Rodney felt the tingle that meant Others at the same moment he noticed that all of the people in the bar were something more than human.
He paused in the doorway, startled. It wasn’t unusual to run into a variety of Inhuman, especially in a city as large as this one, but such a large amount in one place, of so many different types, was quite uncommon. What’s more, several of the species in the bar were mortal enemies, and yet there was no fighting, not even a bit of taunting. Rodney had only been looking for a place to get a drink, but he suddenly found himself more interested in investigating than getting buzzed.
Rodney made his way to the bar carefully, nodding in greeting to some, avoiding the gaze of others. He settled into a bar stool, getting as comfortable as possible, and caught the eye of a waiter. The waiter smiled in greeting, looking young and cheerful, his short blond hair charmingly messy. His nametag read Chuck! . Rodney thought the exclamation point was a bit much.
“What is this place?” Rodney asked when he drew close. He leaned in and so did Chuck, the young man taken in by his low voice and furtive glances. This close, he could see that Chuck’s eyes were so dark they looked all pupil and that he smelled like charcoal.
“Sanctuary,” Chuck explained.
Rodney furrowed his brow. “Sanctuary from what?” There wasn’t a war going on, as far as Rodney could remember. Not that he kept up on these things, but surely someone would have mentioned it. The Inhuman had perfected the art of cold wars long before the humans ever had.
“Oh, no. Sanctuary is the name of the bar,” Chuck explained. “It’s a limani.”
“A safe haven,” Rodney translated.
Chuck nodded enthusiastically. “This place was built with neutral ground in mind. All are welcome, unless they mean to do violence. Magic was built into the foundation for protection. Whatever it doesn’t take care of, Ronon will.”
He gestured toward a large, dreadlocked man lounging at the other end of the bar. From his size alone Rodney would guess the man was a Troll, but what really sealed the deal were his scars. Trolls were an ancient race, steeped in tradition, and part of that included the ritualistic scarring. Ronon’s entire left arm was covered in geometric shapes, and Rodney winced at how much those carvings had to have hurt.
“I see,” was all Rodney could think to say.
Was Chuck warning him to behave? He had nothing to worry about, there - even if a Draugr were to show up, Rodney would simply pretend they weren’t there. He had never been interested in fighting and had no interest in getting thrown out by Ronon. Besides, Rodney liked the atmosphere of this bar. It was more brightly lit than most, so Rodney didn’t have to squint to see, and the large, open space meant it felt less smokey than most places. The walls were covered in beautiful murals, vibrant and breathtakingly complex. The music coming from the jukebox in the corner wasn’t too loud so Rodney didn’t have to worry about headaches, and - was that a bookcase?
Rodney had many more questions to ask but Chuck was straightening, asking for his order, and Rodney lost his chance. Chuck disappeared into a door to the right of the bar, where Rodney assumed the kitchen was. Hoping the food was better than most bar food, Rodney slid from his barstool and wandered over to the small bookcase tucked into a corner, a table for two nearby.
Rodney recognized many authors, some of which were his favorites. Rodney had just pulled A Stranger in a Strange Land off the shelf when the door to the kitchen banged open, Chuck sailing through the doorway followed by a tall, dark haired man. Seeing that his meal was being laid out, he took the book with him back to his seat. He set it a reasonable distance away from his food, far from any potential mess, and settled in on his stool.
“This looks delicious,” he told Chuck happily. Though some vampires subsisted on blood only, Rodney found that even food with no nutritional value had its pleasures. He enjoyed a good meal, whatever form it took.
“Thank you,” said responded the man behind the bar, who had followed Chuck out of the back room.
“Oh, were you the one who - oh.” Rodney finished weakly. He met the gaze of the cook, fairly certain his throat had closed up around the words he’d been about to say in a manner he hadn’t experienced since he’d eaten that disagreeable slice of lemon pie some fifty years ago.
He hadn’t expected to meet someone of the Old Clans here, in this bar.
