"Ouch!" Teyla pulled back from John sharply, rubbing the spot on her arm where he had pinched her, and looked up to find him smiling. "What was that for?"
"It's April first," he said, as if that should explain it. "A pinch and a punch for the first day of the month."
"You did not punch me," she pointed out, and he shrugged.
"Well, no. You'd probably punch me back. Anyway, it's tradition back home."
"It seems a silly tradition."
"Yeah, well ... sorry. I probably should have warned you first."
"That would have been nice," she agreed, but smiled reluctantly. Of all the Earth traditions she had encountered so far, this was possibly the strangest.
"Don't even think about it," Ronon said as John looked at him, and Teyla hid a smile as John took half a step back, his arms outstretched.
"Wouldn't dream of it. So, where's McKay?" he asked, switching his attention back to Teyla.
"I do not know," she said.
John frowned. "All right. Why don't you tell me about -"
He was interrupted as Rodney entered the room loudly, holding what appeared to be a lemon in one hand.
"What the hell is this?" he demanded, and John laughed. Rodney turned on him angrily, and tossed the lemon aside. "Of course. I should have known. I could have died, you know."
"Relax, it's fake."
"I got that," Rodney said. "After I spent half an hour trying to get out of bed without touching it. What the hell were you thinking?"
"It's April Fools," John said, and Teyla frowned. Another tradition?
"April Fools?" she asked, and John turned to look at her.
"Yeah. It's the first of April, so we play tricks on each other. You know, like practical jokes. For fun."
She glanced at Rodney, who still appeared agitated. "It does not seem like fun to me."
"I thought it was funny," Ronon offered, and Rodney glared at him.
"Yeah, you would."
"You're just not used to it," John assured her. "Trust me, it's practically expected."
"For those of us who still act like eight-year-olds," Rodney added.
John ignored him. "So, what do we need to know about M4X-379?"
"The Nerrine are a friendly people," Teyla said, willing to let the subject drop. "My people have traded with them on many occasions. They are particularly known for growing the peilana fruit, which I believe resembles your mangoes."
"Great," John said, smiling brightly. "Let's go trade."
The sun was not yet high by the time they finished negotiations, which had gone smoothly. The leader, Bellin, remembered Teyla well, and she was glad of the opportunity to catch up with an old friend.
"Come," he said, when the talks were finished. "You must join us in the morning feast. It is the harvest season, after all."
"Great," she heard John mutter under his breath. "Another harvest festival."
She smiled politely to cover him, and nodded in acceptance. "Thank you. We would love to join your feast."
"As long as there's no citrus," Rodney added, and John looked like he was trying very hard not to laugh.
"I do not believe citrus is common on this planet," she assured him. He let out what might have been a sceptical grunt, but didn't say anything else.
"Please," Bellin said a few moments later, as they entered the meeting hall. "Be seated."
Teyla inclined her head as she did so, sitting beside John and Rodney at the low table. The food was laid out in communal dishes, elegantly arranged, and she filled her plate slowly as the wine was served.
"So, where's the cutlery?" John asked quietly after a few minutes, and she hid a smile.
"It is customary to eat with one's hands," she said, and watched as he glanced at Ronon, who was doing just that. With a shrug, he picked up some of the seasoned grains, and she tried not to laugh as half of them fell promptly back onto his plate.
"Like this," she said, picking a piece of fruit off his plate. His hand closed around hers as she brought it up to his mouth, and she could feel her skin beginning to flush as his lips brushed her fingers.
"It's good," he said around the fruit, and she smiled.
"I will give Bellin your compliments."
"Yeah, you do that."
They finished the rest of the meal in relative harmony, apart from a few whispered questions to her from John and Rodney. Despite Ronon's objections, they made their excuses before dessert was served, John citing a need to get back to Atlantis before they were overdue.
The food had been heavy, and the spiced wine strong, so their pace was slowed as they made their way back to the gate. The sun was shining brightly overhead by the time they reached it, and Bellin nodded as Rodney began to dial the gate.
"I look forward to your return," he said, and Teyla smiled.
"As do I. It has been too long."
They were just about to step through when a young girl approached, a wreath held in her hands. She glanced shyly up at John before handing it silently to Teyla, who smiled as she laid it on John's head.
"What was that about?" he asked quietly.
She hesitated for only a minute before answering. "It indicates that we are married."
John's outburst came as soon as they were through the gate, and Teyla turned to him calmly.
"Yes. It is the custom of their people."
"It's -" He broke off, and she raised an eyebrow, waiting for him to continue. "What, so you put some leaves on my head and now we're married?"
She frowned. "There was also the hand-feeding ritual. And I believe we both drank the wine at the harvest festival."
For a moment, he appeared lost for words. "So that's it? We're just ... married?"
