclaim. Written for Merry and the sga_flashfic this is not happening challenge. Many thanks to Mary Crawford. Do not archive this story without permission.

Oh, God!

The first thing that happened was that McKay took a wrong step just off the jumper ramp, stumbled, and went to his knees in a mud puddle. "Oh, hey, man, look out," JC said, reaching out a hand to help him up. McKay bared his teeth at him. "At least you didn't fall on that stone. Thing."

"Upsa-daisy, Rodney," Sheppard said, grabbing hold of McKay's tac vest and lifting. "Whoa, I bet Dr. Corrigan would love that statue. Thing."

JC looked more closely. It probably was a statue of something vaguely humanoid, standing on a lumpy-looking plinth, although the features had been worn down by rain and moss and hands. There were remnants of a flower garland around something that might be either a head or a raised arm or, well, something else.

JC turned back around. "Oh, I think I left my—" Carter and Ronon came out of the jumper, Carter carrying JC's pack and Ronon his jacket. "Thanks."

Teyla wiped some of the mud off McKay with some large leaves and then started to lead the way towards the village. It was very pretty here on MX4-671, JC thought, looking around. At first they walked through open fields of tall reddish grass, topped with a row of seeds like little silver bells; then they went into a wood with tall, slim trees and soft moss, and tiny fragile-looking flowers growing up out of the moss. JC caught Carter's eyes and smiled, just a little.

Teyla and Sheppard were up ahead, Ronon had fallen back, and McKay was walking on his own in the middle, staring at the scanner in his hand. JC thought he might slow down and stay next to McKay, because he really wasn't here to walk around and make goo-goo eyes at his boyfriend, and also the mud didn't really smell that bad.

A soft breeze ran through the treetops, and flowers fell down, fluttering white and pink and red, petals falling loose and drifting more slowly in little zig-zags through the air. Most of them fell right around McKay; a few petals clung to the mud on his pants.

When a flower landed on the scanner screen, McKay tipped his head back in annoyance, and another flower fell on his face. He sneezed. Then he shook off the flower on the scanner and walked on, grinding a few flowers into the dust under his boots as he went.

Behind him, one last forlorn flower fluttered down. Ronon caught it in the air and twirled it between his fingers, then lengthened his stride and went up ahead to give it to Teyla.

JC craned his neck as he walked, until he walked into Carter, who steadied him with a hand on his shoulder. "That's kinda weird," he said.

"What is?" Carter said. "And how many times do I have to tell you to look where you're going on strange planets?"

"Yeah, but look," JC said. "There aren't any flowers on these trees."

When they came out from the trees they were practically in the village. A couple of kids playing by the side of the path waved at them and ran off to get their parents. Teyla knew them, and soon enough she and Sheppard were doing the polite hi-hello-how-are-you thing with a bunch of dignified but friendly-looking people. JC listened in for a while and then he wandered off towards the pond in the center of the village, because that was really pretty, too, with red flowers floating on the water and a couple of white birds, and a tree a lot like a willow leaning out, its trunk nearly horizontal and level enough to walk on. JC had made it almost all the way out before Carter started shouting at him. "Don't fall in the water! Bad things happen when you fall in the water!"

"This is odd," McKay said, coming up behind Carter. He looked at the scanner in his hand, out over the pond, and then back at the scanner. "There's a very peculiar energy signature here." He went closer to the pond. "There could be some kind of technology hidden under the water."

"I mean it," Carter said. "Don't make me come out there and get you."

One of the white birds moved, big and stately, like a swan on steroids, sweeping with deceptive languor towards where McKay was standing. It coiled its long neck in an amazing curve just as McKay took another step forward, getting the toes of his boots wet. "Chavez, get out of the tree and— Hey!" The bird reached up and grabbed McKay's sleeve and tugged. "Get away from me! What are you, the infamous meat-eating swan of the Pegasus galaxy?"