The more Rodney stared, the more uncomfortable the man seemed. He ducked his head and rubbed at the back of his neck, looking unfairly young. Rodney blinked, forcibly pulling himself out of the stupor he’d fallen into. Rodney McKay did not cower or grovel to no being - not even a handsome Clan member.
“Hello,” Rodney said warily, raising his chin defiantly. “Who are you?”
Dropping his hand from the back of his neck, the man raised an eyebrow, clearly incredulous. Rodney felt a moment's discomfort at refusing the proper acknowledgements due to one from such a powerful bloodline, but he’d always thought blind fawning the very height of stupidity. He refused to admit out loud that he’d recognized this man. Frankly, everyone in this bar should know who this man was, even those with little to no Sensing. Rodney had always struggled to gauge the strength of an individual, and even he could feel the prickle and heat of barely leashed power.
But that face…
“John,” the cook said, lips curling into a smirk. "The owner." He straightened his shoulders, the uncertainty from moments before disappearing. His eyes glittered coldly and Rodney suddenly felt a sense of impending doom. His mouth tasted like metal and his thoughts went fuzzy. He blinked, swaying in his seat. Where was the exit? Rodney should leave. It wasn’t safe here, he wasn’t welcome here, he needed to go now and never think of this place again.
Abruptly, his thoughts cleared, the feeling of imminent threat disappearing with it. Rodney trembled in reaction, leaning on the bar to stay upright. Perhaps there was a good reason none of the patrons of this bar had gone running to the Sheppard Clan with news of their long lost heir. Rodney certainly wouldn’t want to cross him. Rodney wiped sweat from his brow and refused to meet Sheppard’s eyes.
“I’m Rodney,” he mumbled, at a loss for what else to do but introduce himself.
“Nice to meet you,” Sheppard said politely. He smiled. It was fake and full of teeth - a warning. Rodney swallowed, hard. Fear kept him trapped in his seat.
“Likewise,” he muttered.
Sheppard thankfully moved to greet another customer, his smile much warmer, almost charming. Rodney took a deep breath and slowly let it out, and after a time the shaking stopped. He wasn’t hungry any longer but didn’t dare ask for a carry out container. Rodney forced himself to eat the food in front of him, keeping one eye on Sheppard’s back. He’d always had a health sense of self-preservation; he was going to leave and forget he had ever seen the Sheppard heir.
Once his plate was mostly cleared, Rodney slapped some money on the table - enough to cover the meal and leave a very nice tip - and forced himself to move at a walking pace for the door. An itch between his shoulder blades had him glancing back, and he met Sheppard’s hazel eyes from across the room. Rodney gave an awkward wave goodbye and was given a slight nod in return, and then Rodney was back outside, in the cool air, the stars twinkling far above.
Rodney had no plans to return and had swore to himself that he wasn’t going to mention the bar to anybody. But two days after his visit, Rodney was dismayed to find he had taken A Stranger in a Strange Land with him during his hasty exit. He thought briefly about pretending the book was his, but recalling Sheppard’s angry eyes made him reconsider. Could he mail the book? Did the bar get mail? Rodney didn’t know. Even if it did, he didn’t know the address of the place. If he was going to return it, he’d have to do it in person.
He certainly wasn’t going to go alone, however.
Radek and Miko followed him down the cracked sidewalk, talking animatedly about the latest scuffle involving Kavanaugh. Rodney would normally have much to say about such a subject, but nerves were holding his tongue. He wiped his sweaty hands on his coat and gave serious thought to opening the front door, chucking the book through, and then running as though a Draugr were on his tail.
With Rodney’s luck, he’d hit Sheppard right in his scary face and would have to go on the lam for the rest of his very long life.
He turned left down the alley until he was in front of the doorway, where he hesitated. It looked innocuous enough, a sturdy wooden door aged by weather. The building itself was nondescript - a brick building of two floors, no sign to indicate there was a business there at all.
