Ronon Dex was a man with problems. He was on the lam, hunted by people who took objection to his activities, he couldn't get in touch with Teyla, and most importantly, he was starving. Hunger made him cranky, and Ronon Dex was grumpy when he was cranky.
He leaned against a brick pillar, trying to blend in as much as it was possible for a black man with dreadlocks, dressed in jeans, a gray sweater, leather jacket, and black boots, to merge in a seemingly all-white town. The grocery store parking lot was packed, as befitted a holiday celebration. Ronon carefully watched as people parked and went into the store, and those that came out and drove away. Most had kids, which were normally lifeforms that Ronon adored, but not when he was in trouble. Kids were hard to control, a complication that Ronon didn't need.
The semi-perfect couple finally appeared. Their black motor vehicle was parked close to Ronon's location, and looked like it had lots of leg room, an attribute Ronon appreciated, given his height. One of the guys looked pretty fit, but it was a wiry strength that Ronon knew he could handle, and the other seemed soft, with a nice roundness of his middle that said he couldn't fight effectively. His words were certainly sharp, as the two bickered while unloading their groceries.
Ronon stalked toward the couple as they shoved the last of the bags into the back of the vehicle, and in one smooth move, pulled his gun out of the back of his jeans, wrapped an arm around the soft one, jamming the gun into his back. "Don't move. Don't say anything."
Both of them stopped in mid-motion. "Oh god, John, he's got a gun in my back," the soft one whined.
"I said, don't say anything." The soft one whimpered, but John stayed frozen. His eyes were active, though, as they studied Ronon, judging him. Yeah, he'd be the potentially problematic one. "John, you'll drive. We'll get into the other side. Don't speed, don't draw attention, and you'll both get out of this alive." Ronon felt almost exhausted by the number of words he'd spoken, but clarity was always best in a kidnapping situation. He'd hate to hurt someone just because they didn't understand the terms.
"It's a big gun, isn't it?" the soft one whimpered. "It feels enormous. I'm going to be murdered on Christmas Eve. I hate holidays. Why are holidays always so stressful?"
"What guarantee do I have that you won't hurt us?" John asked, and his voice was surprisingly calm for someone in a kidnapping situation.
"You have my word. You also have my word that if you do something stupid, I'll blow a hole in your friend."
"Okay," John nodded. He slammed the back of the vehicle shut, and went to the driver's side. Ronon forced the soft one to move, thrusting him into the front passenger's seat, getting in behind him. Leg room, good.
"Oh my god, he's going to kill us. You're not supposed to cooperate with kidnappers. You're supposed to run and scream," the soft one moaned. "Why didn't you run and scream?"
"Shut up, Rodney," John said tersely. Rodney, Ronon noted. It sounded like an appropriate name for him. "I know what I'm doing." John started the car and drove, checking all the mirrors, his speed the same as the other drivers on the road. Good.
"You're cooperating with the kidnapper!"
"And what did you mean, you hate holidays? You love holidays. You've always loved holidays."
"I hated holidays growing up. My parents fought on every single one. They were always disastrous. Christmas was the worst. No one ever got me anything I wanted or even needed."
"But you love holidays now," John insisted. "We plan all month for Christmas."
"Are you seriously upset because I said holidays were stressful? Can we concentrate on the fact that you're cooperating with the kidnapper?"
"Where do you guys live?" Ronon interrupted their bickering.
"We have a house on the island," John answered.
Ronon wasn't familiar with the area, but 'island' sounded good. Hopefully the population would be small, making it easier to avoid detection until Teyla could pick him up. "Go to your house. I'll stay until I can leave and then I'll be gone." He threw a wistful glance at the bags of groceries, but didn't want to lean over the seat to root through them. His stomach could survive a bit longer.
"Were you ogling our groceries?" Rodney asked. "Did you kidnap us for our food?"
"I'm hungry," Ronon grumbled, conscious that Rodney had been watching him in the mirror. He was weak but he wasn’t stupid or completely paralyzed with fear.
"Here." Rodney started to lunge forward, and stopped abruptly as Ronon pressed his gun against his neck. "I have powerbars in the glove compartment," he said slowly. "I'm hypoglycemic. My blood sugar crashes if I don't eat regularly."
"It does," John confirmed. "He gets even crankier than normal."
"Give me one. Slowly."
Rodney opened the glove compartment, revealing a crammed stash of papers and small tools, with several powerbars on top. He took one by two fingers and handed it to Ronon. "You can take all our groceries if you want food. And money. I have a couple hundred dollars in my wallet. John does too. And what do you mean, crankier than normal?" he hissed at John.
Ronon removed the gun from Rodney's neck, ripping up the powerbar with his teeth before wolfing it down. Money wouldn't help his situation, but he was never very fond of providing explanations, particularly to strangers. A police car appeared behind them, but John kept his speed steady.
And then the siren on the police car wailed once.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. They were going to die because Evan wanted to chitchat. They wouldn't live to spend another perfect Christmas together, having sleepy morning sex, cooking, and hosting dinner for their best friends. Rodney was going to die before he won his Nobel. "He's a friend of ours," John said rapidly. "I can get us out of this. Don't do anything hasty. I can get us out of this."
He could see the guy in the rear view mirror, his face impassive. Facing the law didn’t seem to make him scared or agitated, which was even more frightening than if he'd been sweating with fear. John hoped that he was right in trusting this man's word. Maybe Rodney was right and they should have caused a fuss in the parking lot. Except Dreadlocks's gun had been in Rodney's back. Even if John occasionally wanted to throttle Rodney, especially lately, he couldn't risk the guy shooting him straight through the abdomen. John knew guns. He hadn't gotten a good look at Dreadlocks's, but any caliber of weapon that close to the body… Rodney's survival would have been unlikely, and John couldn't bear to lose his partner.
"You'd better be telling the truth."
John nodded frantically, pulling the car to the side of the road, telling himself to be calm. They needed to keep cooperating. His stint in the Air Force had taught him how to control his nerves under pressure. He caught Rodney's hand, squeezed it encouragingly. Fuck. Rodney looked completely petrified, blue eyes wide, one side of his mouth turned down in an ugly slash. Rodney had no stupidly macho veneer, one of the many qualities John had always loved about him.
A tap on the window diverted John's attention. He rolled it down so Evan could rest his forearms in the windowsill. "Hey, John, Rodney." Evan leaned in a bit. "Hey, you okay?" he directed to Rodney.
"He's fine. He ate a sample in the grocery story, thought it might have citrus in it." The excuse came easily to John's lips, since Rodney had indeed eaten a sample in the grocery store, afterwards fretting at the server about any possible citrus infiltration, a habit that drove John crazy. Why couldn't Rodney learn to ask first and eat second?
"You need a police escort to the hospital?" Evan offered.
"Nah." John forced himself to give an eye roll. "He probably just ate too many samples on top of a big lunch."
“Mock the dying man,” Rodney said, his voice thready. John gave his hand another squeeze.
Evan grinned. "What's the saying? One thin wafer?"
John made himself smile, like he enjoyed the Monty Python reference. "So what's up?"
"Radek's got a sudden nostalgia for some Czech dish with sausage and potatoes and coleslaw or something. I wanted to make sure that it was okay if we brought it tomorrow."
"Yeah, sure. The more food the better on Christmas."
"And don't forget the pies," Rodney added suddenly, his voice still unnaturally high. "You were going to bring the pies tomorrow. For Christmas. When our good friend the sheriff and his partner come to Christmas dinner."
