Teyla Emmagan had witnessed the celebrations of hundreds of different cultures already in her young life thanks to her role as Leader of her people on Athos and her time with the Terrans from Atlantis. While life on her home world of Athos had been difficult, they had commemorated important anniversaries and celebrated the births of babies. They had even had rare opportunity to celebrate the slow passing of the elderly, warm in their beds, surrounded by loved ones as they took their last breaths.
She had seen debauched parties replete with alcohol and other mind-altering substances. Guests in various states of dress and undress, eating, dancing, singing and enjoying sexual communion with each other. And she had been witness to solemn ceremonies where no one spoke for hours on end and food and drink were not only not served, but were forbidden.
This celebration fell comfortably in the middle of those extremes. Men and women mingled here in loose groups, talking and laughing, graciously partaking of food items from silver salvers that were carried around by quietly reserved servers. Teyla smiled and nodded her thanks as she reached over to remove a small piece of bread, with what appeared to be a sliver of dried fish on it, from a server's tray. It was oily and salty but the crusty bread made a nice complement to it.
"Pretty good, huh?"
She looked up at her companion, John Sheppard. He was smiling, licking his thumb appreciatively.
"Not bad," she agreed with an answering smile. "You seem in better spirits, Colonel."
"Well, His Highness hasn't bothered me in..." He shot his watch forward on his wrist and raised impressed eyebrows. "Hey, look at that. It's been almost an hour. I think that calls for another of those sardine-y things." He darted his hand out and skillfully snagged another snack from a passing tray, grinning and waggling his eyebrows at the pretty woman carrying it.
Teyla rolled her eyes and straightened her skirts, brushing the woolen fabric free of a strand of dried grass. Her dress was modest by most standards, long-sleeved and full length, but the sueded leather bodice that cinched in her bosom was cut too tightly and she tried to ignore the way her newly larger breasts hovered only inches below her chin. It would have fit just fine a few months ago, but she smiled at the thought that it was worth the discomfort. At least she could find some reassurance in the 9mm she had strapped to a leg holster under the voluminous fabric.
Sheppard stood in apparent ease in his outfit. The fabric of the tunic and pants was soft and vanilla pale, the vest in charcoal and of the same suede her bodice had been made from. She knew a matching holster held his Glock above the soft leather boots he wore.
A bell rang from the house up the hill and people began making their way to the tables that had been lined up under the fabric tents. Bright pennants hung atop the tents snapped giddily against the bright blue sky; the strong breezes that had kept them comfortably cool had whipped up a bit and she felt her hair lift free of her shoulders.
"Shall we?" she heard John say and she looked over to see he had crooked an arm at her. She nodded politely and placed her hand on his arm and allowed him to escort her to an outer table.
When he pulled her chair out she smirked and played along, nodding demurely as she pulled her skirts to the side and sat down. John took the seat next to her and sat back in his chair. To the casual observer he was relaxed, just another hungry party-goer waiting on the first course. But Teyla knew better. His eyes never stopped scanning and the location they had chosen gave him a view of the entire dinner seating area as well as the house and the woods beyond.
"Perhaps I should go ask His Highness to join us for dinner," she ventured reluctantly. She got the reaction she suspected she'd receive. John's face darkened in a scowl; his eyebrows sank until they practically met above his nose and he began drumming his fingers on the table. He sighed, then appeared to gather himself and nodded once, shortly. "You're right. Glad I ate all those snacks earlier- I expect I'll be losing my appetite soon," he muttered.
He rose from his chair and stalked off in the direction of their charge. Teyla sympathized as she noted his back was ramrod stiff already.
When he didn't return after a few minutes had passed, Teyla looked up and saw John arguing with the prince. The much smaller man was pointing a finger at a table in the middle of all the rest where their hosts were seated. John had his arms folded and Teyla could practically see the steam rising off of him from where she sat.
Rising, she gathered her skirts and began weaving her way through the tables. She nodded as she saw John look her way and jerk his head in their direction.
"Colonel?" she asked as she neared them. "Your Highness?" she added with a slight bow at Prince Fahd. The man was darkly handsome with deep-set eyes and a trim, muscular build under an outfit similar to the one John wore but in tan and olive.
"Our hosts have agreed that I should sit in a place of honor," the prince said smugly. "Your colonel disagrees. I find that disrespectful. I will not be disrespected."
"Disre--!" John started, then clapped his mouth shut, visibly fighting to keep his words to himself.
"I believe that Colonel Sheppard is just concerned for your safety, Your Highness," Teyla smoothed in, darting a quick, hopefully calming, glance at John. "He had chosen a table that was more easily defensible, over there," she said, gesturing back the way she'd come from. She'd kept her voice low, barely audible above the voices of the crowd and the ending toll of the bell so as not to offend or draw unwelcome attention.
