Prompt: Slavery, captivity and hostages
Word Count: 4400
Spoilers: General S4 spoilers, nothing specific.
Summary: Passover in Atlantis, in an Everyone's Jewish!AU.
Notes: Thanks to hannahrorlove for the encouragement and bironic for the flashbeta, and any remaining errors are my own. Prompt used in a fairly indirect way.
Jennifer corners Ronon in the gym, just as he's toweling off after a workout. "No," he says flatly.
Her eyes widen. "I didn't even ask anything!"
He slings a towel across the back of his neck. "Answer's still no."
Damn it. It's been three weeks since she's brought it up for the first time, but he's impossible to wear down. "Come on, Ronon," she pleads, following him into the locker room. "I've been the new girl for months now. Can you please, please help spare me this last humiliation?"
He gives her a knowing look, and then bends down to takes off his shoes, barely hiding a smile. "Sorry."
"Oh, are you," she says bitterly.
She gives it one last shot. She crouches down to catch his eyes. "It's not fair. We're both the same age, and you know it."
"Nope, you're younger than me."
"Just because Earth years are longer than Satedan years--"
"Still younger than me."
"Hey, I know your medical files inside and out, and our cells' biological ages are--"
"You're still younger than me."
"Ronon!" she exclaims with frustration.
He stands up straight, clearly waiting for her to leave so he can fully undress for the showers. "Whichever way you try to look at it, I promise you, you're still gonna be younger than me."
"I hate you," she says, knowing that her display of maturity isn't exactly winning her argument any points.
Ronon's eyes are filled with mirth. "Face it, squirt," he says, ducking as she disgustedly throws one of his dirty socks at his face. "You're singing Ma Nishtana this year."
She turns on her heels and stomps away, slamming the door behind her. Next year Ronon's going to be younger than her, if she has to force a Wraith to inject him with life force herself.
This is how they decided where to hold the seder:
If Woolsey and the SGC contingent were joining them, they'd hold a high command seder in the Gate room, and another seder in the mess hall. If Woolsey's guys didn't join, they'd all celebrate in the mess hall.
Woolsey was waiting for General Landry to decide whether he wanted Woolsey in Atlantis, or at the SGC seder. The SGC would have a big seder if Landry himself decided to spend the holiday there, in Colorado, instead of with his ex-wife, in LA. That depended on whether Kim Lam would be doing the seder with the Lam side of the family (who hated him) or the Grinelli side of the family (who liked him. Kinda.)
Of course, that decision was pending since where the Lams were having the seder depended on whether the Schmidts would be joining them or spending Passover with their in-laws the Katzes, and that depended on whether the other Katzes were doing it with the Goldbergs or the Pryces. The Goldbergs were still waiting to hear whether the Harrises would be in New York or in Memphis, and the Pryces weren't sure whether it was their turn with Jake's or Anne's families, because Anne was supposed to be keeping track but she had a mother, a step-mother, mother-in-law and two step-mother-in-laws (one of them technically an ex-, not that it mattered once there were grandchildren), so really, a bit of confusion was understandable.
Eventually it came down to the Philly Frieds who depended on the Albany Adlers who relied on the Buffalo Bergers who hinged on the Hartforf Hirsches who were waiting for the Clifton Cohens (well, one of them) to decide whether they'd be hosting the seder this year, which really depended on whether Grandma Millie felt up to it or not.
Grandma Millie choked on a piece of hamentaschen and died that March. Richard Woolsey spent the seder at the SGC. And in Atlantis, five fifty-feet-long long tables were set up in the mess hall.
The day before the seder, when everyone's having lunch on balconies because the weather's unbelievable and the mess hall's already been cleared to make room for the tables, Rodney and Teyla find Sheppard hunched over a desk in his office.
"I didn't even know you had an office," Rodney remarks, surprised.
"Where did you think I keep all the complaints I get against you?" Sheppard answers, never looking up from where he's scribbling notes in a booklet.
"Online," Rodney says, obviously. He's eating noodles from a cardboard takeout box. Gotta savor the carbs before it's real cardboard they start serving. Besides, he really likes chopsticks.
Sheppard pauses. "Okay, you have a point."
"John," Teyla says, gently rocking little Einstein in her arms. "What is troubling you?"
For the first time, Sheppard notices she's there, and his face lights up when he sees the baby. "Give, and I talk." Teyla wordlessly transfers little Einstein into his arms -- out of habit, more than his request -- and Sheppard gives the guy a girly little smile. Seriously, Rodney doesn't know how they ever let him face the troops in this condition, except that the troops are just as bad.
