Chapter 1: Rodney Meets John Sheppard
Rodney McKay's attention was reluctantly pulled from the Theoretical Equations textbook he had been immersed in for the past hour. He blinked in confusion at the readjustment as he made the mental swim back up to the real world. Cocking his head to one side, he heard the voices again and, finally realizing what had drawn his attention, frowned in concern at the commotion occuring somewhere outside the library door.
He had ventured from his room to the townhouse's library to review its pitifully inadequate stock of volumes on mathematics. It should have been safe. It was late afternoon and Father and Kavanagh were both out at their clubs, or their sporting parlors, or wherever it was they chose to spend their days which had made it safe for Rodney to wander the house. Or so he had assumed.
He hesitated before the door to the library. Could he sneak past whoever was out there? Should he wait here in the library and hope that whoever was making a fuss outside would leave? As Rodney paused uncertainly, the question was taken out of his hands as the library door swung open, forcing him to jump back to avoid being hit.
Hodgkins stood in the frame of the entrance, apologetic. "I'm sorry Master Rodney but there is a gentleman here who insists on speaking with a member of the McKay family." The butler held out a calling card to Rodney, clasped between pristinely gloved fingers.
Rodney drew back, eyeing the proffered card in alarm. "Did you tell him father isn't at home right now?" He did not want to entertain some crony of father's or drinking buddy of Kavanagh's.
"Ah, yes Sir, the gentleman was informed that both your father and Master Kavanagh are presently out. However, he then requested you."
Rodney shrank back even more. "He asked for me?"
"Yes Sir," Hodgkins looked truly sorry. The elderly butler had always had a soft spot for Rodney, an intellectual boy who had lacked the desire and skill to pursue the more athletic accomplishments his father so valued. The intellectual boy had been intimidated both mentally and physically until he had become a timid, though still stubbornly intellectual, young man.
"I, oh, uh, can you tell him I'm not at home as well?" Rodney asked apprehensively.
"I'm afraid, Master Rodney, the gentleman caller is aware that you are currently in residence. He indicated as such upon his arrival." The butler's eyes were kind as he delivered the news.
Rodney's alarm skyrocketed. How could a stranger possibly know that he was at home? Well, he silently admitted, it wouldn't be very hard considering that he rarely left the premises of the McKay townhouse when his family was in London. More importantly though, why would a stranger care enough to find out?
"Master Rodney, the gentleman is in the blue salon," the butler informed him gently.
"Oh, yes, of course. Thank you Hodgkins," Rodney dug up a wan smile of reassurance for the butler, finally accepting the proffered calling card. Hugging his books to himself for comfort he followed the dignified butler down the hallway towards the entrance of the Blue Salon as he glanced nervously down at the card. It was plain and elegant, a cream color with heavy masculine print spelling out the name Mister John Verrington Sheppard. Sheppard? Did he know any Sheppards? After searching his excellent memory Rodney concluded that he did not, in fact, know the name. Of course, that didn't mean much really. As his father often informed him contemptuously, if it wasn't found in a book, his useless son had no knowledge of it. Rodney ruefully acknowledged that in this at least, father had a point.
He reluctantly let Hodgkins escort him into the Blue Salon and took in a deep, hopefully calming, breath as the butler announced in his sonorous voice, "The Honorable Rodney McKay," before backing out of the room and closing the doors with a slow and measured dignity leaving Rodney alone with...uhm, no one?
Rodney frowned, puzzled, his eyes scanning the seemingly empty room. He began to brighten hopefully. Maybe this John Sheppard had gotten impatient and left. Maybe...oh. The hopeful notion was quickly dispersed when a figure rose up from a chair set in the corner where the afternoon shadows had managed to cloak his presence. Rodney felt his breath catch as the stranger began to approach him. He was tall, intimidatingly handsome, clothed impeccably in what even Rodney recognized was the Corinthian style, the man's cravat a perfect, subtle creation. The only thing the least uncivilized about the other man's appearance was his hair, thick and black as ink, standing up in odd tufts and somehow appealing.
Rodney's thoughts turned self-consciously towards his own attire, his usual basic breeches, plain white shirt and no neck cloth. Resisting the urge to wipe at the ink smudges staining the front of his shirt he offered a tentative smile to the other man. Then his eyes met the stranger's gaze and, smile fading, he quickly revised his initial opinion. The cold green eyes that pierced him weren't civilized at all. And they were studying him with a coolness that made his heart sink. It was a look he was very familiar with receiving from both father and Kavanagh but somehow receiving it from this complete stranger twisted at something deep inside. It was a look of icy contempt.
Rodney drew back instinctively from the disdain, hugging his books tighter to his chest for comfort. He tried to find the words to greet the other man but his awkward tongue stumbled and Rodney stayed miserably silent, unable to do anything but continue to stare at this John Sheppard who was frowning now, as if puzzled by what he saw.
Finally, when it became clear Rodney was not going to speak, the stranger raised an eyebrow and, with a sardonic smile, spoke in a soft, slow drawl. "You're Rodney McKay?" The question held a disbelieving note as the man continued to study him coolly.
"I, uh, well yes," Rodney forced out, tentatively studying the man. What could Mr. Sheppard want with him? And why would a man he'd never met look at him with such disdain? Unless, Rodney's heart sank at the thought, perhaps he was, after all, one of father or Kavanagh's crony's, regaled by contemptuous stories about the pitiful youngest McKay son. The thought made Rodney want to cringe.
The man, Sheppard, had paused, as if waiting for Rodney to continue. When it became clear that Rodney was going to remain mute, he shook his head and, scowling, strode closer. He paused as he noticed Rodney backing away. Eyes narrowing, he tilted his head slightly in consideration as he studied Rodney intently. "My name is John Sheppard. Do you know who I am?"
"No," Rodney forced himself to meet the man's eyes. Years with father and Kavanagh had taught him that showing fear or nervousness before a domineering man only made things worse. He still wasn't very good at pretending to be brave. But he could try. "Are you...are you a friend of father's?" he asked, offering a hesitant try at a smile.
He flinched away from the bark of harsh laughter that followed. "I consider that an insult McKay," Sheppard sneered Rodney's last name, the ice back in his eyes. "Were you trying to be insulting?" The question was silky with casual menace. The man stepped closer now, invading Rodney's personal space and causing Rodney to back up in alarm, stopping only when his back hit the entrance door with a solid thud.
"I, no! I, I wasn't trying to, I...what did I say?" His usually rapid mind was stuttering at the closeness of the stranger, currently held at bay only by the armful of books Rodney was clutching desperately before him like a shield. Sheppard leaned in menacingly and Rodney couldn't suppress a cringe as he huddled behind his books. This was usually when father hit him.
Sheppard, however, paused, clearly taken aback by Rodney's reaction. Instead of hitting him, he moved back, giving Rodney a little space. Rodney looked up at the man's face, relieved and surprised at the unusual turn of familiar events. He noticed Sheppard staring down at the books Rodney was clutching so tightly. The man nodded his head in indication. "May I?"
Confused by the change in topic Rodney nodded warily, reluctant to hand over his precious books but not wanting to set the stranger off again. He watched as Sheppard handled the volumes, reading the titles with a frown. Rodney noticed absently that the man had elegant sun-darkened hands, the backs showing dark hair, the fingers long and unexpectedly slender. Father and Kavanagh both had brutal hands, large and punishing. His own hands were large but unskilled at holding anything besides a book or a pen. He watched as Sheppard finished his perusal and, looking back up, captured Rodney's eyes, offering him a simple quirked smile. It wasn't exactly friendly but it wasn't hostile and Rodney felt himself relax a bit.
"I wasn't aware the McKays knew how to read anything besides sporting journals and betting forms," Sheppard commented dryly.
Rodney felt a flush rising up his face. Father and Kavanagh were always taunting him about his bookish ways, saying that the only types of reading materials real men perused were the London Times and men's sporting magazines. "I like mathematics," he responded stiffly, breaking eye contact to stare down at the floor, not wanting to see the inevitable derision sure to return to the stranger's gaze.
Rodney glanced back up at Sheppard, startled into it by the blunt question. He was startled further by the look of frank inquiry that was the only thing the other man's gaze held now.
"What do you mean?" he asked hesitantly, confused at the question.
"Why do you like mathematics?" The response was unexpectedly patient.
Rodney could only blink in surprise for a moment. In his entire memory, no one had ever asked him that question. No one.
"Because it's beautiful," he finally answered truthfully, meeting the stranger's gaze fully for the first time. He didn't realize how much his love of mathematics shone from his eyes.