Fahd failed to notice or didn't care. His voice was loud enough for heads to turn their way. "Defensible? Why that's preposterous! These people are no threat. Farmers? Tailors? Basket weavers??" His voice dripped with disdain.
"Your Highness, please," Teyla said, trying to keep her tone even. She held a hand out as if to touch his arm and he flinched away, fire in his eyes.
"Do not touch me!" he hissed. "Why Sheppard thought this planet would hold anything of interest to me I do not see. Undoubtedly, he thinks me a backwards camel-rider, eking out a living from my mud hut in Al Lidam. I am a Prince of the House of Saud! I have an estate with hundreds of servants in Medina, the holy resting place of Mohammed. And I am an astronaut - the Captain of my team. I know Sheppard is well aware of this- the IOC assured my father that I would be treated with the respect I am due!"
Teyla knew that this all meant something back on Earth. That the Prince's family was considered extremely wealthy, something that didn't mean much to her as wealth was a little known concept on Athos, and that he worked in space for the satellite company his father owned. She also knew that John had been wrestling for the last week to keep his hands from around their visitor's neck. She was beginning to wish that the colonel's self-control had slipped and allowed him to throttle the annoyance.
"Your Highness," she started again, keeping John in her peripheral vision. The colonel was practically vibrating with barely held control over his fury. It was apparent that if the situation were to be handled it would fall to her to try and salvage it as best as possible. "This world was considered a… a stepping stone for you. An introduction to an example of the kind of worlds we encounter here in the Pegasus Galaxy. Surely, as a well-traveled man you must be familiar with this. Your first visit away from Atlantis was chosen for its scenery, the friendliness of its people, and yes, she continued in a lower voice, their lack of technological progress. This was done to provide you a more secure place for your visit as befits a man of your importance. I assure you, Colonel Sheppard and I wish nothing more than your safety and well-being."
The prince brushed hands down the front of his vest and brought himself up to his full, diminutive height. "Very well. But I will eat at the head table. At the very least our host seems to be a man of some breeding. I will not be seated next to a farmer or tradesman."
"Let us see what can be arranged, Your Highness," Teyla agreed, slowly, and she hoped subtly, expelling a relieved breath she'd been holding. She looked at John - the colonel rolled his eyes at her then gave her a small smile of thanks and agreement and left to go talk to their hosts.
A few minutes later he returned. "I talked to Tellen. He's given us three seats at the main table. Is that acceptable,… Your Highness?" he added at raised eyebrows.
Fahd nodded his assent and John flung an arm out in obvious, after you fashion.
The prince began to make his way towards the head table and Teyla and John fell back a few feet as they trailed behind him. "Someday you'll hafta teach me how you do that," John whispered, bending to place his mouth closer to her ear.
"Control yourself when I know you wanna kill the asshole as badly as I do."
She fought a smile before she answered. "On all the worlds I have visited, all of those with which we traded on Athos… I have found that despite the extreme disparities in wealth, culture, aggression and passivity, and technology, they all have one thing in common. Every world has 'assholes'."
John coughed out a laugh and Teyla had to join him. Fahd whipped his head around and glared at them as they reached their table and the two team members quickly stifled their giggles. "Once you've spent a lifetime running from the Wraith, assholes are actually quite easy to handle," she added quietly as John pushed in her chair. She felt a small snort of warm breath on her hair and was happy to see it had done the trick. John was more at ease and settled himself in a chair next to her.
The first course was a watery broth with small bits of pungent greenery floating in it. Fahd took one sip and sneered, placing his spoon back on the table but thankfully refraining from comment.
A pretty red-haired serving girl came around with a large pitcher and began serving out small portions to each of the guests. As she approached the prince, John reached out and stopped her hand.
"What do you stop her for?" Fahd asked, his ire rising.
"It's got alcohol in it, Your Highness."
"Well, I thought, I mean, the Qur'an --"
"Bah," the prince said as he gestured for the girl to pour him a glass. "Mohammed never had a Cognac Dudognon Henri IV. If he'd known what he'd be missing…" Waiting until she'd filled it almost to the top, the prince sipped gingerly at the beverage. He shrugged and took a healthier swig. "Not unlike a sweet Italian table wine. It will do." He leered at the server, practically salivating at the expanse of milky-pale skin exposed by her uniform. "Yes, this will definitely do."
The girl flushed and stood quickly. Fahd just barked out a harsh laugh and waved her away.
