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While Elizabeth, Tharon, and Teyla sat at one end of the table, carrying on a conversation, the four men had spent their time at the other end, oddly silent.

Kerrak had brought over a platter of food that McKay immediately began grabbing food from.

A hand had slapped his arm, and Rodney looked up with a glare. “Low blood sugar? Hello?” he whined at Sheppard.

John’s hazel eyes narrowed, then he pulled his hand back. He knew full well that the colonel didn’t actually believe him; once they were home, Rodney figured that Elizabeth and Sheppard would give him a small lecture on off world etiquette.

Half an hour later, Ronan was picking at a mutilated piece of vegetable on his plate, and John was leaning on his elbow, nodding whenever someone would say something, but McKay could tell that most of his attention was on the other end of the banquet table.

It wasn’t like he blamed him. In fact, if he was confident that Sheppard and Ronan wouldn’t try to kill him, he would have ogled her a little longer than he did.

But considering men were second class citizens and the fact that he kept hearing Elizabeth’s mild reminders to be nice in his head, he turned his attention back to Kerrak. “So,” he said slowly, trying to think of a topic for conversation. “How long have you been married?”

Kerrak smiled faintly. “Almost seven years.”

“How did you meet?” Rodney asked, popping some berries in his mouth.

“McKay!” Sheppard exclaimed with a nudge in his arm. “Don’t interrogate him.”

Kerrak held up a hand. “It’s all right, Colonel. Actually, Tharon and I grew up together. We’ve known each other our entire lives.”

“So how did you get past the whole ‘when we get married, you’ll be the boss’ topic?” Rodney asked.

He didn’t miss the hard glare that John was throwing his direction.

Kerrak laughed. “You have to remember, gentlemen, that this is the way things have always been for us. When we were children, we played together, we made our fair share of messes. As equals. I suppose it was due to Tharon’s family, and how liberal they were. They let us spend more time together than most people would like.” He shook his head. “Nobody really had the right to tell them they shouldn’t.”

“Why was that?” Sheppard asked, leaning on his elbows.

“Tharon’s mother was the prime minister before her. She is actually the reason we wed. Tosara was ill, and the Council had already approved Tharon to become our next leader, but at the time of her mother’s remembrance, she was still unmarried. So I offered to marry her to allow her to carry out her duties. The Council agreed, Tosara as well, and then she died.”

“I thought you said Tosara had already died,” Ronan interjected.

Kerrak glanced at him. “Oh, you mean the remembrance?”

“Yeah, it sounded like she had already died,” John added.

“The remembrance is a celebration of a person’s life. Normally it is done in private by the grieving family with close friends, but seeing as how it was our prime minister, everyone wanted to be involved. It starts within a week of the person’s impending death.”

Rodney nodded as the information flew in one ear and out the other. “So the remembrance is kinda like Hospice,” he compared as he began chewing on a dried meat that tasted salty.

In an irritated tone, John instantly snapped, “No, it’s not. So you married out of convenience?”

Kerrak almost nodded, but stopped himself. “I respected her family’s legacy and had no desire to see the Fa’torian people fall into the wrong hands. I was … fond of Tharon, from our childhood, and I hoped that in time she would reciprocate.” He sent a lingering glance to the other end of the table, and his wife smiled back at him. “She did.”

“Well, that’s a lovely story,” Rodney replied, wiping his hands on his pants, glancing down the way at the women. “May I be excused now?”

“Rodney!” Elizabeth snapped at him, visibly irritated and embarrassed.

“No, it is all right,” Tharon said, causing the team to look at her in disbelief.

“Is it?” McKay asked, frowning.

“The sun set a while ago. We should retire for the night so that Elizabeth and I may be refreshed for our discussions tomorrow. Besides,” she added, tilting her head to a guide standing near the door, “you have not been shown your accommodations yet.”

Rodney grinned as they were ushered out of the room. Tharon and Elizabeth walked at the front, with Sheppard following closely behind them. Teyla and Ronan were in front of himself and Kerrak, who politely nodded at a few ladies as they exited a corridor and entered a large room.

Rodney chuckled in amusement as he looked around him.

“What do you find so funny?” Kerrak asked as they walked up the stairs.

“It never ceases to amaze me how so many worlds in this galaxy use the same interior decorators.”

The prime minister’s husband raised an eyebrow, but lowered it as Rodney’s point sunk in. “We are all descended from the same Ancestors. It would make sense that some worlds have the same viewpoint on their cultures, their clothing, their decorating decisions.”

“Yes, I suppose it would,” Rodney grumbled quietly as they reached the top of the stairs. The hallway stretched out in front of them, three doors on either side.

He noticed John and Elizabeth walking to the second door on the left. They must have come here earlier to change their clothes before the meal with their hosts. A meal, which by Rodney’s standards, left something to be desired.

Tharon gestured to the door opposite the “married couple”. “Teyla, I hope you will find this room to your liking.”

Teyla smiled at her. “Thank you. I believe I will.”

“So,” Rodney asked while snapping his fingers against the palm of his hand, “which room is mine?”