"Don't worry," Evan said cheerfully, but he was eying Rodney oddly. "We're making pumpkin and berry tonight. No key lime, no lemon meringue. You sure you're okay, doc? I can radio ahead to the hospital."
"He's fine," John said firmly. Damn, he couldn't think of any way to signal Evan that there was a problem without encouraging Dreadlocks to start shooting. And Christmas Eve seemed like an exceedingly bad day to die, screw whatever Klingons might say. Or even more horrifying, to watch Rodney die.
"You didn't introduce me to your friend."
"Ronon Dex," Dreadlocks answered.
"Interesting name. I'm Evan Lorne." Evan extended his hand through the open window, between the door frame and John's seat, stretching it out to Ronon, who gave it a shake. "Nice to meet you."
"He's a friend of a friend. Just passing through," John said, still trying to keep it casual. What kind of alias was an obviously made-up name like Ronon Dex? And now that Evan had seen him, would he be less likely to kill them? After all, Evan would finger him immediately. Maybe John could promise that they'd keep their mouths shut until tomorrow, give him time to escape.
"Nice meeting you, Mr. Dex," Evan said. It wasn't surprising that he was on his second term as elected Sheriff, an attractive guy who was always so civil and thoughtful that even the many conservative older people in town were willing to accept his homosexuality. "See you guys tomorrow."
"Yes, see you tomorrow," Rodney babbled. "Our nice friend the Sheriff."
John dug his fingers into Rodney's hand warningly, and Rodney tried for a smile, which emerged as an awkward grimace. Evan obviously hesitated, so John gave him a big smile, wondering if his looked as fake as Rodney's.
"Tomorrow," he said cheerfully.
Evan nodded, and walked back to his car. John waited until he'd driven off and pulled onto the road again. One crisis averted.
Oh god, they were going to die. He and John were going to be shot dead by the scarily calm gunman. He was never going to win the Nobel. He was never going to have sex again with John, or just lie in bed and watch John sleep, wondering how the hell he'd gotten so lucky to land the absolutely hottest guy at work for his lover. He was never even going to want to smack John again.
No, strike that, he wanted to smack John right now for cooperating. They should have resisted in the parking lot. He could have screamed. John would have fought. And he'd probably be lying in a pool of blood now, definitely not having won his Nobel.
Oh god, they were going to die.
John pulled up the driveway, parking in front of their house. Rodney wondered what the gunman thought of their two-floor, five-bedroom, white house, with the wrap-around veranda. He and John had loved it on first sight, joking that the green trim matched John's eyes, while the blue front door was the color of Rodney's. That had been one of the best days of Rodney's life, a life which hopefully wouldn't be ended tonight.
"Nice house," the scarily calm gunman said. What had he said his name was? Ronon Dex? Who made up a name like Ronon Dex?
"We like it," John responded, and they all got out of the car, slamming doors behind them. The gunman put his hand on Rodney's shoulder, reminding him of the danger, as they walked to the back of the car. John opened it up, and Rodney leaned forward to scoop up a grocery bag. There was a weird flurry of activity behind him. The scuff of feet on the white gravel driveway said both Ronon and John were moving quickly. Rodney whirled around to see John on the ground, the gunman's foot on his neck, that extremely large gun pointed directly at his face.
"Are you insane? You're going to mess up your back again!" Rodney yelped. "Do you want to go back to physical therapy?" Because John had certainly seemed to dislike being laid up with a bad back, having to do all his work on his laptop in bed, and giving that 'I'm miserable but I'm too tough to complain' grimace every time the torturer from hell showed up to make him do his exercises.
"You can't blame a guy for trying," John joked, staring up at the gunman, but his eyes were scared in a way that Rodney had never seen. Nothing bothered John and his laidback façade. Not that many overtly scary things ever happened to them, but even the daily stress of work and deadlines rarely disturbed him.
"Yes, I can," the gunman said, but he lifted his boot off John's neck and stepped back. "That's your one chance."
"Yes, and I can blame you too. Are you insane? Are you trying to get him to kill you? Do you think I can afford this house by myself?" Truthfully, he could, because he and John had made a large down payment, wanting a monthly bill that would allow them to take time off for vacations and projects if they desired. But even if he could afford it, how could he live there without John? Rattle around aimlessly in the house they'd bought together?
John stood gingerly, brushed himself off, glared at Rodney, and picked up two grocery bags. "I had to take the chance."
Rodney cradled the other two to his body, the bags helping to hide that he was almost shaking at John's stupidity in risking himself. "No, you didn't. This is your hero complex, isn't it? Attacking a man with a gun? You could at least have done it at the grocery store!"
"He had the gun in your back at the grocery store," John snapped as they walked into the house, John juggling his bags to open the door, and through the living room, into the kitchen, followed by the gunman. "Jeannie would have harassed me forever if you'd gotten killed."
They set the bags down on the island. “You can unpack the food,” the gunman said.
"Great. Great. Yes, thank you for that consideration. We wouldn't want the food to go bad," Rodney said as he began pulling items out of the bags, handing them to John, warmed by the notion that John hadn't attacked at the grocery store because he'd been worried about Rodney. Not that he said it exactly that way because SyFy would start making decent science fiction movies before John would ever express his emotions directly. "We need the food to feed our good friend the sheriff. He's seen you now, you do realize that?"
"You're a marked man. You're distinctive and Evan is a painter. He has a fantastic eye for faces. You do anything to us and your image will be plastered all over the police bulletins throughout the country. You'll be hunted for the rest of your life."
"I think what Rodney means," John said, "is that it would be best if you just stick to what you said in the parking lot. We've got you away. You said you'd let us go."
"Eventually?" Rodney asked, and his voice was not hysterical. At least, not any more hysterical than anyone would be, faced with a scary man with a gun. A lying, scary man with an enormous gun. "What does that mean?"
The thing about hostages is that they were so much easier to handle when tied up, Ronon decided, admiring his handiwork. The two of them were sitting in chairs, back to back, their arms and legs bound with clothesline. He'd even tied the chairs together to decrease any possibility of them escaping. Gags seemed unnecessary since no other houses were close. The island's population appeared to be as small as Ronon had hoped. They could scream or argue all they liked.
This room must be used primarily by Rodney, given that many of the pictures on the walls featured him with white men in long, black gowns. Ronon poked around as John glared at him and Rodney grumbled, but the room didn't seem to hold anything interesting or useful, only a lot of electronics and books.
Shutting the door on Rodney's protestations, Ronon left his hostages in the den, and returned to the kitchen. He took a moment to set up the signal for Teyla, blocking all other communications, before tucking the small device back into his pocket. He took off his jacket, draping it over a chair in the kitchen. The house was pleasantly warm without it.
The refrigerator was fully stocked with food for tomorrow's Christmas dinner. They were either planning on entertaining a lot of people or liked leftovers. And they must be doing some pre-cooking today, because a very large bird in the oven was giving off a heavenly smell. Ronon poked at it, but decided it wasn't ready yet. He grabbed an apple from a bowl of fruit, and ate it while roaming through the house. Though he didn't expect trouble, he always liked to scout out his immediate environment. Their bedroom was upstairs, as well as what must be John's den, also filled with books and electronics, but the walls were covered with pictures of flying machines. The two guest bedrooms were neat and tidy. They were either expecting company or the rooms were always kept ready.
The doorbell rang as he was walking downstairs. He opened the door and a woman and a young girl, both blonde, yelled, "Surprise!" A guy with curly, brown hair stood behind them. "You're not Meredith," the woman said, frowning at him.
