The Banff Springs Hotel was enormous and so far removed from the simple wedding at the JP’s office that John and Rodney had planned months ago. But then when did anything go according to plan for them?
First the date had to be changed, because it conflicted with the Mysterious Unknown shooting schedule, which then meant they had to find a date that worked with both the show and the Atlantis expedition. It took some time, and an extensive spreadsheet created by Rodney, but they finally found a date that worked for everyone.
And then they told Jeannie, at which point they lost control of the entire wedding.
“Look at this place,” Rodney said. His nose was wrinkled in disgust. “It makes the Overlook Hotel look like a Super 8.”
“I don’t know. It’s picturesque.” John bumped Rodney with his shoulder. “It was nice of Jeannie to set this up.”
“She just wanted an excuse to take a vacation.”
John didn’t bother commenting on that patently false statement. He knew his soon-to-be husband was stressed about leaving Atlantis unattended and annoyed that his very simple wedding had been so thoroughly perverted. He also knew that Rodney was secretly pleased that they were getting married in Canada, though he’d never admit that out loud to anyone, especially not his sister.
“Not getting cold feet, are you?” John asked, only half-kidding. His life was still a little unbelievable to him. A simple cameraman job had led to a new family of quirky, amazing people, not to mention the historical find of the century. And Rodney, who’d become the most important person in John’s life.
“Don’t be stupid,” Rodney snapped. But he bumped John back, his crooked mouth twisting up in a grin. “How big do you think the bed is in the honeymoon suite?”
“You know size doesn’t matter, McKay.”
“Actually, there was a really interesting study done last year in Germany –”
Jeannie came down the main stairway fast enough that John was worried she’d fall and break something. She launched herself at Rodney, who hastily released his hold on his suitcase so he could catch her.
“Jesus, are you trying to kill me?” Rodney staggered back a few steps, and John steadied him with a hand on his back. “Lunatic!”
“It’s so good to see you!” Jeannie gave him a sloppy kiss on his cheek and looked over his shoulder. “John. Even more handsome in person.”
“Nice to finally meet you,” John replied. All of his previous encounters with Jeannie had taken place either over the phone or via Skype.
“Come here, you.” Jeannie reeled him in with one arm so the three of them were doing the group hug thing in the middle of the hotel lobby.
It should’ve been weird, but all John felt was embarrassingly pleased. He wasn’t close to his own family and had never had a relationship with his brother that came anywhere near the one Rodney and Jeannie had. To be included in that was kind of amazing.
“I’m so happy for the both of you.” Jeannie brushed tears from her cheeks even as she pulled back and beamed at them. “This is going to be such an amazing weekend!”
“Is everyone else here?” John asked.
“Sheppard!” Ronon’s booming voice echoed off the arched ceiling. He strode purposefully across the room and picked John up, squeezing him so tightly John was sure his ribs cracked.
“Oh no you don’t!” Rodney hid behind Jeannie when Ronon dropped John and turned in his direction. “I’m not a sack of potatoes.”
“Debatable,” Ronon replied with a grin. “Come on, Sheppard. The guys are waiting at the clubhouse. You up for eighteen holes?”
“What? Golf? We just got here!”
“Don’t worry about it, Mer,” Jeannie said placatingly. “You’re coming with me. Massages.”
Rodney stared at her, clearly horrified. John just laughed and slung an arm around his shoulders.
“Go get pampered. I’ll catch up with you later, okay?”
“Why do you get the manly activity while I have to go to the spa? I’m not the woman in this relationship!”
“You hate golf,” Ronon pointed out.
“That’s not even the point!”
John leaned in to whisper in Rodney’s ear. “You can compare this massage to the one I’ll give you later. Naked.”
As always when the topic of their sex life came up, Rodney’s face flushed even as he managed to look pleased with himself. “You better make it worth my while.”
“You know I will.” John gave him a gratuitous grope and then let himself be led away by Ronon. Before he left the lobby he turned and looked back to see Rodney and Jeannie at the front desk, bickering with each other.
Jeannie was right. It was going to be one hell of a weekend.
By the time John got back to the room it was late afternoon, and he belatedly realized he didn’t have a key card. He knocked on the door but there was no answer, so he assumed Rodney was still out and about in the hotel somewhere. He sent a text, which likewise went unanswered, so he tried Jeannie.
Don’t know. Have ur key. Stay put.
John waited, leaning against his door, until Jeannie came down the hall. She was practically glowing, which could probably be attributed to whatever spa treatments she’d had. John was fuzzy on the whole thing, though he was pretty sure mud masks or some kind of peel things were involved. If Rodney got a mud mask he sincerely hoped Jeannie took pictures.
“Hey, how was golf?”
“Not bad.” John accepted the key card that Jeannie held out to him. “Ronon might be better suited to shooting hockey pucks, though.”
“Kaleb and I took a cart around the course yesterday. The views are stunning. I’m so glad Kyle recommended this place.”
That caught John up short and he narrowed his eyes. “Wait. Kyle picked the hotel?” That definitely raised a red flag, and if Rodney found out there was going to be shouting and accusations, most of them well-founded.
Jeannie immediately picked up on his body language and frowned. “Is that a problem?”
“No, not really. Just a surprise.” John plastered a smile on his face. Jeannie had done a lot of work to give him and Rodney a nice wedding, and he didn’t want to upset her.
“Bullshit. What’s going on?”
John couldn’t help huffing out a laugh. Just another way brother and sister were alike – their take-no-shit attitudes. “Let’s just say…if Kyle chose the hotel he has ulterior motives that probably have something to do with the show.”
Jeannie’s eyes narrowed. “Is this about the ghost?”
“Of course there’s a ghost.” John sighed and scrubbed his hand over his mouth. “We can’t tell Rodney about this. He’ll throw Kyle off the roof.”
“You leave Kyle to me,” Jeannie said. The tone of her voice left no doubt that, at the very least, there was going to be a violent tongue lashing in his former employer’s future. “But take my advice, John. You don’t want to start off a marriage by keeping things from Rodney. He doesn’t do well with that, no matter how good your intentions are. You need to tell him.”
“Or you could,” John suggested.
“Aren’t you funny.” His future sister-in-law patted him on the cheek. “I’ll see you two at dinner.”
John shook his head. They should’ve eloped. He unlocked the door and stepped inside the room. He already knew that Jeannie had booked them into a terrace suite – John had an affinity for balconies – but he wasn’t prepared for the size of it, or how well-appointed it was.
The décor was very modern, which seemed at odds with the imposing exterior of the hotel, but somehow it worked. They had a gorgeous view of the Bow Valley, a raised dining alcove, and a Jacuzzi tub in the ridiculously large bathroom. The king-sized bed was the best, though, because Rodney was sprawled face-down on it, snoring loudly, the white robe he was wearing rucked up far enough on one side that John had a tantalizing view of the curve of Rodney’s ass.
John kicked off his shoes and sat on the bed next to Rodney, running his hand up that bare leg. Rodney twitched in his sleep but didn’t wake up. It was a little hard to believe that in just two days they’d be legally married, with the paperwork to prove it. It was nothing John had ever expected for himself, certainly not with someone so incredibly smart and sexy and exasperating. He didn’t know what he’d done to deserve the life he had, but he was incredibly grateful for it.
“Little higher,” Rodney mumbled, and wiggled his hips.
John snorted but obliged, pushing the robe out of the way and grabbing a handful of flesh. “Have a nice nap?”
“So I gathered.”
Rodney lifted his hips, just a little, and John slid his fingers between Rodney’s ass cheeks, lightly brushing over his hole. The sounds that his fiancé made went straight to John’s cock. With the late hours they’d been putting in at the Atlantis site and the constant interruptions from the members of their team – Dr. Jackson especially had no concept of personal time – they hadn’t been able to indulge in more than mutual hand jobs in the last few weeks. It would be nice to be able to take their time, just enjoy each other.
“Bathroom. Kit bag,” Rodney said a little breathlessly.