“Rodney? Are we going in?” Radek asked, blinking his yellow eyes at him. He looked concerned and a little puzzled. Beside him, Miko shivered, wrapping her arms firmly around herself.
“Right, yes, of course,” Rodney replied, and before he could second guess himself, he pushed the door open.
Night had yet to fall completely, the sky still pink and orange near the horizon. The early hour meant an empty bar, and Rodney cursed himself for not realizing. Radek and Miko followed him in quietly, perhaps sensing his unease. Rodney hurried over to the bookshelf while they waited near the door and carefully slipped the book back in place. He turned to tell Radek and Miko they were leaving and was brought up short at Sheppard’s presence in the room. He was smiling at Rodney’s friends, nodding as they talked. He looked friendly and not at all like the man who had threatened Rodney without a word.
Radek glanced over, meeting Rodney’s eyes. Sheppard followed his gaze, his smile not faltering in the least. Rodney blinked in confusion but cautiously returned to Radek and Miko’s side, taking care to keep them between him and Sheppard.
“Welcome back,” Sheppard greeted.
“Yes, uh, good to be back,” Rodney said. His cheeks flushed as he admitted, “I returned because I mistakenly borrowed a book of yours.”
Sheppard nodded politely. “Thanks for returning it.”
“You’re welcome,” Rodney said, and tried to smile. Sheppard blinked at him, a tentative smile quirking the corner of his mouth. When he turned his head to call for Chuck, Rodney noticed for the second time just how good looking he was. Without his attempts to scare Rodney into silence, it was impossible to ignore the full lips and slinky hips. His thighs in those tight jeans were a distraction, the messy hair an invitation to touch, and his neck entirely too lickable. Rodney swallowed.
“I think we may have found our new hangout,” Radek said happily, patting his stomach as they waited for the train. Miko nodded with enthusiasm, rocking on her feet. It was much later, almost morning, and Rodney had to admit that his second visit to Sanctuary had been far more pleasant than the first. The food had been good, and watching Miko flirt openly with a bemused Ronon had been entertaining.
“Great,” Rodney said with false cheer, and tried not to think about Sheppard’s ass.
Radek and Miko suggested dinner at the bar with annoying frequency. Miko continued her pursuit of Ronon, with Radek becoming acquainted with Evan Lorne, the dragon who painted the murals on the bar’s walls. He came in during the week around lunchtime to paint over the murals and start over, creating something new and different every time. Rodney thought he was a bit touched in the head - who erased all their hard work and started over, week after week? But Radek was already becoming fiercely protective and growled when Rodney became a bit too disparaging. Not that Lorne needed it, with his sharp teeth and protective scales.
But it left Rodney to his own devices, and he was far less sociable than they. After the fourth time of being abandoned, he’d taken to bringing his laptop with him.
“Working hard?” Sheppard asked, appearing out of nowhere. Rodney jumped, his elbow coming dangerously close to his glass of whiskey. Sheppard chuckled while Rodney glared, crossing his arms over his chest.
“You do that on purpose,” he accused. He pointed a finger at Sheppard's chest, resisting the urge to poke him.
“Yep,” Sheppard agreed casually, settling into the seat across from Rodney.
“Oh,” Rodney replied. He hadn’t expected Sheppard to agree. “Well then.”
“Most come here for a good time,” Sheppard pointed out. He looked out at the various creatures commingling. Rodney looked too, seeing the happy faces, the conversations creating a dull roar. Two weeks of visiting and he had yet to see a single fight; it was nice, to have a place like this, where friendships formed that might seem unlikely or frowned upon in Inhuman society. Sheppard looked proud, the glow of happiness lighting up his face.
“I am having a good time,” Rodney said, still looking at Sheppard. Their eyes met and held for a moment.
“Good. That’s the point, after all.”
When silence settled between them, Rodney looked back at his laptop, rubbing his fingers together nervously. Ronon had told them that Sheppard didn’t want to be found by his family, that he always got a bit aggressive with the vampires that came in. He hadn’t seemed bothered by Rodney’s presence since then, and he hoped that meant Sheppard had realized Rodney wasn’t going to turn him in.