Kerrak pointed to the first one on the right. “Your room is here.”

Rodney didn’t bother to wait for an invitation. He reached for the door handle and opened it, letting himself into the room. It had a medium-sized window, with a direct view of the stables. Great. There was a chair next to said window, and on either side were --

“Two beds?” Rodney asked in confusion.

“Yes. You and Ronan will be sharing a room during your stay here.”

“But--”

“Rodney, say thank you,” Elizabeth instructed through gritted teeth.

He grumbled. “Thank you.”

Ronan nudged him in the arm. “Don’t annoy me, and I won’t kill you in your sleep.”

Rodney sighed in defeat, closing his eyes. “Easier said than done.”

-=-=-=-=-=-

Tharon and Kerrak bid them all a good night. The team did likewise, then went in their rooms, leaving John and Elizabeth standing just inside the door to the room they were expected to share for the next couple of days.

John looked over the room hurriedly as she shut the door behind them. There was no other place for him to sleep, unless he curled up in the chair or slept on the floor. Either way, his discomfort would be evident in the morning, and they didn’t want to arouse any suspicion on the part of the Fa’torian council.

Not if he wanted those espo beans, in any case.

Elizabeth turned to look at him, crossing her arms. “So. Any ideas?”

He nodded at her, placing his hands behind his back. “You take the bed. I can grab some extra blankets, sleep on the floor.”

She shook her head. “There is more than enough room on the bed for both of us to sleep … comfortably. Besides, the floors are made of stone. Even with blankets, it would be very rough.”

John conceded the point and nodded. “All right, so we’ll share the bed,” he agreed, although his voice betrayed the hesitation he felt.

Elizabeth chuckled, patting his arm. “The last time I checked, we’re mature adults. I’m sure this won’t be as big a deal as you’re making it out to be.”

Me?” he replied in mock indignation, crossing his arms against his chest while smiling at her. “What makes you think I’m overreacting?”

She cocked her head, a knowing look in her eyes. “Let’s get some sleep, okay?”

“Yeah.”

Like before, John grabbed his clothes and went into the bathroom to change. Black running pants and a faded grey t-shirt with a couple of small holes near the hem were the most comfortable -- not to mention clean -- pajamas that he had ready to go, and he was thankful for the foreknowledge that he would be sharing a bed with Elizabeth. It might have been even more embarrassing for him to go to bed wearing only a pair of boxers.

Once he was dressed, he leaned against the countertop for a few minutes as he brushed his teeth and mussed with his hair, waiting for Elizabeth to be done.

There was a knock at the door.

He opened it to Elizabeth, wearing a pink shirt and a plaid cotton pair of knee length shorts. “My turn.”

They decided to come through the door at the same time, and unfortunately for them, the door frame was much smaller than the door leading out to the hallway. Stuck wasn’t the word that John would have picked, but he was well aware of how closely their bodies were pressed together. Just one wrong move and he might not be able to get to sleep.

The fact was amplified as his eyes suddenly met her green ones, and he couldn’t summon the strength to look away. Their faces were so close. He would only have to move a few inches and his lips would be on hers and what the hell was he thinking?

He didn’t want this particular train of thought make him do something they would regret.

So he braced his hands on the doorpost above Elizabeth’s head and exhaled, sucking in what little stomach he had and she did likewise. Simultaneously, she stepped into the bathroom and he moved into the bedroom, making his way straight to the bed without turning around to look at her again.

As John took the earpiece out and laid it on the nightstand on the left side of the bed, he heard the door quietly shut behind him.

He moaned as he sat on the edge of the bed, holding his face in his hands. He was a man. And Elizabeth was a woman. Didn’t take a caveman to figure that out. And she was beautiful. Being in such close proximity to her for the next few days was going to test him. That was the main reason he tried to stay on the floor -- he wasn’t sure he could trust himself when she was curled up in bed next to her.

The door opened again and Elizabeth walked out, softly making her way to the other side of the bed. John felt the bed dip slightly as she sat down after pulling the covers down.

He wondered which ascended Ancient he had pissed off this week to bring this torture on him.

Shaking his head and forcing himself to make an effort to sleep, he blew out the candle that had been lit on the nightstand. As he pushed the covers down and slid his bare feet beneath the blanket, he laid down on the soft mattress, putting one hand under his neck and splaying the other over his abdomen.

He glanced sideways at Elizabeth. The blankets hid her feet as well, but she sat with her back against the headboard. Her green eyes looked back at him. “Well, good night, I guess.”

“Yep,” he responded as he forced his eyes away from hers, tugging the blanket up just so it ended at his waist.

Elizabeth nodded uncertainly, pressing her lips together, and leaned over to blow out the other candle. She slid under the covers, pulling them up to her chest, and turned onto her side, facing the window.

He let out a sigh. Their bodies weren’t touching, but they wouldn’t have to move that much for the sparks to fly. He inched a little closer to his edge of the bed and turned to face her.

“Good night,“ he whispered to her back.

“Night,” she whispered back, just as softly.

John stared up at the ceiling for what felt like hours before a dreamless sleep finally claimed him.


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