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As Teyla and Yelira walked ahead of the men, they began to talk quietly amongst themselves. Her son and husband had picked up the basket and walked respectfully behind her, having a quiet discussion as well. John raised a curious eyebrow at this, but it faded once McKay started talking.

“So no Wraith, but the women are in charge. Just shoot me now,” he grumbled as he walked along the path, kicking at rocks with the toe of his boot.

Ronan patted his stunner. “I can do that.”

“Easy, boys,” John reprimanded in a hushed voice. “Let’s not make them think we’re any crazier than we already are.” He rolled his neck on his shoulders, feeling a slight crack as it settled.

The mood was less tense as they walked back to the village. They passed other women and John noticed how Darrin and Azari both gave them a respectful nod as they walked by.

John was actually surprised that they hadn't encountered more matriarchal societies during their time in Pegasus. When they had first met the Athosians, he operated under the assumption that the women were in charge, since Teyla was their leader. However, in the time since, it became apparent that gender wasn't an issue among them.

He thought briefly about how Elizabeth had told him about her publicized conversation with Kavanagh outside her office, and all the subsequent sexist things he had said. It was amazing how advanced humans could claim to be, and yet they could still be so primal.

He shook his head.

The pathway emptied into the middle of town. Their houses were small and simple, with glass windows and light fixtures. It was apparent that the women yielded more respect as a group of young women, dressed in long skirts and fitted blouses, stopped at the corner and motioned for an older man to come to them. He bowed slightly, then scurried away to do whatever she had just told him.

Next to him, Ronan chuckled. "I have a feeling Doctor Weir would like it here."

"What makes you say that?"

The Satedan smiled briefly. "The women are in charge."

John scoffed and stopped walking, turning to look at Ronan. “Just because Doctor Weir’s in charge of the Expedition doesn’t mean that she’s a controlling, domineering woman.”

“I know,” Ronan replied immediately, raising his hands. “I just meant they’d have something in common.”

John blinked behind his aviators, and Ronan shot him a knowing look.

As the Satedan walked on with McKay and Teyla, John stopped himself. Had he really just jumped to Elizabeth’s defense that quickly? He was loyal to her; anyone who knew him a little was aware of that, but for some reason it continued gnawing at him as he caught up to the others. During Woolsey’s interviews with them months ago, he had told Elizabeth about how the IOA representative had questioned him so intensely about her decisions, causing that little comment that still brought a chuckle to him every time he thought about it. Certainly, Elizabeth could hold her own. She didn’t need someone to defend her honor for her.

But he didn’t mind doing so.

They followed Yelira through the center of town, eventually coming to a stop in front of a large ornate building with heavy looking iron doors. She knocked, and they slowly opened as a man’s face became visible through the crack.

“I have visitors from off world. I request an audience with Tharon,” she ordered mildly.

The man nodded and opened the doors. The grating squeaking of the hinges made John wince and wish he had a small canister of WD-40 tucked in his vest. He took off his sunglasses, stuck them in a pocket, and followed the group in, keeping a relaxed grip on his P-90.

The massive doors closed behind them and they walked down the long corridor. Elegant drapes hung down the sides of the windows, and multiple tapestries covered over the stone walls of the room. The ceiling, about fifteen feet above their heads, was decorated in a similar fashion, and in the middle of the grey ceiling there was a large metal candle holder. A thick rope kept it anchored, and looked as though it could be easily unwound to lower it to arms length.

The room was looking more and more like a banquet hall from “The Princess Bride”. It made him smirk.

At the end of the room, another set of doors swung open. Darrin and Azari respectfully stood to the side and allowed them to walk through.

Teyla followed closely behind Yelira. The next room looked more like an office than a throne room. A blonde headed woman sat at a desk with a scroll of paper opened in front of her, consulting a device on her right side as the rudimentary pen scribbled on.

“Prime Minister,” Yelira greeted, causing the woman to look up. Her stern features of concentration were soon replaced with relief. John recognized the expression from Elizabeth’s face; he saw it all too often.

“Yelira!” she responded, standing from her desk and walking around, reaching her arms out and clasping her forearms. Yelira did the same, then pulled her hands back and nodded to the team. “We have guests.”

“So I see,” the prime minister responded. “I am Tharon. It is a pleasure to meet you all.”