"Go help him," JC said to Carter, and turned to scramble back down along his tree, only the cuff of his pantsleg caught on a branch and he stumbled and fell, grabbed for another branch, missed, and went into the water. The last thing he saw before his head went under was the swan-thing spreading its huge white wings in startlement.

By the time Carter had fished JC out of the pond, Ronon had saved McKay from the bird. JC wiped at his face, because that pond was a lot yuckier than it looked, and shook the water out of his ears so he could hear McKay talk about potential zoonoses and the risk of keeping wild, dangerous animals right in the middle of a village where anyone could be attacked. He had a little white down caught on the velcro on his tac vest.

Right then Teyla and Sheppard and the village elders came walking along between the houses. Teyla did that thing where she pretended everything was perfectly normal, but Sheppard looked like he'd kind of like to pretend he didn't know any of them. The dignified village elders looked vaguely horrified. JC thought Carter and Ronon were still pretty presentable, or, well, Carter had a line of green pond scum around the tops of his thighs, so maybe not. JC decided not to say anything.

"It tried to drown me!" McKay said. He stabbed a finger towards the pond. "That, that bird!"

Sheppard squinted out over the water. At the other side of the pond, a couple of duck-like little things floated peacefully on the water. "Looks dangerous," he said. "Maybe you'd better stay on dry land." He turned his head fractionally. "That goes for you too, Dr. Chasez."

JC glanced sideways at Carter. "Where did the swan go?"

Carter shrugged.

"And there was an energy reading." McKay looked down at his scanner. "It was right he— It's moved, it's over there." He turned abruptly and walked off.

Sheppard cleared his throat. "Ronon?"

Ronon nodded and went off after McKay. Teyla cleared her throat, too. "Perhaps Dr. Chasez could assist Dr. McKay."

"Oh, sure," JC said. "Absolutely." The pond scum, JC was starting to realize, smelled a lot worse than the mud. He tried his best and brightest smile at the village elders as he squished past.

Once he made it around the corner of a house, he stopped and listened, to see if he could figure out where McKay had gone. Then he got a better idea and started scanning for energy readings. Most Ancient technology was fairly waterproof, which only made sense considering the Atlantis environment, JC thought, although McKay had been seriously unhappy at finding JC testing that theory on a variety of equipment.

He saw a lot of people- and animal-sized blips, and then there was an unbelievable energy spike from up ahead and to the left, like someone suddenly turned on a secret hidden ZPM or five. JC blinked at the screen, wiped off some more pond scum to make sure, and went that way. When he looked down at the screen again, the energy surge had disappeared and all he could see was people-blips again.

As soon as he went around the next house, he saw McKay, who was standing on the other side of a little open yard with a couple of trees, staring down at his own scanner like it had just insulted his mother, or his degrees. JC guessed he was wondering where the energy surge went, too. Ronon was in the shade, leaning back against one of the trees.

JC glimpsed something white off to the left. He turned his head and realized it was a really big white cow. The big white cow walked out into the yard, and no, okay, not a cow, a bull. Really very definitely a bull, and really big, and white and gleaming like someone had been grooming it, and heading for McKay.

"Um," JC said, but apparently not loud enough, because McKay didn't notice until the bull walked up to him and butted its very large head against his arm. Then he looked up and yelped and dropped the scanner. Ronon came alive and turned around, hand going for his weapon, and then he saw the bull and relaxed.

"Stop that!" McKay said. "No, go away, just — what are you doing?!"

JC couldn't quite see from his angle, but the bull was butting at McKay with its head, backing him up until he ended up pressed against the wall of a building. It didn't seem to be hurting him exactly, but McKay looked really upset, and then the bull lowered its head and McKay squeaked.

Then a door opened right next to McKay and Carter reached out and grabbed McKay's tac vest and dragged him inside and slammed the door shut. The bull bellowed, and wow, JC had no idea bulls could be that loud. Then it rammed its head into the wall, and the whole house shook.

