Mr Woolsey's Guide to Etiquette in the Pegasus Galaxy
Beta: auburnnothenna, who, despite threatening me with her riding crop, *added* a semicolon ♥
Summary: Practical examples of etiquette essential for survival in the Pegasus Galaxy.
A/N: My thanks to the inspirational Emily Post website. Yikes. Most of this was written before Inquisition, but I added stuff in because if you're going to 'ship the 'ship, you couldn't ask for a more slashtastic ending *g*
Spoilers: The Lost Tribe (specifically, who the tribe are), Inquisition (not so much that I spoil this episode, as that you'll have to take me on faith about things like the Genii military aspirations if you've not seen it.)
Woolsey: "The rules are there for a reason, Colonel. If I can't trust them, then I'm not sure I can do this job."
Sheppard: "Welcome to the Pegasus Galaxy."
Richard had never been so glad in his life to see anyone as he was to see John Sheppard, there at the door to his cell. Even the debacle of his first visit to Atlantis had been ameliorated by Jack O'Neill's competent presence. He hadn't known it was so easy to be pushed to his breaking point just by being kept alone.
"You okay?" Sheppard asked, gesturing to his soldiers to secure the area before stepping inside and shutting the (thick, wooden, windowless) door most of the way behind him. He was standing in the typical Sheppard slouch, but the pose was obviously calculated. Richard had the impression that Sheppard was distracted, as if keeping track in his head of the movements and possible movements of people and spacecraft. Sheppard was still; the way this rescue (so far) had been perfectly silent: like a volcano, about to blow.
"Fine," Richard said stiffly. He was standing back away from the light, but he knew it was obvious that he was naked. And scared.
"Seriously," Sheppard said, "I need to know if they, if you're hurt, doesn't need to go any farther than this room, it's important." He put his P90 down and stripped off his tac vest and his jacket and his long sleeved shirt. He tossed the last two over in a lazy slow underhand, untucked his t-shirt, and unzipped his trousers. "You're important," he added, with a cataloguing kind of look, as if looking for bruises or burns or needle marks.
"They didn't do anything to me," Richard said, speaking through black fabric as he pulled the warmth of Sheppard's shirt over his head.
"Not what I asked," Sheppard said, balancing to pull his boots off and then drop his trousers. "We're kind of the wrong size," he added apologetically, and held the trousers out. "Or you could have the boxers, but — " He looked down and then up through his lashes like a child who'd been caught up to no good. His underwear was a cheerful blue and read Visit New Zealand — 11 Sheep to Every Man. "They're my lucky shorts," Sheppard said in exculpation, stepping back into his boots as Richard pulled the trousers up, tucked the shirt down so he didn't damage himself, sucked in his stomach, and gingerly pulled the zip up.
"Lucky," Richard repeated, the waistband digging in painfully and the extra inches of leg fabric catching under his feet.
"Oh, yeah," Sheppard said, taking a step forward and kneeling to roll the cuffs up. "This rescue owes everything to the lucky sheep." He stood and gave Richard a nod. "Now you look like the man. Ready to get out of here?"
"Thank you," Richard said. He didn't even realise he was on the verge of tears until Sheppard slapped him awkwardly on the shoulder, twice, while looking around the room as if trying to find something to comment on.
"It'll be okay," Sheppard said. "We've got you. Come on, now. It's bad, I know, but you're almost home. And it's meatloaf night," he added, with a squeeze as if he was willing his own strength into Richard.
"That's supposed to cheer me up?" Richard asked, but he did feel something, as if he'd stumbled back onto a familiar path.
Sheppard stepped away so he could scrub Richard's face clean with his sleeve. "You love the meatloaf," he said. "Everyone loves the meatloaf." He twisted and ducked and came up strapping himself into his vest and slinging his gun into place. He looked dangerous, despite the cartoon sheep and the hairy knees. He jerked his head at the door. "Let's go. It's fucking cold in here."
"Yes," Richard said, falling into step behind Sheppard. "Yes, it is."