John pressed a kiss to the small of Rodney’s back before he went in search of the lube. It was one of Rodney’s better chemistry experiments, a creamy lube that wasn’t oily and had antiseptic properties just in case things got a little rough. It was also safe to ingest and tasted faintly of chocolate.
In the time it took him to get to the bathroom and back, Rodney had completely removed the robe and was lying at the head of the bed semi-reclined on pillows, knees up, lightly stroking his hardening cock.
“Jesus, Rodney.” John hastily divested himself of his own clothes, leaving them in a heap on the floor. “That must’ve been one hell of a massage.”
Rodney rolled his eyes, but his hand never stopped moving over his erection. “Please. That woman put hot rocks on me. I didn’t stick around for the rest.”
John got back on the bed, crawling up between Rodney’s legs. He laid wet kisses on both thighs, which retained a hint of the hypoallergenic oatmeal soap that Rodney used; he’d showered before his nap.
“So what did you do all afternoon?”
“I upgraded the security system. You don’t even want to know what they were using, it was archaic.” Rodney spread his legs further, planting his feet. “They were very appreciative.”
“I’ll bet.” John unscrewed the cap on the jar of lube and dipped two of his fingers in, liberally coating them. “You know you don’t have to work this weekend, right?”
Rodney just grunted noncommittally. John took that as a sign that the time for talking was over, which he was more than fine with. He put one hand over top of Rodney’s, joining him in the long, languorous strokes he was giving himself, and used his lubed-up fingers to start circling Rodney’s hole with just enough pressure not to tickle. (He’d learned that the hard way. Hysterical laughter put a real damper on his libido.)
“Oh, yeah.” Rodney closed his eyes and tipped his head back.
John pressed one finger in, taking things slow but not too slow. It had been too long since they’d done this and he wasn’t sure either of them would last very long. Luckily they had the whole weekend to indulge.
Rodney’s free hand drifted up to toy with one of his own nipples, which were incredibly sensitive. John’s were pretty much just for show, which always seemed to be a bit of a disappointment to Rodney. His ear lobes, on the other hand, were an entire erogenous zone of their own.
John leaned forward for a kiss, one finger up Rodney’s ass and their hands trapped between them. Rodney was an exceptional kisser; the things he could do with his tongue were positively sinful. John added a second finger and Rodney arched up, moaning into the kiss, and if John hadn’t already been hard that would’ve finished the job.
By the time John finished prepping Rodney, both their cocks were oozing precome and Rodney’s skin was flushed pink with his arousal. “I’m ready already!”
John ripped open the packaging on the condom he’d also grabbed from the kit bag and he rolled it over his aching cock. He added a generous amount of lube and gave himself a few rough strokes, sending sparks up his spine.
Rodney spread himself as wide as he could, his eyes so blown with desire that they were mostly pupil with just a thin ring of blue. John loved to see him like that, loved to hear him panting and moaning and wanting. He slid one of the pillows under Rodney’s hips and moved himself into position, his cock pressing at Rodney’s loosened entrance. Rodney wrapped one leg around John, nudging him with the heel of his foot.
“Get on with it!” The invective lacked punch, not with the pleading way Rodney was looking up at him.
John pushed in, taking it as slow as he could. Rodney’s breath stuttered and his eyes rolled back in his head. He raised his hips, pushing back, taking John in deeper.
“Jesus.” It was indescribable, being surrounded by all that tight heat. John filled Rodney, pushed all the way in until his balls were flush with Rodney’s ass, pushed in until they were joined in the most intimate way. He hoped he never took that for granted, that level of trust. “Love you.”
“I know.” Rodney smirked without opening his eyes. Smug bastard.
John pulled back, almost pulled out, and then pushed in with one smooth motion, nudging against Rodney’s prostate as he did so. They quickly set up a familiar rhythm, rocking together, their sounds of pleasure mingling since here they could be as noisy as they wanted. John was a little embarrassed at how loud he was, but not enough to stop.
Rodney’s hands never stopped moving – over John’s back and his hips, over his own cock, down to where they were joined together which John found incredibly erotic.
He was close, so close. He could feel his orgasm gathering and building, his balls drawing up. He pounded into Rodney harder, faster, and wrapped a hand around Rodney’s cock.
“That’s right. That’s good.” Rodney babbled, his chest heaving. “Make me come, John. Fuck me.”
John did what Rodney asked, flesh slapping as he pushed himself to the limit. The whole bed was rocking with them. Rodney let out a strangled moan and then he was pulsing over John’s hand, his hands on John’s forearms clenched tight enough to hurt. The sight of Rodney looking so wrecked, combined with the scent of his spunk, was enough to bring John off as well. He curled over Rodney, hips jerking sporadically as he emptied himself.
Once the ringing in his ears stopped and he had the strength to sit back, John could see that Rodney was still mostly out of it. He looked completely boneless, and he had a slack-mouthed grin on his face. He gave a little groan of protest when John carefully pulled out of him.
“Love you too,” Rodney murmured as John was getting off the bed. “Marry me?”
“I’ll think about it,” John replied. He ducked into the bathroom to dispose of the condom and clean himself up, and returned with a wet washcloth to do the same for Rodney. The other man stretched and opened one eye.
“Or we forget the wedding and just stay in here all weekend, doing more of what we just did.”
“Also a viable option.” John dropped the washcloth to the floor and curled up next to Rodney. “Listen, I need to talk to you about something. And you’re not gonna like it.”
Rodney ran his fingers through John’s hair. “If it’s about the hotel being haunted, I already know. The head of security told me all about it, because of course he’s a big fan of the show.”
John tipped his head back. “You don’t seem particularly peeved about it.”
“Too high on endorphins. Give me a while.”
“Well, don’t worry. Jeannie’s on it.” John rested his head back on Rodney’s shoulder.
“Really? In that case, Kyle will wish he was never born. So it’s all good. What time do we have to be downstairs for dinner?”
“Hmm. Plenty of time for a nap.” Less than a minute later Rodney was asleep, a skill John had always envied. But today he wasn’t all that far behind.
Everyone was dining in the Bow Valley Grill, their tables following a graceful curve around the room. It wasn’t the official rehearsal dinner – that would be the following night – but of course Kyle felt the need to make a speech. Rodney just rolled his eyes and kept shoveling escargot in his mouth while John tried not to watch; he wasn’t big on snails.
“I had no way of knowing when I hired John what a good friend he’d turn out to be. Or what an excellent cameraman. No offense, Evan.”
“Offense absolutely taken,” Evan replied with a good-natured grin.
“And I certainly never expected that he would hit it off so well with our irascible tech genius.”
“Someone got a word of the day calendar,” Rodney whispered in John’s ear.
“Better wrap it up,” Laura suggested. “Food’s coming.”
Kyle scowled. “I just wanted to say, I’m glad we could all be here to celebrate John and Rodney’s marriage.”
“And now you’ve said it. Cheers!” Laura lifted her glass and everyone followed suit.
While the food was being served, John looked over all the familiar faces seated around him and once again thought how lucky he was. His real family had never been this supportive. Jeannie had argued with him about inviting his father and his brother to the wedding, but he’d been pretty adamant about saying no; they’d never had any interest in his life prior to this, and there was no reason he wanted them there now.
“How goes the excavation?” Kaleb asked. “It must be incredibly gratifying work.”
Rodney had made a lot of snide comments about his brother-in-law, the English teacher that had seduced Jeannie away from a lucrative career in science, but John found him nice, if a little bland, although he’d been a bit annoying while going over the menu when they’d first arrived; he and Jeannie were vegetarians and he thought everyone else should be as well. John made sure to be appropriately enthusiastic over every bite of his prime rib.
“Well, I’ll say this. With Jackson in charge a lot more work will get done.” Rodney gestured with his fork. “I don’t think that man sleeps.”
“The only reason you do is because John makes you,” Jeannie said. “I know how you get when you’re working on a project.”