John shook his head at the serving girl's offer to fill his goblet and Teyla also demurred, sipping instead at the cool water provided.
The remainder of the dinner was a blur of clinking utensils and cringes at the prince's increasingly loud, coarse voice and the things he was saying. He turned his nose up at the first few courses, but kept demanding refills of his cup with the sweet wine. He regaled their hosts and the other guests with tales of excessive spending and adventure. With each drink the stories became more unbelievable and also started getting bawdier. Women bought and paid for and the things he did with them. To their credit, their hosts were polite about it, nodding as if interested and trying to share their own decidedly tamer stories. But Fahd was enamored of his own voice and his own over-inflated sense of self-worth.
Waving a fork with a speared piece of meat dripping in a brown gravy, Fahd began another story. "She had the most beautiful breasts I have ever seen." Then he gripped the air in front of his chest to demonstrate their size and splattered gravy on Teyla's bodice. "Sorry, m'dear," he slurred, then took his napkin and began wiping her down, taking a leering pleasure in the contact.
"That's it!" Teyla had already pushed back in her chair and drawn away from Fahd but John rose angrily from his place, knocking his chair back. "Keep your hands off of her!"
The prince, instead of getting angry for a change, raised his hands in surrender and started laughing and shaking his head. "Sorry, sorry. I just could not allow tits as gorgeous as hers to be sullied by my error." He gave Teyla a simpering grin then turned back to his hosts and smiled sloppily at them. "Colonel Sheppard is such a dour man, is he not?" He tried unsuccessfully to frown and fake a stern face, breaking into giggles. "Commanding the military of such a wonder of a city as At--"
"--Atosia is indeed a marvelous city, Your Highness," Teyla spoke firmly overtop of him.
Fahd looked at her uncertainly, then stuttered out a nod, and continued. "Yes, Atosia. The grandest city I have ever seen. Rivals even my own Medina."
Their host politely asked about the Arabian city and John and Teyla eased back into their chairs as the conversation turned back to decidedly less sensitive topics.
Fahd talked for the next half hour about the fleet of luxury cars he owned and the thousands of square miles of land he held title to. At one point a dour-faced man across from Fahd snorted and sat back, arms crossed. "I own land from the Barrens to the river. My crops yield is the highest on the planet. I know not what 'Bentleys' are but I'm certain they are not more valuable than the thousand head of bovena I have."
Before Fahd could gather a retort from his drink-addled head, Tellen, their gentle giant of a host spoke up. "Brenon is a blowhard, Your Highness. Do not listen to him. Besides, with the way the storms have been ripping through of late, I doubt highly that his crop yield will be enough to pay even the tithes at temple." A broad smile, framed by a shaggy mass of dark curls from crown to chin, eased the sting of his words.
Brenon scowled and slammed down his cup, sloshing wine onto the tablecloth. He shoved his chair back and rose to his feet.
Teyla snuck a hand under the table, prepared to pull her gun free from beneath her skirts and she saw John tensing at her side.
Then Brenon pasted an icy smile on his face and ran a hand through his thinning blonde hair. He paused, rubbing the back of his neck. "Tellen is right. In fact, I smell another storm on the way. I need to go tend to my crops." He nodded shortly to his host then stiffly walked away.
Fahd laughed. "Crops. What are crops when you have oil? Tellen, have you ever seen puddles of a slick black substance in any of your fields?"
John cocked his head to the side and leaned forward. "Your Highness, that's really none of your concern…"
The prince chewed briefly on his lip, then smiled and shrugged as if to say it was worth a shot. Then he changed the subject, back to himself, of course.
As he was regaling them with descriptions of the gold toilet seats he'd recently had installed another bell rang, signaling the end of the meal.
Teyla heard John mutter, "Thank God," under his breath and he threw his wrinkled napkin on the table and rose stiffly, arching like a cat and massaging the muscles in the small of his back.
"I'm about ready to ditch this popsicle stand," he said, smiling down with his hand on the back of her chair as if to pull it out. At the raised eyebrow he chuckled. "Haven't used that one yet? How about let's make like a tree and leave?"
She couldn't have agreed more. A whole day in the ill-fitting garments and forcing a smile on her face while listening to Fahd's raunchy stories had left her exhausted and wanting nothing more than an hour of Banta sticks and a hot bath. She nodded gratefully and began to rise from her seat.
Fahd noticed them getting up and frowned. "It is impolite to finish a meal and immediately take our leave. Besides…" he continued as he turned to follow one of the prettier serving girls with his eyes as she worked to clear the table, "the evening has only just begun."
"Sorry, Your Highness," John said, clearly not sorry in the least, "but I have important work waiting for me back at the city."