Sheppard eyed him in thoughtful silence before slowly handing the books back to Rodney who hugged them thankfully back against his chest. After a moment, Sheppard rang the servant's bell, nodding curtly when Hodgkins re-entered the Blue Salon. "My things," he ordered and they both continued to wait in silence until the butler reappeared with a footman bearing the other man's hat and overcoat. Sheppard swiftly donned his outdoor apparel and, turning, tipped his hat to Rodney. Rodney thought for a brief moment that the man was going to depart in silence but Sheppard paused at the entrance and offered him a bitter smile. "Tell your father I'll be back tomorrow at four." His eyes cooled. "I expect him to be here." And then he was gone.
Quickly moving to the window of the front parlor, Rodney parted the curtains as, drawn by a certain fascination, he stared after the departing figure of the man who quickly disappeared into the dusky evening.
What a strange and intimidating man. He didn't seem like a friend of father or Kavanagh's. He certainly didn't seem to like father very much. Rodney wondered if he would see John Sheppard again tomorrow.
Chapter 2: Sheppard Broods
John Sheppard strode into his townhouse and checked his stride when he saw Ronon waiting for him in the front area, a resigned expression on the man's normally impassive face. "Teyla here?" John inquired wryly. She was the only person he knew who could get that kind of reaction out of Ronon. Well, except maybe for John, himself.
Ronon grunted his displeasure. "She's in the parlor. Arrived about twenty minutes ago. Wouldn't leave."
John felt a grin stretch across his face even knowing exactly why Teyla was waiting for him. Seeing the normally hard-edged, dangerous ex-soldier and mercenary trying to deal with the serene and imperturbable Teyla Emmagen was one of his greatest sources of amusement these days. A voice in the back of his head whispered that it was his only source of amusement these days. He told the voice to shut the hell up.
"Did you entertain her while I was out?" The question was accompanied by a grin, a raised eyebrow and a readiness to duck. Teasing Ronon was kind of like poking a surly bear, annoy it enough and it would just kill you. John was just perverse enough to enjoy the danger. Besides he was pretty sure Ronon wouldn't actually kill him. Pretty sure.
Ronon's eyes had narrowed dangerously. He might have crushed another man for what could be an implied insult to the woman waiting patiently in the parlor. But he knew how much Sheppard respected Teyla Emmagen and reacting to the teasing would only encourage more. He had found to his irritation that his options in the 'civilized' world were limited. Being a mercenary had been much more satisfying when he could just crush the annoying person in question. He chose to grunt in disgust. "I've been waiting out here." He refused to say hiding. He was Ronon Dex and he did not hide from anyone. Especially tiny women.
"Right, waiting," John drawled agreeably, ignoring the glare Ronon responded with. "Well, I'm here now so why don't you join us in the parlor," he smirked, his eyes managing to be innocent and devilish at the same time.
Ronon merely glared silently before issuing a curt "I have household matters to see to," and stalked off down the hall.
John grinned after the departing figure of his friend before turning towards the parlor, the grin quickly fading into a rueful grimace. Oh, he knew exactly why Teyla Emmagen was here. He sighed in resignation and, squaring his shoulders, much as he had as a young lieutenant about to enter his commander's tent for a dressing down, he entered the parlor, a boyish, lop-sided smile on his face. It was a smile that had managed to charm generals, drill sergeants, foreign princes, their daughters and too many of their wives but, unfortunately, had failed to work on Teyla for some time. Actually, John had a sneaking suspicion it had never worked on Teyla. Taking the hand she raised in greeting, he pressed a friendly kiss to its back. "Teyla Emmagen, as beautiful as always," he complimented, turning up the charm another notch. Besides, it was nothing but the truth. Teyla was indisputably a beautiful woman, with mysterious eyes, rich reddish brown hair currently pulled back into some sort of complicated female style, flawless honey brown skin and a perfectly curved figure now clothed elegantly in pale green silk. They'd flirted madly when they'd first met. Fine, he'd flirted madly. And then somehow they had settled into a close friendship in spite of himself.
Teyla, who had been smiling up at him warmly, let her smile widen in gentle amusement as she removed her hand from his. "Your compliment is most welcome John Sheppard but it will not turn my mind from my task," she scolded him.
John resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "And what task would that be?" he asked, playing dumb.
Her eyes narrowed slightly. "Did you speak to Rodney McKay as I asked of you?"
This time John did roll his eyes. "Yes, I talked to the man."
"And?" The blasted woman was relentless. Beautiful, graceful, tiny and relentless.
John stayed stubbornly silent.
Teyla remained silent as well, an annoying ocean of patience.
John hissed out an irritated breath. "He's not like his father or older brother," he finally admitted, scowling down at what was apparently his very own extra conscience.
Teyla smiled back serenely. "I knew you would find him pleasing."
"I didn't find him pleasing," John's scowl darkened. "I didn't say anything about finding him pleasing. All I said is he's not like the bastard who spawned him." Stalking over to the sideboard he opened a crystal decanter of brandy and splashed some into a glass. "Want some?" He raised an inquiring eyebrow and poured a second glass when she acquiesced. He carried it over and handed it off, clinking glasses with her in silent toast before tossing the liquor back in one long swallow.
Teyla sipped hers at a more lady like pace as she studied John with a gaze gone serious. "But you see now that destroying the McKay family will bring suffering to those who do not deserve it? Not only Rodney McKay but his younger sister, Jeannie, as well?"
John's eyes began to darken. "I won't stay my hand Teyla. Warren McKay deserves the destruction I will visit down upon him."
Teyla took a troubled breath. "I do not deny that Warren McKay is a villainous man John. Nor that his eldest son is his equal in villainy. I merely point out that if you destroy him, there are innocents who will also suffer. Innocents who have done nothing to deserve such a dark fate."
"Innocents always suffer," John responded, his voice cold and low and rough. "It's the way of the world."
Teyla opened her mouth to argue further but closed it almost immediately, holding her tongue. She knew just how far she could push John Sheppard. And she knew that he was an honorable man, despite his occasional vehement protestations to the contrary. He would not destroy the innocent. But he was also a man. And therefore arguing further would only make him more stubborn. No, the best thing to do now was to leave him be. He would come to the realization himself eventually.
Having drawn her conclusion, Teyla calmly swallowed down the rest of her brandy, it was excellent after all, smiled calmly up at the scowling man, and reached up to press a friendly kiss against his stubbled cheek. "I must be going, John. Father will be expecting me home soon."
John fought back the urge to respond with sarcasm. She was only trying to do what she thought was right, meddlesome woman. He also ignored the urge to hit someone since Teyla was the only other person in the room and he didn't hit helpless females. Although, if he called Teyla a helpless female to her face, she'd probably put him on his ass. Her father was the most feared weapons master in London. And he had some odd ideas about how a daughter should be raised. Instead John reined in his temper and offered Teyla a smile, irritated around the edges, but letting the fondness shine through. "Tell me you didn't take a hack again?"
"I did," Teyla smiled impishly. "I am quite fond of utilizing the fine hackney cabs of fair London. And besides," there was a definite sparkle in her eyes now. "This way you can have Ronon escort me home."
John choked back a laugh. "Why don't you leave my manservant alone?" Teyla seemed to enjoy baiting Ronon even more than John did.
Teyla merely smiled mysteriously in response and offered her arm, allowing John to escort her out of the room in search of Ronon.
Their chosen victim was easy to find, coming up to them as soon as they exited, as if he'd been waiting for their appearance. Ronon frowned thunderously down at the two who looked back at him with varying degrees of amusement. Ronon bit back the urge to growl in frustration. Usually his frown was enough to make people scurry away very quickly. Ladies, and a few London dandies, had even been known to faint under its ferocity. It was too damn bad that they seemed to have no impact on Teyla Emmagen at all. Except perhaps to amuse her.
"Is she leaving now?" he asked pointedly.
"Yes, she is leaving now," John smiled blandly up at his manservant. "And you're escorting her home."
Ronon's scowl deepened as he glared down at Teyla. "You took a hack?" His tone was accusatory.
Teyla responded with a sunny smile. "I did indeed Ronon Dex. And you may lecture me about the dangers of hackney cabs on our way back to my father's house." She reached up and tucked her arm into Ronon's and relentlessly began to drag the man forward towards the front entrance.
John watched the two leave and couldn't resist a snort of amusement as he heard Teyla's parting comment to Ronon, "father bought me a new knife yesterday," and Ronon's, interested in spite of himself, grunt "what kind?"
After their departure his amusement faded quickly and he returned to the parlor, pouring a second glass of brandy and settling down into his favorite armchair to brood. Rodney McKay had been a surprise, looking and acting nothing like his demon spawn father and brother. And the man had been afraid of him. Timid against his anger. The only time he'd shown anything besides hesitancy had been when John had asked him about his math. Then his eyes had shone for the briefest moment with true passion, his face becoming animated with it. A McKay as a scholar. John shook his head in disbelief. Who would have thought?