"Well, John?" Teyla asks. She rolls her shoulders back, and Rodney can hear a few pops. She tucks a strand of hair beneath her tichel. (The most surprising thing they'd found about Athosian women when they first encountered them was that they were essentially Jewish Orthodox Superhero Ninjas. It breaks his brain a little when he thinks about it too much, so he just tries not to.)
Sheppard sighs. "I just can't believe Sam stuck me with leading this thing tomorrow. I would honestly prefer to do the entire city's dishes at the end of the night than trying to lead them in... prayer, or whatever." Teyla opens her mouth, but John cuts in, "I know, I know, it's not praying, it's telling the story of Exodus and... stuff, but the point is, people are going to be expecting inspiration."
Rodney snorts. "Yes, probably more than, 'Don't get yourselves killed, at least not before we get that ZPM'."
"Once, Rodney. And that was for you. Anyway," Sheppard exhales morosely, letting the baby clutch one of his fingers, "They'll be expecting a speech. About freedom from slavery, or tyranny, or something. With allegories for the Bible. Maybe even metaphors." Sheppard pauses. "I really hate Sam."
Rodney leans against the door frame and takes another bite . "You could try looking in that book you brought with you, that, that..." He waves a chopstick around, trying to remember. "The witchcraft thing."
Sheppard lifts an amused eyebrow. "You mean the six volumes of Mishnah I brought in the hopes that I'd actually finish them?"
Rodney snaps his fingers. "Yes! That."
"Unfortunately, I'm only on page seventeen."
"You mean page yud-zayin," Teyla corrects, and makes that face that means she wants the baby back now.
Sheppard murmurs, "Bye bye, little Yeager" and passes him along -- little Einstein's life is like the opposite of playing hot potato (and will he stop calling the kid 'Yeager' already, when he is so clearly an Einstein) -- and gives Teyla a speculative look. "Hey, maybe you should--"
"No," Teyla says automatically, in a tone that doesn't allow for argument. "You are the leader, John. It is your duty."
"Sam's, actually," Sheppard mutters again, running a hand through his hair. "One that she dumped on me just because she can."
Teyla smiles. "For the sake of this discussion, it is one and the same." Her long skirt swishes as she takes a few steps back out of the office. "Come, Rodney. We should not bother John when he is working."
Rodney quirks his eyebrows in apology, but anyway, he has more important things to do. Like finish these delicious noodles, which are (magically, he swears) ten times more delectable than the noodles the kitchen usually makes, and he needs to savor their taste before the kitchen takes them all away, before they are gone, gone, gone. For a week.
Before the actual reading starts, Sam comes up to John, who's stiffly sitting at the head of the table in his dress blues, a P-90 lying on the floor by his chair, and no, he lies for the third time, it is there as a protective weapon and not as a comfort object.
"Look, don't worry about it," Sam says, clapping him on the back. "You'll do great."
"You know you should be the one doing this, right?" John replies, through gritted teeth. "You owe me. You owe me a lot."
"Meh," she says -- she actually says 'meh,' he realizes with surprise. "Passover and me, we don't get along so well." She waves her other hand vaguely. As if he and Passover had had a torrid affair last summer and couldn't wait to get into each other's arms.
For a moment he wonders if she's drunk.
"Anyway," she says, flashing him a grin, "you'll do great, Colonel. Just follow the instructions. They're written down and everything."
This is why Sam's pep talk doesn't help:
Since the Atlantis Space-Conscientious Special Edition Haggadah is still a work in progress (well, it's 148 words in a .txt file on Zelenka's laptop, at least), the seder of 2008 is a Bring Your Own Haggadah event.
The following are some of the Haggadahs that decorate the seder table:
Lorne: The Animated Haggadah, for ages 3-8. The only thing his sister could send him, he explained, blushing.
Cadman: Women's Seder of Liberation. She also made a few copies.
Chuck: The Telling: A Loving Haggadah for Passover - the non-gender themed Hagaddah.
Keller: A Radical Haggadah for Passover - the oh-my-god-you-are-sitting-in-a-military-m
Zelenka: The Velveteen Rabbi's Haggadah for Passover, version 6.0. (He updates his version, every few years.)
Ronon: The Satedan Seder, found in a Pegasus History museum on P3X-467.
Teyla: A Passover Haggadah published by Chabad. Not from her home, but she likes it.
Katie: Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb . Because Katie is a vegetarian.
Rodney: The Two-Minute Haggadah. He downloaded it from Slate.com, and it has 327 words including the title.