She picked up a suitcase and started to walk in, but Ronon didn't budge, and she stopped before she bumped into him. "Where's Meredith?"
"I like your hair," the little girl said in a wispy voice.
"There's no Meredith here."
"Of course he's here. His gas-guzzling monstrosity of an SUV is in the drive."
Meredith must be a nickname for one of the guys. "He's tied up at the moment."
"That's okay. We'll get settled in." She started to walk forward again, and this time Ronon stepped aside. Considering the blue eyes and the general attitude, she must be Rodney's sister, which meant Rodney was Meredith. "I'm Jeannie Miller, and this is my husband Kaleb and my daughter Madison," she said as they all entered the house. "We decided to surprise them with a Christmas visit."
"Our basement flooded," the little girl added. "Mr. Teddy didn't like all the water." She held out a small, brown, stuffed animal.
"Are you here for Christmas too? Meredith didn't mention that they were expecting overnight visitors." As she talked, Jeannie kept walking across the spacious living room. Madison skipped to the corner of the room, gazing in awe at a large, decorated tree.
"I'm just passing through," Ronon said, before taking the last crunching bite of his apple.
"You must be a friend of John's. Meredith's friends – well, they could look only like you in their dreams. Or World of Warcraft."
"Hon," Kaleb said mildly, following her and carrying another suitcase.
"You know it's true, dear. Meredith's friends are all lab geeks. Did you know John from the service?"
"And let me guess – it's a long story and you're not going to tell it. That's so typical of John."
"Hon," Kaleb said again.
"You know it's true," Jeannie replied as she started walking up the stairs. "I've never met a man less inclined to talk. Not that Meredith always gives him a chance," she added.
"We'll just settle in and be back down in a minute," Kaleb said to Ronon as he started to follow her up the stairs. "Madison, honey, come help us unpack."
"If they're not back soon, we're going to have to raid their refrigerator," Jeannie yelled down the stairs, as Madison skipped up the stairs after them. "Madison needs a snack. Did you say when they'd get home?"
"They're already here," Ronon replied, but the Millers were already upstairs and out of hearing range.
Rodney had always known that other people were mostly idiots incapable of logical thought, though he'd never realized that truth applied even to the man of his dreams. But if John said one more time that everything would be fine, Rodney was going to chew through the clothesline just so he could smack him. Hard.
"Oh god," Rodney repeated. "We're going to die. On Christmas Eve."
"We are not going to die," John repeated again. "You need to calm down. You know the doctor said getting worked up was bad for your blood pressure."
"Thank you for the reminder," Rodney snapped back. Not only was he going to die, he was going to die a middle-aged man with high blood pressure. Rodney stared ahead at the display of pictures over his desk. Most were of him receiving his degrees and awards, but the one right in front of his face was John and him at their first Christmas together, standing in front of the huge evergreen in their living room. Both wore sweaters and black slacks; his sweater was red while John's was green, an unintended coordination. They were smiling widely, slightly tipsy from too much excellent wine, and so happy to be living together, to be celebrating holidays as partners. When had they stopped being so happy to have found each other?
The door opened and Ronon came in, standing in front of Rodney. Why was he standing in front of Rodney? Why didn't he stand in front of John? John had been trained to handle terrorists and insurgents and enemy soldiers when he'd been in the Air Force. He would know how to talk to this guy.
"Your sister's here."
"Jeannie? Why would Jeannie be here? Jeannie's in Canada."
"Their basement flooded."
"Oh god, you're serious, aren't you? My sister's here. Why does she always do this kind of thing to me? Why does she pick the worst possible time to visit, always without warning?"
"Yeah. With her kid and husband. I'm going to untie you. You're going to act natural."
"You need to untie me too," John said swiftly. "I'll keep an eye on Rodney."
Ronon walked over to stand in front of John. "You have to behave."
"What do you mean, keep an eye on me?" Rodney yelped. "I do not need an eye kept on me!"
John twisted his head, trying to glare at Rodney. "Rodney, do not argue against the nice man releasing me, okay?" Facing toward Ronon again, he promised, "We will. We don't want anything to happen to anybody. And it doesn't need to, right?"
Instead of answering John, Ronon walked back to Rodney, and began working on the knots. "She makes a lot of assumptions. She thinks I'm a friend of his from the service."
"You're too young to be a friend of John's from the service. He's been out for eight years. You were still in high school then, weren't you? If you graduated. Or did you get a GED?" Rodney flinched at the look that Ronon gave him, even though it was as blank as most of his expressions. "I'm sure you did very well academically," he rushed to add. "It's a bad assumption of mine, that a criminal would be uneducated. Undereducated. I'm sure you're very bright."
"I'm not a criminal."
"No, no, of course not. Just a guy who needs to get somewhere. You're a friend of a friend, that's what John told Evan. Our nice friend the sheriff. We should stick to that story. A friend from a service. And you're going to be leaving really soon." He was babbling, he knew that, but surely a little incoherency was justified under the circumstances. Why didn't John interrupt? John was always so good at deflecting conversations when Rodney picked the wrong people to insult.
"I hope to." Ronon gave a yank, and the clothesline slid free from both chairs.
The sensation of the clothesline sliding from around his arms and legs startled Rodney. "How did you do that?"
"I'm good with rope." Ronon coiled the clothesline swiftly, proving that his expertise wasn't a lie. What kind of man could be so skilled at tying people up and then claim not to be a criminal? John and Rodney both stood, Rodney rubbing at his arms to restore his circulation. Giving John an intimidating look, Ronon added, "No heroics."
"No heroics," John promised.
"God, I need coffee," was Rodney's first reaction as they walked into the living room and his sister bounced in from the stairs. Despite the seriousness of their situation, the typical lament made John smile. Everything in Rodney's world was better, or at least more bearable, with coffee.
"John, Rodney! It's so good to see both of you. You should drink less coffee. It's horrible for your blood pressure. You can make me some herbal tea. Kaleb, do you want some tea? And Madison's starving. Maybe a peanut butter sandwich to tide her over until dinner? Do you still have that organic peanut butter and jam from the last time we were here?"
He'd love a beer, John thought, accepting a hug from his unofficial sister-in-law. The larger the better, except he needed to keep a clear head until their undesired visitor left. Keeping Rodney from going ballistic under stress was difficult enough when sober. "Your basement flooded?" he asked.
"One of the pipes broke. Fortunately, we got home before the water had been spraying for too long, so we were able to shut it off and rescue most of the storage boxes before they were completely soaked."
"So you just got in the car and drove here? You should be home dealing with the insurance paperwork and repairmen."
Rodney's tone was decidedly unwelcoming, and John flinched at the hurt on Jeannie's face. "Rodney's just concerned that the damage might get worse while you're gone. Mold could grow."
"We've left everything in a good state, and finding people to work over Christmas was a little difficult."
Kaleb and Madison came in, Kaleb draping something in a cleaner's bag over a chair, and there was another round of hugs. Only Ronon, leaning against the wall, wasn't squeezed. John picked up Madison and lifted her high, making her giggle. "You're going to be too big for this soon."
"Never, Uncle John!" she said, as he lowered her into a big hug.
"We thought you weren't here," Kaleb said.
"We were just in Rodney's den, taking care of a few things." John had never thought his dysfunctional relationship with his father would be useful, but the ability he'd developed as a teenager to lie by sticking close to the truth made the words flow easily to his mouth. He only hoped Rodney would relax and not make his sister suspicious. Kaleb wouldn't say anything if he thought something odd was happening, because he was always tactful, but Jeannie would whack Rodney upside the head and demand to know what was going on. And then Rodney would blurt out everything, because his ability to dissemble was atrocious. John had always loved Rodney's unflinching honesty, even when he felt obligated to try to control it, but right now was the worst possible time for Rodney to spout off.