The man would never be able to survive in the real world. Too timid. Too unworldly, too...innocent. No, John realized grimly, without his father's money and protection Rodney McKay would be a lamb left out for slaughter among the wolves. And, if John had his way, he'd soon be without both. John scowled down into his empty glass. Warren and Kavanagh McKay deserved complete and utter ruin and that is what he was going to give them. But Rodney McKay, well, he was another matter. He reluctantly concluded that Teyla was right. Rodney McKay appeared to be an innocent. So what to do?
Chapter 3: A Life Altered
Rodney glanced up, startled, as he heard the polite but firm knocking against his bedroom door. His eyes shot towards the pocket watch lying on his nightstand in alarm before he relaxed. Good, he hadn't missed supper. On the rare occasions that father was home he expected both of his sons to attend him. Being late was unacceptable. But it was only four o'clock in the afternoon and supper was hours away. Reluctantly, he put down his pen and paper and moved to open the door, revealing Betsy, one of the downstairs maids.
"Yes?" he asked the small figure.
"Beggin' your pardon, Master Rodney, but Mister Hodgkins sent me to fetch ye'. Your father be wantin' you in his study." The maid's face was a picture of earnestness.
"Oh, uh, thank you Betsy," Rodney nodded his dismissal of the girl who scampered back down the stairs, clearly happy with her task complete.
Rodney felt no such happiness. It was never good when father wanted to see him. Never. Well, whatever father wanted, it would only get worse if he procrastinated. He picked up his jacket and put it on, hoping to cover the worst of the ink stains. Hurrying to the mirror he hastily tried to make his hair...better. Failing completely, he shook his head ruefully and hastened out of his room and down the stairs. Hopefully whatever lecture father wanted to give him would be a quick one. He'd been in the middle of some interesting theories on dimensions and he wanted to get back to them before the line of reasoning he'd been following faded away.
Reaching father's study he knocked once and at the barked "enter!" he took a deep, bracing breath and walked in. His startled eyes immediately flew to the man standing at ease in his father's study, his shoulder resting against the pale, papered wall. It was John Sheppard.
The man looked cool and collected, not so Rodney's father, who was clearly furious about something and just as clearly trying to conceal it. Rodney knew that temper too well to be fooled. He glanced nervously between the two men. He had told father about Sheppard's message yesterday and it had set the man off on a temper, berating Rodney and the staff over the littlest things for the rest of the evening.
Rodney felt his stomach clench with unease as his father cleared his throat portentously and glared at his youngest son. "I have decided it is time for you to get some experience out in the real world, boy," the older man stated coldly.
"What?" That was the last thing Rodney had expected father to say.
"You heard me," his father sounded furious. "Your whole life you've done nothing but study those books of yours and scribble down your useless theories. You're a disgrace as a gentleman and I will not have it any longer. I've arranged," he shot a venomous look at Sheppard. "I've arranged for you to take employment as Mr. Sheppard's secretary. At least some use may come from your bookishness this way. You're to start immediately. You can go with Sheppard now. I'll have the staff pack your clothing and toiletries and send them over this evening, not that you ever use them," he gave his son's appearance a disdainful sweeping glance.
Rodney reeled from the shock of his father's words. "But, but father I...I can't, I..."
"Silence!" his father roared. "You'll do as I tell you or I'll take a whip to your insolent hide!"
"But, but father, my books," Rodney protested desperately, driven past his fear of his father. He couldn't leave his books behind. His writings! Father would never send them over with his effects. He'd likely burn them instead.
His father rose at his protestations and took a threatening step towards him. Sheppard was suddenly between Rodney and his father, though Rodney hadn't even seen him move. Sheppard raked Rodney's father with a contemptuous stare. "Your son is my employee effective immediately, McKay. And I expect him undamaged." He turned his cool gaze on Rodney. "You have ten minutes to sort through and take whatever books and papers you feel you'll need in your new position."
Rodney seized on this reprieve and immediately turned to rush up to him room to spend every precious moment sorting through his collection. He paused at the door when Sheppard called his name. Heart sinking, he waited for the man to change his mind, but Sheppard just gave a simple warning, "only what you can carry McKay."
Rodney made it up to his room in record time and immediately began sorting through his collection. What should he take? Definitely the Cauchy equations. Oh, and he had to have the five volume Portnash series on applied physics. And he was in the middle of studying Dr. Zalenka's treaty on the advances of math in observation of celestial bodies. And his papers! He rushed to his desk and began pulling out his dissertations. There were so many of them. A lifetime of them. How could he choose?
Nine minutes and fifty-seven seconds later he was ready, terrified that if he was a second late Sheppard would change his mind about allowing him to bring his books. He stumbled down the steps, breathing heavily under the weight of his burden and the panic in his lungs. He had ended up filling two pillow cases with books and papers and they hung from his shoulders like a mad version of Santa Claus' sack of goodies. He struggled to keep the cases from slipping from his grasp and stared entreatingly at Sheppard who was watching him with, to Rodney's flustered mind, unreadable eyes.
With despair Rodney felt one of the overburdened pillow cases slip from his grasp and land with a thud on the carpeted floor, spilling out its contents. "I can carry this," he babbled trying to lean down and refill the bag without spilling the one he still held in a precarious grasp. "It will just take me a moment. Really, I can carry this..." he bit back a wail of despair when the other bag chose that moment to slip. He immediately knelt down and began stuffing books back into the first bag. "I can carry this. I can, I just..." he gazed up in fear as Sheppard grabbed the second fallen case and then gaped in surprise as the man casually slung it over a shoulder.
"Then carry it," Sheppard ordered calmly as he secured the bag. "I haven't got all day."
Eyeing the bag that Sheppard seemed to have every intention of taking with them, Rodney quickly refilled the first pillow case and swung it over his shoulder, staggering slightly but keeping a firm grip with both hands. He followed Sheppard out the door towards the man's waiting carriage and stopped to take a single glance back at the townhouse he had spent so much of his life buried in. Hodgkins stood at the entrance, a look of worry on his normally imperturbable features. Of his father, there was no trace.
Rodney turned back to the carriage and watched Sheppard easily swing the bag of books and papers up onto one of the seats. He motioned for Rodney's own bag and, taking it, swiftly swung it up to sit by its twin. He vaulted into the carriage with one graceful motion and then quirked a finger to beckon Rodney in as well. Rodney much less gracefully scrambled up the step and into the carriage, falling back against the dark blue cushion with a startled 'umf.' Sheppard called something out the carriage window and it took off smoothly, leaving behind Rodney's home. His home. With his anxiety about his books and papers, the enormity of what was happening hadn't had a chance to sink in but it hit him now with the force of a river breaking through a dam. Father had expelled him from their home. He was at the mercy of this man, Sheppard, whom he knew nothing about. He had no illusions that father would welcome him back if he failed to impress Sheppard and was dismissed from his post, or if it proved unbearable, and he wanted to resign. Father had clearly decided to wash his hands of Rodney. But why, Rodney wondered in misery. What had he done? What had changed? Oh, he knew he had always been a disappointment to father but he was a member of the McKay family, a proud and noble name.
Why in God's name was this happening?
Chapter 4: A Carriage Ride
What the hell was he doing?
John watched, unsettled, as Rodney McKay sat across from him, one arm huddled protectively over the sacks that apparently held his most precious possessions. The man had been terrified that he would have to leave them behind, actually trembling with the fear of it. Watching him had been like watching a puppy waiting for the next kick, so conditioned to expect it he didn't even realize he could try to run. John felt the sudden, vicious, urge to return to the house they had just departed and beat Warren McKay to a bloody, broken, pulp for the sheer pleasure of it.
The bastard hadn't put up more than a token argument when John had coolly advised him that he had need of a secretary and that the youngest McKay son would fit the bill. The older McKay had been more upset over the prospect of someone bearing his illustrious name being forced to work for a living than the actual fate of his son, Rodney, whom he clearly held in contempt. Offering to forgive what Warren McKay thought were all of his markers held by Sheppard in return for what amounted to his son's indentured servitude had been an easy decision for the man to make. It didn't surprise John. It only made a stronger argument in his mind that the younger son had some worth and deserved his protection. And now with Rodney McKay under his care he could proceed with his plan to destroy the older males of the family.
Clearly he was doing the best thing here, John assured himself, firmly quashing a niggling hint of doubt. Rodney McKay was clearly better off with him, away from his abusive father. And, hell, he could use a secretary. Ronon was a complete disaster in the role.
He realized that Rodney McKay was now studying him with a flustered and slightly panicked expression on his pale face.
"What?" he asked in irritation, still feeling a litle raw from the scene they'd just departed.
"What...what are my duties going to be?" The question was hesitant.