“She’s got a point.” John snagged a piece of chicken skin from Rodney’s plate, narrowly avoiding having his hand stabbed as he did so.
“Are there mermaids?” Madison, Rodney’s four-year-old niece, sat between her parents. Poor kid was a vegetarian by default, though Rodney kept trying to sneak her little pieces of chicken when Jeannie wasn’t looking. “On Uncle Mer’s show they looked for mermaids.”
“Well, we haven’t seen any yet,” Rodney replied. “But I do think I saw part of a mermaid’s tail the last time I was down there. If it was, she swam away too fast.”
Madison bounced in her seat. “See, Mommy! I told you!”
Jeannie rolled her eyes, and John hid a smile behind his napkin. Rodney was always like that with Madison, he’d discovered. If anyone else had mentioned mermaids, even in jest, he’d have gone off on a five minute rant about the stupidity of that particular legend and how it had no bearing in reality. But for his niece he was willing to pretend. If they hadn’t been surrounded by other people John would’ve kissed the crap out of him.
“Mr. John, did you know I can call you uncle soon? Mommy says right after you kiss Uncle Mer at the wedding.”
“I can’t wait,” John replied honestly. And okay, maybe there was a little pang of regret there. His brother David had two little girls that John had never met. He wasn’t even sure what their names were.
Rodney nudged him with his knee. “Everything okay?” he asked in a low voice.
It was clear that Rodney didn’t believe that, but he also knew better than to push when they were out in public.
“What I want to know is where you two are honeymooning,” Laura said.
“Malta,” they replied simultaneously.
“Can you not take some extra time away?” Teyla asked. She was eating one-handed, baby TJ asleep on her shoulder.
“Things are pretty hectic right now,” John said quickly. He could see Rodney getting defensive, as if he were solely to blame for their lack of an actual honeymoon. “That’s why we decided to make a long weekend of the wedding. It’s both wrapped up in one.”
“We’ll go when we have time.” Rodney’s posture had gone all stiff and he was very obviously not looking at John. They’d had a similar problem when they were doing all the press junkets, trying to drum up funding for the expedition. Rodney had blamed himself for not noticing how much John hated putting himself in front of the camera. It had made him feel inadequate as a boyfriend, a notion John had been happy to disabuse him of.
“I hear you upgraded the security,” Radek said nonchalantly. As always, he had an excellent grasp of the situation and knew the quickest ways to distract Rodney.
While the two men talked algorithms and encryptions, John regaled Jeannie and her family with stories of their adventures with the Atlantis expedition. By the time dinner was over Rodney was in a much more mellow frame of mind, and John was in possession of a picture that Madison had drawn of a mermaid swimming around the Atlantis ruins. All in all, he’d call it a win.
Rodney was dead to the world, drooling into the hotel pillow, but John was pretty sure he could find some people who were still wide awake to help distract him from his own thoughts. He slid carefully out of bed and threw on some clothes, not sure what he was even putting on in the dark. He slipped out of the room and into the dimly lit hall without waking Rodney.
The B team was set up at the foot of the main staircase. Evan was getting some footage while Ronon took readings with the EMF meter. Ronon gave him a toothy grin and pointed him in the direction of the Cascade Ballroom, where Kyle was set up.
“John!” Kyle bounded over, grinning. “You here to do a little filming, for old time’s sake?”
“I’m not here to hunt ghosts with you. I just couldn’t sleep.” Although, maybe he wouldn’t mind grabbing a camera. Most of his filming on the expedition was underwater, where all the action was, though he did get some good shots on dry land as artifacts were brought up and catalogued. All part of an eventual documentary on the Atlantis find.
“You could think of it as your bachelor party,” Kyle suggested.
“Wow. That’s lame.” Laura rolled her eyes. “Ghosts instead of strippers?”
Which reminded John. “While we’re on the subject, is ghost hunting the only reason you picked this place? You have a harder time not working than Rodney does.”
“Zee. Show him the intro.”
Radek obediently cued up the footage that Kyle must’ve shot the day he’d arrived. It showed Kyle standing out in front of the hotel, and John knew that once it went through editing there’d be an aerial view added, as well as stills of vintage photographs.
The MU team is here at the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel in Alberta, Canada. Known as the Castle in the Rockies, it was built in the late 1800s during the golden age of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. The Springs, as it’s known locally, is also reputed to be one of the most haunted places in Canada.
We’ll be investigating reports of Sam Macauley, a bellman here at The Springs in the 60s and 70s. And we’ll also be looking into the story of the Burning Bride, who famously met her end on the main staircase in the 1920s.
Assisting us in our investigation will be our old friends Rodney and John, who coincidentally chose this hotel as the site of their wedding. Will the Burning Bride try to make contact with them? Let’s find out!
John knew his mouth was gaping open, but he didn’t care. He glared at Kyle. “You thought it was appropriate to have our wedding in the same hotel where a bride got flambéed?”
Kyle held up his hands in supplication. “Jeannie already ripped me over this, John. I admit that maybe I wasn’t thinking, but I still have a show to film. And I didn’t ask you guys to help.”
John literally didn’t have words. Trust Kyle to go looking for the ghost of a bride on their wedding weekend. He couldn’t believe that Rodney, who had to have heard the whole story from the chatty head of security, hadn’t told him about that little detail.
“Look, I can change the intro. No-one needs to know anything about you getting married here, not as part of the show.”
On that John was torn. He knew it would mean better ratings for the show, and these people were all still his friends. He wanted them to be successful. Even so, he didn’t want anything tainting the weekend, or casting a pall on the proceedings.
“Let me talk to Rodney first,” he said finally.
“I should pack up?” Radek asked.
Kyle shook his head. “Let’s keep going. We’ll get as much footage as we can, and depending on how things go down we’ll have more options during post-production.”
John nodded his approval. And yeah, maybe there was a little pull as he looked at Radek’s monitors and remembered the fun of the hunt. But he’d promised Rodney he wouldn’t do any more of Kyle’s monster investigations and he meant to keep his word.
Speaking of Rodney, there he was coming down the main staircase. Damn.
“I have to –,” he started to say, and in the next instant he watched wide-eyed as Rodney lurched forward and fell down the stairs.
Radek and Kyle were reacting to calls on their earpieces but John was already on the run.
The main staircase was large and made of polished stone, easy to slip on if a person wasn’t careful. He recalled what Kyle had said in his intro, about the Burning Bride dying on the stairs. Had she fallen too?
Countless horrific scenarios ran rapid fire through John’s head, and then he was in the lobby. The overhead lights had been dimmed, but he could easily see Rodney sitting on the floor at the bottom of the stairs, his face twisted up in pain. Ronon already had his medic bag out, and there were several hotel personnel standing around looking anxious.
“Rodney!” John pushed past the security guard and squatted down. “Are you okay? What happened?”
“It’s nothing. I’m fine.”
“He sprained his wrist,” Ronon said. “I don’t think it’s fractured, but he’ll need an x-ray to be sure.”
“It’s not broken,” Rodney said stubbornly. John could tell he was doing his best not to show how much it was hurting him.
“What are you even doing up?”
“What are you?” he countered. “I woke up and you were gone, you left your phone. I could only conclude that Kyle had roped you into a ghost hunt and it was pretty obvious where you’d be.”
Rodney looked betrayed and John tried to explain. “No, I didn’t –”
“There’s a hospital in town,” Ronon said, talking over John. “Rodney needs to get this seen to.”
“It’s not broken, caveman!”
“We can take my car,” Kyle said.
“No, you aren’t!” John snapped. He pulled Rodney to his feet. “You’re going to the emergency room and getting a damn x-ray. So shut the fuck up already.”
Rodney goggled at him, but he didn’t care. That fall could’ve been so much worse. Rodney could’ve broken his back, or his head, and John wasn’t going to let him just go back to bed like nothing happened. What if there was a blood clot, or a wayward bone fragment, or…
“Hey,” Rodney said. He grabbed hold of John’s hand with the one that wasn’t wrapped in an Ace bandage. “Okay. Let’s go to the hospital.”