"Oh! We brought something for you, Meredith." With a flourish, Jeannie picked up the cleaner's bag, pushing the plastic up to reveal a white shirt, a lot of plaid material, and what looked like white socks, black shoes, a large piece of silver, and a small knife, all neatly arranged on one hanger. "Your tartan!"
"You brought my tartan? Why?"
"We found it in one of the storage boxes. It must have ended up there one of the many times you dumped stuff on us while you were working abroad. Fortunately, it's in great shape, and the kilt's waistline expands."
"Thank you, Jeannie," Rodney said automatically, but he looked a bit blank. "It makes such sense for you to drive from Canada so my tartan can hang uselessly in my house instead of in your basement."
"Silly! We brought it so you can wear it for your wedding."
"You two can marry now! It's legal!"
"Rodney doesn't believe in heteronormative rituals," John snipped, because shit, of all the reasons for Jeannie to come, she had to bring up marriage? John had always liked his unofficial sister-in-law, but sometimes she really could be as annoying as Rodney always insisted.
"I like weddings," Ronon suddenly offered. "Food's usually good."
"Food. You wanted food. Madison needs a sandwich. God, I need coffee." Rodney bolted for the kitchen.
John gave a helpless look at the others and followed him.
Rodney could feel the panic rising, fumbling in the bottom of the pantry for the paper bags. John reached over him, pulling one out as Rodney turned and sat on the floor, allowing John to hold the open bag over his mouth. "Breathe deep, Rodney," he said, massaging Rodney's back, and Rodney obeyed, focusing on calming himself. He couldn't fall apart. Not now.
Jeannie's heels clicked as she came into the kitchen, and Rodney heard John say, "Just give us a few minutes, okay?" Thankfully, she left without arguing.
"You okay now?" John asked, as Rodney dropped the bag away from his face.
"If she starts on the SUV again, I'm going to bring up the research I did on the fashion industry. Do you know how much waste is generated because women have to replace their wardrobes every year? She owns more shoes than you and I and Kaleb all put together. We need that SUV for the snow."
"Another McKay sibling smack down isn't going to be very helpful right now, Rodney."
"It would help me. I could think of something other than the scary gunman. Who makes up an alias like Ronon Dex? When is he going to leave?" Even in the midst of his panic, Rodney couldn't help but notice John’s unusual solicitousness. The last time Rodney had a panic attack, John had followed him to the bags, but he hadn't handed him one, or patted his back. He'd stood and stared, hands on his hips, until Rodney had calmed himself. Like he had to be there in case Rodney needed to go to the hospital, but he'd rather be watching football.
Despite offering physical comfort, John didn't seem to be paying his full attention to Rodney, instead looking up at the counter. "He's still in the living room."
"The phone!" Rodney lunged off the floor, grabbing the old-fashioned landline.
John's hand landed on top of his. "Think about this. He didn't take our cell phones either."
"Yes! Cell phones, beautiful cell phones!" Rodney pulled his cell phone out of his back pocket. Why hadn't he thought of his cell phone? This business of being a hostage had a seriously detrimental effect on the functioning of his genius brain.
"If we call Evan, we could all end up as hostages."
"We are all hostages."
"But Jeannie and Kaleb and Madison don't know that. Do you want them threatened with a gun?"
"We could – " He wanted something, anything. Preferably for the gunman and his sister to go away, and for John and him to spend the rest of the day cooking and kissing and laughing, or listening to Christmas carols and necking.
"We could call Evan, just check in. Tell him that you're okay."
Rodney nodded his head. Talking to Evan wouldn't do any good, but it gave Rodney a sense of reassurance. John slowly picked up the handset, holding it to his ear, his hand pausing as he reached out to dial. "It's not working."
Flipping open his cell phone, Rodney held it to his ear, his hopes instantly dashing at the faint burring noise. "My cell phone isn't working. Yours?"
John was already checking his, and shook his head. "No, not mine either."
"He must have some sort of device, that's why he didn't bother taking them. Oh god, what do we do now?"
John got that expression Rodney had seen only a few times before, when someone was openly homophobic or one of the managers at work was imitating the pointy-haired boss from Dilbert, that set, determined look so different than his normal laidback charm. "Now we make drinks and a sandwich."
Rodney started for his priority, the coffee maker with its soothing promise of liquid bliss.
Ronon watched John and Rodney leave, not worried that they'd do anything stupid. They couldn't contact anyone outside the house, and John was bright enough to not risk the status quo. He smiled at Rodney's family.
"Do you think Meredith is okay? He looked a little panicked."
"I'm sure he's fine, honey. Your brother usually looks a little stressed. It seems to be his default setting."
"I'm going to check on him." Jeannie left the living room, and Madison came over to Ronon, standing close and staring at him. Her presence was the only element Ronon regretted. If the weather wasn't threatening to snow, he might have just left, but even as tough as he was, he couldn't risk a lengthy exposure to freezing temperatures. He had commitments to fulfill.
"I like your hair."
"Can I touch it?"
"Honey, it's not polite to ask strangers to touch their hair. I'm sorry," he added to Ronon, as he draped the tartan over the coffee table before settling on the couch. "It's the McKay side of her. She just barges in."
"He's not a stranger. He's a friend of Uncle John's."
Ronon dropped to his knees, tilting his head down. "It's okay. You can touch."
She reached out, patting at his dreadlocks. "It's soft!"
Jeannie entered the room again. "Meredith's having a panic attack. I don't know why he's stressed about having company. He and John are excellent hosts."
"That doesn't mean he finds it easy. We should have called."
"Then he'd have more time to get stressed." Jeannie sat on the couch by her husband, and Kaleb put his arm around her shoulders. "Honey, you shouldn't be touching a stranger's hair."
"I asked him and he said it was okay."
"She did, honey. She was polite about it."
The doorbell rang as John and Rodney entered the room again, John carrying a tray, Rodney cradling a cup of coffee. "Oh good god, who now?" Rodney burst out. "Can we not answer the door?"
"Whoever it is can tell the lights are on," John said, setting the tray down in front of the Millers. Jeannie picked up the teapot, pouring tea into the cups. Madison skipped across the room, joining her parents on the couch and taking her sandwich off the tray, beginning to nibble it. "He'll keep ringing."
"Oh very well." Rodney shot a glance that seemed more annoyed than scared at Ronon, who gave him a shrug, indicating he was fine with more visitors. Rodney opened the door, standing in front of it. "Carson, for god's sake, why are you here and why are you dressed as Santa?"
"You're very welcome for the house call, Rodney," Carson announced, stepping into the living room, dressed in red and white velvet, carrying a small black bag. "Evan said he couldn't get through to you two. He was worried about Rodney."
"Something must be wrong with the line," John said. "But Rodney's fine."
"Aye, I can see that by his typically pleasant good nature."
"Why are you dressed as Santa? And why don't you have a beard and wig?"
"I'm dressed as Santa because I'm going to the hospital for rounds. I like to check on my patients on the holidays and make sure they're in good cheer." He brushed his hand over his black hair. "The beard and wig are in the car. They're not comfortable for driving. Makes it hard for me to turn my head and see in my periphery vision."
"Well, you've checked on us now, and everything's okay," John said, overly jovially. "We won't keep you from your rounds."
"I haven't had a chance to say hello to your in-laws," Carson answered. "Jeannie, Kaleb, Madison. I didn't know you were coming for Christmas. I hope this means we'll see you tomorrow at dinner?"