"Your duties?" John frowned in consideration. He hadn't really thought about the man's duties. He scowled across at McKay, his scowl deepening when the other man flinched back. "Your duties are whatever I say they are," he growled out.
"Yes, I know that," Rodney said, his tone placating. "But, uhm, what, exactly, are those duties going to be?" he persevered, tensing in case Sheppard decided to hit him for being so persistent. Father hated it when Rodney questioned him but sometimes he just couldn't help himself. It only made sense to understand as much as possible about a new thing or situation. And how could you find out if you didn't ask questions and do research?
Sheppard, however, just stared at him in baffled irritation before finally shrugging. "You'll do what secretaries do. You'll sort through my correspondence. You'll run errands for me. You'll take care of paying certain household accounts. You'll scrub the kitchen floors if you irritate me." He closed his eyes and leaned back against the seat cushion, stretching his long legs out, ignoring the thump when he hit McKay's foot with his own and the hurried absence of said foot.
"Uhm, I don't have very good penmanship."
John's eyes flew open. "What?"
"I, uh, I just wanted you to know that I don't have very good penmanship. Awful actually," Rodney confessed nervously. Better Sheppard know that now before Rodney managed to ruin some important correspondence.
John stared blankly at the other man for a moment before shrugging and closing his eyes again. "Can't be worse than mine and Ronon's."
John opened his eyes again and eyed McKay with irritation. He didn't remember the man being this talkative yesterday. "Ronon Dex," he explained through clenched teeth as he felt the beginnings of a headache start up behind his forehead. "He's my manservant and he's been acting as my part-time secretary as well."
"Oh," McKay closed his mouth, obviously working over that bit of data in his mind.
John counted to three. One, two, thr...
"So, uh, he won't be upset that I'll be taking over his position?"
John almost snorted at the thought. "Trust me," he assured the other man dryly. "Being a secretary is not what you would call Ronon's destiny in life. He really won't mind." Actually, Ronon had said "about damn time" when John had told him he was hiring a secretary to help out around the house. Of course, then he'd found out the secretary's name. Ronon had raised an eyebrow in surprise but otherwise kept his face impassive and his thoughts to himself. John wasn't actually sure what kind of welcome Ronon would give the new addition to their household. Ronon wasn't a fan of the McKay's himself. Actually, he had been in favor of just breaking into their house and killing the ones they didn't like.
McKay was still talking. "Are you sure? Because you know, he might just be saying that. I've learned that people tend to be very possessive of their positions and duties and...Ahk!"
John, having realized that if he wanted any silence on the carriage ride home he was going to have to take steps, had leaned forward, his face stopping inches from McKay's own. Without looking away from the wide-eyed stare of the other man, John reached out and randomly pulled a book from the closest pillow case. Eyes narrowed, he shoved the book firmly against McKay's chest. "Shut up and read McKay."
He settled back and half-closed his eyes again, leaving them open just enough to watch the man across from him through the curtain of his lashes. McKay looked down at the book that had been dropped in his lap, looked back up at John, opened his mouth as if about to speak, apparently thought better of it and then opened the book and started to read. After about a half-a-minute he started to mutter to himself about the idiocy of someone named Barrett and how that just couldn't be right and huh, maybe if he combined this theory with Chamber's theory on spacial movements...
John swallowed the sudden urge to grin and continued his pretense of sleep while he watched McKay start to root through the pillow case next to him, apparently searching for this Chamber fellow's text.
It went on like that for the next half-hour as the coach made its wending way back to John's townhouse. By the time the coach pulled to a stop, Rodney had unearthed another four volumes and had them spread out across his lap and the rest of his cushioned bench. A pen had also come out and he was madly scratching away with it on a piece of parchment. John's brewing headache had been forgotten as he'd watched the other man for the rest of the journey, entertained. He had given up his pretense at sleep about halfway through the ride home as McKay was clearly in his own world. In fact, John didn't think McKay would have noticed if he'd started stripping his clothes off in the middle of the carriage. He'd actually had the insane urge to test the theory but had managed to suppress it.
As the carriage rolled to a gentle halt, John sat up and stretched, arching his back while he continued to watch in amusement as McKay continued to scribble. He noted that McKay had been correct. He did, in fact, have horrible penmanship. Good God, even Ronon's was better, a thing John hadn't thought possible. Huh. The secretary plan might need some work.
The carriage door swung open and it was finally enough to jar McKay's attention away from his scribblings. "Oh! We're here," he observed blankly, as if puzzled the trip could have occurred so quickly. He looked down in sudden dismay at the books and papers strewn across the carriage. Blanching, he began gathering them up and stuffing them haphazardly into a pillow case. "I'm sorry," he shot John a worried glance. "I just got a little carried away. It won't happen again," he assured John hastily. "I can be a good secretary. I mean, except for the terrible penmanship part. But I can be a good secretary and I'll keep my books very neat and I won't read them while I'm on duty and I..."
"Shut up McKay," John said, not unkindly. He grabbed one of the sacks and stepped down from the carriage, handing it off to Grey, the footman. "Bring this up to McKay's room. And there's another one in the carriage."
"Yes Sir," Grey gave the impression of saluting even without actually doing so, a leftover from his military time as a corporal under John's command.
McKay climbed down with the other sack clutched in his arms and reluctantly turned it over to the footman when John jerked his head in silent command. John watched with raised eyebrows as Mckay watched the footman enter the house and then actually craned his neck and stood on his toes to try to keep Grey in view as he disappeared.
John resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "He'll keep them safe McKay," John assured the other man, managing to keep most of the sarcasm out of his voice.
"Oh, yes," McKay nodded, his eyes unsure even as he offered John an uncertain smile. "Of course he will." It was as if, without his books and papers, he was suddenly adrift.
"After you," John gestured to the open front entrance.
"Oh, yes, alright then." Rodney McKay looked up at the three story building, took a deep bracing breath, nodded to himself, and started up the steps.
John watched the man enter his home and wondered again what the hell he was doing. He shook his head, ruefully. What's done was done. He started up the steps behind McKay. Anyway, at the very least seeing Ronon and McKay meet was going to be interesting.
Chapter 5: Rodney's New Home
Rodney entered the townhouse, his new home, and looked around with wide, curious eyes. It was uhm...nice, he realized with pleasant surprise. Nicer than father's home actually. The furnishings were rich and uncluttered, the space clean and airy. It contrasted favorably to the McKay townhouse which was dark, heavily furnished and, truth be told, looking a bit shabby these past few years. Rodney amused himself with the thought that father would be furious to know his home suffered in comparison to Sheppard's.
With the thought of Sheppard he turned to surreptitiously study the man who had stopped in the front hall to talk with his butler. John Sheppard puzzled him. He didn't seem to like Rodney very much but that wasn't really the puzzling part. After all, his own family didn't care for him, except perhaps for Jeannie. But Sheppard didn't like father either which was interesting. And he had hired Rodney, a man from a family he seemed to disdain and who had no prior training, to be his secretary.
Even more puzzling still was that, despite the anger Rodney had seen simmering behind Sheppard's eyes most of their short acquaintance, the other man hadn't hit him yet or even yelled at him...much. It just wasn't behavior Rodney understood. In his experience, when people were angry they took it out on those below them, namely their servants and dependents, in the case of his family...him. When father or Kavanagh were in a temper they never hesitated to unleash it, with words, a fist, or on certain unhappy occasions, a belt. Sheppard had done none of those things even when he'd clearly been unhappy with Rodney. In a way, it was making Rodney wary, as he stayed tensed against a blow that had yet to fall.
He heard Sheppard ask the butler where 'Ronon' was. Ah, yes, the man-servant/secretary whom he was apparently replacing. He frowned in worry. Sheppard had said this Ronon wouldn't mind Rodney taking over some of his duties but what if the fellow was secretly nursing a grudge and saw him as a usurper? Rodney gnawed at his lower lip worriedly. Not only would his life be more difficult if the other servant didn't like him but, well, Rodney wanted the man to like him.
Since he'd learned of Ronon Dex's existence, Rodney had been pondering the existence of the other man in the back of his mind. If this man had been acting as Sheppard's secretary then perhaps he had a mind for intellectual pursuits. It had been so long since there had been anyone to talk to about math or history or, well, anything. Rodney thought wistfully that it might be nice to have a friend. Perhaps he might find one in Ronon Dex.
Ronon Dex stood, silent and lethal, concealed in the shadows of the hallway as he observed the man standing in the front entrance. His eyes hard and assessing, Ronon catalogued the other man as a potential threat. This McKay was a decent size but he looked soft and he didn't move like a warrior. Not many in London did. Ronon quickly concluded this man was no physical threat but remained unmoving in the shadows, continuing to study the other man with narrowed eyes. Teyla Emmagen was behind the sudden appearance of this McKay in their midst. He was sure of it. Her visit yesterday and the man's appearance today was not a coincidence.