Richard held formal dinners in his quarters Sunday evenings. He never invited more than four people; he didn't want to have parties. He just wanted intelligent conversation and a chance to get to know the better side of the people he worked with on a day to day basis. The people from Earth, he found, were just as intrigued as the Pegasans about the things he loved.
The Emmagens (Teyla assured him this was the proper form of address on Athos: he liked to know these things) were the first to reciprocate his hospitality. Teyla's husband prepared a simple dinner while Richard played with their son. They talked about family structures and alliances between worlds; Richard wondered if there was an anthropologist in the SGC he could borrow for several years. It might be necessary, diplomatically. Teyla brought out a wooden game board after dinner and after teaching Richard the rules — remarkably similar to chess — proceeded to beat him twice, by which time they were both rather drunk on the good Athosian fruit liquor.
He told her how similar it was to a game from Earth, and mentioned that the way the game pieces could be replayed if captured reflected the cooperative (or pragmatic) form of diplomacy he found in the Pegasus Galaxy. Teyla broke into deep laugher and leaned back against Kanaan, resting her head on his shoulder.
"But it is a game from your world," she said. "John taught me how to play. He told me that it's a game to teach military strategy." Her smile turned teasing. "He told me it was a game that children play."
"I'm sure they do," Richard said. "Perhaps I should just stick to blocks," he added, leaning over to help Torren with the elaborate tower he was building. Torren bounced and said kaa! and knocked his whole castle down.
Five minutes on his computer the next day taught Richard that the game was Japanese and called shogi; that the Atlantis Mensa chapter had a Shogi SIG (and that Sheppard was not listed as a member); and that in Pegasus the game was known as Two Tribes and was already included in some school curricula, on planets advanced enough to have school systems.
He also learned that the SGC was fighting a losing battle to suppress an internet version of the Genii game Hives and Gates. He wished them good luck with that impossible task, and wondered if Dr McKay were behind it.
He had McKay, the chair of Women Scientists of Atlantis, and two of the shogi-playing Mensans over for dinner the next weekend. It was. . . lively, to say the least. At least he'd had the foresight to not use the wine glasses his mother had left him. He invited the gate-room technicians next, to give himself time to recuperate. They were quiet and polite and entertained him with the amusing sort of gossip that he expected from gate-room technicians: who had returned from off-world in tribal costume, or with an unexpected husband or wife, or a social disease. Sheppard's lucky boxer shorts had been the source of much gate-room joy. Sheppard, allowing that a job that consisted of encoding chevrons and occasionally being blown up needed the occasional perks, had even posed for a commemorative photograph, which had made its way onto the Atlantis servers. He'd been hiding from the New Zealanders ever since.
Richard decided that he himself had probably been hiding from Sheppard, and that he needed to invite Sheppard over. He knew that people would talk if he refused to see Sheppard socially, but that wasn't it; not entirely. It was a matter of courage, and he knew himself well enough to admit that he wasn't a very brave person. Still. He liked to think that despite that, he did the right thing.
Sheppard didn't even blink when Richard asked him whether he had plans for Sunday night. He did raise his eyebrows and ask whether he needed to dress up or bring anything. Richard asked him to bring a shogi board, if he had one. Sheppard said sure, and gave Richard a short smile, and then indicated with an apologetic jerk of his head that McKay's bellowing of it's not like I have all day was in fact directed at him. Richard told him to go on, and turned away at the same time so that he wouldn't watch Sheppard lope down the stairs.
Pegasus was beautiful and full of wonders; and also — at times — unutterably alien in ways that felt as if they should be familiar. Despite the best guidance and information available, the Atlanteans made mistakes. They still walked into traps and festering vendettas. This time it was Gate Team 4B, who'd been in the middle of a routine atmospheric survey of P9A-BG3 when they'd wandered across a military installation where there should have been only rainforest and primate-oids with wings (Atlantis seemed to be cursed with flying monkeys at every turn). 4B had sent back one transmission, which had cut off abruptly in what sounded like an explosion.
Sheppard had his rescue team geared up within the hour; Richard spent the intervening time talking with the allied Latirans, who still maintained relations with the Genii, of course, though they pretended not to for form's sake. The Genii political faction the Latirans dealt with was different from that with which Atlantis maintained chilly relations (though pretending not to), but both groups denied any activity on P9A-BG3.
