May 20-23, 2006

Disclaimer: no innocent virgins were pierced in the writing of this story. Arduinna and Tem made me do it. Beta by Arduinna. Do not archive without permission.

Title of the story

1, the bit where it starts in the middle

"They're laughing at us," Ronon said, not quite under his breath.

"Teyla's not laughing." John leaned forward a little to get a better view of her face as she thanked the servitor who had just refilled her glass and leaned back towards the Minister of Offworld Affairs, deep in conversation again.

"She's laughing on the inside."

John studied the curve of Teyla's eyebrow and the tilt of her head. Ronon was probably right.

McKay, now, McKay was laughing at them on the outside, or at least grinning way too much for it to be just because the Minister of Cultural Preservation was so amusing. John leaned back again before McKay could catch his eye. He picked up another piece of steamed fruit with his chopsticks and shared a dark look with Ronon. "They're laughing at us."

The fruit was very bland; no flavor, no texture. John swallowed reluctantly. Over at their table, Teyla and McKay were being served strips of grilled meat and vegetables, with about a dozen little bowls of sauces to dip them in. John turned his attention back to the bowl in front of him, only to find that it was almost empty. With Ronon on one side and two twelve-year-old boys across the table, he should have been more alert.

The two boys watched John and Ronon, put their heads together and whispered, and watched some more.

Ronon stabbed his chopsticks towards them. "Quit staring."

"But," the one with the eyebrow piercing said. He swallowed, and looked at John instead of Ronon. "We just wanted to ask you, um."

"We've never seen men as old as you sit at the virgins' table." The one with the nose ring was even shyer, and kept his eyes on the tabletop. "What — what did you do?"

"Nothing," John said, because he didn't think not listen when Teyla talked about local customs would be a good answer.

"You must have done something," Eyebrow Piercing said reasonably, "if no woman has chosen you by now."

"Or even a man," Nose Ring whispered to his chopsticks, and they both giggled very quietly, with quick glances towards the adults' table.

"We're from a different culture," John said. "Three different cultures," he modified, looking at Ronon and Teyla. Then he thought about Canada. "Four."

2, the bit with the flashback and the incautious honesty

"It's lovely to see you again, Teyla." The Minister of Offworld Affairs was short and stocky, with blonde hair fading to grey. "My secretary says you've come to visit our museum?"

"Yes, if we may." Teyla clasped the minister's hands. "This is Dr. McKay — he has a special interest in the kind of older technology your museum displays."

"Ah, then he should find much to interest him. I'll countersign the forms." The minister released Teyla's hands. "You did bring the forms? I'm afraid the rules are more rigidly enforced these days, although I'm sure it won't be—" She turned to McKay. "You are married, aren't you?"

McKay blinked, seemingly thrown by the non sequitur. "Not any more."

"Oh, I'm sorry." The minister turned to John and Ronon. "And you two? Are you married, or have been?"

"No," Ronon said.

"No, I'm not," John said slowly, and then he saw Teyla's face, but of course it was too late to take his words back.

"Ah," the minister said. She turned back to Teyla. "I'll sign a permit for yourself and Dr. McKay, and find a chaperone for your virgins. I assure you they'll be well looked after. But first you'll have lunch with us, won't you?"

3, the bit with the exposition and the recriminations

"You could have told us," John said.

"I am very sorry," Teyla said, and she very nearly looked it. "Customs were not so strict when I last visited, and virg— those who are unmarried had more freedom."

"Great." John looked towards the ministers and their secretaries and other administrative personnel, some of whom looked back quite interestedly. "So now what do we do?"

"Dr. McKay and I view the Ancient technology in the museum, and you and Ronon wait in the garden," Teyla said. "It is a beautiful day."

Ronon glowered at the ministers. Then he turned his head and looked at Teyla. "You're not married," he said.

"I was." Her tone of voice didn't invite further questions.

"I'm sure you'll have a great time playing in the garden, Colonel," McKay said. "Did you enjoy your lunch? I noticed you got special food at the kiddie table."

John wished he still had his chopsticks so he could stab McKay with them. He also kind of wished he'd taken Angie Nowicki up on her offer of a three-day Vegas marriage that one time. "Why don't you go check out the museum," he said, letting Ronon do his glaring for him. "I don't think we want to end up staying the night here."

