White Noise

by Domenika Marzione

"Major!" Teyla sounds both surprised and pleased that he has appeared on the terrace. Granted she always sounds a little surprised and pleased in the week since she's been in Atlantis, but this time her tone makes him think that she expected that he'd accidentally on purpose forget that he'd agreed to this. Which was something he'd considered but ultimately rejected as implausible. Certainly after appealing to Elizabeth to bail him out.

"You have come to join us," she says with a warm smile. "And you have brought company."

"Well, I figured that Ford here might enjoy communing with his ancestors, too," he replies, smiling indulgently at his second in command. Next to him, Ford ducks his head and grins bashfully and Sheppard has to bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. It's not puppy love, but Ford is definitely taken with Teyla. He is a little, too, but not in the same way.

"We have brought extra blankets," Teyla goes on, gesturing that they should follow her across the large terrace. It is a few floors below the one where they held their party last week, welcoming everyone to this city on the sea.

They follow, stepping carefully around the half-dozen already seated on the cloth-covered floor. Halling is there and nods solemnly in greeting. Sheppard nods and gives a half-smile in return.

Teyla leads them to the far end of the covered area, not removed from the group but definitely at the edge of it. Whether this is for their own self-consciousness (his at least; he suspects Ford has little shame when it comes to embarrassing himself in front of anyone but his Marines) or to keep them from being a distraction to the others, he's not sure.

The others are sitting barefoot and Indian-style on their blankets, so he toes off his boots and does the same. Athosian blankets are rough-knit, but ridiculously soft. The Pegasus equivalent of alpaca, kind of. Muted colors and nothing fancy, but there is something about them that is both exotic and domestic all at once. He'd already been gifted with one but had to set it aside because it was just too warm for indoors. Maybe when they hit winter. If there is a winter here.

They are facing west -- or at least what they've decided to call west -- and the setting sun. The sky has already started to darken behind them, shading blues and grays and purples and greens across the heavens toward the part of the sun still over the horizon. It's a pretty sight, he'll admit, and one he's not gotten a chance to see before because he's been so busy.

His days have been spent doing a hundred million things he'd never thought he'd be doing, both of the "you're not quite human and are needed to initialize everything in this other galaxy and right now, please" variety as well as the "you thought you blew your chance at commanding a squadron a year ago, but look who's CO now?" type. Actually, it's easier to count the familiar things than it is the new ones -- he considers eating and sleeping and PT as simple pleasures now, if only because they are things he did before he heard about stargates.

This, now, was nothing he'd done even after he'd heard about stargates. He had tried to explain to Teyla that he didn't really worship anymore, wasn't sure he believed in any higher power, and was pretty sure that the Ancients weren't even vaguely godlike. She had smiled at him, the smile that he was coming to learn meant "you have much to learn and I'm going to end up having to teach it to you", and told him that the Rite of Progenia didn't require any such beliefs.

He'd seen the Athosians doing their balcony thing before, in passing, and it had looked like some sort of tai-chi mixed in with chanting and other elements he associated with certain West Coast types and holdovers from Woodstock. He respected their ways -- he'd been on too many foreign deployments to do anything else -- but had no real desire to join in. Especially not when he had so many other demands upon his time, although that was less reason than excuse.

An excuse Elizabeth had called him on when he'd tried to get out of accepting Teyla's invitation. The hippie thing wasn't his style, he'd told her. Plus the whole praying-to-the-Ancestors thing, which was a complicated enough issue considering that the Athosian take on his having the Ancient gene was to say that he was descended from the Ancestors. It was technically true, but made it sound like his grandfather had been an Ancient instead of his having had an Ancient somewhere thousands of generations back in his family tree. Either way, it made them look at him speculatively, especially with Atlantis lighting up and doing funky things everywhere he went (if they only knew), as if maybe they should be praying to him. They were definitely disappointed that he didn't know any Ancient.

Elizabeth had nodded sympathetically, then told him that he'd have to go anyway. Relations between the two peoples were still new and unsteady and if this could ease some of the tension, then it was necessary. A little embarrassment now versus a big incident later, she'd said. And he'd felt silly for putting his dignity up against the good will of the allies he'd insisted they curry favor with. Which had probably been Elizabeth's goal.

So he'd been all smiles when Teyla had found him after lunch to confirm the time and place, then he'd gone off to find Ford because hell if he was going to do this alone. Ford was game. Ford had to be game because even though it had been framed as a suggestion, Ford knew an order when he heard one.

As the sun hits the halfway point on the horizon, Halling rises to his feet with far more grace than should be expected for a man with a broken foot.

The others rise to their knees and he does the same, raising his eyebrows at Ford, who is taking his cue from him. Halling towers over everyone normally, but now he looks like a veritable skyscraper. He waves his arms a bit in slow, practiced motions and speaks in a low voice that rumbles across the terrace like a wave.