Ronon got out his funky energy gun after all, and shot at the bull. The blue flare just seemed to bounce off the bull's white hide; it turned around, surprisingly agile, and made for Ronon and caught him sideways with its head; no horns, no goring, and JC was really grateful for that, but Ronon flew halfway across the yard. Then the bull turned in a half-circle until it was facing JC.

JC held his hands up and took a small step backwards. "Nice bull," he said. "Please don't stomp me. Or Ronon, any more. Or the house, cause I think these people like their houses, you know?" The bull tilted its head and looked kind of embarrassed. Behind it, the door opened again and Carter leaned out and made a few hand gestures that JC had no idea what they meant. He tried to guess. "And McKay, don't stomp him, either." Carter looked exasperated, so that was probably a wrong guess.

The bull lowered its head and bellowed again, and JC clapped his hands over his ears. Then it turned around and left at a quick but dignified pace, vanishing around the corner of the house. JC ran over to Ronon. "You okay, man?"

"Fine," Ronon said, but he looked a bit stiff when he got up.

Carter came out of the house and walked over to them, still glaring at JC, and then he looked back over his shoulder. "Come on out, Dr. McKay."

"I am not coming out from here unless you tell me Ronon has turned that creature into hamburger," McKay said from inside the house. "Did you see where it licked me!"

"No, and I don't think I want to," Sheppard said from behind JC. "What's going on here?" Teyla was right behind him, with the village elders following at a more stately pace.

"There was a big white cow," McKay said.

"Bull," JC said.

McKay came out of the house, probably just so he could shoot JC a withering look. "What, you're a biologist now?"

"I tried to shoot it," Ronon said. "Didn't work." He frowned.

"Well, maybe we shouldn't go around shooting the Garabeze's livestock," Sheppard suggested. "They might not like that."

"It kind of attacked Dr. McKay," Carter said. "And it got Ronon pretty good."

Ronon frowned even more, but didn't deny it. "And there were weird energy readings," JC said. He peered at his scanner; the pond scum had dried into a hard green crust around the edges of the screen. "Hey, there it is again." He looked up in that direction, and his eyes went wide. "Whoa."

It was like an unbelievable, soundless firework display, gold and fire-red sparkles forming up in the air and drifting towards them, shining beautifully against the clear blue sky. The sparkles fluttered like someone had blown them off a giant invisible palm and floated slowly down over them, most of them landing on McKay, who tried to brush them off his skin but just ended up looking like he'd had an accident with a jar of body glitter.

The oldest of the village elders, a tiny old man who looked about a hundred and fifty and walked with two canes, said something, but he didn't have any teeth, so JC didn't really understand it. He wondered if the Garabeze wanted to trade for dentures. The wheezing laughter was kind of unnerving, though.

"Przinni says," one of the other elders translated, "that Gar has chosen you."

"What?" McKay rubbed at the tip of his nose. "What? Is this some kind of Pegasus galaxy practical joke?"

"Gar is the god of the Garabeze," Teyla said. "They revere the Ancestors, but Gar watches over them."

McKay snorted. "Oh, please. Like there's a being that takes a special interest in this place and hovers over it like some kind of... giant... energy creature..." He poked at his scanner, then stared up into the air. "Oh."

"It likes you," JC said helpfully.

"I guess it does," Sheppard said. "Where did you say that bull licked you, again?"

The oldest inhabitant had another wheezing-fit. JC would never have guessed that anyone could pack that much innuendo into a sound like someone stepping on a leaking accordion.

"You should feel honored," the other elder said, nodding at McKay with a certain approval. "Very few people get the attention of the god. Of course," he added, "it is said that they are ruined for all other lovers, afterwards."

"Um," JC said. "If he likes to get it on as a really big bull, I'm not surprised."

"Colonel," McKay said, and JC grinned a little to himself, because he knew that voice, and he was pretty sure Sheppard knew that voice.