He liked Sheppard. Though they hadn’t interacted much, Rodney had seen him with the others. Rodney had heard the friendly teasing, seen the bright smiles, the awkward support Sheppard gave when someone went looking for an encouraging word. Rodney witnessed it all and thought, yes, I want, me too please.
Rodney glanced over his laptop screen at Sheppard, who had settled in at Rodney’s table without invitation, hunched over an open book. Rodney leaned forward slightly to get a better look at the words on the page. Sheppard looked up at his inhale, looking inquisitive.
“Is that a Star Trek novel?” Rodney asked, excited.
Sheppard blinked. “Uh, yeah. Got a whole box of ‘em in the back.”
“You like Star Trek?”
Sheppard grinned, the tips of his long canine teeth pressing just barely against his bottom lip. His voice went low, conspiratorial. “I love Star Trek.”
Rodney felt a wide smile spread across his face. He scooted his chair closer to the table, and they bent their heads together, hands gesturing as they discussed the finer points of science fiction. When Rodney left at closing, flushed with pleasure at the warm smile with which Sheppard - John - had said farewell, he was already looking forward to returning.
They don’t become instant friends after that, but they work toward it; there is definitely a softening to their tense relationship. They settle into a routine, with John taking a seat at Rodney’s table after he’s been left by his friends. They don’t always talk; sometimes John is too into his book or Rodney can’t focus on anything other than the project on his laptop screen. But a comfortable familiarity settles between them, and Rodney stops worrying that John will flash fangs at him.
It’s the release of the latest Star Wars movie that kicked things off. Both had gone to see it the night it was released, separately. Riding the science fiction high, Rodney was barely through the door before John was at his side, dragging him to Rodney’s usual table. Rodney went willingly, barely noticing when his friends settled in at a different table and usual order was set before him.
“I meant to do a complete rewatch before the movie was released, but things were picking up at work,” Rodney said idly.
“Not a bad idea,” John agreed. “I might watch the original three tonight.”
“Harrison Ford,” Rodney sighed. He had definitely left quite an impression on Rodney when Star Wars had been released. John chuckled, eyes twinkling with amusement, and Rodney felt his face warm.
“Like you don’t have a crush on Han Solo,” Rodney said, trying to move past his embarrassment. “Rakish flyboy? Definitely your type.”
“I wanted to be Han Solo,” John said. “Not sleep with him.”
“You can’t do both?”
John made a face, scrunching his nose up. It was cute. “That’d be weird.”
Rodney shrugged. “I suppose you’re attractive enough to pull it off.”
John looked smug. “Why, thank you.”
Rodney flapped a hand dismissively. Like John didn’t know he was pretty. They fell into a companionable silence. Rodney watched as John shredded a napkin, then rolled each piece into a tiny little ball and flick it into the ashtray. It was mesmerizing watching his fingers move. After a moment, John sat back and licked his lips. When he bit his bottom lip, Rodney forced himself to drag his eyes away, to look desperately at his unopened laptop.
“I have the movies upstairs,” John said, and Rodney whipped his head around to look at John.
“Oh?” He asked faintly.
John hesitated. “Yeah. We could watch them later, after the bar closes.”
Rodney’s head was nodding before John had even finished his sentence. “That would be good,” Rodney managed to say, which didn’t at all cover the happiness filling his chest.
John smiled brightly, all uncertainty gone.
Rodney ignored the mocking kissy faces Radek was making as he left the bar, a hypocritical move with the way he was hanging off Evan Lorne’s arm. If anyone was going to be kissing someone, it’d be Radek. Rodney would be sure to remind him of that tomorrow.
It was quick work to clean up. Rodney wiped down tables while John counted down the till and Ronon did the dishes. By the time Ronon slipped out the door, nervous anticipation had grown in Rodney enough to make him twitchy. John shut off the lights and Rodney followed him through the office and up some stairs that led to the apartment above. John gestured for Rodney to wait in the living room to the left while John went right, into the kitchen.