Now Teyla did smile. "Minister Avallo has always been most hospitable."

The minister came towards them, trailing satellites. "Teyla, my dear. Professor Letket will take you and Dr. McKay to the museum, and Armete will supervise all the virgins in the garden."

John raised an eyebrow. "All the virgins?"

Nose Ring and Eyebrow Piercing popped up behind the minister, accompanied by an older woman with white hair, and grinned shyly.

4, the bit where they get in trouble with the plot device thingy

It was a beautiful day. It was a beautiful garden. Even Ronon admired the flowers for about ten seconds. Armete told them to be good boys, with a slight frown for John and Ronon, and then sat down in the shade under a tree and fell asleep.

Nose Ring and Eyebrow Piercing showed John and Ronon the statues of previous ministers, and the fountain with the turtle-shaped water spouts, and the sculpture in the center of the garden that looked sort of like a very large silver donut with pins stuck in it. Eyebrow Piercing whispered something to Nose Ring, and Nose Ring squeaked under his breath and shook his head, and Eyebrow Piercing, who was clearly the troublemaker of the two, nodded and poked Nose Ring in the side.

"You should play ring-calling with us," Eyebrow Piercing said.

Ronon crossed his arms. "Yeah?"

"It's a game," Nose Ring said, speaking to his toes.

Eyebrow Piercing took over again. "You both touch that at the same time," he pointed to the sculpture, "and count to a hundred — two hundred — and then you come find us."

Ronon snorted. John knew just how he felt, but hell, they were just kids, and John and Ronon didn't have much of anything else to do. "All right," he said, and Ronon shrugged his acquiescence, and they both reached out and put their hands on the silver ring.

A fountain of silver sparks shot up into the sky, at least fifty feet, John thought. At the same time, a thin, bell-like note sounded, and kept on sounding. "Alarm," Ronon said darkly and tried to take his hand off the ring. "Sheppard? I'm stuck to this thing."

"Yeah, you're not the only one," John said, twisting around to see where Nose Ring and Eyebrow Piercing had run off to. He raised his voice. "Ma'am? Armete!"

Ronon joined in. "Hey!" She slept on. "I don't see what's so special about this thing, anyway. You think a lot of people try to steal it?"

5, the bit where it's more complicated than that

Teyla, McKay, and Professor Letket came running from the museum. "Oh, dear," the professor said, gasping for breath. "What possessed you to touch the ring of despair?"

John and Ronon looked at each other. "The kids told us to," John said. "They said it was a game." He craned his neck again, trying to see them.

"Despair." Ronon eyed the professor. "Are you saying we can't get away now?"

"No, no, of course you can!" The professor's hands flew through the air. "As soon as someone touches you and agrees to marry you." John stopped twisting around to find Nose Ring and Eyebrow Piercing. "Of course, it's true that some people have been kept waiting for a long time, but I rather think with you two the problem will be the opposite. Many of the staff were quite, ah, taken with you."

"Teyla," Ronon said.

"I hope it won't cause a diplomatic incident when I strangle those kids," John said. Then he looked at the professor. "Wait. You mean we have to get married to whoever offers?"

"The ring is for those who have despaired and see no other prospects," the professor said. "That's why it's called the ring of—"

"Despair, yeah, yeah, I get it," John said.

"But," the professor added, brightening, "after you're wedded and bedded, you will be allowed in the museum!"

"Teyla!" Ronon sounded strained. "They're coming."

Five of the administrative staff from the lunch went through the gate into the garden, moving briskly.

"I see them," Teyla said. "I believe this is what Dr. Weir would call an unforeseen complication." She put her hand over Ronon's. "I will marry you, Ronon Dex." His hand slipped free of the metal, and Teyla grasped it firmly and kicked McKay's ankle.

"Ow. Oh! Oh, you have got to be — no, I suppose you aren't kidding. I'd just like to point out that this is not in my job description." McKay grabbed John's wrist. "Yes, all right, I'll marry you." Nothing happened. "Is this thing broken?"

"You have to use his name," the professor said.

McKay rolled his eyes. "I'll marry you, John Sheppard, and you should just hope this thing doesn't require middle names."