“What do you want us to do, boss?” Evan asked.
“See if you can get anything in the ballroom,” Kyle replied. “EMF, EVP, cold spots, something. I’ll be on my cell if anything comes up.”
He went running off to bring his rental car – a red minivan, which John would be sure to tease him about later – around so Rodney didn’t have to traverse the entirety of the parking lot.
“You don’t think this is a sign, do you? Like a bad omen?” Rodney held tight to John’s hand, his face still too pale.
John snorted. “Since when do you believe in omens?”
Rodney just shrugged, and John found his silence on the matter a little disturbing. He wasn’t interested in pursuing a line of questioning, though. His priority was to get his fiancé to the hospital and then hopefully back to the safety of their bed for some much-needed sleep.
They definitely should’ve eloped.
Rodney was the only one who got any kind of sleep, dozing off while he waited for someone to take him to x-ray. In the end Ronon had been right, it was just a bad sprain. Rodney was given a soft black brace to wear, which thankfully wouldn’t be too noticeable once he had his tux on for the ceremony, and Kyle used the MU insurance plan to cover all the costs.
They’d gotten back to the hotel just as the sun was coming up, and John had barely taken the time to remove his clothes before he fell into bed. He got all of two hours sleep when his cell rang, and he’d have ignored it if it wasn’t Jeannie.
“He’s fine,” John said as soon as he answered. Rodney was still sawing logs, the pain meds he’d been given helping to facilitate his sleep. John wished he had some.
What the hell happened?
“He fell, that’s all. His wrist isn’t broken, just sprained. He’ll be sore and bruised for a while.”
What were the two of you doing up at that hour, anyway?
“I wasn’t hunting ghosts!” John practically growled. He hadn’t forgotten that Rodney thought the same thing last night. “I couldn’t sleep so I went for a walk. Jesus, I wasn’t slipping out to meet a mistress or something.”
I didn’t think you were. Jeannie sounded amused. Have Mer call me when he gets up. And don’t forget you have the tux guy coming at ten.
“Yeah, right. Tux.”
Get some sleep, John. Jeannie hung up and John switched his phone off. No more calls, not until he’d had a little more shut-eye.
He scooted closer to Rodney until their knees were touching and he could reach out to lay a hand on Rodney’s back. The other man snuffled in his sleep but didn’t wake up.
The second time he woke, it was to Rodney’s running commentary and the sound of food being eaten. John sat up and rubbed a hand over his face. Rodney was sitting at the table, which was loaded with plates from the nearby room service cart.
“John’s awake. I’ll talk to you later.” Rodney tossed his cell on the table and made his way over to the bed. “Sorry I woke you, but we only have a half hour before the tux guy is here for our fittings.”
“’s okay.” John tugged him closer, and Rodney sat on the edge of the bed. “How’re you feeling?”
“Like I fell down the stairs,” Rodney replied with a lopsided shrug. “Look, I’m sorry about what I said. Last night. Kyle said you were only down there because you couldn’t sleep, and I went off on you like some kind of jealous shrew.”
John leaned in and pressed a chaste kiss to Rodney’s lips, coming away with a hint of maple syrup. “Not a shrew.”
Rodney responded with a kiss that contained considerably more tongue. “Take a shower and get something to eat.”
“How about you take that brace off and shower with me?”
A decidedly dirty smile crossed Rodney’s face. “I’m injured. You’ll have to take care of me.”
“Don’t I always?”
“That’s open for debate. Do me a favor and brush your teeth first, your mouth tastes like roadkill.”
Just for that remark John kissed him again before he stumbled into the bathroom. He started the day with Rodney’s cock in his mouth, and then Rodney’s fingers up his ass, and that did more to wake him up than any amount of coffee ever could.
“I look ridiculous in a tux,” Rodney complained afterwards, their wedding attire safely stowed in garment bags in the closet. “Next to you I’m going to look like James Bond’s out-of-shape cousin.”
John bumped him with his shoulder as they walked down the hall. “No you won’t.” In fact, he’d been having dreams of Rodney in formal wear. Dirty dreams. He couldn’t wait for the wedding night, to be honest, because he wanted to peel Rodney out of his tuxedo…slowly.
“Do I even want to know what you’re thinking about right now?” Despite the exasperated tone, Rodney’s face was flushed.
“I’ll tell you tomorrow,” John promised with a smirk.
When they got to the stairs John acted without thinking, taking hold of Rodney’s arm; it wasn’t something he normally did, and Rodney was quick to pull out of John’s grip.
“What are you doing? I’m perfectly capable of managing the stairs on my own.” Which was certainly true, but Rodney still hesitated and looked down with a trace of trepidation on his face.
“Is there a problem?”
“We could just take the elevator. I hear a lot of people are doing that now.”
John just stared. Was Rodney afraid to go down the stairs? “What’s going on?”
Rodney scowled. “Nothing. Why should anything be going on?” He got moving, but he took each step very carefully and kept a firm grip on the bannister.
“Are you worried about falling again?”
“I didn’t fall the first time,” Rodney snapped irritably. “Have you ever known me to have trouble on stairs, for God’s sake?”
The skin on the back of John’s neck started to itch, which was a sure sign that something bad was coming. He rubbed at it with one hand and gave Rodney an expectant look, waiting for the bad news. They’d come to a stop halfway down the stairs and Rodney still had his hand wrapped around the bannister.
Rodney sighed. “It was like Turkey.”
It took John a moment to parse that, and when he did his skin flashed hot. He’d never forget that ghostly touch on his arm, or the way it had freaked him out. “What are you telling me? You were pushed?”
“Not so loud!” Rodney hissed.
“Jesus!” John realized his hands were clenched into fists and made himself stretch out his fingers. “Why didn’t you say something last night?”
“I had other things on my mind, in case you forgot.” Rodney waved his injured wrist in John’s face.
“We need to talk to Kyle.”
“Why? Because he’s such an expert? You know better than anyone he makes half that shit up.” Rodney took a deep breath and continued his trek down the staircase, one step at a time.
John watched him descend, holding his breath until Rodney got to the lobby. He stayed where he was, wondering if there was some ghostly presence hovering around him. If he had his way he’d bundle Rodney into the car and drive far away from the hotel and whatever ghosts might be residing within its stone walls. As if Rodney would let him.
“Get your ass down here, Sheppard,” Rodney called up to him. “We have a lunch date!”
Kyle wasn’t an expert in the paranormal, but he was the best resource they had at hand. And even if he wasn’t, John would feel better once his old team was briefed; the more eyes on Rodney the better, in case his ghostly encounter wasn’t a one-off.
“Don’t think I don’t know what’s running through the spiky-haired head of yours,” Rodney said as soon as John joined him. “We’re not leaving.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” John replied congenially. “Who are we having lunch with?”
“Don’t be mad.”
John had the distinct feeling he should’ve stayed in bed. “You know what makes me mad? When you tell me not to be mad. What did you do?”
They’d crossed into the restaurant by that time, and John was so focused on the guilty expression on Rodney’s face that he walked right past his own brother.
“John?” Dave said hesitantly. He was standing by the hostess station, suit expensive and well-tailored.
John just stared at him, his brain trying to make sense of the fact that his brother, who he hadn’t seen in probably ten years, was right there in front of him. Rodney made an irritated noise and pushed past him, hand out.
“Hi. Rodney McKay. We spoke on the phone.”
“Nice to meet you,” Dave said, polite as ever. He’d always been a much better Sheppard, John thought, and felt that old bitterness well up in him again. “My wife and I are big fans of the show.”
“Must’ve been a surprise, seeing John turn up on there.” Rodney gestured the hostess over so they could get seated, tugging John behind him forcefully.
“A little. Although to be honest, John’s always been the more adventurous one.”
John shook off his paralysis. “What are you doing here?” he asked, knowing how ungracious he sounded and not caring.