Ancient sounds like Latin with a melody, so far removed from the 'hic, haec, hoc' he still remembers from that one dreadful semester in high school when he couldn't get a Spanish class to fit into his schedule. Written out, it looks like cross-sections of Lego pieces that he simply cannot process as any alphabet, but out loud there's a kind of beauty to it that isn't quite exotic while still being entirely different.

He has no idea what Halling is saying and, intellectually, he's aware that he's probably happier not knowing. Nonetheless, he sort of wishes that the SGC had made them Ancient-English cheat sheets the way he'd been given an Pashto-English one before the first time he'd deployed to Afghanistan.

To his right, the Athosians on their knees are moving their arms in smaller versions of Halling's expansive gestures. Next to him, Ford is doing the same, watching his neighbor carefully and mimicking the gestures with no speed, but no tentativeness, either. He figures he should try that as well, no matter how strange he looks. And he looks strange, no illusion about that.

Reaching back in his mind to his Academy days, where humiliation was believed to build character, he watches Teyla and mimes the way she slowly sweeps the air toward her as if it were water. A twist on the breastroke, then hands coming up together close to her chest and fingers locking, then moving out again palms-up. He can't match the smoothness of the motions nor the elegance of the gestures and he's sure he's not getting any peace or relaxation or whatever he's supposed to be getting out of this because all of his concentration is on playing follow-the-leader.

Halling finishes his invocation in a pose that is both supplicant and steady and probably really painful considering the foot. His last syllables are pitched so low that they are lost to the distant break of waves against the piers.

Those kneeling move back to their haunches and some all the way back to sitting Indian-style and he goes for that option because he's getting a little too old to be comfortable on his knees for too long.

"We thank the Ancestors for their protection, their hospitality, their generosity in offering their bounty to us," Halling says, voice raised above the wind and sea. "We thank them for drawing their children to us as allies."

The Athosians murmur and he's not sure if it's an 'amen' or something else. He closes his eyes so that he doesn't have to see the sidelong glances, thankful that Ford is between him and the group.

"It is the duty and the privilege of every generation to preserve the memory of their forebears, to assure the passing of the names from parent to child. Names spoken in silence cannot be erased by our enemies. Names spoken aloud cannot be forgotten. Let us remember."

Halling kneels again in the silence and the others bow their heads.

Teyla looks quickly over her shoulder, making sure that he and Ford are following along. She smiles at him when she catches his glance. It's a pleased smile, a bit of approval and mostly simple contentment.

Elizabeth explained to him what the rite was about -- the Athosians memorize their family trees, mostly so that they can preserve their own history in the face of Wraith cullings. It is mostly a male thing, women marrying into other families and sometimes other worlds, but not always. Teyla has no brothers, so the job of keeping track of the Emmagans is hers. "Teyla Emmagan, daughter of Tagan," was how she'd introduced herself.

Personally, he's not too inclined to climb the Sheppard family tree just yet. He isn't close to his family, mostly by circumstance and apathy and less by active choice. His parents are dead, he was an only child, and he's been with the Air Force for almost twenty years. He has missed weddings, baptisms, funerals, reunions, and all of the other chances a family gets to tighten its bonds and nobody has missed him enough to try to bridge the gap. It wasn't something he'd thought about with either relief or regret until it came time to go to the Pegasus galaxy and he had to decide if there was anyone who needed to be told that he was going on a mission from which he might not return. He'd eventually decided against it, opting to go with the half-truth that his family was used to his absences, was used to his not being able to say where or when or why, and would assume he was off doing whatever it was he did. He had an aunt listed as next-of-kin should the worst happen and that would be enough.

Instead of focusing on his relations, he tries to clear his head, to use the time as a vacation from his obligations. There are duty rosters to work on -- Sumner had not bothered to set any up beforehand, not knowing what sort of tasks lay ahead -- and inventory to assess and put away and security sweeps to clear living space, working space, training space, and whatever else space is needed by a hundred-fifty scientists and their Marine protectors. There are systems to initialize, doors to open, things to turn on and turn off, make start or stop doing whatever it they are or aren't doing. There are emergencies that aren't, emergencies that are but aren't realized until it's almost too late.. and then there are sort of emergencies that he's just calling McKay Moments for the time being because he's not quite sure how else to classify them. Sometimes they involve nearly blowing up the city and sometimes they require swapping out a chemical heater from someone else's MRE. There's usually no in-between.

In the back of his mind, he can feel the faint buzzing that he's coming to learn is Atlantis herself. (He has decided that Atlantis is a 'she' and not an 'it'.) It's a white noise most of the time, innocuous in the sense that it's not quite distracting even if it's not quite ignorable, either. Atlantis is everpresent in his mind, if not necessarily his thoughts. He focuses on it now, less troubled of its presence than he used to be. It's amazing what a week will do.