One of Major Lorne's informants heard that the Santha were building an army on P9A-BG3, which if true meant that whatever Sheppard did would be wrong.
"I'm going in and getting our people out," Sheppard said sharply, but he still agreed to meet the Latirans on the other side of the gate, and he ordered his soldiers to observe the Pegasus rules of engagement.
Santhans still died; they'd deployed land and air mines (balloons! McKay complained later; My genius is wasted here), which the Genii had banned and therefore had a surplus of. The Latiran unit was led by a woman who claimed to outrank Sheppard but who had no practical combat experience. Latirans died. Of the Atlanteans, Dr Fong of meteorology had been killed in the explosion that had brought down 4B's puddlejumper; Sergeant Baker would probably lose her leg. Teyla Emmagan returned with a skull fracture, and there were multiple shrapnel injuries from the mines as well as second and third degree burns from the Santhan guns, a kind of long-range taser.
"It was a total clusterfuck," Sheppard said dully, sitting with his back perfectly straight and looking in an unfocussed way at the infirmary wall. On the other side, Teyla was still in surgery. Spare beds and cots had been set up in every free space available, even in the corridors outside: no matter how personally enraged he might have been, Sheppard had still brought all the casualties, Latiran, Santha, and Atlantean, home with him. Latira had sent healers. Even the Genii (the Atlantis-friendly Genii) had offered help. Despite local prejudices and feelings, interplanetary war between humans was still regarded as a preventable horror — although the prevailing attitude on most planets was that it was preventable if all other peoples shut up and accepted a subordinate role.
Sheppard had blood in his hair. Richard didn't know if he knew. He didn't know if it was Sheppard's blood or not. Sheppard's hair had been parted by one of the Santhan ray guns; a centimetre lower and he'd have had a nasty burn. Richard suspected that Sheppard had been sitting out here for the three hours since he'd returned. Rumour was that Kanaan had kicked Sheppard out of the curtained-off waiting room. McKay and Sheppard had had some kind of argument on the planet; Ronon had intervened. Ronon was with Kanaan. Richard could hear him reading a story to Torren. McKay was nowhere to be seen; probably venting his anger and fear on his subordinates.
"How are you?" Richard asked, and Sheppard finally looked at him with mildly-singed incredulity.
"Then you should go to your quarters and clean up." Sheppard shook his head silently. "You'll be notified immediately if there's any news. I'll see to it personally. But you need to take care of yourself. It's the best way that you can help right now."
Sheppard scrubbed his face with both hands, roughly, and looked surprised at the mud that flaked off. He took a deep breath and let it out as he pushed to his feet. "I'll, then," he said, talking to the doorway and filling in the missing words with sharp chops of his hand.
"Go," Richard said. Sheppard went, and Richard assumed the vigil.
Richard didn't even need to knock; the door to Sheppard's room slid open as soon as he stopped in front. He stepped inside, and the lights came up.
"I brought you dinner," Richard said. It wasn't the sort of Sunday dinner he had had planned, but the spirit of the gesture was the same. "I thought that while we were waiting to hear — "
Sheppard was stretched out on his bed, feet hanging off the end, the arm thrown over his eyes raised just enough that he could see for himself who had woken him up. With a sigh and a wince, Sheppard curled up to sit on the edge of his bed. He'd showered and changed clothes, but the hot water hadn't erased the shadows over his eyes. He pushed his hair down futilely and looked off low to the side. Richard could see his jaw clench, and then relax, before he finally looked up. "Thanks."
Richard nodded and looked about the room. Sheppard didn't have a proper dining table. He had end tables, which were all piled haphazard with books, papers, and toys. Richard started moving things to make enough space for the tray. After a moment, Sheppard slipped off the bed and silently relocated some of the clutter to a chair.
"I'm not good company," Sheppard murmured, perching on the arm of a black stuffed chair and picking up the fork to twirl between his fingers.