Dave took his seat and immediately began fiddling with his silverware. He was clearly ill-at-ease. “Rodney called me. Told me about the wedding, and asked if I’d come.”
“I have Jeannie,” Rodney said. “And we both thought it was important that your family be here, too.”
John wasn’t sure how to feel, besides angry. Betrayed was too strong a word.
“Don’t give me the kicked puppy face,” Rodney said before John could start throwing around accusations. “You’ve been talking more about what it was like, growing up, and I know I’m not good at noticing things, but it just felt like the right time for you two to get reacquainted.”
“I’m glad he called,” Dave said. He dropped his hands into his lap and finally looked John in the eye. “I know I haven’t been the best brother over the years, but I’d like a chance to make up for that.”
“Little late to stick it to the old man, isn’t it?”
“You’re being ridiculous,” Rodney grumbled.
Dave sighed. “No, he’s not. It was always a competition between us, wasn’t it, John? You’d see how much you could piss Dad off, and I’d do everything to be the son he wanted. We were always at cross purposes. I wanted to be you, and you wanted to be anyone else.”
John was surprised. Dave had never talked so openly about the way things had been between them. Sheppard men didn’t talk, not about the things that really mattered.
“So you came to feel better about yourself? Is that what this is?”
“I came to see my big brother get married. I came…I came to see if you’re happy, I guess. You may not believe it, but I do care about that.”
John couldn’t find his footing, or think of a single thing to say. He was vaguely aware of Rodney waving the waitress away, but he was trying so hard to figure out Dave’s angle, what he hoped to accomplish by coming to John’s wedding, that he didn’t really register it.
“I think this was a bad idea.” Dave got up from the table. “You’re not ready. Maybe you never will be.”
“Dave, I…” John wasn’t sure what he wanted to say. Part of him didn’t want Dave to leave, but a bigger part, the part that had grown up with Sheppard machinations, was still mistrustful.
“Just for the record, John, Dad knows I’m here. He’s not the same man he was.” Dave pulled a small, black box from his pocket and set it on the table. “He sent this for you. If you want to talk, I’m in room 355. If you don’t…well.”
Rodney shook Dave’s hand, accepted Dave’s well-wishes for the marriage, and then turned a scowl on John.
“What the hell was that?”
“No.” John jabbed a finger in Rodney’s direction. “You don’t get to be angry. How could you blindside me like this?”
Rodney got that petulant look on his face, the one that said he knew he’d screwed up but he’d never admit to it. Sometimes John found it endearing, but today was not that day. His family was a sore spot, Rodney knew that, and still he’d gone behind John’s back, and of all times on the eve of their wedding.
“John, I was only –”
“I’m going for a walk,” John said before Rodney could start in. He scooped the box off the table and stalked out of the restaurant, ignoring Rodney’s hurt expression.
John felt like he was on a runaway train, and nothing he did could stop disaster from happening.
Almost as an afterthought he opened up the box Dave had given him. After he picked his jaw up off the ground, he stuffed the box into his pocket and went to talk to his brother. But Dave wasn’t the one who opened the door.
“You’re Uncle John.” A little girl, maybe five or six years old, looked up at him. She was clearly Dave’s daughter, going by family resemblance alone.
“I guess I am.” John inwardly winced. Why hadn’t he stopped to think that Dave would’ve brought his family with him?
“I’m Erin. Nice to meet you.” She held out her hand and John carefully shook it. “I can’t watch your show because Mommy says it’s too scary, but I saw you on the news. Daddy says you’re famous, ‘cause you found a lost city. I didn’t even know a city could get lost.”
Erin was singularly lacking the Sheppard reticence, and John couldn’t help but smile.
“I didn’t know a city could get lost, either, until I found one.”
“Daddy talks about you all the time, but you never come over. Not even for my birthday. How come?”
“Oh. Uh…” John rubbed the back of his neck, not sure how the hell he was supposed to answer that question, and then was saved by Dave’s wife.
“Erin? Who are you talking to?”
John hadn’t seen his sister-in-law in a long time, but she looked just the same. Still tall and elegant, with an easy smile.
“It’s Uncle John. He never came to visit before. Can I show him my dolls?”
Eileen came to the door, a genuine look of surprise and pleasure on her face. “John! It’s been much too long.” She gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and ushered him into the room.
Erin ran off, shouting, “Caitlin! Uncle John’s here!”
“I need to talk to Dave,” John said without any preamble.
Eileen gestured at the sitting area, and John took a seat on the edge of the loveseat.
“He’s outside, having a smoke. He does that when he’s stressed, and he thinks I don’t know.” Eileen sat opposite John and reached out to cover his hand with her own. “He’s changed, John. I know it’s hard for you to believe, but it’s true. Ever since the girls came along he’s reordered his priorities.”
“Uncle John!” Erin was back with an armload of dolls and dragging her younger sister behind her. “This is Caitlin. She’s two. And these are my dolls.”
The toy collection was dumped unceremoniously in John’s lap, and then Erin introduced him to each and every one, telling him the doll’s name and giving surprisingly in-depth backstories. There were a lot of dolls. Caitlin just stared at him with wide eyes, thumb in her mouth.
Eileen watched with a smile on her face. “You’re a natural. Have you and Rodney talked about having children?”
“Kids? Us? Uh…no?” John dutifully admired a doll with purple streaks in her hair and pointy ears on top of her head. Kids? He couldn’t imagine it. He and Rodney were so busy with the expedition, and how would they even...no. Not a conversation he was ready for.
Caitlin clambered up on the loveseat and plunked herself down right next to John. “Unca Yahn?” she mumbled around her thumb. “P’ay?”
It was a hard request to deny, so John found himself on the floor with the girls playing with the dolls while Eileen took a phone call in the bedroom. Well, Caitlin mostly undressed them and tried to put them to bed, but Erin had some pretty involved scenarios to run the dolls through.
“No, Uncle John. Clawdeen doesn’t like Barbie because Barbie called her mean names. They can’t be friends anymore.”
“What if Barbie apologized?” John suggested. “My mom used to say it takes a strong person to say sorry, but a stronger person to show forgiveness. And if those fangs are anything to go by, Clawdeen looks pretty strong.”
“Grandpa says that too,” Erin said.
“He does?” That was surprising. Patrick Sheppard had made a career out of never apologizing, and never accepting apologies in turn. It made him a ruthless businessman, and a pretty lousy father.
“He apologized a lot when he was sick in the hospital. Mommy said it made him revel…reveal…”
“Re-evaluate?” John guessed. When the hell had his father been in the hospital, and why hadn’t anyone called him? John didn’t know what he’d have done with that information, but it still would’ve been nice to know.
Erin nodded. “Grandpa is a lot nicer. He takes us to the zoo, and for ice cream. He watches your scary show with Daddy and they talk about it a lot.”
Patrick Sheppard watched Mysterious Unknown? John felt like he’d lost his footing. Things he knew to be absolute weren’t anymore. Where did that leave him?
“Okay. Barbie can apologize.” Erin thrust Clawdeen at John. “And she’ll say yes, okay?”
Erin pitched her voice up. “Clawdeen, I’m sorry I said you looked like a dog. Even though I like dogs.” She looked at John expectantly.
“Oh.” He cleared his throat and tried to sound like a girl. “Thank you, Barbie. I forgive you.”
“Wait till Clawdeen finds out Barbie kissed her boyfriend!” Erin stage whispered.
“Daddy!” Caitlin shouted.
John looked up to see his brother standing in the doorway. He looked amused.
Caitlin practically trampled him as she ran across the room and threw herself at Dave, who easily caught her and swung her up for a kiss. The little girl squealed and locked her arms around Dave’s neck. John couldn’t imagine his own father being that affectionate, had no memory of that from any time in his childhood. It looked good on Dave.
“Uncle John is here,” Erin said. “He plays with dolls real good.”
“I can see that,” Dave said.