Sheppard had ended up brooding the night away in his study and this morning, with bruises under his eyes but wearing his characteristic surface smirk, he'd made the announcement that they were hiring a secretary and, oh, by the way, it was going to be Rodney McKay, son of his most hated foe. Definitely Teyla's fault.
Well Teyla may have talked Sheppard into taking McKay in, but Ronon would keep a wary eye on this stranger. Just because he wasn't a threat physically didn't mean he could be trusted. McKay could be a spy for his father. No, he would watch this stranger carefully and let the man know he was being watched. It would make him nervous. Nervous people made mistakes. Ronon let a dangerous smile shape his features and stepped forward, ready to intimidate.
Ronon watched with savage satisfaction as McKay reacted to his emergence from the shadows. McKay's mouth dropped open, his eyes widened fearfully and he instinctively stepped back a pace in retreat. And then Sheppard called a hail of 'Ronon, where have you been?' and Ronon saw the man's face crumple into...disappointment? Ronon frowned, his fearsome expression slipping a little. Why would McKay be disappointed? Fear yes, he could understand and even welcome. But disappointment? The man looked...crushed.
Rodney watched the man called Ronon Dex enter the room and faltered beneath a moment of crushing disappointment. It was ridiculous, he tried to tell himself. He hadn't even known Ronon Dex existed an hour ago and yet he had let himself build up a silly fantasy about a fellow intellectual he could share a friendship with. Now that the truth was made apparent, he felt stupidly foolish at his daydream. My God, this Ronon Dex couldn't be a manservant or a secretary. He was a warrior. A giant of a man who loomed over the room like one of the Greek titans with hair pulled back into fearsome braids and face a dark scowl. And he clearly was not happy to meet one Rodney McKay.
Rodney took another step back, fearful. Father and Kavanagh could hurt him and they weren't anywhere near the size of this man. This man could break him like a child might break a flimsy toy. The sudden touch of a hand on his shoulder made him flinch and he looked back to see Sheppard behind him. He felt briefly comforted by the other man's presence and touch until he felt the hand tighten and begin to propel him firmly forward towards exactly where he didn't want to go. Towards the giant.
"Ronon, this is Rodney McKay," Sheppard began the introductions, his hand still firm on Rodney's shoulder. "McKay, this is Ronon Dex. As I mentioned, Ronon's my manservant and he's been acting as my part-time secretary."
Rodney shot Sheppard a look of complete disbelief. Who did Sheppard think he was kidding? This giant barbarian of a man was not a manservant. A bodyguard or a hired thug maybe. A manservant? The thought was absurd. What game was Sheppard playing?
Sheppard waited for one of the men to say something and grimaced in irritation as they both remained silent. They were just looking at each other with occasional side glances at him. Well, okay, maybe it wasn't such a surprise that McKay wasn't talking. After all, Ronon had entered the room wearing his best 'fear me' glower. It had faded and Ronon was now studying McKay like he was some sort of puzzle. Of course, to the uninformed, Ronon's 'puzzled' glare was only a few glares less scary than his 'fear me' glare. Sheppard shot Ronon a glare of his own. It was his 'say something dammit' glare.
Ronon caught it and shot him a disgruntled look but did turn his gaze back to McKay, his face impassive.
McKay stayed silent, continuing to stare wide-eyed up at Ronon.
John rolled his eyes. "Say Ronon, why don't you take McKay up to his room? Show him the house a little."
Ronon nodded curtly at McKay and turned to head down the hall, not bothering to look back to see if the other man was following.
"Uh, you'd better follow him," John gave McKay a semi-gentle shove.
"Follow?" McKay's eyes swung to John's, practically whirling in alarm. "No, no, I don't think that's a good idea. I think that maybe I should stay here and uh, wait for the rest of my personal effects. And then I'll just, uhm..."
John frowned. Clearly, McKay wasn't going to go off anywhere with Ronon without a little persuasion. John supposed he couldn't really blame him. He sighed. "Right, why don't I go with you?" John gripped McKay's shoulder securely and began propelling him down the hall after the fast departing Ronon, firmly overriding McKay's sputtering protests.
The two walked more slowly than their quarry and Ronon was soon out of sight. That was fine though. They'd catch up with Ronon in McKay's new quarters. Meanwhile, John decided to try to put his new employee at ease. "You know," John tried to point out in a reassuring manner "Ronon may look a little intimidating but he's really not that scary."
"He's not?" McKay sounded doubtful of John's words.
"No, not at all," John lied easily. "He's a real...kitten," he suppressed a grin, "underneath the hair and the scowls."
"A kitten," McKay sounded even more doubtful this time.
"Yeah, a kitten," John reassured, deadpan. Hey, it could even be true if you were talking about a mean-tempered overgrown lion type of kitten. Sort of.
They reached the back stairs and started up the narrow flight. McKay was mulling over something and John figured it was still over how un-kitten like Ronon was, so the man's next words surprised him. "What's my schedule going to be?"
McKay shot him a glance that was somewhere between 'You're not very bright are you?' and 'Don't hit me' that for some reason had John choking back a grin.
"I mean, what do you want me to do during the day and what are my hours? Do I get a, uhm, half day?" He looked like he was trying to figure out a puzzle. "I think that most servants get a half-day off? What, uhm, what days and hours does Ronon work?"
"Uh," John frowned, genuinely baffled. What hours did Ronon work? "He works whenever he has work to get done. I mean he, you know, talks to the butler and the housekeeper. Makes sure things get done around the house. He...lurks. We train a lot..."
"Train?" McKay frowned in confusion and shot John a quizzical stare as they reach the top of the stairs and John firmly steered him to the right. "Train at what?"
"Fighting," John answered absently as he pushed Rodney into the third room on the left and they entered to find Ronon waiting for them with his arms crossed over his chest, looking, John had to admit, very un-kitten like. He saw McKay start to panic again and decided to distract him. "We train most mornings before breakfast. In fact," his eyes narrowed in consideration. "You should train with us. It'll be good for you." Although he had said it to distract McKay from Ronon, it was a good idea. It would be good for McKay to learn how to defend himself.
Hmm. Clearly not a good distraction because McKay was looking even more panicked than before. He seemed to wear that look a lot.
The man's face was pale as he looked at Sheppard in alarm. "No! I don't train. I don't need to train. I'm not at all athletic. And I'm going to be your secretary. Secretaries don't need to know how to fight," McKay argued, his words a quick staccato.
"Mine do," John stated firmly. He turned a questioning look to Ronon. "You've been acting as my secretary and you fight, right?"
"Yeah," Ronon looked amused.
"Well there you go. My secretaries know how to fight," John nodded as if the matter was settled. "So, anyway, these are your quarters," he waved around vaguely. "Uh, here are your books," his mouth quirked into a smile at the look of possession McKay shot towards his precious books even in the middle of his panic.
"When your personal items arrive they'll be brought up. If you get hungry tonight you can ring for one of the maids. They'll bring up a meal." John waved around at the room again. "You can get settled in tonight and Ronon will show you around the house tomorrow after breakfast. Breakfast is at nine, by the way, and we usually work out before then at about half past seven. You'll join us for that." John saw McKay open his mouth to protest again and quickly closed in on the other man, invading his personal space.
With eyes narrowed, John stared into McKay's wild eyes and hardened his tone. "That's not an option, McKay. You will join us for our morning workout." As he expected, with the threat of physical intimidation, the other man quickly deflated and nodded, his face a picture of resignation. John quashed the twinge of guilt. It would be good for him. If ever a man needed to learn how to defend himself, it was Rodney McKay.
"We'll, uh, leave you to get settled in then," he jerked his head at Ronon and the two left the room, John firmly trying to ignore the picture of the rather forlorn looking Rodney McKay standing in the middle of his new quarters.
"Why do you want him to work out with us?" Ronon asked as they both descended back down the stairs.
John shrugged. He didn't feel like talking about the desire to see McKay able to stand up against his father. "It'll be good for him. And it'll give us a chance to add another sparring partner." He firmly ignored Ronon's stare of complete disbelief since, yeah, the dummies they had set up in their training room would probably be more of a challenge right now than McKay.
He decided to change the subject. "So, anyway, tomorrow after breakfast you can start showing McKay around the house, pass off some of your duties to him."
Ronon gave a satisfied grunt. "At least I won't have to write out those stupid responses to invitations anymore. I hate that."
John winced. "Uhm, yeah, about that..."