Rodney sank into John’s squishy couch. He worried, briefly, about being swallowed up by it, and barring that, the back problems that were sure to result from such lackluster support. Still, he said nothing when John returned, two warmed bottles of blood in hand. Once the first movie was started, John settled onto the couch next to Rodney.
“I never understood why we were supposed to look up to Luke,” Rodney commented. “Leia was cool and she worked in politics, which is full of ignorant assholes.”
“Tell me about,” John said wryly. It took Rodney a moment to remember that John’s family was Old Clan, and thus held several key positions in the United Inhuman Consortium.
“Sorry,” Rodney said, grimacing. “I didn’t meant to imply that your family was anything other than, uh, intelligent, kind people.”
John rolled his eyes. “I think we all know you’re right.”
“Mm,” Rodney agreed vaguely. He’d certainly never met a member of the government who wasn’t a selfish milkdrinker. Rodney glanced at John’s profile. John had turned out okay - more than okay, really. Perhaps they weren’t all snobs only interested in power.
“What made you leave the city?” Atlantis, the manhattan sized city hidden by long-forgotten magic, the seat of government, the place where millions of Inhuman lived and worked and never left. Jeannie still lived there with her husband and kid. Rodney thought about visiting but Atlantis had a way of weaving into your very being and refusing to let go.
John tensed. He refused to meet Rodney’s eyes, instead staring unseeing at the television, rubbing the rim of his bottle with his thumb. Rodney watched his thumb move. He shifted in his seat, feeling warm, his skin prickling. He took a drink from his own bottle and tried to tune back into the movie.
“I didn’t agree with my family’s policy regarding other Inhuman,” John said, suddenly. His face was hard, his eyes dark and filled with memories. “I thought everyone was worth saving, regardless of species. They didn’t agree.”
“I’m sorry,” Rodney said softly. Uncertain of what else to do, he leaned over until his shoulder was pressed against John’s. John relaxed in increments, until he was leaning into Rodney. He was warm and smelled spicy. His laugh was truly ridiculous. Rodney was smitten.
Rodney was startled when John, standing in front of the entertainment center to switch to the second movie, asked without turning around, “Why did you leave the city?”
“Job opportunity,” Rodney said, eyes dipping from John’s shoulders, to his waist, and down to his ass and thighs. He took another drink of blood before continuing. “Technology has finally advanced far enough that most tech companies have 24 hour service. It’s no longer the purview of the creepy to work the graveyard shift. I have a handy excuse to avoid the sun and do something that interests me.”
John plopped down next to him, his sudden weight on the couch tilting Rodney until he was practically in John’s lap. Rodney’s hand landed on John’s warm thigh as he straightened himself. He did his best to look unaffected and not sneak a grope in. John had really strong thighs.
“Yeah, the humans have done good work,” John agreed. He hit play and the yellow text began to scroll. John set his socked feet up on the table and sank into the couch with a happy sigh. He looked comfortable and happy.
“For once,” Rodney snorted. He mimicked John’s position and wiggled his toes happily. John’s apartment was tiny but cozy; much better than Rodney’s, which always had an air of abandonment to it. They only thing that would make this better, Rodney thought, was if his cat were here, too.
Rodney doesn’t remember falling asleep, but waking up covered in a blanket on John’s couch, a cup of warm blood on the table, was probably the best wake up he could remember. Rodney blinked sleepily, but the living room was empty. Getting up, Rodney took a careful peek outside, which showed the sun had almost completely set - he’d slept in later than he’d meant to.
Rodney’s stiff and his back ached from sleeping on the couch. He hated sleeping in his regular clothing, but it’ll have to do until he gets home. He browsed John’s bookshelf while he drank his evening blood, relishing its warmth, feeling more like himself with every sip. Once finished, he rinsed the cup and left it in the sink. Rodney splashed some water on his face in the bathroom and squeezed toothpaste onto his finger for a rough, quick teeth cleaning. There’s nothing to be done about his hair or the creases on his face, so with a shrug, Rodney headed downstairs.