"There's nothing wrong with Montgomery," John said and lifted his hand away from the metal. His palm was a little red.

The administrative personnel, seeing that both Ronon and John were free from the ring, suddenly took a keen interest in horticulture.

"Excellent," the professor said. "How fortunate that everything worked out for the best!"

6, the bit where they get married

"Oh, no trouble at all," the minister said. "You're a dear friend, Teyla, of course I'll take care of it. Let me just send some of my people ahead to prepare the pavilion."

"Pavilion?" McKay looked suspicious.

"For the bedding," the minister explained. "I'm sorry things will be a little rushed. Armete will speak very sternly to the boys when she finds them again."

Ronon stood with his arms crossed, waiting, while Teyla and McKay filled out forms in triplicate. He looked relaxed, so John decided he was relaxed, too, even though he was about to get married for the first time in his life wearing muddy boots and a thigh holster. To Rodney McKay. Hopefully no one would expect him to throw a bouquet.

McKay finished the forms, straightened up and rubbed at the small of his back. He wandered over to John just as the officiant wheeled into the room to collect the forms and clear space on one corner of the minister's desk for a huge ledger. "Are you all right?"

"Sure." John nodded, watching the officiant transfer names from the forms into the ledger.

"Then would you stop doing that? I can't think when you do that, I just keep looking round for the next disaster."

"Do what?" John turned his head to see that McKay's eyes were sharp with exasperated worry.

"You go all... squinchy-faced." McKay waggled his right hand, apparently tuning an imaginary radio. "Like an upset hedgehog."

John scowled. "Hedgehog?" He watched the officiant shake sand over the fresh ink in her ledger. "And excuse me for not being thrilled about marrying you."

"People have been, you know," McKay said with a sniff.

"Maybe they were faking it," John said, and then regretted it when McKay's mouth twisted and he jerked his chin up. "Okay, forget I said that. Sorry."

McKay slumped down a bit. "I should have let the secretarial pool have you," he said, and then the officiant called them over and squinted up at them and checked their names and read a thirty-second speech and they were married.

7, the bit where John wants exposition and everyone else just wants to get on with the plot

"Glithin is traditional for weddings," Minister Avallo said, handing around glasses of something sparkling that smelled like raw yeast, "but I'm afraid I don't have very much." She dimpled at Teyla. "You should have given me advance warning, my dear, and we could have had a proper feast."

"That is not necessary." Teyla looked completely at ease, glass in one hand and two fingers of the other hand tucked into Ronon's belt. "Perhaps we could return to the museum now, and later—"

"No, no." The minister shook her head. "Rackdal should be back any moment."

"This is the worst champagne I've ever had," McKay said, standing next to John and looking morosely into his glass.

"That's weddings for you," John said. "Speaking of which, you—"

"Rackdal!" The minister pivoted, yeasty drops of glithin flying from her glass. "Is the pavilion ready?"

"And there's no cake." McKay tipped his glass into a flowerpot behind the minister's back. "Don't these people know about wedding cake? I can't believe I crossed galaxies to have a substandard wedding."

"About that," John said. "When were you—"

The minister clapped her hands. "Follow me, everyone, please." She led the way outside, robes of office swaying as she walked.

Armete stepped in between John and McKay, taking their arms and tugging them along. They went out of the building and across a courtyard, down a narrow street between two other government buildings, while John tried to catch McKay's eyes. Ahead of them, Teyla and Ronon were separated by the professor, who'd had three glasses of glithin and was talking enthusiastically about everything he would show them inside the museum, later.

"Here we are," Armete said. "The government pavilion isn't used all that often, but Rackdal is very thorough, so I'm sure it will be fine."

"That's it?" McKay stared in disbelief, and John couldn't blame him. The pavilion was a one-story, flat-roofed box of untreated planks, grayed with age, with no windows. A metal ramp led up to the door. The officiant wheeled up the ramp, opened the door and looked inside, and nodded.

"Everything's ready for you," she said, rolling back down. "Go on. We'll come and get you in time for dinner."

8, the bit where it's suddenly cabinfic

Ronon and Teyla got to go in first, and the professor came back down the ramp weaving ever so slightly. Armete led John and McKay up and showed them into a vestibule the size of a postage stamp and pointed them to the door on the left. "In you go." John hesitated. "Go on, I haven't got all day, and newly-weds are usually eager!"