John cleared his throat, causing Teyla to turn around and pin him with a scolding look which he ignored. “I’m Colonel Sheppard. This is my team. Teyla, Doctor McKay, and Ronan Dex.”

To his surprise, Tharon didn’t reprimand him. Instead, she looked curiously at him, tilting her head to the side. “You are not from this galaxy,” she discerned as her eyes looked over their uniforms.

“I am from Athos,” Teyla replied. “Ronan is Satedan. Doctor McKay and Colonel Sheppard come from a planet in another galaxy,” she confirmed.

“Hmm. And I take it that gender is not a a significant issue among your people, Colonel?” Tharon asked, her bright brown eyes shining in genuine curiosity.

John shook his head. “Not as much as it used to be. No.”

Tharon nodded in approval and turned her attention back to Yelira. “Thank you for bringing them here, Yelira. If you would do me the honor of having afternoon tea with me?”

“I would be delighted,” Yelira agreed, nodding her head in respect -- not just to Tharon, but to the team as well. “Good day,” she said in farewell, then walked out the doors that they had just come through moments earlier, picking up the basket that her husband held out for her.

As the smaller iron doors closed, Tharon let out a sigh and pinched the bridge of her nose. “That went well.”

Teyla exchanged a confused look with John. “You assumed it wouldn’t?” the Athosian asked.

The prime minister sighed, walking around her desk. “Yelira is a strong advocate of the matriarchal system in place here in Fa’tor. It has given her a certain amount of condescension towards any male. Even in her own family.”

John shrugged. “Yeah, we noticed when we got here.”

Tharon gestured to the seats in front of her desk as she took her own. “Please, have a seat.”

There were only two seats. Rodney tried to make a beeline for one but Ronan held out his arm and blocked his path. John and Teyla sat down as Tharon poured a cup of tea. “Where are you from?” she asked.

John glanced at Teyla. “We’re originally from a planet called Earth, but we keep a base of operations in Atlantis.”

“The City of the Ancestors?” Tharon asked in clarification as she added a small brown block to her tea.

John hoped it was sugar and gulped as he nodded. “Yep.”

“And what brought you here from your homeworld?”

“We’re explorers,” John began as he gave the standard nondescript briefing for the Pegasus locals.

She nodded and asked a few questions, and after five minutes she leaned back in her seat. Her eyebrows went up in amusement as she sipped her tea. “You wish to trade, do you not?”

“That is one of our goals, yes,” Teyla answered, picking up the glass that Tharon had previously offered to her. John respectfully declined. He couldn’t get past the strong smell that left him wanting to vomit ever so slightly.

“Compared to all the native inhabitants of these worlds, we don’t have as many friends. We appreciate having allies,” John added, leaning back in his chair.

Tharon nodded in agreement. “I believe one can never have too many allies.”

“Do the Wraith ever come here?” Rodney suddenly piped up.

John wanted to turn around and shoot him a look, but Tharon quickly responded. “Not in many years. Our last culling occurred before my birth. We still keep our guard up, and we have emergency shelters located underground in various parts of our nation, but we have not had a use for them in some time now.”

John nodded, making a mental note. No recent Wraith activity. Good place to evacuate to if the need arises.

“We noticed a field behind the Stargate when we came through,” Teyla mentioned. “I remember my parents saying that the Fa’torians were skilled farmers. I see that is still true.”

Tharon grinned. “Everyone shares in the work. Even I. I tend to go early in the morning and do my share of collecting espo beans.”

“You grow espo beans?” Ronan asked, the first words out of his mouth since this meeting started.

“Yes.” Tharon glanced up at him. “When was the last time you had some?”

“It’s probably been years.”

John frowned, eyes darting between them. “And espo beans are?”

“You’ve never tried them?” Tharon asked.

John shook his head. Ronan grinned.

She reached to a drawer in her desk, pulling it open and bringing a small burlap bag to the desk top. She pulled on the drawstrings, opening it, and the aroma of coffee spread through the room.

“They’re coffee beans?” John asked, reaching his hand out as Tharon poured some out of the bag. He examined them briefly. They did look just like coffee beans. He sniffed them, and he fought hard to suppress the urge to drool. The idea of having freshly ground brewed coffee in the morning, instead of the ground crap that the Daedalus brought, was almost good enough for him to agree to whatever demands she might present.

“Try one. They’re completely edible.”

He pressed his lips together, then threw three beans in his mouth.