The bar is empty this early. Rodney wondered if he should slip out without saying anything - though he should really apologize for falling asleep on John - but before he can say anything Chuck came out of the doors to the kitchen. He looked bright-eyed and awake and before Rodney could open his mouth, Chuck was calling for John with smirk and a wink for Rodney.
“Good evening,” John said, slipping out the door of his office. He should have looked like a lumberjack in tight black jeans and a red, plaid, long-sleeve shirt, but instead looked casually put together. He was unshaven and Rodney wanted to bite him.
“I’m sorry about falling asleep on you,” Rodney burst out. “Clearly I was more tired than I had thought. Battling against stupidity for all hours of the night does that to you.”
“Sure,” John agreed, nodding. He tilted his head toward the doors that lead to the kitchen. “Want some breakfast?”
“God, yes,” Rodney said fervently, and sat on a stool at the bar. It was peaceful, sitting in the bar before it got busy, with only John and Chuck for company. The easy relationship between the two seemed to extend to Rodney, who was included in the gentle teasing and friendly mockery. By the time John sat on the stool next to Rodney’s, his own plate of food before him, Rodney had already decided to stay.
“If that’s okay with you,” he asked John anxiously.
“It’s fine. You won’t be a bother.”
Rodney could work from the bar just as well as the office, and by midnight patrons were filtering in, boisterous and demanding. Rodney was left alone in his usual spot, sending out disparaging emails between doing his own calculations and arguing with Radek over messenger. By the time he lifted his head out of his work, the bar was full and noisy. John noticed him looking around and gave him a quick wave from behind the bar. Rodney returned the wave with a wave of his own and a goofy smile stretching his lips.
Rodney didn’t get much work done that night, despite Radek’s nagging presence on messenger. Rodney would find his attention drifting back to John after just a few moments of coding. He couldn’t decide if John’s shirt was ill-fitting or if it was supposed to flash that small bit of skin, and he was devoting far too much time contemplating this. Chuck was beginning to smirk at him openly now, and no amount of flashing his fangs on Rodney’s part was making him stop.
Just as Rodney’s calling it quits, Radek and Miko appear, Carson in tow. Rodney raised an eyebrow at him inquiringly as they took their seats around him. Chuck was already preparing Radek and Miko’s usual drinks. Carson greeted him with a tired smile, shoulders slumped and dark circles under his eyes. He still wasn’t over Perna’s death, then. Rodney smiled at him awkwardly and hoped that this time, he wouldn’t be left alone. Rodney liked Carson, but he wasn’t at all the comforting sort.
“Hey,” John greeted, stopping at their table. He was holding one of those large, flat plates used to carry large orders to a table. He smiled at Carson, showing just a bit of fang. Carson gave him a weak smile and then did a double take, his eyes wide. Rodney kicked him in the leg before he could open his big mouth and gave a subtle shake of his head when Carson glared at him. He flushed when John gave him a knowing look. The warmth spread from his cheeks to down his neck and to his ears when John brushed the back of Rodney’s neck with the tips of his fingers.
“Can I get you anything?”
“Scotch,” Rodney answered over Carson’s head shake. “He’ll have a scotch, and he’ll drink it.” Rodney didn’t know if Carson even liked scotch, but he’d been cooped up in his apartment for far too long. He needed something to relax, and maybe he’d even have a good time.
“I’ve got it,” Chuck answered, swinging by and depositing drinks for Radek and Miko. He set a refill in front of Rodney and disappeared just as quickly as he showed up.
“I’ll be by later,” John promised, meeting Rodney’s eyes. When he was gone, his friends leaned forward eagerly, even Carson. Curiosity made his eyes brighter than they had in weeks.
“What’s this, then? Why is the son of Patrick Sheppard running a tiny bar in a human city?”