"It was a surprise," Jeannie said, getting up to give Carson a hug. Madison put down her sandwich so she also could hug Carson, and Kaleb shook his hand. "And this is a friend of John and Meredith's, Ronon Dex." Before Carson could step over to Ronon to shake his hand, she plunged on. "And the perfect man for a consultation! Being a Scot." She picked up the bag, pulling up the plastic to reveal Rodney's tartan. "Our tartan! Don't you think Meredith will look great at a wedding ceremony?"
"Are you two having another ceremony? For your anniversary?"
"No, one for John and Meredith! Don't you think it's about time? Gay marriage is legal now."
Carson looked momentarily surprised, but quickly agreed, smiling. "Aye, it's about time you two made honest men of each other." Addressing Rodney, he added, "I have the Beckett tartan."
Rodney frowned. "Yes, so?"
"That would be fabulous!" Jeannie gave her brother a glare. "Who else would you ask to be best man? Two Scottish tartans would look lovely in the pictures."
"Maybe Radek? I don't know. I don't see that it matters, as we're not getting married."
John put his hand on Rodney's shoulder, and Ronon could see the warning squeeze. "It's been an exciting day. Maybe we could take a rain check on this discussion."
"Aye, everything's a bit crazy around the holidays," Carson agreed easily, but Ronon could see hurt in his eyes. He'd wanted to be best man. "It's not always a good time to make decisions. I'll be leaving now. Oh, but I'm sorry, I didn't get a chance to properly say hi – "
"That's okay." Ronon held out his hand to shake. "I'm just passing through."
"Doctor Carson Beckett, but I imagine you gathered that. We won't see you tomorrow at Christmas then?"
"No, I should be gone by then." Or else something serious would have happened to Teyla, but there was no reason to make dire assumptions.
"It was nice meeting you then."
With a final round of cheerful good-byes, Carson exited the house, off to spread cheer at the hospital.
At least Carson had been allowed to leave, and the Millers remained unaware of any threat. John sat in an armchair, trying to relax, and appear that he was enjoying visiting with Rodney's family. Like any family, they were a mixed blessing. Madison was a sweetie, and Kaleb was a nice guy, almost to the point of passivity, but Rodney and Jeannie could bicker on any subject under the sun, moon, stars, or eclipses, and frequently had.
Fortunately, Jeannie hadn't started harping on marriage again after Carson left. Instead, she admired their Christmas tree, which almost led to a McKay sibling argument on the environmental consequences of cutting down live trees versus plastic trees ultimately filling up landfills, but they'd done that argument pretty thoroughly two years ago, so John managed to deflect them onto hearing about the Christmas ornaments Madison had made in pre-school, and that flowed into the essays Kaleb was having his students write about their favorite holiday.
John was grateful that Rodney liked live trees, even if he did grumble about the effort of cutting and hauling their own. When John was a child, the staff were responsible for putting the tree up and decorating it, and it had never meant much to him, other than a storage place for the presents, until those stopped mattering too. Now that he finally had a tree that he and his partner put up together, John loved to look at it throughout the month, admiring the eclectic collection of ornaments, Santa nestled by the Enterprise, a snowman dangling next to the Millennium Falcon. A little traditional, a lot geeky… it was a tree that felt like family and home, and not at all like the cold perfection of his childhood trees.
Ronon was a silent presence throughout the conversation, sitting in the armchair with the best view out the front window, while the Millers were on the couch and he and Rodney shared the loveseat. The doorbell rang, and John tensed again, glancing at Rodney to see his hands were tight around his cup of coffee.
Who could be stopping by now? It shouldn't be Evan, not if Carson called to reassure him.
"Aren't you going to answer the door?" Jeannie started to stand, like she would if they didn't, and John hastily said, "No, that's okay. I'll get it." Ronon's face was impassive, which John took as tacit permission. Not that Ronon seemed to have much of a range of expressions.
He pasted on his smile as he opened the door, his grin faltering at the sight of his brother Dave and his wife Helen standing on the porch, both wearing heavy coats, gloves and hats. "Dave?"
"John. I'm sorry for just dropping by. You said at dad's funeral – well, it seemed easiest."
"No, no, that's fine." Shit, of all the times for Dave to try to mend fences, this sucked the worst, but John didn't want to discourage him.
"It's my fault," Helen offered. "Davey is doing his junior year in high school in France this year, and Patrick wanted to spend Christmas with his girlfriend's family. It would have been so quiet with only the two of us."
"No, really, it's okay." Sometime after Carson had left, it had started snowing, quietly but steadily. John hoped the weather wasn't going to mess up Ronon's departure. His companion better have a four-wheel drive or chains, though John would be happy to hand over the SUV keys. "It's good to see you."
"John." Jeannie poked him in the ribs, startling him. "You're keeping them in the cold. Let them in."
John stepped back, even as he scrambled for a reason to send them away, out into the snow, disbelieving that both their families had invaded on the same Christmas, inadvertently putting themselves at risk. "This is Rodney's sister, Jeannie. She and family are here too. We don't – we don't really have room for more. Maybe you guys should go to a hotel."
"Don't be ridiculous. Madison doesn't need her own room. She can sleep with us and you two can have her room. I'm Jeannie Miller, and this is my husband Kaleb, and our daughter Madison. And this is John and Rodney's friend Ronon."
John had forgotten that Jeannie could be as much a force of nature as Rodney. Dave and Helen looked overwhelmed but happy at her effusiveness, entering the house and joining the group in the living room, introducing themselves and shaking hands.
"You have a beautiful house, John. And Rodney." Helen took off her jacket, handing it to John, who hung it in the coat closet by the door. She wore a red silk shirt and black slacks, both of which looked perfectly crisp, and not like she'd been sitting in the car for hours. Helen never looked less than elegant. Her sleek, dark hair was equally perfect. "And so nice and warm. It's great to get out of the snow."
Dave handed over his jacket. He was wearing a white sweater and black slacks, and his hair was perfect too. Somehow he'd missed the Sheppard cowlicks, which had always irritated John until he'd stopped trying to control his own, accepting that hair that styled itself could be a useful time saver. "It's horrible weather for driving. Could I trouble you for something to drink? The last few miles were nerve-wracking."
They must have been, if Dave was asking for hospitality without waiting for it to be offered. "Yeah, sure, I've got a nice cab from a local vintner," he offered. Dave had always been fond of wine, and even if his timing totally sucked, John wanted him to feel welcome.
"That would be great. Helen?"
"Oh yes, please, John."
And then suddenly Jeannie and Kaleb wanted more tea, and John looked at Ronon, aware that everyone would expect him to be treated like a guest. "Beer?" he suggested. Ronon nodded, and both John and Rodney were headed into the kitchen, John carrying the teapot, Rodney cradling his now empty cup.
"Oh my god, I cannot believe your relatives. They're as bad as mine. What is this, sucky timing day? Have I mocked astrology too much? Venus is in retrograde with Uranus and they both hate us."
"Rodney." John pushed Rodney against the refrigerator, giving him a long, hard kiss, because this day was insane, but one constant he could always count on was Rodney grumbling. "We'll get through this."
Rodney's eyes were wide and stunned as he touched his lips, already slightly swollen from the force of John's kiss. "We'll get through this? All we need is my crazy uncle Duncan to drop by, and our entire family could be slaughtered! Well, except for your nephews. Oh god, I don't have a will. Why don't I have a will leaving everything to you? Then you could die after me, and your nephews could inherit everything rather than my crazy uncle."