"I believed you were aware of the custom."
"You thought I was aware?" His jaw was clenched tightly, and it took an effort not to smile. He glanced around at Rodney and Ronon, who were both watching them closely. "We'll debrief later."
Ronon approached her as John left, a question in his eyes. "I thought the Nerrine had big wedding ceremonies," he said, and she ventured a small smile.
"So you and Sheppard are ..."
"He believes we are married," she said, and Ronon grinned.
She nodded, and was about to walk away when Rodney moved forward.
"So you're not really married?"
After a second, she shook her head. "It is April Fools, is it not?"
"But you don't want to tell Sheppard," Ronon said, though Teyla suspected it was directed more at Rodney than at her.
"Oh, don't worry," Rodney said. "After that whole lemon incident, he deserves to suffer." He glanced at Teyla, and frowned. "Um, not that being married to you would be suffering, exactly. I just meant -"
"It is all right," she assured him. "I understand what you meant."
"Oh. Well. Good." He appeared to compose himself, and nodded. "And I won't say anything."
John glanced at Teyla, but kept walking, and after a beat, she fell into step beside him. Neither of them spoke as they approached the gateroom, which he was thankful for; after an hour, he still had no idea what to say, and he wasn't sure he was ready to hear Teyla's thoughts on the subject.
Rodney and Ronon were already waiting for them when they arrived, and he nodded to Chuck to dial the gate. "Captain Meiler's team was due back from M39-851 this morning," he said. "We just got word that they've been unavoidably detained."
"Detained how?" Ronon asked, and he shrugged.
"Didn't say. It didn't sound like they were in trouble, but we should stay alert."
The area on the other side of the gate was quiet as they stepped through, and he signalled to the others to move forward slowly. He could see Teyla on the far side of the clearing, and he told himself he had almost succeeded in forgetting the morning's events when Rodney and Ronon closed in on either side of him.
"I never got a chance to say congratulations," Ronon said quietly, and John scowled.
"There's nothing to congratulate me about. It's a sham wedding."
"Looked pretty real to me."
"Yeah, well, where I come from, people usually agree to get married before it happens."
"You could do worse," Ronon offered, and Rodney laughed.
"That's an understatement."
John turned to him, making sure Teyla was still safely out of earshot. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Come on. Like this kind of thing never happens to you. At least this time it's with Teyla."
Okay, so maybe he had a point. "That doesn't mean I want to be married to her."
John was about to reply when Ronon stopped suddenly, and he did the same. They had reached the edge of the village, and he scanned the area quickly before moving forward again.
It didn't take long to find Meiler's team, surrounded by a large group in what he supposed was the town square. None of the villagers appeared to be armed, but he kept his gun drawn nonetheless as they stepped forward.
He allowed himself to relax slightly as Meiler greeted him, though he could see Ronon looking around warily.
"Captain," he said, as Ronon nodded almost imperceptibly. If Ronon said they were safe, they probably were. "You were due back in Atlantis almost five hours ago."
"Sorry about that, sir." Meiler didn't look sorry, and it didn't take a genius to work out that it probably had something to do with the woman hanging off his arm. "A couple of the guys wanted to stay a little longer, and I figured it wouldn't hurt to build up some trade relations."
If there was any trading going on, John didn't want to know about it. "I can see that," he said evenly. "But relations are over, captain. We're heading out."
"Yes, sir," Meiler said, and John looked away as he extracted himself from the woman's grasp. A few feet away, a man was leaning into Teyla, and he felt a surge of something he chose to call impatience as he approached her.
"We're leaving," he said, and Teyla nodded. The man reached out to take her hand, and John scowled, hesitating only a moment before he slid an arm around her waist.
She glanced up at him, but didn't say anything, and the man stepped back. "She is yours?" he asked, and John raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah," he said, after a minute. "She's mine. Just got married this morning."
As the man backed away, it took John a few seconds to realise his arm was still around Teyla, and he hesitated to remove it.
"We're ready, sir," Meiler said, and John looked up to see Meiler's team assembled and looking once more like a respectable unit. He dropped his hand, and nodded.
"Let's move out."
They were almost at the gate when he stopped, and turned to Meiler again.
"Nobody got married back there, did they?"
Luckily, the debriefings hadn't taken long, and John rubbed his temples as he left. He'd seen fit to leave a few details out, and nobody else had volunteered them; it wasn't the first time they hadn't been entirely upfront about what had happened off world, and he doubted it would be the last.
He caught up with Teyla in the hallway, and touched her elbow a second before she turned around.
He couldn't help smiling at her formality. "Considering the circumstances, you can probably call me John."
She nodded as they fell into step beside one another. "John."