Chapter 6: Rodney's First Workout
Much to Rodney's annoyance, the English morning emerged unusually bright and cheerful, mocking his own gloomy mood as he stared out the window, pondering the sudden changes to his life. The events of yesterday had happened with bewildering speed and now here he was in unknown territory, surrounded by strangers. Very strange strangers. John Sheppard, the oddly coiffed man who now controlled his fate, was a baffling mystery, harsh one moment, brusquely kind the next. And there was a great big Giant man who was clearly not a man-servant who seemed to roam the halls of casa de Sheppard at will. Rodney felt like a hapless peasant from the faerie tales, fallen asleep on a faerie mound only to wake up in another realm.
It wasn't that he'd been happy in father's household. He had often dreamt of escaping it and going...somewhere, anywhere, else. But at least with father he had known what to expect. This place, well, he had no idea what to expect.
Well, perhaps breakfast would shed some light on his new life. Sheppard had seemed baffled by Rodney's questions of what, exactly, his duties would include and even what his hours were to be. Hopefully Ronon Dex would be a little more specific than 'handling errands' and 'sorting mail'. Rodney winced at the thought of spending time alone with Ronon Dex, the mysterious and very scary man who looked like a soldier or a thug and had eyed Rodney last night as if he was considering a beheading for fun. And this was the man who was supposed to show Rodney how to take up his new duties? Rodney sighed. The man didn't even look like he knew how to read.
The thought of the warrior brought to mind the only thing Sheppard had seemed firm about last night, Rodney joining their 'training' session this morning. His stomach clenched at the idea as memories rose up of other 'training' situations with Kavanagh throughout his youth. As children they had often taken lessons together, being only two years apart in age. The older boy had taken full advantage of what two years awarded him in height and bulk, malicious in his delight of physically intimidating Rodney in the name of sport. Oh God, the very worst had been the boxing lessons.
It had been the summer he had turned twelve. The family had made their annual trek to London for the Season and father had decided it was high time his sons learned the manly art of boxing. Despite Rodney's dread of all things physical, the first lesson had left him cautiously enthusiastic. The boxing master father had engaged had been a stern man but brusquely kind, and unexpectedly patient with young Rodney's hesitation and awkwardness. The man had kept Kavanagh in check and had even scolded the other boy for being too rough with his younger brother. At the end of the lesson, the Master had told Rodney that if he practiced enough and was disciplined in his study, he could grow to become a skilled boxer one day. The small encouragement had lit up a place in Rodney that he hadn't even realized was hiding barren in the dark.
Then the boxing master had left and Kavanagh, unhappy at the master's scolding, had insisted they should 'practice' on their own. The older, larger boy had easily fended off Rodney's weaker blows and proceeded to beat Rodney bloody. It was as if every blow had stripped away the fragile new enthusiasm that had taken such tentative root. When father had seen Rodney' battered face and bruised body, he'd sneered and commented that it was a shame his youngest son was such a weakling and Rodney had felt the light snuffed out for good. The weeks that followed had been sheer hell as, trapped in the relatively small enclosures of the townhouse, Rodney had no escape from the 'practices' which Kavanagh kept forcing on him. And when the boxing master in concern had gone to Rodney's father, the man had been summarily dismissed for his insolence. Rodney had been pathetically grateful when the London season had finally ended that year and they had returned to the countryside where he had the outdoors to hide from Kavanagh until the other boy tired of the sport.
And now he was about to be forced to spar with two men who seemed far more dangerous than Kavanagh. Even Sheppard, who wasn't much different in size from Kavanagh and who was, by every appearance, a gentleman somehow gave off an aura of ruthless capability that Kavanagh had never possessed at his most enraged. Not to mention Sheppard was his employer whom he could not afford to offend. The other man, well, Ronon Dex was clearly part Giant and he could probably crush Rodney's skull with one flick of an enormous hand. The situation did not look good.
Rodney wondered if he just hid in his room all morning whether they might forget about him. But hiding never really worked. It just made whoever you were hiding from even more angry when they were forced to fetch you and the resulting lesson or lecture or punishment became that much more unpleasant. Besides, if Sheppard became angry enough he could fire Rodney and he had nowhere else to go. No, Rodney, realized with dread, he was going to have to do this. Taking a deep, bracing breath, he reluctantly moved to open the door to his quarters and let out a rather unmanly yelp as he watched a fist descending towards him.
John Sheppard stood on the other side of the door, fist frozen an inch from Rodney's wide eyed face. After a startled blink the other man smiled, letting his hand fall. "Good," Sheppard nodded approvingly. "You're ready." He waited for Rodney to exit the room and then fell in step beside him, clearly intent on making sure there was no escape. "So did your belongings arrive safely last night?"
"Oh, uh, yes, thank you," Rodney nodded stiffly. His rather pathetically small amount of personal articles, other than his books of course, had been delivered by one of the McKay footmen shortly before dark. It hadn't taken him more than ten minutes to unpack.
"Good," Sheppard nodded again. They reached the first floor and he steered Rodney down a hallway and into a...ballroom? Rodney blinked in surprise. They were standing at the entrance of a small ballroom but it was clearly no longer used as such. There was some sort of padded mat covering most of the floor that made it springy against his step. Wide eyed, Rodney noticed a rack of weapons set up to one side of the room and a series of balls and weights on the other. He scanned the room further and saw several dummies and heavy bags hung from the ceiling set up in different areas of the room. He stepped back without realizing it, intimidated by the sight of all the apparatus. This room was so...serious about the art of war. Rodney jerked back nervously as Sheppard walked around and turned to face him, contemplating Rodney with a speculative air, his green eyes cool.
"What?" Rodney asked, self-conscious under the weight of Sheppard's gaze.
Sheppard cocked his head to one side, continuing his narrow eyed assessment. "Well," he mused appraisingly, "you're a decent size and you don't seem too unhealthy. Not like some academics I've known." He arched a brow in inquiry. "Have you ever done any sort of fighting or exercising or physical activity? Riding, fencing...?" he trailed off questioningly.
Rodney flashed back on his aborted boxing lessons and swallowed the sudden urge to flee the room and/or vomit, instead shaking his head violently in denial. "No! Look, I told you I'm not athletic and I meant it," he insisted. "You don't want me to train with you. I won't be any good at it and you'll just get upset because I'm so bad. I can watch you train. I'm a very good observer. I can sit over here and take notes," he offered hopefully, pointing to an out of the way corner.
Sheppard arched a brow skeptically. "Taking notes isn't going to teach you how to fight, McKay."
"Yes it will," Rodney argued, stung. "You can learn anything from books. The greatest method of learning in the world is to read."
"And I know that people like you don't think that books are worth anything but they are," Rodney insisted, upset enough to override Sheppard. "The ability to record our thoughts and ideas and pass them on to countless generations is one of the greatest things about humanity and I..."
Rodney stopped, eyeing Sheppard apprehensively.
Rodney relaxed a little. Sheppard didn't seem too upset by his little rant and...what? "What?" he gaped, staring shocked. Had Sheppard just agreed with him?
"I said you're right," Sheppard quirked a smile at him, green eyes gleaming in wry amusement. "Reading is an invaluable tool for learning."
Rodney could only blink in shock, still trying to process the fact that John Sheppard had just agreed with him. No one ever agreed with him. Not that he wasn't usually right but people just never seemed to realize that and...oh, and he was still gaping at Sheppard like an idiot. Rodney quickly closed his mouth. "Oh. Well then..."
"But," Sheppard continued implacably, crossing his arms in emphasis, "books will only give you theoretical knowledge. Books won't help in acquiring hands-on practical experience. That only comes with actual experimentation and application of theories."
"But I don't need hands on practical experience," Rodney argued somewhat desperately. What Sheppard said was logical and Rodney wasn't used to having logic thrown at him. He was used to being overridden by scorn and brute force. Having to argue against actual logic was throwing his normally quicksilver mind off course.
Sheppard raised a skeptical brow at him. The man had very expressive brows really. Actually he had expressive hair in general. "So if you're walking home from some math club meeting and you're accosted by thieves, you don't need to know how to defend yourself from them?"
Rodney looked resentfully at Sheppard. The man was wearing a loose shirt and breeches which showed off his annoyingly fit body. What did he know about being awkward and clumsy and weak? "Oh, come now, Mr. Sheppard, be realistic. If I'm walking home and get accosted by two thugs I'll be either injured or dead," he reasoned flatly. "No amount of 'training' is going to be able to overcome the fact that I have no physical coordination or abilities. I wouldn't be able to stand against one assailant, let alone two."
"That's not true," Sheppard shook his head in stubborn disagreement. "Anyone can learn to defend themselves. And yes, maybe you might not be able to take on five or even two assailants but you can learn how to defend yourself until help arrives or you can find the opportunity to escape. Right Ronon?" he turned to ask the other man as Ronon Dex strode into the ballroom, just as big and scary as Rodney remembered from the previous night.
Ronon grunted his agreement but didn't stop as he grabbed a towel from a cabinet and continued on to the other end of the room where he proceeded to immediately move into some sort of series of patterned movements, graceful and slow.