"Rodney!" John gave him another kiss, slower and gentler. It made him feel better, the connection and Rodney's solidness. "He's only one man. If I have to tackle him, I will. You get everyone out and run down to the Fergusons, okay? Ferguson's got a shotgun."
"Are you crazy? You already tried tackling him once. He knocked you to the ground before I could blink."
"I wasn't prepared for his speed. This time I would be. I can delay him long enough. But hopefully I won't have to," he added, because Rodney looked truly horrified.
"Jeannie." John pasted his smile on again. "What's up?"
"Madison would like some milk too." Jeannie stood in the entrance to the kitchen. "Can I help you guys?"
"No, we're good."
They refilled the teapot, poured two glasses of wine and a glass of milk, popped the top off a beer, and Rodney poured himself more coffee, before carrying the beverages into the living room. Madison was sitting by Ronon, a sight that almost paralyzed John. Ronon was holding out his arm, showing the series of triangular tattoos on his forearm to her.
Helen gratefully accepted wine as John poured it. "Patrick wants a tattoo, or a piercing. Or a Mohawk. I don't know if he even knows other than he wants something we won't let him have," she said. "You two should be lucky you don't have teenagers."
"They could always adopt," Kaleb offered. "We have several same-sex couples among the parents of my students."
"But first, they should get married. Don't you think they'd look superb with Rodney in his tartan and John in a black tux?" Jeannie asked, staring at Dave as if sheer power of will could make him agree.
"I didn't know you guys were interested in getting married," was Dave's response.
"Not everyone needs to participate in heteronormative rituals." Rodney glared at his sister. "John and I don't need a piece of paper for validation."
"Rodney! Don't be self-centered. The more homosexuals who marry, the harder it will be to stop progress. You and John have a responsibility to your community."
"Since when did you become an activist for gay rights? You're a straight, married housewife." Doubt crossed Rodney's face. "You are a straight, married housewife, aren't you? You didn't come to announce anything, did you?"
"Rodney!" Jeannie punched him on the shoulder, and John winced in sympathy, because she had a solid hook. "I haven't become a lesbian. I believe in civil rights. That means everyone should be treated equally," she said to her daughter. "And have equal rights." She glared at her brother. "And you know what they say - if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."
"I'm not changing my life because of a trite saying with all the profundity of a fortune cookie," Rodney snipped back.
"And what is it about fortune cookies these days?" Helen inserted hastily. "They used to be actual fortunes, but these days, they say things like 'you are a loyal person with good friends.' That's not really a fortune, is it?"
Dave grabbed the change of subject and ran with it, and soon Rodney and Jeannie's glares at each other tapered off as everyone shared a lively discussion on food. There was a misstep or two, such as when Dave rhapsodized over a local steak house, to which Kaleb brought up vegetarianism, but they managed to sidestep into the benefits of locally grown produce. The Millers were probably thinking about visiting their local farmers' market while the Sheppards appreciated the cook's efforts to have the freshest fruits and vegetables delivered to the estate, but in John's opinion, lack of clarity could be a blessing for family harmonics.
Rodney wasn't saying much, and neither was he. Madison was talking quietly to Ronon, showing him how to patty cake. He was playing nicely, his palms delicately landing on hers.
"All this talk of food has made me hungry. Can we take everyone out for dinner? It would be our treat."
"No! That is – " John hated to look at Ronon for approval, but they couldn't accept his brother's generous offer. "It's snowing," he added quickly.
"Don't you have something cooking?" Ronon asked.
"The turkey!" Rodney jumped out of his chair. "We put it in to cook before we went grocery shopping." He checked his watch. "It should be done by now."
"You were making a turkey on Christmas Eve?" Dave asked in surprise.
"John loves turkey. We cook it on Christmas Eve and a ham on Christmas so we have both for company. It's our tradition. We've been doing it for seven years, which you would know if your family hadn't disowned John."
"Rodney," John growled, because now was not the time to rip off old scabs.
"No, I'm sorry, John, but I won't shut up and pretend that they're not here because you refused to fight for your half of your dad's money. It's acceptable to be gay since you're not greedy. That's reserved for the straight son."
There was a pause as everyone gaped at Rodney. The sentiment didn't surprise John. Rodney had brought it up after the détente at his dad's funeral. But even Rodney normally had the social judgment not to mention such a harsh opinion to the person involved. "Rodney, this is not the – "
"John." Dave leaned forward in the chair, placing one hand on John's arm. "Your – partner – isn't completely right, but he's not totally wrong. Look, I should just say this now. This is why we came, not because the kids were gone.
"You know we were never that close as kids. It's hard to be close to your sibling when you're at different boarding schools. That's why we kept Davey and Patrick at home. When you went into the Air Force and left me to follow Dad into the company, I was proud of you for serving, but I resented you too. And when you left the Air Force to come out, we were all so shocked. You know how we grew up, the kinds of things people said about – well, about fags, to use the nicest term we used then." He sat back, taking a sip of his wine, and everyone waited, understanding from the tension in his body that he was tackling a difficult admission. "Dad was so bitter and mad after he disowned you. He said horrible things about homosexuals. I resented you for abandoning us again."
"John's homosexuality isn't his choice. It's a matter of biology. And your dad was the one who threw him out." Rodney objected angrily. "John didn't abandon you."
"Yes, well." Dave cleared his throat, as his wife patted him encouragingly on his arm. "That wasn't how Dad regarded it. Or talked about it. I got accustomed to his viewpoint. Needless to say, I didn't expect you to show up for the funeral and I was convinced you'd come to collect. Dad always said you would. I couldn't even process when you willingly signed an agreement not to fight the will."
Dave looked at his wine, swirling the liquid in the glass. "Helen and I have done a lot of talking and some research. Some friends of ours – you remember the Sumners? – their daughter came out as a lesbian. Marshall's always been a strong-minded man. It's been difficult for them to handle. We suggested that they talk to that Pflag group. It's been enlightening and I'm sorry, John. I'm sorry that I didn't make an effort to understand you. That I haven't been a brother to you. I was wrong."
"Dave," John said, and then they were standing, hugging, squeezing each other, John blinking to stop himself from crying. Helen stood to hug him and Jeannie and Kaleb joined in, and fuck, this might be one of the best moments of his life, to be accepted by his brother. Then he hugged Rodney, their mouths meeting in a soft kiss. "Thank you."
"For being an ass to your relative?" Rodney asked.
"For being honest. For being you."
"People should be honest," Ronon said suddenly.
"Yes," Dave agreed. "But sometimes it's hard to see what the truth is. To not be bound to how you've been raised."
A beeping sounded, startling them. "That's the turkey. It needs to set for twenty minutes. We've got some salads and stuff prepared. Everyone ready for dinner?" John glanced at everyone, but especially at Ronon, and received universal agreement that dinner would be great.
Rodney was grateful that they'd taken off work to spend the morning prepping several dishes for tomorrow's Christmas dinner. He pulled out whatever seemed like it would make a reasonable meal with the turkey, as John started to carve. They'd been invaded by a criminal and both their families, and Rodney didn't know which was worse. Dave's confession had anointed him as the currently most favored, except that Madison was always the most adorable, but Jeannie was likely to be yelled at if she didn't shut up about a wedding and why the hell hadn't Ronon left yet? How irresponsible was the man's compatriot, that he left a criminal on the run without a getaway route?
"Hey." John's hands caught his, holding them still, making Rodney realize he was mangling the cling wrap after taking it off the food. He brushed his lips on Rodney's temple, whispering, "It's going to be okay."