“Because he wants to?” Rodney rolled his eyes. “But you can’t tell anyone he’s here.”
“I got that, thank you,” Carson sent him a sour look.
“Tell us about last night,” Miko said eagerly. “Did you have sex?”
“Miko,” Rodney hissed.
“Ohh,” Carson said, and his smile was knowing.
“Nothing happened! I fell asleep!” Rodney protested.
“Rodney,” Radek groaned. “This was your chance to seduce him, and you fall asleep? Please tell me there was at least kissing.”
“There wasn’t,” Rodney said, annoyed. With himself or his friends, he wasn’t sure. “There was no kissing and no fun touching.”
“No biting?” Radek asked hopefully.
“Vampires don’t bite one another unless they’re bonded,” Rodney snapped. “Not all of us bite so freely.”
Radek opened his mouth to protest - whatever, everyone knew werewolves had a thing for biting their sexual partners - when a complete, sudden silence fell over the room. As one, Rodney and his friends turned toward the door, senses prickling.
It was hard to believe his eyes, at first. A beautiful Fae stood in the doorway, hand in hand with another woman. There was something regal in her bearing, and even under such scrutiny she seemed unbothered. Her eyes were pupiless and colored a mint green. The tips of her fingers were the same color as her eyes, though further down her hand the color darkened until it shaded into her dark skin tone. She filled the room with the smell of damp earth. That someone who projected such power and grace was in the small bar in a human city was shocking enough - but the beautiful woman at her side was an Uninitiated.
The number of humans part of Inhuman society was less than one percent. Generally, they were descendants from a time when others were less careful about revealing their existence. They helped Inhuman interact with the outside world, a line of defense against prying human eyes. A treaty from long ago required them to donate blood, once they were of age, to feed vampires and other creatures. In return, they were granted longevity and wealth. Being raised among the Inhuman, side by side with beings of magic, gave the Initiated a trace of other all their own.
This woman, whoever she was, was not supposed to be here. She had no touch of other, and no bracelet of recognition. Bringing a human into Inhuman space without permission was so firmly prohibited that not even those of the Old Clans dared.
There was a loud scrape as someone pushed out of their chair and stood.
“What is she doing here?” The man’s forked tongue flicked the air, testing it.
“She is my guest,” the Fae said calmly. She raised an eyebrow. “Will you challenge me?”
“You know the rules!” The man hissed. Most of the people in the room nodded in agreement, looking angry. Rodney could almost feel their fear. John edged around a table, walked along the back wall, and sidled up to this woman’s side, Ronon on his heels. John crossed his arms over his chest and Ronon loomed.
“Peace,” the Fae said. “Kate means us no harm, I guarantee it.”
Rodney almost snorted in disbelief. When did humans ever come in peace? They killed their own kind indiscriminately, let alone those who presented real danger. Where one was, more were soon to follow, with terrible weapons. Rodney looked to John, who seemed to trust this Fae, to stand at her side, to risk his beloved bar.
“If she meant us harm, she never would have made it past the threshold,” John spoke up. “Teyla would not have brought her here without letting her know about the secrecy statute.”
Teyla inclined her head in agreement. “I laid the magic that rests in the foundation of this building that protects all who enter these doors. She is not unaffected by it.”
“And we are to believe you?” Another person spoke up, though Rodney did not see who. He was too busy making his way to John’s side; he didn’t like the sense of John against the entire room. Though he wasn’t much of a fighter, he did not want John to think he stood alone.
“Believe me, Sussan,” John replied. He met the snake man’s eyes and held them, and Rodney swore he was going to have a heart attack. After a moment's hesitation, Sussan slowly retook his seat. The tension dissipated somewhat, and slowly conversation returned, though all of it centered around the human.
“Thank you,” Kate breathed. She sent John and Rodney a grateful smile. Rodney smiled back weakly. He hadn’t stood up for her, but for John. He didn’t deserve her gratitude.