"So, I've been thinking ..." He paused as she stopped once more, and waited for something to come to him. Admittedly, he hadn't had a lot of time to think about what had happened, but he was pretty sure it shouldn't be this difficult. "These people, the Nerrine. I don't suppose they believe in divorce?"
She looked like she was considering the question. "It is not a part of their culture," she admitted finally. "But I believe that if we explained the situation to them, they might make an exception."
After a minute, he shook his head, feeling stupid even as he did so. "That's okay. I wouldn't want to cause offence."
"We do not have to be married, John."
No. He could be divorced, instead. Again. And as much as suddenly being married to Teyla was a lot to take in, he wasn't quite sure he was ready to divorce her, either.
"Well, it's just on one planet, right?" He offered a smile, and let it slip when she didn't return it. "Anyway, it's not like I was planning on marrying anyone else any time soon."
Teyla nodded slowly, and he tried to read her expression. He reached out a hand to take hers, and leaned in closer, lowering his voice. He was almost certain he was joking when he spoke.
"Besides ... this marriage thing. I suppose there are benefits."
She froze, and he dropped his hand hurriedly.
"I'm sorry -" he began.
"I do not think that would be wise," she said, and despite himself, John felt a surge of disappointment.
"You don't?" he asked carefully.
She smiled, and he felt himself beginning to relax once more. "I know it wasn't your choice that we become married. I would not want to take advantage of that."
For a moment, he wanted to insist; to tell her that she wouldn't be taking advantage, to lean in and watch her close her eyes as he ran his fingers down her arm. Instead, he stepped back, and tried on a smile.
"Yeah," he said, trying for casual. "Of course. I was ... you know. Kidding."
"Of course," she said, and he felt himself nodding.
"Anyway. I'm kinda hungry, so I thought I might -"
"I was going to rest."
"Yeah." He took a breath, and tried to steady himself as she turned to walk away. He wasn't sure exactly what had just happened there, but he was left with the distinct feeling that he'd like to take it all back.
He wasn't hungry, really - they had eaten a lot on M4X-379, and his stomach was still churning in an uncomfortable way - but he figured the mess hall was as good a place to go as any. Rodney and Ronon were already at a table when he entered, and he slid his mostly empty tray onto the table as he sat down.
"You're not hungry?" Rodney asked, glancing at the tray.
Rodney shrugged. "It's dinner time."
"We already ate a huge meal."
"That was hours ago."
John rolled his eyes as he half-heartedly picked up his jello, then put it back down.
"Something wrong?" Ronon asked, and John glanced at him.
"Huh? No, I'm fine."
He winced at the sound of her name, and Ronon's eyebrows shot up.
"You two have a fight?"
"More like a lovers' tiff," Rodney offered, and John glared at him.
"We're not lovers."
"Yeah, but you are -"
"We're not married, either." It came out a little louder than he'd been expecting, but nobody else seemed disturbed by it.
Rodney took a bite out of his sandwich. "Oh, so you finally figured it out?"
"Figured what out?"
Rodney jumped as if he'd been kicked, and John frowned.
"McKay? Figured what out?"
Rodney glanced at Ronon, and shrugged, not meeting John's eyes. "What? Nothing. I didn't say anything."
John shifted his gaze to Ronon. "Teyla and I aren't really married."
Ronon shrugged. "If you say so."
After a moment, something clicked. "April Fools."
Rodney looked nervous. "What? I have no idea what you're talking about."
John didn't need his confirmation; even Ronon was studiously looking elsewhere. "Oh, she's going down."
Teyla looked up as John opened the door to her room, standing as he entered.
"Can we talk?" he asked, and she nodded.
"Good." He stepped forward, and she waited for him to speak. "I've been thinking about this whole marriage thing."
"I think we should give it a shot."
That was certainly not what she had been expecting. "Pardon me?"
"Marriage. I think we should do it. The whole shebang."
She frowned. "I don't think -"
"No, it'll be great. I'll take you home, you can meet my family, we'll have a big wedding. We'll have to come up with a story about where you're from, but that's okay. I bet you could even learn how to cook. I mean, let's face it, the stuff they serve us here is hardly great."
"I'll have to take you off the team, of course. Can't go around putting my wife in danger. And we should get started on the whole kid thing. I'm thinking three, maybe four."
He fell silent, and after a minute, she narrowed her eyes. "Rodney and Ronon told you."
He was standing closer, now, and she could see the amusement in his eyes. "They might have let it slip, yeah."
She closed her eyes, and opened them sharply as she felt his hand on her waist. "What -"
"Just so we're clear," he interrupted her. "We're not married?"
"We are not."
"Good." He leaned forward, and she closed her eyes as she felt his lips on hers, hesitating briefly before returning the kiss.
When they broke apart, John was smiling. "You know," he said, moving his other hand to encircle her waist, "in some cultures, that means we're married."