"Just follow the instructions" proves to be easier said than done.
But it starts, as any event with more than ten people in the same room is wont to do, with some guy clinking a wineglass with a spoon. Slowly, the hall quiets down. Members of the military, in their dress blues and olives and whites, straighten their backs. The civilians, in dresses and whites and a couple of kippahs look at John. He lifts the first cup of wine, and tries not to feel like his dad, and carefully reads from the book the words of Kiddush.
They're only a page in when Rodney's stomach starts to rumble. "Food," he mutters under his breath. What comes first? He tries to remember. Salt something. That's not good. No, eggs with salt water. Better. No, potato. Potato or egg? Or Matzahs, maybe? He knows there are appetizers here somewhere. Why doesn't he ever listen during this part, then he'd know, and it feels like he hasn't eaten in days and he's bored and his stomach is killing him and--
"...and I think it's time for the karpas!" Sheppard announces, pleased with himself for getting through an estimated thirtieth of the seder successfully.
Oh, thank god. Rodney's mouth is beginning to water as the guys on duty bring the bowls of salt water to the table, but then some asshole says, "Um, I think it's time for the eggs."
Rodney's head snaps up. "Who was that?" This is not the time. This is not the time because arguing is possibly this entire city's favorite pastime, which is fine and all under normal circumstances -- hell, Rodney considers himself a champion -- but is most certainly not fine when he is this unnaturally hungry and already on bread withdrawal.
"Me," Laura Cadman says confidently, raising a hand. "It was me. Egg time."
"Look," Rodney says calmly, trying to keep his patience, "the man said it was time for potatoes. Let's honor the man and get some potatoes."
"Actually," Zelenka pipes up, and Rodney groans. "I think it's celery."
Oh, for -- celery? Not on his watch. "Yeah, no," Rodney announces loudly. "We're having potatoes. Now."
"But what about the eggs?" Keller asks.
"The eggs come later," Zelenka explains, starting to flip forward in his haggadah. "Look, here - now, I think we can substitute celery for parsley, my instructions say--"
"And where are the oranges?" Cadman puts in. "There are supposed to be oranges here, for women, and feminism, and--" she consults her haggadah for a moment, "--gay rights!"
Lorne places his hands in front of him, like he's in negotiation mode. "I think the real issue now is whether it's time for potatoes or eggs. Or rosemary."
"Parsley," Zelenka corrects.
Rodney looks around in despair. The chatter is spreading from those sitting closest to them all through the mess hall, and the kitchen guys are leaning against the walls, bored. "Sheppard," he hisses, "do something. Oh! Tell them we're dropping the entire thing and skipping straight to the food."
"I wish." Sheppard's eyes shift around, and he looks like this is the very last place he wants to be. "Also, shut up about the food, that's the fourth time you've suggested that today, and the fourth time I've answered 'I wish', by the way." It's true. Rodney knows Sheppard signed up to fly in space and shoot things (and sure, work some magic with his genes, but that was purely incidental) - not to lead any religious ceremonies. At least, not of any Earth based religion."Okay, yeah," Sheppard says with resignation, and then in a louder voice, "All right, all right, settle down, everybody."
The loud hum of voices fades away, and Sheppard's gaze settles on Ronon. "Ronon?" he asks simply.
Ronon shrugs. "On Sateda, we used to use beets."
Sheppard looks surprised, but calls, "Marco!"
Marco the cook shouts back. "Yep!"
"You got enough beets to feed this city?"
Sheppard smiles blankly at his audience. "Then beets it is."
John's pretty happy with the way the beet crisis turned out. He still doesn't quite have a speech down, so at this point he's just happy to buy more time. And, well, he likes beets.
He is not expecting it when McKay turns to him and says, "Oh, by the way. Ronon's gonna do Ma Nishtana."
John does not spit-take at the thought of Ronon singing the four questions as the youngest person there, because he is eating beets and beets leave stains. "What?" he asks instead, after swallowing. "Why? I thought Keller was supposed to do it."
"Yeah, that didn't work out," McKay says, evading John's stare.
John narrows his eyes. "Okay. What kind of leverage does she have on you?"
"Hey, I wanna know. If I'm doing you this favor - which, let's face it, is going to get me beat up twice as hard in training tomorrow - I want to get something in return."
"How about this: you make Ronon sing the song, I stop complaining about the lack of food?"
"You mean you'll stop whining?"
"Look, phrase it in whatever way you want to to make yourself feel more macho, the point is I'll--"
Sheppard purses his lips. "For the entire week."