“Yes,” Teyla said, and when Rodney turned his attention to her, she was looking at him with those cool, unreadable eyes. “You must be Rodney. John has spoken of you often.”
“Teyla,” John snapped. He avoided Rodney’s gaze, turning his head - giving Rodney the perfect view of the tips of his ears turning pink. This time Rodney’s smile was bright.
“Good things, I hope,” Rodney said cheerfully, smiling at Teyla. She tilted her head, lips quirking.
“Indeed,” she said gravely. John chuckled and Teyla’s solemn expression melted into one of amusement. Rodney shared a confused look with Kate, neither of them not getting the joke. John directed Teyla and Kate to a table by the kitchen door - perhaps not prime seating, but out of the way enough that they won’t be the center of attention.
Rodney went back to his table, which was now empty. Ronon, who had taken a stool by the bar, had Miko draped across his back, arms wrapped loosely around his neck. Whatever she was saying was making him chuckle. Radek had left for Lorne’s side, awkwardly holding a paintbrush. His ears, which he strived to make human during work hours, had slipped back to their pointed, wolf shape. Every bit of his attention was on Lorne as the painter spoke.
Rodney looked around for Carson, surprised to find his drink finished. It was hard not to laugh when he finally caught sight of him, pulled onto the dance floor by Cadman. She seemed completely charmed by Carson’s complete lack of rhythm. Rodney took the seat closest to the wall and settled in, keeping an eye out for John. When he finally spotted him heading Rodney’s way, he couldn’t stop his happy smile any more than he could prevent the warmth spreading through his chest at the look John was giving him.
They stared at one another for a long moment before John dragged his chair around the table. He sat next to Rodney, his smile soft.
“Hey buddy,” He said quietly.
“John,” Rodney greeted. John leaned until their shoulders were pressed together. Rodney leaned too, so they were holding each other up.
“You were there,” John said, and for a moment Rodney was confused. “With us, protecting Kate.”
“Lot of good I would have done you in a fight,” Rodney muttered. “But I couldn’t just...not.”
“Yeah, you could have. But you didn’t, even though you knew a fight might break out.”
Rodney shrugged. It’d been stupid of him. None of them had needed backup, but Rodney still felt as though he should have been at John’s side.
“Rodney, that means something,” John said softly, and hooked his fingers into the wrist opening of Rodney’s long-sleeve. “To me.”
Rodney wasn’t certain what to say, his mouth opening and closing uselessly. Life never felt more right than when he was by John’s side, despite their rough beginning.
“I had to be there for you,” Rodney said finally. “You didn’t need me there, but I wanted to be.”
“It was good,” John said, bobbing his head in an awkward nod. “Having you there. You were brave.”
“Hardly,” Rodney snorted. “If a fight had broken out, I would have hidden behind Ronon.”
John huffed a laugh. “You still stood up, even though you didn’t know Teyla.”
“I know you,” Rodney replied. “Or I’m getting to, anyway. You believed her, and that was enough for me.”
“Rodney,” John whined, almost helplessly, and then he was leaning in, brushing a kiss to the corner of Rodney’s mouth. Rodney breathed in sharply, surprised. When John pulled away, Rodney turned his head and followed him, pressing his lips to John’s in a sweet, brief kiss. John opened his mouth and the kiss deepened, got wetter, and when John bit Rodney’s lip and licked away the drops of blood, Rodney moaned.
“I have a Han Solo costume from Halloween last year,” John whispered. He smiled and bumped their noses together. It took a moment for the words to go through, but when they did -
“How soon can we go upstairs?”
John laughed his terrible laugh, and Rodney fell a bit more in love.
To their right and slightly behind, Teyla and Kate shared a smile, hands curled together under the table. Radek leaned in for a kiss, only to swear when he dumped paint all over himself. Lorne laughed and kissed him anyway, smearing paint all over his cheek. Miko whispered filthy promises in Ronon’s ear and giggled when he blushed, and Chuck watched over them all benevolently, humming an off-pitch tune.