Teyla winced at his choice of words, and even Fahd in his inebriated state picked up on it.
"So you do not consider this important, Colonel?"
John rolled his head and kneaded at the back of his neck. "Of course, I do, Your Highness. But we did the dinner and you saw the gardens and the museum. We can even stop on the way back to the gate and you can buy a souvenir."
"Colonel, I know how anxious you are to get back to your fun - oh, yes, I heard you talking earlier with that insufferable Dr. McKay - but I am not ready to leave. I will let you know when I am." And with that Fahd rose unsteadily to his feet and began making his way over to where a cluster of giggling women were talking and dashing glances his way.
"I- I'm gonna - just gimme like five minutes and I--"
Teyla smiled briefly at John's stammering but she knew this was taking its toll on him. Fahd had been an annoyance to everyone he'd met on Atlantis, but he'd been especially hard on John, taking great pleasure in ordering the colonel around. And today he'd reduced the high ranking military officer to a "glorified chauffeur" as John called it.
A gust of wind lifted the tablecloth up from the wooden table, dumping over half-empty glasses and spilling little puddles of wine. Another followed right after, whipping Teyla's hair into a halo around her head.
"I believe that we will find the festivities ending soon enough, John. It appears one of the storms they referred to will be coming through soon."
John brightened, then scowled. "We've got to leave now then. I'm not chancing getting stuck here and having to bunk down for the night with his Royal Pain in the Ass. Hang here a sec- I'll be right back. Hopefully with Fahd in tow," he added, crossing his fingers in that odd way she'd seen him do. Lorne had once explained to her that pilots tended to be a superstitious lot as a whole, but Teyla found that hard to reckon with the level-headed colonel.
She watched, rubbing gently at her now slightly rounding belly, settling her stomach after the large meal. John approached the prince and his bevy of bubbly females, tapped him on the shoulder and waited to be recognized.
Their conversation was short and intense and Teyla frowned as she saw John stalking back in her direction.
His face was red and he was breathing heavily through his nose. "He told me the only way he'd go was over his dead body. And for a moment there -"
Teyla raised a hand to stop him. "John, I am certain our hosts will be ending the celebration very soon, and then Prince Fahd will have no choice but to leave. Perhaps you could take a walk… the grounds are very beautiful and the rain has not yet started."
"A walk. A walk … yeah, a walk sounds real good. You don't mind playing babysitter, do you?"
"I will keep a watchful eye on our guest, John. Go, please."
He took a half step forward then hesitated. "You doing okay?"
"I am fine, thank you," she said with the slightest of blushes. "Go."
"Okay, okay," he said, raising his hands in surrender. "Just asking. Going - I'm going."
He strolled off towards the gardens that bordered one end of the property, turning up the collar of his shirt against the wind as he left the cover of the tent.
Teyla sighed and leaned over to pull her boots off and put her feet up on the chair next to her, settling in to her babysitting duty. She only hoped that Fahd wouldn't head off anywhere she'd have to follow.
The winds were blowing in earnest now and Teyla observed their hosts, Tellen and his wife, Mina, making their way to each of the guests that remained. Most of the locals had long since scattered back to their homes, clutching capes and collars around their necks as an icy rain began to mix with the gusts.
Teyla rose from her seat, rubbing at her arms against the chill as she scanned for John. The prince was still chatting up a small group of women and she scowled as she noticed he was allowing them to take the brunt of the wind while he stood in the shelter their gathering made.
She had just started to become concerned at John's absence when she noticed him talking to one of the serving girls. As she began to approach him she noted that it was the red-haired girl that the prince had been harassing earlier.
Assuming John was making amends for the prince's behavior, a chore she knew he was getting quite tired of, she approached closer, thinking she could offer her own apologies, when she saw John take the woman's hand. He then leaned forward and kissed her briefly on the cheek.
Teyla began to politely avert her gaze when she saw John turn abruptly on his heel and head towards where Fahd stood talking.
Thinking to join them and make arrangements to leave she too began heading that way. John looked up, met her eyes, and waved at her. She picked up her pace, finding now that she was fighting against the strengthening winds. Hard drops of rain struck her face and began to weigh her hair and the heavy fabric of her dress down.
As she drew close she saw John was already arguing with the prince. Her arrival coincided with that of Tellen. Their host, genial as ever, clapped a meaty hand each on John and Fahd's backs.
"Gentlemen, please. Be my guests tonight. The storm will be too strong for you to safely use your airboat. Mina and I insist. We have much room up at the house, more so since the boys have each taken their own wives and homes."