"I'm not asking you to be." Richard gave him a flat, sympathetic smile. "Today — "
Sheppard held up his other hand. "I did the right thing today," he said, holding Richard's gaze. "I know I did. Everything by the fucking book. It was bad. It could have been worse. It could have been — all of us. A massacre. It's going over and over in my head, but I can't see anything that could have been done better." He twitched his shoulders in a shrug. "You eat yet?"
Richard shook his head. "I was going to wait for the meatloaf to run out."
Sheppard laughed, looking startled. "How about you go grab dinner and something from your wine cellar appropriate for coworker consolation while I clean this place up? We can have a bad dinner, good wine, and decent conversation." He quirked an eyebrow. "I'll even change out of my pyjamas for you."
Richard had seen Sheppard before in the tattered sweatpants he was wearing, but only when he was running straight from offtime into disaster. "Here I'd heard that good manners were a lost art," Richard said, smiling despite himself as he left. He thought about putting on one of his suits when he was back in his quarters, but somehow that didn't seem right. He took off his uniform, though, and pulled on navy wool trousers and a white button-down shirt. He thought it looked appropriate to the seriousness of the situation.
When he returned, Sheppard rallied enough to make passable dinner conversation. Richard would have been insulted by the act, except he suspected that Sheppard was grateful for being given a role he could escape into. Sheppard was good at telling amusing stories, things that never made it into mission reports: culture clashes, exotic costumes, alien rituals (we thought it was going to be an orgy, it turned out to be a meeting of their genealogical society). Richard saw a whole new side to life in Pegasus. It was probably the wine that made Richard decide that he wished he knew more about Sheppard.
"So," Richard said. "You and Ronon, you're — aren't you. . . that's what I heard," he concluded lamely, pinned by a stare that was both drunkenly amused and deadly cold serious. "No. I'm sorry. It's unforgivably rude of me to — and none of my business."
"I know who told you that," Sheppard said, finally putting the long awkward silence to death. "It goes all the way back to Aidan Ford on M7G-677, where his gaydar pinged and he wouldn't shut up about it. And then Ford's place on the team went to this big buff gorgeous alien guy instead of Johnson — it was Johnson, right? — thought so. She's been building this case against me for years." Sheppard pulled his chin down and looked moody. "She's only hurting herself."
"Her accusations don't hurt you." Richard spoke carefully, making the statement a question.
"It can't hurt me if it's not true," Sheppard said, sounding even more morose. Richard realised he'd made the false assumption that alcohol would relax Sheppard. But it was a depressant, and Sheppard had every reason to be depressed, especially when Richard brought up impossible topics like this. He wished he knew enough about sports to be able to change the subject convincingly. Sheppard tipped his head back and finished what was left in his glass. "He's not my type anyway," Sheppard said with an air of fuck it, and looked Richard straight in the eye.
Richard's heart jumped and started beating double time. Sheppard seemed on the verge of. . . something. . . and then the door slid open, and McKay walked in with a loud, "Well, there you are," and his hands on his hips.
Sheppard's eyes went deer-in-the-headlights round, the picture of who, me?
"I told Jennifer I'd tell you the news myself," McKay went on, and Sheppard shot to his feet. "Oh, please, Lieutenant Colonel Drama Queen, Teyla's fine, she's in the recovery room, and Kanaan says he's sorry for punching you — "
"It was a shove, McKay," Sheppard said, grabbing his boots from under the bed.
McKay talked over him. "And I may have said some things myself when I was — "
"It's cool — "
" — and I'm sorry," McKay finished loudly. He snapped the fingers of both hands and made a sweeping gesture towards the transporter. "You're wearing a panda shirt," he added, with a disapproving frown. "And you're drunk."
"Aw, Rodney," Sheppard said, holding out his arm to indicate that Richard should come with them, "you love my panda shirt, don't you remember? Richard loves my panda shirt."
"You disturb me." McKay waved the transporter doors open and quickly slapped their destination onto the map. "And also, when did we stop getting drunk together?"
"When you got yourself a girlfriend," Sheppard said. "Jeez, McKay, you've got mustard or something in your hair."