Rodney watched Ronon curiously, momentarily distracted. The man was fascinating to watch when his attention wasn't actually on you. Rodney didn't recognize the moves the man was making but they were as compelling and intricate as a dance. For a big man, he moved with surprising grace and lightness. Shaking his head, Rodney focused back on Sheppard and their argument, uh, discussion.
"Escape?" he frowned. He was surprised that Sheppard, an English gentleman, would even mention the word. Father, Kavanagh and most of their acquaintances often ended an evening boasting of the military might of the Empire, discussing battles where British soldiers had fought and often died facing overwhelming odds as if, somehow, the glory belonged to these soft men who sat in their pristine coats and cravats, drinking brandy and taking snuff.
"Yes, escape," Sheppard responded dryly, obviously catching Rodney's surprise. "It's considered sound military strategy to retreat when outnumbered or outgunned. Ask any soldier. Well," Sheppard snorted in disgust, "ask any soldier who's actually been in battle."
Rodney looked at Sheppard uncertainly as he watched darkness start to rise in the other man's eyes but even as he began to be nervous he watched Sheppard shake it off and grin at him, his eyes clear once more. "Look, let's warm up and we'll try a few things all right," Sheppard offered, his tone somehow both cajoling and implacable. "We'll take it slow."
Seeing no other choice, Rodney reluctantly followed Sheppard to one of the mats which covered the floor and was directed through a series of exercises which soon left him red faced and panting with exertion. After the first minute he seriously began considering complaining, which might get him a blow or two but would at least let him stop exercising, but frankly he was too out of breath by then to complain. At the end of what the large clock standing in one corner of the room announced was ten minutes but which had to be wrong because it had to have been at least an hour, at least, Rodney leaned over, wheezing for breath as Sheppard sprang up like a cat, breathing easily and, Rodney noticed resentfully, looking ready and able to run around all of bloody England.
"Good warm up," Sheppard nodded approvingly. "Let's start your first lesson."
Start? Rodney looked at Sheppard in disbelief, barely resisting the urge to sink to the floor and cry. The 'warm up' had left him ready for a nap. And, oh God, he was hungry.
"I think I should start slowly," he protested weakly, wheezing out the words. "Don't want to overdo it. I mean...I think this was a solid first day. I learned a great deal." He tried to look like he had learned a great deal. "I really think I should take the rest of the day to mentally absorb what I've learned and contemplate the lesson to gain the maximum benefits. Why don't we, uh, start again tomorrow?" he offered hopefully, suppressing a shudder at the thought that, oh God, he was actually going to have to do this again tomorrow.
Sheppard just rolled his eyes. "I think you can handle a little more." He looked over to where Ronon Dex was and Rodney's eyes followed. The man was now moving through a complicated series of movements at lightning speed, holding two short sticks in his enormous hands. Rodney felt his beleaguered breath catch and his eyes widen in horror when it appeared that Sheppard might call the man over. He nearly collapsed into a boneless heap of relief when, instead of calling Ronon, Sheppard instead gave a sort of 'hmnf' and turned his attention back to Rodney, piercing him with intent green eyes.
"All right, in addition to working on improving your strength I'm going to start teaching you a series of different movements that you can use to defend yourself. I'm not going to teach you boxing," Sheppard warned. "Most men have at least some experience with boxing and you'd be at a disadvantage trying to play catch up. The point of this is to teach you how to keep from getting hurt by someone else so I'm going to be teaching you some basic moves I've picked up over the years."
Rodney frowned. "Basic moves?"
"Yeah," Sheppard rolled his neck and fell into a sort of crouching position, knees bent, eyes alert under his thatch of spiky hair. "Basically they're just moves from a lot of different countries and styles which I've picked up in my travels. They come in handy and they'll be even more effective because most men won't be expecting them from you." He nodded encouragingly at Rodney. "Now, I want you to attack me."
"What?" Rodney immediately began shaking his head in denial. "No, no, no, I can't do that."
Sheppard frowned. "Look, I'm not going to hurt you McKay. I just want to show you a move to defend yourself. I'll show it to you a few times and then you can start practicing it on me."
Rodney just shook his head some more. This was not a good idea. Maybe Sheppard would get mad at him for not trying but at least Rodney would be spared the humiliation of being utterly defeated and the man looked so...lethal just standing there poised to do...whatever he was poised to do.
Sheppard had stood back up from his crouch and now stared at Rodney, exasperation showing from narrowed eyes. "Look McKay," he said in slow, even tones, as if he was trying to be patient and failing. "We'll do the whole thing in slow motion. Just come at me slowly like you're trying to hit me." He made an encouraging gesture with his hands.
Rodney just stood silent, shaking his head in denial.
Sheppard sighed, annoyance clearly starting to win over patience, and advanced on Rodney, ignoring the way Rodney retreated. "What, exactly, is the problem McKay?" he asked through gritted teeth.
Rodney just kept shaking his head, unable and unwilling to tell Sheppard why he wouldn't—couldn't—attack the other man. And suddenly it wasn't just Sheppard that he saw. It was like Kavanagh was right there too, demanding that Rodney try to hit him and then taking the opportunity to administer a gleefully savage beating in return. Rodney fought the sudden, desperate, urge to run. He couldn't do that either because Kavanagh—he shook his head angrily—Sheppard would get angrier and punish him.
"McKay?" The question was tentative now.
"Okay look," Sheppard said finally after another moment of silence, punctuated by the harsh sound of Rodney breathing. "Just tell me why you won't try to hit me." His voice had lost the irritation and his tone was now low and soothing and Rodney felt part of himself responding even as he kept shaking his head in denial.
"Are you afraid I'm going to get mad if you hit me?" John's voice was probing.
Rodney shot him a swift glance of confirmation.
"I won't get mad McKay, Rodney, I promise," his voice was cajoling now, the annoyance gone from his voice. Sheppard indicated Ronon who had moved on to a large staff and was whirling across his half of the ballroom in a deadly ballet of grace. "Ronon hits me all the time, all the time, and I don't get mad at him."
Well, yeah, Rodney thought resentfully. Ronon was a huge killing machine. It would be suicidal to get mad at him.
At the lack of response from Rodney, Sheppard frowned, considering. "Look, your books looked pretty old from what I could tell last night," he suddenly said, changing the subject seemingly at random.
Rodney stiffened in alarm. Was Sheppard going to threaten to take away his books if he didn't cooperate?
Seeing Rodney's reaction, Sheppard immediately made a soothing gesture with his hands. "They're very nice books and they're yours to do with as you want. But wouldn't you like some new ones?"
"New ones?" Rodney blinked in surprise at Sheppard.
"Yeah," Sheppard smiled as the idea crystallized in his head. "Tell you what, if you hit me, I give you my word that not only will I not get upset but I'll give you a reward. I'll buy you new books."
He smiled encouragingly when Rodney straightened up, eyes widening at the thought. "After breakfast we'll go to a bookstore I know. It specializes in reference materials. Probably has some great new math books you haven't seen yet," Sheppard almost crooned.
"I, I don't have any money," Rodney answered hesitantly, the idea of new books making his stomach twist in longing. When he had first finished up with school and been a young man about town he had gotten a quarterly allowance. Not as much as Kavanagh's of course, but something. When father had found out Rodney was spending it all on books and papers and memberships to science clubs instead of gentleman's attire, cigars, snuff and all of the other boring items necessary to be a proper gentleman and which Rodney had no interest in, he had cut Rodney completely off. Now if Rodney wanted anything he was required to have it approved in advance by father. Or he had been required. Rodney realized with shock that he didn't depend on father anymore. He had realized it last night, of course, but the full implications hadn't quite sunk in.
"You don't have any money?" Sheppard said in surprise before his eyes darkened again. Before Rodney could have time to get nervous at the shadows in his eyes, Sheppard smiled again, the darkness vanishing like quicksilver.
"Well, I can give you an advance on your first payday," the other man offered. "You can use it if you, uh, need anything. But the books today will be from me. As a reward," he emphasized.
"You want me to hit you and you'll buy me books if I do," Rodney stated flatly. It had to be trick. Didn't it? And, wait, he was going to get paid? He hadn't really thought about that but, if he was working then of course he was going to get paid. The idea of having his own money flickered inside of him like a tiny light.
"Yes," John nodded emphatically. "Look, just hit me once," he tapped his jaw with his index finger. "Just hit me one time."
Still cautious to trust the other man, but desperate for the lure of fresh materials, Rodney hesitantly stepped forward and lifted his hands in the boxing pose he remembered from so many years ago. Half-heartedly he swung out and gently tapped the other man on the cheekbone. It didn't even make Sheppard blink.