"Thanks, Tellen," John replied, but he was already shaking his head. "But we have to go. I can fly in this, no problem."
"This looks to be a bad one, Sheppard," their host said with a frown. "It would cause me great distress to think of you navigating in this. Even the great ships out on the river will be taking anchor in a tempest like this."
As if to punctuate the warning a bolt of lightning lit the sky followed a heartbeat later by a bone rattling thunderclap.
"I appreciate your concern, Tellen, but we really have to get back. We'll be fine. I've flown in worse."
"I do not wish to leave, Colonel," Fahd said smugly, casting a sidelong glance at an obviously inebriated beauty playing coyly with a long strand of hair. "I think our host's invitation to be quite generous."
Teyla watched as John grit his teeth and plastered on a painful-looking smile. "I told you, Your Highness, I have imp - I have business that requires my attention back home. We'll be fine."
"No, I'm staying," the prince demanded and Teyla raised eyebrows at his outburst. It brought to mind a child's tantrum at bedtime.
"We are leaving. Now." He grabbed a handful of sleeve and bodily began frog marching the prince away.
Fahd was a small man but in excellent physical condition and he wrested himself free, huffing as he smoothed down the wrinkled fabric.
"I will report you for this! Mark my words. You will not be carrying those silver oak leaves on your uniform much longer."
"Right now, I'd go back to Airman in a second if it meant not dealing with you anymore. But we are going whether you care to or not," he hissed, throwing a glance behind him every now and then.
Teyla watched with held breath as she heard John lower his voice. It was barely audible over the wind but she heard him say, "Don't make me draw my weapon on you."
Fahd paled and glanced her way. Teyla just nodded her head in tacit agreement with John, assuming he must have a good reason for his fervor to leave in the midst of this.
"Fine. We will go." Completely ignoring the host he was so happy to prevail upon just minutes ago, Fahd turned sharply and began headed to where the jumper had been parked in the beginnings of the tree line.
John thrust out a hand to their host. "Tellen, thank you for your hospitality. I'll make sure we bring extra chocolate on our next visit."
"Are you sure you will be safe, Sheppard?" the kindly man asked doubtfully. "I really do not mind if you and Teyla wish to stay and it would put my heart at ease."
John just shook his head. "Another time, Tellen. Teyla?"
"Of course, Colonel. Tellen? Thank you, and please give my regards to Mina." She looked up to allow the much larger man to bend and rest his forehead on hers, then he kissed her firmly on both cheeks.
"May the Gods be with you, my friends. If you don't mind --?" He then turned and began running back to the house, throwing a wave of farewell behind him as the rain began in earnest.
Fahd was waiting for them at the jumper, soaked through and shivering. The only warmth he showed them was a fire in his dark eyes. John ignored the man completely, striding up the still opening ramp right past the man to head for the pilot's chair.
Teyla closed the hatch up behind her and the Prince, shaking her head as Fahd headed straight for the co-pilot's chair. Without mentioning it she took a seat behind John and began running her hands through her hair, flinging away the cold rain that soaked it. Then she ran her hands down the woolen skirts doing the same. She paused and looked forward.
Fahd was sitting in the co-pilot seat, avidly watching John's hands as they worked the control panel in front of him. The HUD came up and Teyla felt the familiar thrum of the engines coming to life. The expected low bass hum of the inertial dampeners forming their protective field kicked on and she sat back in her seat, ready for what looked to be a bumpy ride back to the gate.
As expected, the lift off was turbulent and she gripped the side of the seat and placed a stabilizing hand on the bulkhead as the small craft was buffeted by winds. John eased the jumper higher and as the winds subsided a bit he allowed the HUD to dematerialize so he could concentrate on the rain spattered windscreen.
Their slow and steady rise was interrupted without warning when the jumper slewed sideways and the HUD came back up. John whirled in his chair and glared at Fahd, then his brow wrinkled briefly. The HUD came back down and the craft straightened out and resumed its previous ascent.
"Don't you ever, EVER, do that. What the hell were you thinking?" John practically spat at the prince.
"You were heading for a bank of storm clouds, Colonel Sheppard," Fahd sneered back. "Or did you fail to notice? And you failed to address me as Your Highness as befits my royal standing."
"In case you 'failed to notice', Fahd, this isn't Saudi Arabia. And on this craft, I am supreme commander, the big cheese, and grand poobah and the ONLY one who gives a say so on flying the damn thing! So just SIT there, on your hands if necessary, or so help me, I'll --"
The inside of the jumper- every display, every readout, and every steady and blinking light suddenly went dark. The thrum of the engines and the bass hum of the inertial dampeners went dead silent.
Then the jumper fell from the sky.