It scared the crap out of him at the start, far more than when the control chair plugged itself into his mind back in Antarctica. That had been a momentary panic, like the first time his instructor took his feet off the pedals and his hands off the stick and said "it's all yours". The chair had just been waiting for instinct to kick in, the same way the helicopter had. Even if he hadn't realized what he was supposed to be doing in the chair, he was also somehow aware that he knew how to do it. Once in Atlantis, however...

He hadn't been listening for her at first, hadn't known that he was supposed to be listening for her. To her. It had only been later, after he'd gone after Sumner and the others and been forced to get used to the puddlejumper bypassing his hands and going straight to his head, that he realized that he could hear her. And that nobody else could. (He hasn't gone to ask Beckett if he can hear the city; there's a shrink on the mission and it would do nobody's confidence any good for the military commander to require a straightjacket only a week in.)

The puddlejumper cuts out the middle man and so does Atlantis, except on a far larger scale. There are only a few systems in the jumper, but so many in Atlantis, so many parts that are cold and stiff from disuse, damaged, or simply playing coy because he may be the best she can do, but sometimes he's not good enough.

Also, like any other new relationship, Atlantis and he don't always understand each other completely. If he doesn't get the straightjacket for asking Beckett if Atlantis talks to him, too, then he just might earn it for getting caught once too often yelling frustratedly at a wall and expecting it to answer back.

Nevertheless, it is still a tentative touch, Atlantis's, and he's not sure how much of it is real and how much is his imagination trying to comprehend technology that is far beyond his understanding. He'd like to think that she's... maybe not sentient, but at least some sort of aware. She can tell him apart from everyone else, but whether it's because she can tell it's John Sheppard or because she's reading his DNA or something more efficient and less personal...

Maybe it's the stress or just wishful thinking, but he'll swear (to the first person who won't ask him if he claps his hands because he believes in fairies) that Atlantis does more than just latch on to his genetic code. He can feel the difference between a big problem and a little one, a catastrophe in the making or simply an unhappy coupling of Earth technology and Ancient, but he can also feel her almost quiet down for him when he finally allows himself to sleep. The edge disappears from her murmured voice in his head and he is sometimes left wondering if he simply forgot that he'd turned off the lights or if they went out on their own.

Atlantis, for the record, is a morning person. City. She is already up and revving when he regains consciousness in the mornings, although he's tried to tell her to lay off until after he's at least done with PT and showered and maybe had breakfast. Because he hasn't had enough time to establish a morning routine for himself (and his men) that he can break it just because she really, really wants to show the engineers something. He's not sure she can understand, but he'd like to think that she does. That, or there really hasn't been anything too urgent early in the mornings and the engineers do get up later than he does.

A quiet cough next to him and he opens eyes he didn't realize were closed. Teyla is kneeling before him, another one of those smiles he hasn't quite translated playing upon her face. Next to him, Ford is sitting cross-legged and grinning. It's his "My CO is so weird" look and he's gotten it a lot from Ford in the past week. The sun has set completely and the only illumination comes from the long, thin lights against the exterior wall behind them.

"You found the rite restful?" Teyla asks.

"I... yeah," he says, surprising himself at the answer. He looks down at his hands resting in his lap. "I didn't do anything... wrong, did I?"

"Oh!" Teyla laughs. It's a nice sound. "You... you did very well. Many of my people have a hard time at their first Rite. It requires a patience that is not often found in the young."

Next to him, Ford starts to become very fascinated with the weave of his blanket and his ears are pink.

"Well, then it's a good thing I'm not so young anymore," he says, looking around. Ford snickers, but doesn't say anything and he fights a frown. He's not old. Ford is just very young.

The Athosians are rolling up their blankets, except for Halling, who is standing with his crutches and looking in their direction until Jinto, who was not there before, stands up with the folded blanket under his arm. Jinto waves and he smiles back.

"It's over?" he asks, watching the Athosians start to leave. He was expecting the tai-chi part of the show to begin. Or, if he was lucky, for Teyla to tell him that he missed it, lost in his own headspace.

"Some of the elders of my people have taken to practicing their moving meditations in this space," Teyla responds, rising smoothly to her feet. "It is done to starlight."

"Hunh." He hopes he doesn't look too relieved.

Ford hops to his feet with less grace but more energy, reaching down to pick up his blanket to shake it out.

Teyla waits for him to rise and fold his own blanket before she takes them both and leads them back inside. He takes the radio out of his pocket and puts it back in his ear, instantly tuned back in to the cacophony that usually runs a beat or two behind the hum in his head.

He doesn't get ten steps inside before there is a request for his presence in one of the engineering labs. The hum in his head doesn't pick up in pace or urgency even as the voices sound strained, so whatever it is isn't nearly as bad as it looks. Nevertheless, he makes his apologies to Teyla and Ford and goes to see what it is, following Atlantis's voice all the way.

feed me on LJ?

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