"Fine," Rodney says, glaring.
Sheppard grins. "Works for me."
Five things that Ronon will never forget from the 2008 Atlantis seder:
1. That when they were reading the ten plagues, someone a few tables over shouted "bingo!", and suddenly there was muffled laughter and you could spot congratulations and money exchanging hands from afar. It later turned out that SGA-6 and SGA-7 had actually made plague bingo cards for the event, and Sanders won, because he had over five hits on his card and had personally experienced more than five of the plagues himself. Ronon remembered it because -- well, because he'd experienced eight. He could have made a lot of cash.
2. That Teyla let him hold Corren (and Rodney should stop calling the kid Little Einstone or whatever, he'll give him a complex) while he was singing Ma Nishtana, and even though the little guy didn't speak a word yet, it already felt like Ronon was teaching him the words for years to come, when he would be the one singing. And since the seder was important to Teyla and he didn't want her to have to fuss, Ronon sort of just fiddled with the baby throughout it all, and every time someone intoned, "and you shall tell your son," something hitched in his chest.
3. That after dinner, when everyone was trying to gauge just how many calories they'd consumed and whether and how much they were expected to help with the dishes (because regardless of the kitchen duty guys, it was Passover eve and washing dishes was ingrained in their DNA), he realized that he couldn't find McKay anywhere, and set off to look for him. It was a good night, and Keller joined him, and he managed to pry from her that she got McKay to help her out of singing a solo by threatening him with publically airing footage of his Bar Mitzvah, which Jeannie had lovingly cared to provide over a month ago, and which Keller had been saving for a good opportunity. And then they went to the infirmary and watched the movie on her laptop. It was awesome.
4. That they eventually found McKay in Sheppard's office, where McKay claimed no one ever went anyway, which was important because it was also where he had hidden his huge stash of pastas and pastries and other non-kosher non-necessities. "Seriously?" Keller asked, when they walked in on him slurping noodles from a cardboard box. "We just finished a five-course meal. You couldn't wait half an hour?" "It's like forbidden fruit!" McKay cried, eyes wild, and then took a bite from a slice of cake. "Want some?" he offered.
They ended up watching the Bar Mitzvah video again in Sheppard's office, with McKay torn between rage at Jeannie and embarrassment from the video, with Keller sneaking cookie crumbs into her mouth when she thought Ronon couldn't see, and with Ronon taking care to hone his expression into just the right amount of intensity and amusement so that McKay would be mortified every time he looked at him.
It was a pretty great night.
Sam lets John -- okay, she admits, forces John -- to lead the seder, because she can't handle it herself. She doesn't want to be the Grinch who stole Passover -- there's something very beautiful about the celebration of liberation from slavery, and she could never object to that. But while the celebration is real, the story is myth, and although she doesn't know the truth behind the myth she has her own theories, each one worse than the one before.
She knows she can't be the only one who feels it. She's not the only person who came here with experience from the SGC -- although, granted, not many of the folks stationed in Atlantis ever went back far enough to know the Goa'uld.
But it's a holiday, and holidays are about traditions and ideas, not history, and she doesn't want to spoil it for anyone. So she sits back in her chair, a few seats away from John, and drinks her glasses of wine, and eats matzah with charoset that actually kind of tastes like her mom's, and flips through the pages of the haggadah. The Hebrew and the English words blur into one another, but the illustrations stand out, and she wonders, tracing the image of a sitting Pharaoh, whether there was a snake wrapped around his neck or if he merely worshipped one. An illustration of the pyramids, like three huge flags waving down Go'auld ships, flaunting the gold and the flash of Ra's arrogant design.
And in the next squares she sees all the miracles of the Exodus, and wonders if manna was merely beamed down from the heavens and what kind of force shield was used to part the waters of the Red Sea, and in how many more places in the story she can find evidence of alien technology, and whether Moses or the Hebrew God were Tok'ra trying to save humans from slavery or just part of a larger battle between System Lords.
It is then that she decides that three glasses of wine are more than enough for tonight, and firmly closes the haggadah, and ignores the part of her mind that shouts warnings that there is no difference between any book of religion and the Book of Origin.
Instead, she thinks about the strength and the courage and the heart and the spirit of the people who stop being slaves -- who stop, and take a look around, and trust someone or something beyond them, inexplicable, and change their lives.
She closes her eyes, and smiles, and swallows, and raises her glass in a private toast to Teal'c.
5. John's speech.
It starts with some asshole clinking a wineglass with a spoon.