"Swan can't be comfortable, either," Ronon offered, and McKay's knuckles went white.

"Colonel!"

"Don't worry, Rodney, I won't let the birds and the bees get you." Sheppard grinned. Then he looked past Rodney, up past the house Rodney had hidden inside, and his eyes narrowed. "Is that normal weather around here?"

JC looked up at the cloud that was slowly hovering into view. It was really really fluffy-looking, and kind of pink. It was also right above the roof, and seemed to be creeping closer. It looked unusually coquettish for a cloud. He edged a little closer to Nick, even though the god seemed pretty fixated on McKay.

"No," the village elder said. "We apologize - we forget that others aren't used to how things are here." The oldest inhabitant wheezed something that JC was pretty sure was X-rated. "Hush, Przinni."

"Perhaps," Teyla said, "we can come back at some later time to continue our negotiations. Without Dr. McKay."

"We understand." The village elder nodded gravely. The cloud started to flow slowly down the slope of the roof towards the open yard. The village elder stepped aside, leaving the way clear. "We will be happy to see you return, Teyla Emmagan."

"Sorry about this," Sheppard said, pushing McKay ahead of him out of the yard, "but you know how it is, he still thinks he's too young for that kind of commitment."

They went at a fairly brisk pace through the village. The cloud crept behind them from rooftop to rooftop, but apparently if it moved too fast it started to lose cohesion, so it never quite caught up. McKay grumbled all the way. JC looked sideways at Carter. "I wonder. You think maybe it's an ascended Ancient with a really freaky sense of humor?"

Carter shrugged. "Nothing surprises me any more, you know?" He glanced back over his shoulder, but the cloud seemed to have stayed back at the village. A few more flowers fell as they walked through the woods, but JC thought they were probably left over from last time; they looked a little limp.

They made it across the field of red grass without meeting anything weird, and JC started to relax. The jumper was still where they left it, decloaking when Sheppard went up to it, ramp coming down smoothly. Sheppard went inside, and Teyla went inside, and McKay put a foot on the ramp.

There was a flash of golden light, and McKay took a standing leap backwards and nearly crushed JC's left foot. When the light faded, a small square thing in a colorful paper wrapper was lying on the jumper ramp. McKay bent down cautiously, and then he snatched it up. "Oh, my God. It's Lindt." He cradled the chocolate bar reverently in his hands.

"Chocolate?" Carter said. "I guess that works better than flowers."

McKay patted the Lindt bar. "You know, maybe we should stay a little longer here, after all. Thank you," he added, raising his voice, "thanks, that's really great, that's — hey, maybe some coffee?"

"Rodney," Sheppard said from inside the jumper.

A series of rapid thumps from behind made JC turn around. He shaded his eyes against the sun. "Is that. Um." He pointed. "Is that a really big white horse over there?"

Carter already had his P-90 up. "Yeah." JC suspected it wouldn't do any good, but he knew that whole weapon-pointing thing was kind of an ingrained reflex. The big white horse was rearing up, and oh yeah, definitely a stallion. Lots of pretty white mane floating in the wind, too.

JC prodded McKay. "Maybe you should get in the jumper."

"Yes," McKay said faintly, and when Sheppard leaned out and grabbed him and yanked him inside, he didn't resist. JC went in, Nick backed in, the ramp went up, and McKay sat down on the nearest bench and looked down sadly at his Lindt bar, turning it over in his hands. "Coffee," he said.

"Don't even think about it," Sheppard shouted from the front of the jumper, and then they took off.

JC looked at Carter and grinned. "And you know what the best thing is?"

"What?" Carter said.

"We get to write a mission report about golden showers."

Carter grinned, McKay huffed; Sheppard chuckled up in the pilot seat, but then raised his voice to say, "Dr. Chasez? I hope you're prepared to explain that to Teyla."

And the jumper flew on.

* * *

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