McKay stopped short just after exiting the transporter and patted his head gingerly. “Well, crap," he said, his fingers finding ketchup as well. All of a sudden Sheppard was laughing, and Richard was laughing; and even McKay, after ten seconds of looking indignant, joined in.
Later, perhaps their fourth or fifth dinner together, this time in Richard's quarters, Richard asked Sheppard what he thought about the mistakes Richard made. About his ignorance and cowardice, although he phrased it less bluntly.
"You're principled," Sheppard said. "And you're honest. You admit your mistakes. I admire you a hell of a lot, you know." He smiled secretively at the last, and sipped his wine while looking at Richard with a kind of promising gleam.
Richard had to take a steadying breath and control his expression as if he were in court. He'd suspected this was coming; he'd thought out the possible moves as if it were a game. If Sheppard acted, how did he stand to gain, or lose? And what about Richard himself? Were either of them capable of any action at all without the strings of the IOA or the SGC or the Pegasus Galaxy pulling at them? He breathed out carefully. "It's no good saying you admire me for my principles and then trying to seduce me. Colonel."
Sheppard shrugged. "Tell me about it." He leaned forward to set his wine glass carefully on the table, and then continued the lean sideways until he was in Richard's space. Up close, his eyes were a very disconcerting colour, paler than they ought to be. "If we do make a mistake, of course, I promise I'll learn from it in the morning."
Richard had read everything on Sheppard that was available at his security clearance, and a few things that were not. He knew the mistakes that Sheppard had made; more importantly, he knew the kinds of mistakes Sheppard was likely to make. Sheppard trusted. He put his faith in people, he tried to keep his promises, and so far he'd only learned, as far as Richard saw, how to get away with this, whether through subterfuge, disobedience, or plausible deniability.
Richard suspected that Sheppard not only knew what Richard knew, but had researched him just as thoroughly. He wondered what had made Sheppard decide to trust him.
"You're impossible," Richard said. One of Sheppard's hands brushed his shoulder, trailed up his throat, swept like a whisper across the line of his jaw to his cheek, where it settled, the backs of Sheppard's fingers curled in waiting against Richard's skin.
"I've heard that before," Sheppard said, and gave Richard one of his private smiles, the haunted one. "One kiss?"
"This is ridiculous," Richard said. Sheppard said he knew, but he said the words into Richard's mouth, against his lips, and then he shut his eyes. Which wasn't fair.
Whether or not they ended up sleeping together that night; whatever transpired; nothing changed. Nothing could change, which was a comfort or a curse, depending on which way you looked at it. In debriefings, Sheppard referred to similar situations as the Pegasus paradox, with a fond yet irritated shake of the head; the way one might speak of the family black sheep.
They didn't sleep with each other again after that. Sheppard kept his word: if you were on his side, if you were one of Sheppard's people, he was honest like that. They didn't even mention it again. Richard taught Sheppard how to play classical guitar; Sheppard ordered Richard a proper shogi set from Osaka and used it to give hands-on demonstrations of his philosophy of war (it partially, but not completely, explained how Sheppard could count as one of his allies a Wraith who'd already killed him once). As far as Richard knew — and he had eyes and ears at every level of Atlantis society — there was no suggestion that his relationship with Sheppard was in any way improper.
Richard found himself catapulted into the role of diplomat and negotiator as meetings with Latira, Santha, and an increasing number of allied worlds led to a surfeit of treaties and contracts and hard pragmatic bargains. Each gate team was assigned a theoretically-neutral allied observer who reported back to a committee of the Pegasus Council. Richard obtained not one but two SGC anthropologists, both of them bright-eyed and eager until they were shot at for the first time. Teyla and Ronon were put in charge of finding ways to integrate more Pegasans into Atlantis; their first act was to set up a nursing school, with a course in midwifery, because as Teyla said, people fight those who endanger their children, and they welcome those who save them.
Sheppard expressed his bemused — and occasionally irritated — acceptance of all these changes, but he still pursued his own contacts among the less civic-minded Pegasans until he had arranged meetings off-world with both the renegade Asgard and Todd the Wraith.
