Rodney waves a laden fork in John’s face. “Here Colonel, taste this and tell me if there’s any citrus in it.”
John’s going cross-eyed trying to look at what’s on the fork so he just closes his eyes, opens his mouth and allows Rodney to feed him some unknown morsel. It’s some kind of meat, salty and tender and moist, with a sweet and smoky marinade, like barbequed maple syrup. It’s utterly divine, and as he chews he becomes aware of two things. One, definitely no citrus. Two, the whole of the great hall has gone deathly silent. He looks up and sees that all eyes are on them and he gets a sinking feeling that he’s just violated some unknown taboo and shit is about to hit the fan. Again.
John actually really likes coming to Rúmvegr. It’s a cold, snowy planet with a hardy but welcoming people. They live in communal halls, reminiscent of Viking longhouses even though they have no open water to sail on, and the Jarls (Huknna and Haelaug) are just about the nicest Pegasus leaders John’s ever met. The feasts they put on are out of this world, roasted meats cooked over the central fire, ice-cold home brewed ales, and not a tuttleroot in sight. Even though the four of them have to share one bedroom between them he always has the best night’s sleep when he’s here, laying on a mound of furs within touching distance of a sated and softly snoring Rodney. If he was to list all of their successful first contacts in order, Rúmvegr would be at the very top. No one shot at them or chased them away, no one tried to kidnap Rodney, and (most importantly) there were no secret ceremonies or hidden rituals to trip up over. Until now, apparently.
“Oh my Goddess!” says Huknna from the head of the table. She stands up, steps out from the bench she shares with Haelug and heads to the central firepit, furs shifting around her feet as she walks.
“Uh...Jarl Huknna, Jarl Haelaug, whatever I did, I can explain-”
Haelaug breaks out into a grin as he joins his wife by the fire. “This is marvellous!” he says. “A cause for celebration!”
“What’s marvellous?” asks Rodney, slightly panicked. “What’s going on?”
“Had we known, we would have prepared,” says Huknna. “It is fortunate that we have everything we need right here for the Sacrament of Bruni.”
“Hang on,” says Rodney, wide eyed in the firelight. He turns to John. “I thought we didn’t have to go through ritual ceremonies on this planet?”
“Uh...this Sacrament...does anyone get maimed or stabbed or otherwise hurt?” asks John, cause if there’s ritual bloodletting then they’re out of there, no matter how tasty the feast.
“Only if their intentions aren’t honourable,” says Haelaug.
Honourable, right. “Okay...I guess we could give it a go. What do we need to do?”
Huknna asks John and Rodney to join them at the fire, which they do. Rodney is understandably wary but Ronon and Teyla don’t seem overly concerned; when John looks back Ronon is too busy eating the not-boar to pay him any attention and Teyla smiles serenely at them, flagon in hand (only Teyla could make swigging ale seem like an elegant pastime). He swallows and turns back to the Jarls.
“If you would stand next to each other, facing the fire pit,” says Haelaug. “That’s it.” She moves to stand behind them. “The Sacrament of Bruni is a test of your faith in one another. It is important that each of you trusts the other to keep them safe from harm, but you must also trust them to push you to your limits.”
Huknna takes their hands and lifts them up in one of hers. “John, in a moment I will ask you to grasp Rodney’s wrist and hold his hand over the flames. You will keep his hand there as long as you think he can bear it. Do you understand?”
John looks at Rodney and nods. “Yeah.”
“Rodney you must trust John not to allow you to come to harm. You must remain silent and if you pull away the rite will be forfeit. Do you understand?”
Rodney sighs. “Yes, alright, lets get on with it so we can get back to eating.”
Huknna brings their hands together, squeezing briefly before she lets go. “When you are ready,” she says.
John slides his hand down Rodney’s and wraps his fingers around his wrist. They’ve done this kind of ritual before, proving your trust in your teammates, but this seems different, seems greater somehow. Rodney’s wrist lies loose and comfortable in his grip, like he doesn’t even consider the possibility that John will fail. He moves Rodney’s hand until it hovers at shoulder height above the firepit and holds it there, counting in his head though he has no idea how long this will be bearable. Five seconds? Ten? Thirty? He can feel the heat on his hand, but not as much as Rodney will. He looks for a sign, some kind of signal that Rodney is uncomfortable, but Rodney just stands there with his eyes closed, calm and unexpectant. Huknna and Haelaug are quietly reciting something, a kind of poem that John can barely hear over the crackling of the fire. Everyone else is watching them with bated breath, even Ronon is paying attention now. The tension is palpable, the air is thick with apprehension and expectation. And still Rodney doesn’t flinch, doesn’t pull away, doesn’t move. John is touched by his trust, humbled by his quiet confidence, and as he counts he gets a feeling of urgency, a feeling of now, right now. He pulls Rodney’s hand back from the fire and cradles it in his own. Rodney opens his eyes and smiles at him, remarkably tranquil for the usually caustic scientist.
“Three stanzas!” says Haelaug from across the fire. “Well done! And now, if you will exchange places?”
They brush past each other, swapping sides, and Huknna takes their hands again, holding them up as she repeats her instructions.
“Rodney, in a moment I will ask you to grasp John’s wrist and hold his hand over the flames. You will keep his hand there as long as you think he can bear it. Do you understand?”
“John you must trust Rodney not to allow you to come to harm. You must remain silent and if you pull away the rite will be forfeit. Do you understand?”