"He's shy," McKay said, opening the door and pushing John inside.

9, the bit with the props

The room was bigger than John had expected. The walls were just plain wood, too, and so was the floor. No pictures. No rugs. There was a large, thick mattress on the floor, a chair with a padded seat, and what looked like a cross between a pommel horse and a gynecological exam table. John took a step backwards and bumped into McKay. "Whoa."

"I really doubt it's going to come alive and eat you," McKay said. He peered at it over John's shoulder. "Are those stirrups adjustable?"

"How the hell should I know?" John backed away from McKay instead. He went around the mattress and found a low box table with two drawers. On top of the table was a large book bound in limp leather. John flipped it open at random. "I think this might be the user manual, though."

McKay came around the bed, too. He tugged the book out of John's hands and started at the beginning. "User manual for virgins," he said. "Which, considering where we are, probably not all that surprising..." He flipped a couple of pages. "They start with hand-holding." He shot a quick look at John. "But I figure between your obvious, not to say excessive, appeal to all audiences and my own previous studies of the matter, we're at least intermediate level."

He leaned in and kissed John's neck.

9 1/2, the bit that everyone knows how it goes anyway

— I didn't know you liked guys, I didn't know you were interested in me, I've seen you checking me out, I don't flirt with everyone I meet, oh please, I can't believe we're doing this here, I want to lick you all over, I think your zipper's stuck —

10, the bit where John loses his virginity

"You realize I've never done this before," John said. Which wasn't strictly true, since McKay was only teasing him with one finger, so far.

McKay snorted. He lifted his head to look thoughtfully at John. "Do you think Ronon's saying the same thing to Teyla right now? Please be gentle with me, fierce warrior princess, I'm a sweet naive country boy, and so on." Just for a moment, his eyes went slightly unfocused. Then he shook his head. "But really, I've never been into that whole role playing thing." He licked a stripe up the inside of John's thigh.

"I just thought I'd mention it," John said, and then McKay slid two fingers into him and twisted, and his eyes rolled back in his head. "Do that again — no, the other way — oh, yeah."

"Yes, I can tell you're quite the blushing innocent," McKay said and reached for more lube. "Lift up a bit more." He braced John's leg against his shoulder and pressed forward. John frowned. "And when I say up, I mean the opposite of down. Did you lose brain cells to that fake champagne?"

"I think the romance has gone out of our marriage," John said mournfully, and canted his hips up and sort of sideways. "Oh. Oh."

"I'm going to stop talking now," McKay announced in a breathless, serious voice. John didn't believe it, but he didn't care.

11, the bit with the afterglow and the gratuitous but elliptical sex-and-relationships talk

McKay stared. "Seriously? Actually seriously never done that before? Why didn't you say so?"

John hit him with a pillow. "I did say so." He poked McKay in the ribs. "You never told me you'd been married."

"Yes, well, not the best years of my life."

John blinked. "Years?"

"Two years and seven weeks, and if you'd just hack into my confidential files like a normal person, we wouldn't have to have this conversation."

"Don't worry," John said, rolling over and stretching out his back a little, "I'll never respect your privacy again." He fished up the manual lying next to the bed and started leafing through it. "How old were you?"

"Sixteen. Her name was Anastasia Electra, and she swept me off my feet." McKay leaned against John's back and hooked his chin over John's shoulder. "Oh, look. Think we can do that?"

John looked. "You don't bend that way."

"No, but you do." McKay considered the illustration some more. "We could have paramedics standing by." He ran a finger along the spine of the figure in the illustration who was folded up like a squashed pretzel. "Or we could, I mean, simply from my position of greater experience and out of the immense kindness of my heart, I could teach you to give a blowjob."

John hit him with the pillow again.

12, the bit where nobody is feeling the least awkward at all

"We brought umbrellas," the Minister of Cultural Preservation said. "It was such a lovely afternoon, but I'm afraid the weather can change very fast at this time of year."

Ronon snapped one of the umbrellas open and held it over Teyla. McKay snapped the other umbrella open and held it over himself, and John elbowed him until he shifted over a bit.