"It's a damn good thing he likes me so much," Sheppard said in his debriefing after returning two weeks late from a meeting with both the Asgard and Todd.
"He likes you with fries on the side," McKay snapped. Richard had always thought that the McKay-Sheppard act was based on mutual antagonism, but when Sheppard had returned and had given McKay one of the two Asgard portable holes that had survived Todd's insane but somehow successful rebellion, McKay had set it down (with reverence) and given Sheppard a rib-cracking hug right there in the gateroom. And then pulled back and slapped the back of Sheppard's head hard.
Sheppard leaned back in his chair and grinned, wide and vibrant with deadly pleasure, almost feral. He might have come back older, but he insisted he was in no way wiser. "They took the damn cure, Rodney, and then we kicked some serious Wraith ass." He looked up the table at Richard, and his expression slipped. Richard saw regret and exhaustion, fear and shame and longing and horror, one after another and sometimes two emotions at once, until Sheppard covered his face with his hands and slow-breathed himself back to calm. When he raised his head he went on with his report as if nothing had happened. At the end, he looked steadily at the table in front of Richard. "I hope the Tsauchi agricultural contract went through. My Wraith, they're pretty damn hungry already."
If it hadn't been during a debriefing, if they hadn't been in uniform and doing their duties to Earth and Pegasus, Richard would have embraced Sheppard himself, then and there.
Instead, Sheppard went back to the infirmary afterwards for his test results, and then retired to his quarters. He was still in the shower when Richard let himself in, carefully balancing two dinner trays. He set them on the lab table that Sheppard had stolen and covered with a bright Athosian cloth.
Sheppard came out with a towel around his shoulders, wearing a pair of faded black boxers. He startled visibly when he realised someone was in the room, but when he saw it was Richard, busy with the corkscrew and wholly innocuous in his dark grey suit and tie, Sheppard gave him a sweet, pleased smile. Richard ached for him and smiled back.
"Let me just," Sheppard said, and pulled on a black t-shirt to hide the bandages on his chest. When he turned around to step into his (also black) trousers, Richard noted that his underwear read blogworthy across the ass.
"Are those shorts lucky as well?" he asked, pouring the wine. Sheppard looked down, and then up with a predatory gleam.
"Not yet," Sheppard said. "But they could be." He cinched his belt, towelled his hair and tried to fingercomb it into order, and accepted the glass Richard held out.
They toasted Earth and Pegasus, the Pegasus Council, the Asgard, and the Wraith (Richard balked at this last; Sheppard insisted). Dinner was quiet. They talked about trade agreements and crop rotations and whether the SGC would allow them to import tractors (only John Deere, John theorised, leaning back with a satiated rub to his stomach, none of those Japanese ones). The evening was an island: comfort and familiarity in the midst of turmoil, a construct of things spoken and unspoken (and unspeakable). Richard knew that he'd needed this. He didn't have the audacity to posit Sheppard's feelings.
Neither of them bothered with the game of seduction. Richard assumed Sheppard knew intuitively, the way Richard did, that they'd end up in bed, fitting into each other as naturally as if they were long-time lovers. It was simply a matter of tidying the dishes away and undressing, of catching a hand and then a shoulder and then exploration and desperate kissing. Still, Richard asked, because he always preferred knowing to not, what Sheppard wanted.
"I want — " Sheppard said, naked and shaking with need; and he stopped, seeming to think that he'd said enough, and kissed Richard open-mouthed and wild. "I want," Sheppard repeated, his head falling back onto the mattress, "please"; and Richard found it easy to take him to pieces after that admission. Sheppard was, after all, already broken.
Putting him back together would take longer, Richard knew; but in the darkness Sheppard wound against him and said there's no one I trust more to do it right.
Richard hoped the time they had left would be enough. Because whether or not Sheppard ever found what he wanted; whatever transpired in the unknowable reaches of Sheppard's heart; something had changed between them. Richard knew it was fragile: he knew that both of them would sacrifice it without thought for the safety and well-being of the people they led. But he thought, falling and falling down into sleep, he'd like to keep this, just a little longer.