“When you are ready.”
Rodney moves his hand and encircles John’s wrist with his fingers. “Close your eyes,” he says, and John does. He feels Rodney move his hand into the rising smoke of the fire, feels the heat warm his skin. Everything seems louder with his eyes closed. He can hear Rodney suck in a nervous breath, the low-level hum of the crowd, someone’s foot tapping against the leg of a table. The Jarl’s recite their poem, nonsensical words that wash over him, tugging at something deep, something hidden, and he lets it unfurl and expand in his chest. It flows out of him on his exhale, carrying with it his fears and inhibitions, his doubts and uncertainties. Rodney’s hand around his wrist is an anchor, keeping him grounded and safe and protected. He’s felt this before, in the quiet moments after they make love as they fall asleep in each other’s arms. Home. He feels the heat intensify for just a moment, almost cries out but stops himself, and his hand is pulled back, out of the fire. When John opens his eyes, Rodney is peering intensely at his fingers, checking for burns no doubt.
“Four stanzas!” cries Haelaug, and the hall breaks out in cheers.
“Did we do good?” asks Rodney looking up anxiously, even though not two minutes ago he was indifferent to the proceedings and impatient to get back to the feast.
“Your bond is strong,” says Huknna, grinning. “Now. Who has the dowry?”
“Dowry?” asks John.
“Wait just a minute,” snaps Rodney. “Colonel! Are we...are we getting married here?!”
“Uh, could me and Rodney maybe have a moment to talk?”
“Of course, my dear boy,” says Haelaug, amiably.
“Oh, uh, alone?”
Huknna and Haelaug graciously retreat a few steps. They aren’t exactly left alone, being in the middle of the great hall, but their hosts live in shared spaces so privacy probably isn’t a thing here.
“Look,” says Rodney in a hushed voice that carries all the way across the hall. “You’re great, you’re my best friend and I like you, a lot, I guess even you know by now that I love you. If pressed I’d go so far as to say I'm in love with you even though it’s too soon for such declarations, but this is maybe just a teensy little bit too fast, even for me. I’m all for it, absolutely, somewhere in the not too distant future, but we haven’t even told anyone about us yet-”
“We know,” say Ronon and Teyla in unison.
“Yes, well there’s knowing and there’s knowing, and it’s only been a few weeks, so-”
“Rodney, what happens in Vegas...”
“Oh don’t give me that crap. Pegasus is our home. Of course it counts. And furthermore, I’m insulted that you would even say such a thing-”
There’s only one thing for it. John takes a step back and eases himself down onto one knee. Old injuries in his leg from when his chopper was downed pull and tug at his resolve, but he’ll be damned if he doesn’t do this right.
“What are you doing Colonel?!” gasps Rodney.
“Rodney, okay...so...maybe it’s only been physical for a few weeks, but we’ve kind of been together for a long time, years really, and you’re the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing I think about at night. I come to you when I’m lost and you come to me when you’re hurt, we’re good together, you and me, so what do you say? Marry me?”
Rodney seems as surprised as anyone else when he says “Yes!”, but he makes grabby hands, pulls John up off the dirt and throws his limbs around him like an octopus. “You’re insane,” he whispers into John’s ear.
“So are you,” whispers John, before pulling back, tilting his head and leaning in for a kiss.
More cheers erupt all across the great hall, hands pound on tables and someone (probably Ronon) wolf-whistles as they part.
“Well,” says Rodney, all red faced and glowy. He gestures to the two Jarls. “Let’s get on with it then!”
Two temporary rings, an exchange of a borrowed blade, one fifteen minute ceremonial poem, several kisses and a standing ovation later, John and Rodney are led to the Jarls’ bedroom at the far end of the great hall. It’s modestly decorated with furs and mounted animal heads, and a large bed dominating the room. Rodney sits down on it as he takes off his boots.
“So...time is measured through spoken poetry and the longer you can stand the heat the better your bond is? Seems like it is more a measure of the amount of energy the fire is giving off than anything else.”
Rodney looks up from his laces. “What?”
"You took all the mystery out of it.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“We just got married.”
“Guess what happen now.”
All four of them are laden with wedding gifts when they leave, some useful (like the ivory handled hunting knife that John sticks in his boot) and some not so useful (like the mounted not-deer head that Ronon is carrying over his shoulder, but apparently this particular animal is the visage of Bruni who turns out to be their Goddess of Love and War). Rodney puts down his bag of leftovers to quietly say goodbye to Huknna and Haelaug. John can’t hear what he says but when Rodney presses his forehead to each of theirs in turn he smiles to himself. Rodney likes to think he’s a prickly bastard but he’s charmingly sentimental when it counts.
“Ready to go?” asks Ronon when Rodney pick his bag up again.
“Sure,” says Rodney. “But I’m gonna miss this place.”
“We’ll be back,” says John.
They set off to the stargate through the knee-deep snow. The sun is rising in the sky and it’s a cold, clear morning. Their breaths mist in the air as they trek. Rodney drags a little behind and John slows down to fall in beside him, letting Teyla and Ronon walk ahead.
Rodney looks at him out the corner of his eye. “So...what happens in Vegas?” he asks faux-casually.
“That wasn’t Vegas, Rodney.”
“What are we gonna tell Woolsey?”
“We’re gonna tell him that it counts.”