"Relax and we'll get through this."
And John wouldn't have to sacrifice himself. "Your brother didn't offer you half of the inheritance," Rodney noted, adding serving spoons to the dishes. They had been planning on making mashed potatoes to eat with the turkey, but he felt too scattered for even that simple task. People would have to cope with salads.
"We don't need the money," John said, his hands calm as he returned to slicing the turkey.
John was right. They did very well financially, because they both made excellent salaries and liked math and economics, engaging in a long-term competition with their 401ks which proved that both were excellent at analyzing variables and predicting outcomes. "He still could have offered you half. You could buy a plane," Rodney griped, not caring about the money, except bitching about Dave felt safer than thinking about Ronon.
"Giving me that much money would screw over the company."
"He's still a Republican, even if he's more socially conscious now."
John gave a teasing half-smile. "At least he likes a good steak."
Rodney floundered for a second, trying to think of an adequate riposte. He still found Jeannie and Kaleb's vegetarianism boggling, remembering the days when a teenaged Jeannie had been thrilled to pound down a large cheeseburger, fries and strawberry shake. The McKays had always had good appetites, and could Jeannie's protein needs truly be satisfied with tofu and beans?
"We've got the table set. Can we help with anything else?" Helen asked, pausing in the doorway.
"Start carrying food to the table," Rodney replied.
Jeannie and Helen latched onto serving dishes, carrying them out. Everyone took places at the table, John and Rodney at each end, with the Millers on one side, and Dave, Helen and Ronon on the other. There was a momentary awkwardness as Dave clasped his hands in front of him, giving Ronon a sideways look as he reached out for a serving dish. John swiftly folded his hands together, and said, "Dear Lord, thank you for this food and the blessing of having our families with us. Amen."
"Amen," several people echoed. Rodney made a disgruntled noise in his throat, his small protest at the prayer, also reaching for a serving dish, and food began moving around the table.
"I imagine all that family emotion wasn't what you expected when you stopped by for a visit," Helen said pleasantly, and a touch apologetically to Ronon. Rodney managed to not roll his eyes at her. He'd only met the Sheppards once before, at the funeral, but even in that brief visit, he could tell that they believed emotions were dangerous and should be restrained. As much as he loved John's pointed ears, the equally Vulcan-like emotional repression could drive him crazy.
"No," was Ronon's succinct reply. He glanced around the table, and shrugged his shoulders, adding, "Things should be said."
"True, very true, Mr. Dex. As you said, people should be honest. So what field are you in?" Helen asked, clearly feeling the need to move the conversation to a more polite subject.
"Your profession? What do you do for a living?"
Rodney looked in horror at John, both of them trying to figure out how to stop Ronon from describing his criminal activities, because nothing he said could be the kind of answer Helen would expect.
"I'm in research," Ronon answered, calmly continuing to pile a staggering amount of food on his plate. "And acquisitions."
Rodney guessed that Helen didn't have a freaking clue what Ronon meant, but he breathed a sigh of relief as she smiled and continued on gamely. Maybe there was some small advantage in that well-bred insistence on pretending everything was fine, just fine.
"That sounds interesting. You must have a lot of variety in your work."
"Yeah. Every day's different."
Ronon's limited words certainly allowed him to shove a ton of food in his mouth, Rodney thought resentfully, but maybe if he was well-fed, he'd be less inclined to kill them all. Survival would certainly make the groceries a small price to pay.
"You two are the greatest cooks," Jeannie said cheerfully.
"We would have had a vegetarian meal if you'd given us any warning," Rodney grumbled, equally thankful for Jeannie's getting the subject off Ronon's job, and for not warning them. Their timing was hideous, but at least it was the perfect excuse not to buy a tofurkey. Jeannie had served them a tofurkey once, and by unspoken agreement, he and John had gone to a steak house as soon as they'd escaped.
"Of course, you couldn't cater your own wedding. You'll have too many other things to do that day," she plunged on, back to the marriage idea.
Rodney glanced at John, who was studiously eating dinner at the other end of the table, and felt a sick pang of longing. To marry John… "Why do you persist in this absurd fallacy that we need to participate in heteronormative rituals?"
"Heteronormative?" Dave asked. "Oh yes, I see," he added quickly. "It's not a word I've heard used. Often. Used often."
"Yes, that would be because you're the epitome of heteronormativity," Rodney snapped. "Conservative, Republican, heteronormativity."
"The Sheppards have always been proud of our traditional values," Dave said mildly, refusing to be provoked.
"And our family traditions. Every Sheppard has been married at the estate for four generations. Of course, we don't have gay marriage in our state, but I'm sure Father Caldwell would be happy to say a few words to bless your togetherness. He's very open-minded. And the staff are fabulous at receptions. We could do that for them, couldn't we, dear?" Helen asked Dave.
Dave hesitated a second, then looked at his brother. "Yes, certainly, John. If you'd like your marriage at the estate, we would be honored to host it."
"There!" Jeannie beamed with delight. "Food and location all arranged. That's two of the most difficult details."
"Would you stop trying to arrange my life?" Rodney hissed at his sister. Jeannie had the tact and sensitivity of a charging rhinoceros.
"People should commit to each other," Ronon said, pausing in shoveling food into his face. "If they love one another."
"This isn't about our relationship," Rodney corrected, peeved at be lectured by a criminal. "It's about our culture."
"And our culture isn't going to change if people don't make it, Meredith."
"By conforming to the heteronormative rituals? How is that changing anything?"
"Christ, Rodney, would you stop with the heteronormativity nonsense? We live in a five-bedroom house in the suburbs. I play golf every weekend. We file our taxes early. We're not exactly counter culture revolutionaries."
Rodney flinched at John's sudden harshness, covering with an eye roll. "And I suppose you'd like to get married? Your brother's chief can make us a three-tied cake with two grooms on top. It'll be a first for the Sheppard family tradition."
"Yes!" John practically yelled, before sagging back into his seat and gazing at the chandelier over the table while everyone stared at him in shock. "I would like to marry you in a tuxedo with a red rose on my lapel and you in a kilt and all our family and friends watching. Madison could be our flower girl. Dave could be my best man and Radek would be yours. Or Carson." He looked at his partner. "Seven years, Rodney. We've been together for seven years. Why wouldn't I want to marry you?"
"You never said anything," Rodney answered, his voice small. He'd rarely seen John display such emotion.
"Because you've been bitching about how stupid it is since Massachusetts first allowed gay marriage! You made it plain you didn't want to get married." John stood up, pushing his chair back, on the verge of stalking out of the room.
"John! No!" Rodney stood too, his hands on the table, leaning forward. "I want to marry you. I've always wanted to marry you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you and grow old with you. I've wanted that since you first walked into the office, mocked my Enterprise, and asked me to have coffee on break." And then had asked Rodney for help unpacking his personal things in his office, including hanging his own Enterprise model, grinning unrepentantly when Rodney had harangued him.
John shook his head in confusion. "Then, why? Why all the complaints?"
"I didn't think you would want to marry me."
"Yes, but…" One of Rodney's hands drifted up to touch his forehead, the other toward his waistline. "I'm losing my hair and gaining a belly, and you – you're still gorgeous. You even have those lines," he said, gesturing toward his hips where the Adam lines appeared on John's sculpted torso, but were hidden by the padding on his own. He waved his finger at John. "And no! Oh no! You do not get to put this all on me. You've said nothing! Every single time it comes up, you shrug your shoulders, like you didn't care one way or the other. You are the least communicative man in existence. Do not tell me I was supposed to interpret an eyebrow scrunch to mean you were dying to call me your husband."