“What else do you harvest?” Teyla asked as John chewed on the beans. The sharp flavors, the bitterness, the essence of something that tasted like hazelnut -- it all began to blend together and he felt his pulse rise. Even though it had been a while since he tasted it, the distinct taste was impossible to overlook. It was like an espresso shot, but without the barista. And he was already craving more. Damn, they were addictive.

“--egetables and several melons. We also grow several grains.”

“Excuse me for interrupting,” John said, raising a hand, “but what would I have to do to get more of these?”

Tharon grinned and leaned back in her chair. “Espo beans are in high demand.”

He didn’t see any dogs, but he gave his best puppy dog eyes.

It worked.

“Fortunately for you, we always plant more than we need. We trade them for a high value, but for our new friends, consider the first bag a gesture of goodwill.” Taking the bag that was laying on the counter, she pulled the drawstrings and closed it up again, handing the sack to John.

He grinned, reaching out to accept them.

As he began to chew on a few more, he listened in to Teyla’s conversation again. “We do not have much to offer you in comparison, but if it is agreeable, we would like to open more negotiations with you. Perhaps Doctor Weir might be best suited to take the lead.”

“And Doctor Weir is?” Tharon asked, adding another one of those quizzical brown solid cubes to it.

John answered, though his eyes were fixed on the box she withdrew the cube from. “Doctor Elizabeth Weir is the leader of our expedition. Not only is she a skilled negotiator, but she’s … well, female. Us being here might go better if she came.”

“And no doubt, Elizabeth would enjoy the opportunity to go off world, being cooped up in her office all the time,” Rodney mused, crossing his arms as he paced behind their chairs.

Tharon raised an eyebrow, both at the statement and at John’s eyes as they continued to follow the brown cubes. “She sounds like she would enjoy a reprieve from her duties. We would be more than happy to host a small contingent from your base while we work out a trade. Colonel Sheppard, is there something about the jerwo that is amusing you?”

John snapped back to attention. “No, ma’am.”

Her brown eyes twinkled at him. Liar.

“What is jerwo?” he asked, feeling his cheeks starting to redden.

Using the slender tongs, she picked up one of the brown squares and waved it in front of her.

He heard Ronan let out a snort behind him.

“Oh. That. I was just wondering … what it was made from.”

Tharon laughed. “Try it for yourself. If you like the espo beans, I have no doubt that you will like these.”

John frowned as she dropped the cube into his open palm. He glared at it suspiciously, almost expecting it to jump out of his hand. He passed it over his tongue, and the delicious bitter sweetness surprised him.

“It’s a sugar cube,” he stated in surprise, looking back up to Tharon for confirmation.

She nodded, stirring her tea. He was suddenly aware of Teyla laughing next to him as she drank more of hers.

“It’s made from cane sugar and espo beans. We commonly use it to tame down the strong, obnoxious flavor of the tea.”

“If the tea’s so disgusting, why drink it at all?” Rodney asked, ever direct.

“The tea has strong nutritional content. I’ve been drinking it my entire life, and I’ve only ever been sick twice.”

Rodney’s eyes nearly bulged out of his head. “Really?”

Teyla stood, turning to face Rodney. “Perhaps we should allow Elizabeth to come and discuss the particulars with Tharon.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” Rodney sputtered in an attempt to try and smooth things over.

Tharon nodded graciously at him. “I look forward to meeting Doctor Weir.”

John nodded, then glanced at Ronan. “We’ll head back to Atlantis and report. Shouldn’t take us too long.”

Tharon stood from her seat, and the team followed suit. “We will be serving the evening meal upon your return.”

John nodded. “Teyla, you and McKay stay here. Get to know some of the locals a bit better. McKay, you will do whatever Teyla tells you to.”

“What?!” Rodney asked incredulously. “Why me?”

“Because I said so,” Teyla replied in her most authoritative voice, glancing humorously at John as she said so.

Tharon shook her head in amusement. “You will both be our guests. And while I understand that Colonel Sheppard is in a position of authority, it will help relieve tensions if you follow and respect our beliefs while you are here.”

“So feel free to make him your pack mule,” John suggested, raising his eyebrows as he turned to go.

“Colonel Sheppard, there is one condition.”

The bemusement in her voice stopped John. As he turned around to face Tharon, the slight embarrassment in her voice worried him. “For the sake of unity between our peoples?”

John didn’t like where this was going.


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