Eileen swept back into the room. She gave Dave a chaste kiss, and then clapped her hands. “Get your coats, girls. We’re going for a walk.”
“Can Uncle John come?” Erin asked, gathering up her dolls.
“No. Uncle John and Daddy need to have a talk. Maybe another time.” Eileen gave John a kiss as well, on his cheek. “I hope we’ll be seeing more of you.”
For the first time John felt the same. “I hope so, too.”
The girls each gave him a hug goodbye, and John felt a little ache for the time he’d missed with them. The time he missed watching his little brother be a dad.
“They like you,” Dave said.
“I like them, too.” John rubbed the back of his neck, feeling ill at ease. “Dave, I…I’m sorry I didn’t hear you out downstairs.”
“I don’t blame you,” Dave replied with a shrug. “We don’t have the best history, you and I. There’s a lot of water under the bridge.”
John pulled the box out of his pocket. “Maybe we can start with this.”
Dave nodded, and gestured for John to sit. He did the same.
“Grandad’s cufflinks. After Rodney called and invited me to the wedding, Dad gave them to me to give to you.”
“Why?” The cufflinks were among Patrick Sheppard’s dearest possessions. His father, John’s Granddad, had been the first Sheppard to pull himself up by his bootstraps and make something of himself. After heroically serving in World War II, Granddad had put himself through law school, and those cufflinks were the first thing he bought for himself after he won his first case. John had heard the story plenty of times when he was a kid.
Dave took the box from John’s hands and opened it up, displaying the sterling silver cuffs with raised monograms on them.
“I wore them when Eileen and I got married. Dad was so proud that day.” He handed them back. “Just like he’s proud of you. He’s watched every episode of Mysterious Unknown that you were on, and he saves every article about your lost city expedition.”
John couldn’t remember the last time his father had expressed pride in him. When he’d been accepted to Harvard, maybe, though it had been short-lived because John had informed his father that he’d be going to Stanford instead.
“Erin said he was in the hospital.”
Dave nodded. “Heart attack. Pretty bad one.”
“Why didn’t you –”
“Call you? Dad asked me not to.”
John nodded. Of course his father hadn’t wanted him there, even when he almost died. He thought he’d been resigned to being cut out like that but it still hurt.
“No. John, it wasn’t like that,” Dave hastened to say. “He wants to see you. But he doesn’t want you to come out of pity, or obligation.”
“And of course he just can’t ask.”
Dave held out the box. “He did.”
John took it and stared down at the cufflinks. His father had sent them, implying that he approved of John and Rodney getting married. The same man who’d disowned him when he was still in college because he’d come out of the closet to live his life the way he was meant to.
“Even if you’re not ready to work things out with Dad, I hope we can find a way to be friends again.”
Dave looked completely earnest, and not as sure of himself as he sounded, and John was reminded of the way Dave used to follow him around when they were kids, hanging on his every word. He’d taken such a big chance, coming all the way to Alberta when he couldn’t be sure how John would receive him.
It was only fair that John took a chance as well.
“I want that, too,” he said. And he meant it.
Asking Jeannie hadn’t been the best idea he’d ever had.
“No, I don’t know where he is,” she snapped. She stepped out into the hall and closed the door to her room. “But you’d better find him and apologize if you still want to get married tomorrow.”
John felt something twist in his chest. What was she talking about? They hadn’t had a fight, not really. “I think you’re blowing this out of proportion. Besides, weren’t you the one telling me secrets were bad? Not to keep anything from Rodney?”
Jeannie had the grace to flush. “It was a surprise. That’s different.”
“It was meddling,” John corrected.
“Mer just wants you to be happy. He wanted your family to be here and support you.”
“I was happy. You really don’t know where he is?”
Jeannie shook her head, so John pulled out his phone and reached out to Kyle. Rodney had left, he said. Went into town with Ronon and was holed up in a bar. That wasn’t good news.
The town of Banff was a short ride across the Bow River. It was a picturesque resort town with a dramatic skyline dominated by ragged mountain peaks, and any other time John would’ve enjoyed looking around. But he was on a mission to find Slade’s, the bar where Rodney was hiding out. It was off the main drag, on Caribou Street, and finding a place to park wasn’t easy. He had to walk a few blocks.
As soon as he was through the door John was greeted by thunderous piano playing, and holy shit. How did he not know that Rodney played piano?
Rodney hammered away at the keys of the piano in the far corner – that couldn’t be good for the sprained wrist – and John recognized Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. Rodney liked to listen to classical music while they worked (and sometimes while they fucked) and there were a few pieces he’d gotten to know pretty well.
Except that he was pretty sure Beethoven wasn’t supposed to segue into the Imperial March from Star Wars. But that’s what Rodney was playing, and somehow the movement back and forth between both pieces was seamless. He not only played piano, he was amazing at it.
“Took you long enough to get here.”
John was shaken out of his stupor by Ronon, who clapped him on the shoulder. “Did you know he could play?”
Ronon nodded. “Yeah. But only if he’s almost black-out drunk. Or he’s working through something. He’s not drunk this time.”
John had no idea why Rodney would keep such a talent hidden. He was just as passionate at the piano as he was about the expedition. John admired that passion, loved being on the receiving end of it when it happened in the bedroom.
“I’ve got it from here,” John said. “Thanks for looking after him.”
“He’s gonna make mistakes, Sheppard. But he means well.”
“I know he does. Oh, can you do me a favor? Tell Kyle we have an MU type situation on our hands. Rodney said he was pushed down the stairs last night.”
Ronon lifted an eyebrow. “Burning Bride?”
“I don’t know. But I’d like everyone to be careful. And make sure we’ve got eyes on Rodney at all times.”
“Gotcha. See you at rehearsal.”
John nodded, and grabbed a seat at the bar. He ordered a beer and then watched Rodney. He put on one hell of a show, his fingers flying across the piano keys much the same way John had seen the dance across a laptop keyboard. Or down John’s spine and over his ass.
Jesus. He was getting turned on.
By the time Rodney wrapped up he was panting, sheen of sweat on his face, and John was worked right into a state. While everyone applauded the performance John dragged his fiancé into the bathroom and locked the door.
“John, what –”
John cut him off with a kiss, deep and dirty, and ground his erection against Rodney’s hip. He wanted Rodney out of his clothes but there was no time for that. He fumbled Rodney’s pants open and shoved his hand in.
“You’re really…sending…mixed signals today,” Rodney gasped against John’s neck.
“It was so hot watching you play.”
“Wait. The piano turned you on?” Rodney was hardening rapidly in John’s hand, and he was already thrusting his hips.
“You turned me on.”
“Fuck. We need to get a piano.” Rodney slid his hand down the back of John’s jeans, finger following the crack of his ass until he could press against John’s hole. “We’ve never done this in a bathroom before.”
“Sorry about that,” John said.
“No you’re not.”
Little bursts of electricity were shooting up John’s spine. “No, I’m not.”
He kept one hand on the side of Rodney’s face as he kissed him, and jerked him hard with the other until Rodney was grunting and coming. John rutted against him until he was doing the same, coming in his pants like a horny teenager. They both slumped against the bathroom wall.
“That was new,” Rodney mumbled against John’s shoulder. “Shall I assume the wedding is still on? Because I’m not going to apologize.”
John huffed out a laugh. “Yes, the wedding is still on. And yes, my brother will be there.”
An even softer mumble followed that sounded suspiciously like told you so. John just shook his head and pressed a kiss to Rodney’s shoulder. They set themselves to rights as much as possible before the exited the bathroom, though if anyone had been paying attention there’d be no doubt about what they’d just gotten up to in there.
“We need a shower before the rehearsal,” John said.
“I’m going to need those painkillers,” Rodney replied, cradling his sprained wrist. “What the hell was I thinking?”
John slung his arm across Rodney’s shoulders. “Don’t worry, buddy. I got you.”
“You’re ridiculous,” Rodney said. But he leaned in and didn’t complain when John helped him fasten his seatbelt when they got back to the car. “Marry me?”