"Jesus, Rodney." John stared helplessly at Rodney. "You know I'm not good at saying things."
"But today you can? Christmas Eve is suddenly honesty day?"
John's eyes flicked for a moment to Ronon, the only one of the company who was still eating, the contents of his plate far more interesting than the unfolding drama. Even Madison was staring at them, though she probably didn't understand all of the conversation. "You could have died. Could die. Any day."
"Meredith, did something happen? Did you eat some citrus? You know you need to be careful with the samples offered at grocery stores."
"Honey, this isn't the time to scold your brother," Kaleb said.
"Oh," was Rodney's first weak response as he also glanced at Ronon, then back at John. Why was he such an idiot, to think he needed to wait for a proposal or even a signal from John? Why hadn't he realized that he was pushing John away every time he complained about what he really wanted? "John Sheppard, would you marry me?"
"Frak, yes." John stalked around the table as Rodney walked toward him, and they met in the middle of the room, falling easily into each other's arms, hugging and kissing. He loved to hold John, to feel his lean form in his arms. John kissed with everything he had, lips and tongue fully engaged, not the normal polite peck on the lips that he did in front of company, and Rodney responded with equal fervor.
Madison giggled. "Uncle John and Uncle Meredith are kissing!"
"Kissing is an expression of love," Helen answered. "There's nothing wrong with kissing." She cleared her throat loudly. "To an appropriate degree, of course."
John broke away from Rodney, who let him go, both of them grinning wildly. "I think we're getting married," John said, and Rodney almost pulled him back into his arms to kiss him some more, because *married.* They could register for presents and have a big ceremony and a honeymoon and plan their entire life together. They'd be a married couple, and not just two guys living together.
"Hurray!" Jeannie applauded, clapping her hands, Madison copying her example. "So how many people can your estate accommodate?" she asked Dave and Helen.
In a daze, Rodney sank to his chair as John returned to his own, gazing dopily at each other as Helen and Jeannie discussed wedding arrangements.
John wondered if he looked like an idiot, but he couldn't keep grinning at Rodney at the other end of the table, who grinned back each time their eyes met. He should have known that Rodney had been protesting too much about something he really wanted to do.
Huh. Maybe Rodney really did want to be dragged golfing? John would have to give it another try, as soon as the weather allowed.
The noise of the phone ringing startled him. How had Ronon's jamming of the phone signals ended? Had he turned off the device? Ronon was scrapping the last of his food off his plate and slugging the remainder of his beer.
"I gotta go. Thanks for dinner."
"What?" John and Rodney both said simultaneously. "You're leaving?"
"I said I would. My ride's here." Halfway to the opening that separated the dining room from the living room, he paused, and gave a small wave of his hand. Good manners overruled surprise, and everyone stopped eating to wave back. "Nice meeting you," Ronon said.
"Wait!" Madison leaped up, ran around the table, and hugged his leg. Ronon patted her on the head. "You'll come visit again, won't you?"
He picked her up, giving her a proper hug. John tensed, suddenly concerned that he might try to take a hostage with him. "Maybe I'll see you at the wedding," he said, putting her down, and the tension in John's body eased, but he got up, wanting to watch Ronon leave, needing to be reassured he was gone.
As Ronon detoured to the kitchen to grab his coat, John moved into the living room, Rodney joining him, the clink of silverware indicating the rest were still eating.
Ronon shrugged into his coat. "I'm sorry I had to scare you."
"We appreciate that you're leaving as promised," John said carefully.
Ronon nodded, turned and walked out, closing the front door behind him. John waited a few seconds, and followed.
Rodney grabbed onto his sleeve. "John! What are you doing?"
"We should try to see what kind of car his accomplices are driving."
"No! No, we shouldn't! He's leaving. Just let him go."
John patted Rodney's hand. "I'll just look quickly." He peered out the front doorway, with Rodney right behind him, protesting with vehement whispers. To John's surprise, he didn't see a car or even headlights disappearing down the drive. "How did he leave so quickly?" He followed Ronon's footsteps out, standing in the middle of the driveway, frowning because there weren't any fresh tire tracks in the snow. The snow was still falling, small flakes landing on his hair and shoulders, but not enough to have covered evidence of a car driving off five seconds ago.
"John?" Rodney came out too, wrapping his arms around him. "It's cold and he's gone. Come back inside."
"How did he manage that?"
"Maybe he's a magician as well as a criminal." Rodney tugged at his arm. "You have no body fat for padding. You must be freezing. Come inside."
John obeyed Rodney's lead, walking inside, letting him shut the door behind them, and then pulling him into a hug, unable to believe that the worst afternoon in hell had turned into the best evening ever, giving him a brother he could be friends with, and a man he could call husband.
"John?" Rodney asked, but John could only answer with another kiss, hoping that all their visitors would want an early evening after their long drives. He and Rodney could use some serious alone-time.
"Is he gone already?" Jeannie asked from the archway to the living room. "Madison wanted him to have her address. She was hoping he could send her a postcard."
John stopped kissing Rodney with regret, keeping one arm around his waist as he faced Jeannie. "Yeah, he's gone."
"You can give him her address, can't you?"
John and Rodney shot looks at each other. "He's not really a great correspondent," John answered. "I wouldn't count on hearing from him."
"Pass it along anyway. People can surprise you." Jeannie smiled indulgently at them, standing in their living room with their arms around each other's waists. "You two look so great together. I am totally taking credit for this marriage."
"Excuse me?" Rodney asked. "You're taking credit? I was the one who asked John."
"Yes, but I was the one who prodded you to do it. All fifty states would have had gay marriage before you two actually talked to each other about your feelings. I wonder what color Madison wants for her dress?" She turned and disappeared into the dining room. They couldn't see her, but they could hear her, discussing colors with Helen and Madison.
"We could still elope to Hawaii," Rodney offered. "You like the beach. I could make a new batch of my sunscreen. Because a wedding is going to be months of planning and stress and sooner or later, Helen and Jeannie will disagree strongly on something and want us to take sides. Well, I don't know about Helen, but Jeannie definitely will, and I don't even want to think about the kind of bachelor party Evan is going to throw for us. And your brother's staff had better be able to make a chocolate cake because I'm not eating white cake with lemon filling and dying on my wedding day. Do you really want all this hassle?"
John nodded his head, a bubble of relieved laughter escaping his mouth as he kissed Rodney. "Yes. Definitely yes," he declared. "Every crazy minute."
Closing the front door behind him, Ronon walked away from the house, his booted feet crunching through the thin layer of snow and onto the white gravel driveway. He paused, standing still. He didn't feel the beam that swept him up, but suddenly he was on the flight deck of his ship.
Captain Emmagan smiled from her chair, before rising to stand in front of Ronon. They clasped forearms, Ronon leaning down so they could touch foreheads, relieved to have returned to his people and to see his lover again. As always, she looked fabulous in her brown leather uniform.
"You weren't where we expected you to be. You worried us."
"I had some trouble with the local authorities and had to hole up."
"So they are beyond the bows and arrows stage?"
"Yeah. Almost enough to be useful."
"But you fulfilled your mission?"
"Yeah. I got all the information we needed."
"I look forward to reading your full report. You can deliver it to me tonight." In my quarters, her eyes added, and Ronon grinned, not trying to hide his love and affection. He'd still rather have lived without ever knowing the Wraith, but at least the ever-present danger meant that the people of the Pegasus Galaxy were always honest with each other, unlike those foolish earthers.
"I'll get writing," he promised.