Armete, who had her own umbrella, came up to John and patted his cheek. "Don't you look radiant," she said, as rain dripped from the edge of the umbrella down the back of his neck, and then, in a whisper almost louder than her speaking voice, "Your shirt is on inside out, dear."

13, the bit where they have dinner and John wreaks his revenge

The food was much, much better when you were married. There was meat, and spices, and something enough like beer that John was definitely going to investigate the trading possibilities. The Minister of Offworld Affairs made a speech to her dear friend Teyla and Teyla's new husband, and Teyla smiled calmly, and Ronon hunched down slightly in his chair every time the minister made another dirty joke. John grinned at him across the table.

Then the Minister of Cultural Preservation made a speech to his new friend Dr. McKay and Dr. McKay's new husband, and John tried to slide down far enough in his chair that he could kick Ronon under the table when the minister went straight past innuendo and into ribaldry. The administrative staff toasted him repeatedly, and McKay snagged a bowl of deep-fried tubers and Professor Lefket and went into a corner to talk about mechanical artifacts with little blinking lights on.

John took his glass with him and tried to blend into the background; he wandered around the reception hall, and then into the room next to it, which was floor to ceiling shelves with old files. John ran a fingertip across the back of one file ledger and sneezed.

"These are our marriage records for the past five hundred years," Armete said behind him. "Dreadfully dusty, I know. The cleaners claim the sliding ladders won't hold their weight."

John made vague interested-sounding noises as she told him more about the everyday business of running the ministry and steered him firmly back into the reception hall again. Teyla was dancing with the Minister of Offworld Affairs, and over in the corner McKay was shouting cheerfully at the professor, who was shouting cheerfully back over the music.

At the far end of the reception hall, behind the dancers, John saw Nose Ring and Eyebrow Piercing, heads together, giggling.

"You know," he said to Armete, "those ladders might not hold a grown-up, but I'm pretty sure they'd hold a kid." He took her arm and wandered slowly across the floor. "Course, they'd need a chaperone who could double as work supervisor. I guess you'd have to find just the right people."

"That's quite a clever idea." Armete nodded, and she and John went around the last pair of dancers and ended up not five feet from Nose Ring and Eyebrow Piercing, who froze and stared. "Boys! It's about time you showed your faces again!"

"I'll just, um. Go talk to my husband," John said, and fled.

14, the bit where loose threads from the mission plot are tied up in a half-assed sort of way

"We're setting up an exchange program," McKay said, grinning up at John and handing him a bowl with half a deep-fried tuber rolling around on the bottom.

John put the bowl away, wedged the sleeping professor more safely into the corner of the couch with a cushion, and sat down next to McKay. "Yeah?"

"We'll lend them some artifacts to display in their museum, apparently the curator is very excited about it, and they lend us some other artifacts to take back to Atlantis."

John took the half a tuber after all; it tasted pretty good. "Anything good?"

McKay nodded. "A couple of things that look like newer versions of those converters we found last month, and at least one drone prototype."

"And in return you're letting them have what?"

McKay shrugged. "Whatever's in the 'not working' pile. All they want is something to put under glass with a calligraphed label. This is going to free up a lot of space on Zelenka's desk." He squinted across the reception hall. "So, do you think Teyla and Ronon tried out the sexercise equipment?"

"Sexercise?" John looked sideways at McKay. "And I'm not planning on asking them." He wiped his oily fingers. "And I'd say something about trying out equipment, but after those speeches, I feel like an amateur."

"Let's," McKay said and smothered a yawn. "Let's get out of here and go to bed."

15, the bit that's very nearly romantic

"I guess they don't believe in beds," John said, because this room just had a mattress on the floor, too. He sat down on it and pulled his socks off.

McKay slumped down next to him, and then sprawled across the bed to look at something on the far side. "There's no manual here. I wonder if they'd make us a copy. For educational purposes."

"Maybe." John trailed a hand along McKay's back. "Or we could just experiment on our own. I hear you're pretty good at that."

McKay rolled over and looked up at John. "We," he said, and reached for John and pulled him down. "We're going to be pretty good at it."


the bit that got left out of the final version

"You're right," John said, "I don't believe you. You were not married to Madonna."

McKay held up a tube and frowned. "Seriously, who makes lettuce-flavored edible lubricant?"

* * *

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