“We’ll see how the rehearsal goes,” John teased.
The rehearsal itself had gone off without a hitch. The event planner had walked them through the whole thing: where everyone would stand, who would speak when, where they’d go for photographs before and after. John had been so nervous just acting it out, he had no idea what kind of shape he was going to be in when it was real. He could only hope Rodney wouldn’t be quite so high on pain meds.
Dinner was held in the private Angus Room, and it had been a little surreal to see Dave, Eileen and the girls sitting at the table with Rodney’s family and the MU crew. Erin and Madison had gotten seats next to each other and chatted away like old friends. John hesitated to use the word ‘perfect’ but it had been pretty close.
At least until the tablecloth had burst into flames.
“This kind of thing happen to you a lot?” Dave asked. He was standing next to John, hands in his pockets. Eileen had taken the girls and Madison back to their room.
“Not really, no.”
Evan was filming Kyle at the table, where he was explaining what happened for the MU audience with far more drama than was necessary. Rodney and Radek had gone to review the security footage, but John didn’t need to see it. He knew no-one in the room had set the fire.
“You think it’s the Burning Bride?” Laura asked. She’d taken EMF readings after the fact but they hadn’t shown anything out of the ordinary.
“Does she usually do this kind of thing?” John didn’t know anything about the hotel haunting, though he should probably brush up if things were going to continue on the way they had.
Ronon shook his shaggy head. “No. Encounters have been visual only. She doesn’t interact.”
“Burning Bride?” Dave asked, eyebrows raised.
“Long story,” John replied. He sighed. “This is a disaster.”
“One small fire does not a disaster make.”
John gave his brother a side-eyed glare. “Really?”
Kyle wrapped things up at the table and joined them. “Ronon told me about the stairs. How do you want to play this?”
John rubbed his hands over his face. “Hell if I know. I was worried Rodney was being targeted, but now I’m not so sure. I’d still like to make sure he doesn’t go anywhere alone, just to be on the safe side.”
“Buddy system for everyone, I think.” Kyle was nodding solemnly but there was a familiar glint in his eye. “This is crazy, John. We’ve never had this kind of contact with an entity, not in five seasons. Even counting your experience in Turkey.”
“That was real?” Dave was staring at John. “It wasn’t just for effect?”
“We don’t fake things on the show,” Kyle said snappishly.
Radek and Rodney returned, and they both looked pretty wired. John sighed. They were so screwed.
“We did not see anyone start the fire,” Radek said. He pushed his glasses up his nose. “I would swear to spontaneous combustion.”
“The head of security agreed,” Rodney added. “For whatever that’s worth. Cadman, did you get anything on the EMF?”
“There were no residuals,” Laura said. “But I bet that sucker would’ve been off the charts.”
“Could you show me how it works?” Dave asked.
Laura obligingly took him over the table to demonstrate how the EMF worked and let him run a scan with it. John watched with amusement. His brother really was a fan.
“Everyone needs to be cautious moving forward,” Kyle said. “We’re not sure what we’re dealing with here.”
“Um, John?” Dave called. “You might want to take a look at this.”
“Holy shit, you really need to,” Laura echoed. “Evan! Camera!”
Dave and Laura had pushed aside the debris in the center of the table and John felt icy fingers walk up his spine when he saw what had been hidden beneath the blackened dishes.
“We’re fucked,” Rodney said with wide eyes.
Burned into the wood were two very clear handprints.
Evan whistled through his teeth. “Oh, boy. What do we do now?”
Everyone looked at Kyle, but it was Teyla who answered. She swept into the room with the hotel manager at her heels. Baby TJ was sleeping, slung across her chest with a length of fabric that had a complicated system of knots and folds keeping it all in place.
“Now we politely ask the Burning Bride, or whatever entity is at work here, to kindly stop disrupting John and Rodney’s wedding.”
“Oh, we’ll just ask. Why didn’t I think of that?” Rodney rolled his eyes, and Jeannie elbowed him in the ribs.
“Do you have a better idea, Mer? No? I didn’t think so. Shut up and listen.”
John slung his arm around Rodney’s shoulders and tugged him close. “How much are we gonna hate this?”
Teyla just grinned at him.
Ten minutes later he found himself soaking in the tub with Rodney. They were supposed to be rubbing each other with sea salt, though the best Teyla had been able to procure on short notice was Epsom salts. While they soaked, everyone else was doing a sage smudging of the main stairway, the ballroom, and the ceremony site. John couldn’t even begin to guess where Teyla had gotten hold of that much sage. Dave had been excited to help out as an honorary team member; he was less of a stick-in-the-mud than John remembered.
“I think this is helping my back,” Rodney said. He slid lower in the tub, his back against John’s chest.
“Are you doing it?” John asked. He rubbed his hands up and down Rodney’s arms.
Rodney made a rude noise. “I’m not a new-agey kind of guy.”
Teyla had instructed them to visualize divine light and repeat positive affirmations, which would supposedly serve as some kind of psychic detox to get rid of the negative energy surrounding them. Given the nature of the problem, she’d eschewed the use of candles.
“Yeah,” John agreed. But as he moved his hands over Rodney’s skin he tried to imagine he was sloughing off bad vibes.
“At least we’re not running around the hotel trying to chase a ghost away with smoke. I mean, who comes up with these things?” Rodney turned his head and pressed a kiss against John’s throat. “I’m surprised Laura didn’t suggest putting out salt lines.”
“What would that do?”
“Nothing. That’s the point.” Rodney wriggled in John’s lap. “Are you sure we don’t have time to fool around?”
“Teyla only gave us fifteen minutes,” John reminded him. He wrapped his arms around Rodney. “And we already had a quickie today.”
“Mmm. That was good.”
John didn’t mind snuggling with Rodney, especially in a nice warm bath, but he wished it wasn’t for the purpose of keeping an angry ghost at bay. He wanted to get married, but he wasn’t going to sacrifice Rodney’s life – or his own – for the privilege.
“Love you,” he whispered against the side of Rodney’s head.
“Sap.” Rodney turned his head for a proper kiss. “Love you too.”
It was the only affirmation John needed.
He was wearing his wedding tuxedo.
Being alone was wrong, John was sure of it. There was something about the buddy system, but he couldn’t quite work out what that meant.
When he entered the lobby the smoke dissipated again, clinging to the edges of the room like wispy gray shadows. There was a group of people standing at the foot of the staircase, the men all in tuxes and the women in glittering dresses. John suddenly felt the weight of a video camera in his hands and he responded automatically, lifting it to film the woman at the top of the stairs.
There were flowers twined around the bannister, and candles flickered in sconces on the wall. The Bride looked down, beaming. Her dress was an off color, what John thought some people called champagne, and it was covered in beads and lace. A long, filmy veil was pinned to her curled hair and she had a bouquet of pale pink roses in her hands.
John viewed it all through the camera lens.
The Bride descended the staircase. Just before she got to the landing she stumbled and fell against the wall, dropping the flowers. There was a moment when everything seemed suspended and heavy with impending doom, and then the Bride’s veil burst into flame. She’d gotten too close to one of the sconces.
It was at that moment John realized he couldn’t hear anything.
The people around him were panicking, and the Bride was trying to pull the veil off. John tried to put down the camera so he could help, but he couldn’t move. He was forced to bear witness.
An older man started up the stairs, taking them two at a time. The Bride’s mouth was open and she was clearly screaming even though nothing came out. The man tried to help but he had to be burning his hands. The Bride pushed him away and in the process lost her footing. She fell down the stairs, dress on fire, and landed in the lobby head first.
For one brief moment John could see her lying on the floor like a broken, burning doll, her limbs twitching but her eyes open and empty, and then the crowd surge forward and blocked his view. He knew all they could do for her was put out the fire; she was dead. John thought he might be sick.
“The heel came off my shoe.”