The asshole turns out to be Teyla, though, so he does a quick mental backtrack and hopes she can't read minds and gives little Yeager a thumbs up, just to cool the karma. Yeager grins back; at barely six months he's already way too awesome for a name like Akiva, and god knows what Teyla was thinking when she named him in the first place.
And suddenly everyone's eyes are turned on him, expecting, telling him, well, here we are, Colonel Sheppard. Inspire.
He has no idea what he's talking about at first. Something about those slave girls they rescued from P3X-224, but he quickly gets flustered and realizes that no, so not the topic right now. So then he switches to Freedom, and he thinks he's either quoting Lincoln or quoting some other President who's misquoting Lincoln, and he's not sure which is worse, and he can hear whispers start up in the hall. He feels like one of his COs in Officer Training School, who delivered lectures about how to command a force while sitting in a classroom.
He stops mid-sentence.
"You know the old joke, about Jewish holidays?" There's a soft rumble in the audience. He knows that they know. "The ultimate formula for Jewish holidays, including this one. 'They tried to kill us. They didn't. Let's eat.'" A few chuckles, but he's not going for chuckles. He just wants them to listen.
"There are people who say that the Pharaohs we're dealing with today are abstract. That we're all slaves to our egos, or our jobs, or our self-inhibitions, and all that bullshit. Now, I'm not calling all of that crap--" he pauses. "Okay. I guess I did just call that crap.
"See, the thing is, we need to... zoom out of ourselves and look at the big picture. And the big picture is that they're trying to kill us right now, and they are. Sateda is us. Athos is us. And entire planets that we don't even know the names of, planets that we designate with letters and numbers and population size -- those are us, too."
And then John starts talking. He starts talking. Words pour out of him like rain in a storm, and he talks about everything. About loyalty and friendship and love and not giving up, about fighting, and faith, and not knowing whether you're going to succeed but doing what you know is right anyway. He talks about the uncertainty of war with the Wraith, and about what makes us human to begin with. About tolerating injustice in Atlantis, and in all the planets they visit, and in the SGC. About celebrating today, and celebrating life, and you can thank God for bringing us to this day but more than that (or at least on an equal shelf), thank the people who did it with him, and strive to be like those people, except, if they were military, without the dying part.
He talks for thirty-nine minutes.
"You talked for thirty-nine minutes," Dr. McKay repeats.
"There was wild applause!"
"Um, yes, because you talked for thirty-nine minutes."
Colonel Sheppard is trying not to blush, which Jennifer finds very sweet. "Well, I thought I was good," he huffs, and she can hear Ronon chuckle, approaching behind her. She pulls up a chair to her right and he takes a seat, stealing a fry from Dr. McKay's plate.
"That's not kosher for Passover," Dr. McKay remarks, "it touched my noodle," but Ronon just grunts and steals another one.
Colonel Sheppard starts laughing. "It touched your noodle?"
Dr. McKay scowls. "Well, this isn't a theocracy! I'm allowed to eat noodles outside your office! It was right here, next to my matzah balls--"
Ronon drops the third fry he was stealing and says, "Yeah, I'm not eating that."
Sheppard laughs even harder.
Teyla strolls over from the lunch line, baby in one arm, perfectly balanced tray in the other. "Do not tease him, John," Teyla chides.
"Yeah. It might go on for thirty-eight more minutes," Ronon says.
Ronon smirks. "I know. Baby shotgun, by the way."
Sheppard and McKay swear almost simultaneously.
Teyla sighs. "Boys. Have we not agreed that the combination of the words 'baby' and 'shotgun' are not an appropriate way to ask my permission to hold Akiva?"
"I'll keep him safe," Jennifer volunteers. Akiva is one of the sweetest babies she has ever known.
"Who's Akiva?" Sheppard asks. "I only see a little mister Yeager, waiting to break the speed of sound."
"Little Einstein," McKay corrects automatically.
"Corren the Mighty," Ronon adds.
Jennifer smirks. "See, this is why I'm the one who gets to hold him."
Ronon gives her a sidelong look. "Squirt."
"Oy very iz mir," Teyla says under her breath.
When Sam stops at their table later (with a chicken and chopped liver matzah sandwich -- this is a leftover lunch, after all), the only thing she says is, "John? Next year, you won't be leading the Seder. And that is a promise," she assures the rest of them.
When she's gone, Sheppard folds his arms behind his head smugly. "That was my plan all along."
Almost everyone at the table snorts.
"What, It was! It totally was!"