John dropped the camera. It didn’t make a sound as it hit the floor, even though the casing cracked and the lens broke. He turned to his left and saw the Bride standing next to him, whole and undamaged. She was staring pensively at the edges of a pool of blood that was seeping between people’s shoes.
“A minor inconvenience under any other circumstance. But it killed me.”
John tried to tell her he was sorry, that what had happened to her was a tragedy, but even though his lips were moving no words came out. There wasn’t even a vibration in his throat.
“Your family asked me to leave. But I can’t go, not until I accept what happened. And I can’t. I won't.”
It took John longer than it should have to understand what she was saying, to remember the sage burning and the psychic cleansing. And Rodney, getting pushed down the stairs.
“You remind me of Thomas,” the Bride said. She reached out and smoothed the lapels of John’s tuxedo. Her hands were solid but painfully cold. “So handsome. And kind.”
“Not…him,” John said, and the effort of forcing the words out left him shaking.
“No,” the Bride agreed sadly. “My Thomas is long gone. You and your betrothed, you have a bond like we did. I can feel it. I won’t cause you any more trouble.”
John mouthed ‘thank you’ at her.
“Cherish him. Have a good life together.” The Bride leaned in and kissed him, and John felt the cold all the way down to his toes.
The smoke swirled back in and when John woke the next morning, shivering from cold, he had no memory of the dream.
“Nope. Is that weird?”
“Do you think it’s weird?”
John huffed out a laugh. “Who are you, my therapist? No, I don’t think it’s weird. Everything we’ve been through? The actual marriage part should be smooth sailing.”
“You worried about the Burning Bride?”
John took a longer moment to think that one through. Last night he would have responded with an emphatic yes. The fire at dinner had really freaked him out. But when he woke up that morning, unaccountably shivering from cold, he’d felt…at ease. Like he didn’t have anything to worry about. Maybe it was Teyla’s cleansing ceremony, or just having so many people on their side.
“You know what? I’m not.”
“Doesn’t matter anyway. We’ve got your back.” Ronon stepped back and gave John a critical one over. “You’ll do.”
“Thanks,” John said sincerely. “For everything.”
They shook hands and Ronon pulled him in for a hug. “Let’s get you married.”
The ceremony was on the outside terrace, where folding chairs had been set up along with tasteful arrangements of flowers. The views of the valley were nothing short of breath-taking, but John only had eyes for Rodney, who was standing near the open French doors looking out.
Rodney’s tuxedo fit him like a glove, his broad shoulders well-defined. He was the one who looked like James Bond, and John couldn’t wait to get him alone and peel him out of it. A shiver of anticipation ran up John’s spine, because the next time he got Rodney naked they’d be married. Husbands.
He dragged his eyes away from Rodney and saw that Jeannie was wrangling Erin, Caitlin and Madison. All three girls were dressed to the nines, and Erin had capped her outfit off with a headband topped with what John presumed were wolf ears. She spun around and her dress swirled up almost to her knees.
“You girls look beautiful,” John said. He kicked himself for not thinking to ask his nieces to be in the wedding, and was glad someone had.
Madison, who was holding the basket with the rose petals in it, looked up at him with her big blue McKay eyes. “Is it okay if they flower girl? I said they could.”
John crouched down so he wasn’t looming over her. “Of course it is. Thank you for sharing such an important job.”
Jeannie beamed at him over her daughter’s head, and Madison kissed him on the cheek.
“You’ll be my uncle soon!”
“I can’t wait, “John replied sincerely. It was surreal, really. Just two days ago he was a guy who didn’t have a family, and now he had his brother back in his life, three nieces, and a new sister-in-law.
“You look good,” Rodney said.
John stood up and turned around, a smile twitching at his lips when he saw that Rodney’s vest had planets on it. “You look pretty good yourself.”
“No second thoughts?”
“Not a one,” John said. “Let’s do this.”
Jeannie signaled to someone outside the door and music started to play, acoustic guitar in a melody that was familiar even though John couldn’t place it. Rodney could, though, because he gave his sister a startled look.
“You remembered that?”
“Of course I did.” Jeannie got the girls in place. “Right up to the front, like we practiced. Okay?”
The girls walked out on the terrace, Madison in the middle with the basket. Erin flung the rose petals with flair, but Caitlin just clutched a fist full in one hand while she sucked her thumb.
Jeannie and Rodney were next, walking arm-in-arm out to where the JP was standing at the ready.
“You wanna hold hands?” Ronon asked.
John flipped him off, and then they were stepping out and walking side by side on the trail of rose petals. Ronon patted him on the shoulder when they made it to the JP, and then John was holding Rodney’s hand and looking into Rodney’s eyes and wondering how the hell he got so lucky.
The JP had a few opening remarks, including the whole we-are-gathered-here spiel but leaving out the bit about anyone speaking up who didn’t think John and Rodney should get married. And then it was time for vows.
“Rodney, the most unexpected discovery I’ve made in my life has been you. You’re smart, you’re sexy, and you once tased a wolf in the face so I know you’re brave, too.”
Ronon let out a huff of laughter but Rodney just grinned back at John and squeezed his hand.
“I feel like everything else I did in my life before I met you was just marking time. I promise to do my best to make you happy, keep you safe, and be your partner in all things.”
Rodney was still smiling but his chin was trembling just a little bit and his eyes were gleaming. John knew getting married was nothing Rodney had expected either. The universe moved in unexpected ways sometimes.
“All my life I’ve been searching for something,” Rodney said. “Scientific discovery. Bigfoot. Atlantis. But now that I’ve found you I don’t have to search anymore, because you’re everything I could ever want. I’d give up the rest in a heartbeat, as long as I get to keep you. I will always tell you the truth, and I will always love you with my whole heart, even if I forget to show it sometimes.”
John’s throat was tight, and he wasn’t sure he’d make it through the rest of the ceremony. Rodney wasn’t prone to romantic declarations and to hear those words now…it meant a lot.
They exchanged rings – designed to replicate one they’d found in the lost city, with a distinctive inlay of lapis lazuli – and the JP said more words, and then they were kissing while everyone cheered. They were married.
Everything seemed to move in fast forward after that. They signed the marriage certificate, got dragged away for pictures until Rodney started to complain about being hungry, and then it was time for a late lunch and dancing and the cake Jeannie had commissioned that had mathematical equations on it.
John danced with Rodney and every female in attendance except for Caitlin, who only wanted to blow bubbles. Ronon roasted them when the time for speeches rolled around, and of course Kyle had to get up and say something because he liked the sound of his own voice just as much as he accused Rodney of doing the same. Jeannie’s Best Woman speech made her brother cry.
The Burning Bride never made an appearance, and John sent her a silent thank you.
“Do you feel any different?” Rodney asked in a hushed tone of voice.
“Yeah.” John kissed the side of Rodney’s head. “Like my life finally makes sense.”
“Such a sap.” Rodney turned so he could kiss John on the lips. “I was thinking.”
“Ha. Funny.” He poked John in the ribs. “Maybe on the way back we could make a stopover. Spend a couple days in Venice.”
“Hmm. We’ve never been there. It’s supposed to be pretty romantic.” John nuzzled Rodney’s ear.
“Oh, right. Yes. Very romantic.”
John pushed himself up so he could look at Rodney properly. Just as he suspected, his husband was looking shifty. “So why do you really want to go to Venice?”
“I want to ride in a gondola with you?”
“Fine. I’d like to go to the National Library to look up some references that Jackson translated from that tablet we recovered. But there could be lots of sex, too!” Rodney ran his hand down John’s stomach. “We’ve never had sex in Italy.”
John shook his head and chuckled. “I love you, you know.”
“So is that a yes?”
“Yes. Let’s have lots of sex in Italy and look at dusty manuscripts neither of us will be able to read.”
Rodney’s hand moved lower. “I think it’s time to perform my husbandly duties. Again.” He waggled his eyebrows in a ridiculous manner.
John rolled on his back and spread his legs. “Have your wicked way with me.”
Rodney was more than happy to do so.