Sheppard stared at him, exasperation in his eyes, but his voice remained unexpectedly gentle. "All right Rodney that was pretty good but you want to hit a little harder. Use your body all right?" He demonstrated briefly, throwing a quick jab into the air. "Come on," he grinned. "If you want the books you have to at least hit me hard enough to make me feel it."
Rodney suppressed a groan, closed his eyes and swung blindly. His fist connected solidly against flesh and, the shock of it running through his arm, he opened his eyes to see Sheppard stagger back a step, blinking rapidly as he raised a hand to rub at his jaw. Oh God. Rodney hunched protectively and closed his eyes, waiting for the blow to fall. When nothing happened he hesitantly looked up and nearly fell over in surprise when he realized that Sheppard was actually grinning.
"Hey, not bad, McKay. Not bad at all. All right," he made an encouraging motion. "Let's try that again."
Rodney sighed. Was he ever going to get breakfast?
Chapter 7: Breakfast In The Sheppard Household
John watched in morbid fascination as Rodney McKay consumed enough food to feed John's entire old regiment. It was really an understatement to say the man could eat. After inquiring anxiously whether there was citrus in any of the dishes or side sauces and throwing a minor fit over the fact that one of the maids, Suzy, tried to serve him orange juice, the man had dug into breakfast with the enthusiasm of a starving man. While John wouldn't have put it past McKay's bastard of a father to starve his son, well, McKay didn't look starved. He wasn't overweight exactly, but he had some padding. Not bad padding, just...padding. No, apparently, McKay just really liked to eat. And eat.
Ronon was wolfing down his own food, casting suspicious looks at McKay once in awhile, and John made a mental note as he watched the fast disappearing spread that they were going to have to start ordering more food. Oh well, that was Ronon's job anyway.
John's thoughts flashed back to the workout session of the morning and he suppressed a grin. Rodney McKay clearly did not appreciate the art of physical fitness and there had been a few moments when he had thought the other man would just sit down and refuse to move. But fear of John and a certain innate stubbornness that seemed to have survived his family intact had kept McKay wheezing along. Once he'd gotten the other man to take a swing at him McKay had been a lot more cooperative, if not exactly enthusiastic, and John had spent the rest of their time leading him through one basic defensive move, a simple block and throw. The lesson had ended up going surprisingly well. McKay wasn't the most graceful John had ever seen but he actually wasn't a complete klutz either. With enough practice the man should be able to defend himself. From strangers and from family John thought darkly.
And at least he now knew one way to tempt Rodney McKay into doing something he didn't want to do. Promise to buy him books. John felt his teeth clench as he remembered McKay's comment that he didn't have any money. Jesus, the man had practically been a prisoner of his family. If he didn't already have good reason to see Warren McKay brought to ruin, the bastard's treatment of his youngest son was reason enough.
John made a mental note to have the carriage made ready for their book buying expedition and his mood lightened as he thought about how much Rodney McKay was going to love Thessel's bookstore. Taking a small drink of orange juice, he noticed McKay wince at the sight and wondered how serious the man's allergy to citrus really was. True, McKay could be overreacting but then again, maybe not. At his first posting, John had been stunned when a fellow Lieutenant, the picture of robust health had been sent to an early grave by a single, innocuous bee sting. No, as amusing as McKay's reaction to the very sight of orange juice might be, John made a mental note to have a word with the cook. Couldn't accidentally poison the man he was trying to save. Bad form.
John offered McKay a lazy smile, watching the other man tentatively smile back. "So, after breakfast you can spend some time with Ronon, get the job description and everything, and then this afternoon we can head over to Thessel's," John outlined.
McKay immediately turned to shoot Ronon an alarmed stare, before mumbling around his last bit of food "Thessel's?"
"Yeah, the bookstore I was telling you about," John offered.
"Oh!" McKay practically beamed at the thought of the upcoming visit. "So, you...you were serious?"
John frowned. "I'm a man of my word McKay," he answered simply before turning to shoot an inquiring look at Ronon. "You want to come?" John asked, although he was pretty sure the answer was going to be...
"No," Ronon shot John a supremely uninterested look and stabbed another three pieces of ham off of the platter in front of him.
"Right, didn't think so," John muttered. Ronon Dex was by no means stupid. His physical build and taciturn speech masked a clever mind. And put him in his element of the battlefield or hunting ground and he could be brilliant but, in spite of John's attempts over the years, the man just did not like to read.
Rodney happily stuffed himself with the excellent repast. His morning workout, of which the less thought about the better, had left him ravenous and he had almost burst into tears of gratitude when he came down from cleaning up to see that John Sheppard apparently approved of food. Good food. Large quantities of good food.
Although, after seeing the man eat practically nothing since the start of breakfast, Rodney decided he had Ronon Dex to thank for the quantity part. After all, the man clearly had to eat about the equivalent of a cow a day to fuel his freakish size. But the quality of the food was excellent too, the chef much better than father's. There was bacon, ham, poached eggs, biscuits, hash and, except for the unfortunate orange juice incident, no other citrus in sight. He sighed happily over a mouthful of well seasoned ham and eggs. Even the thought of spending time after breakfast alone with Ronon Dex couldn't quite dim his appreciation of the repast. After all, if the Giant decided to kill him, at least Rodney would have had an excellent last meal.
As he ate, he thought back to the workout he had endured. Aside from the fact of, well, exercise, it really hadn't been that bad. To Rodney's disbelief, Sheppard had been true to his word and hadn't gotten upset with Rodney for being hit. No, if anything, the strange, strange man had actually been happy about it. And he had been unexpectedly patient about showing Rodney how to block a punch and at the same time flip the attacker to the ground. The first few times Rodney had tried it, well, ludicrous was probably too kind a word but Sheppard hadn't laughed at him and had carefully, in slow motion so Rodney wouldn't get hurt, taken him through the moves again and again until finally Rodney managed to throw Sheppard. The man had just lain on the floor, propped himself up on his elbows, and flashed him a blinding grin of approval. It had left Rodney with a warm feeling of accomplishment as if he had managed something monumentally impressive instead of a throw that Sheppard could probably do in his sleep.
As he noticed his plate starting to empty Rodney looked around for more food. Not only could he still fit a biscuit or two in his happily humming stomach but the longer breakfast lasted, well, the longer he could put off spending time with Ronon Dex. He shot the man a surreptitious look. Yes, still very scary. Maybe...maybe if he tried to get to know Mr. Dex a little bit, Rodney mulled. Now, while the man's attention was focused mainly on his food and while Sheppard was here to protect Rodney in case one of his questions set the other man off on a murderous rage or something.
"Uhm, say Mr. Dex," Rodney cleared his throat hesitantly and resisted the urge to duck his attention back down to his much safer and more appealing plate of food when the other man looked at him. Was it an angry look? Did he look upset at having his meal interrupted? It was hard to tell. Every look Ronon Dex gave him seemed vaguely homicidal. Swallowing heavily he offered the other man a tentative smile while wondering why he had thought this was a good idea. "Uh, how did you meet Mr. Sheppard? Was it in the military?"
Ronon stared across at Rodney silently for a brief moment and Rodney was starting to plan exactly how he would duck under the table if the man decided to lunge at him when Ronon shrugged and said "no."
Rodney suppressed a sigh and couldn't help shooting Sheppard a 'you expect this man to teach me to be a secretary without talking?' look.
Sheppard grinned, not bothering to hide his amusement. "Actually it was right after I got out of the navy," he followed up, after the silence stretched out and it became clear Ronon was done talking. "I was in India on business. Ronon was working freelance for a local prince. There was a little...misunderstanding," Sheppard shot Ronon a wry glance, "and after we decided not to kill each other,"—Rodney's sharp ears caught a muttered 'after I decided not to kill you' from Ronon—"we sort of ended up running from a third faction of bad guys for a few days. It was a bonding experience, you might say," Sheppard finished.
"Oh," Rodney managed. "That sounds like it was, uh, adventurous."
Sheppard shot him a wicked grin which sent Rodney's stomach into an odd loop. "Adventurous definitely applied."
"How long were you in India?" Rodney asked curiously.
"About three years," Sheppard answered, as he leisurely took another drink of juice and Rodney suppressed the urge to wince at the sight of anyone drinking liquid death.
"Are you, uhm, from India?" Rodney turned back to Ronon, deciding to try again.
Rodney barely bit back a sigh. Perhaps it was time to give up. After all, at least the man had actually answered his questions and hadn't killed him or ripped off any limbs. That was positive right?
Sheppard though apparently decided to continue Rodney's line of questioning. "Well, say Ronon, where are you from?" he asked dryly, prodding the other man on.
Ronon shot Sheppard an annoyed look. "You know where I'm from."
Rodney watched Sheppard roll his eyes. "Yeah, but McKay doesn't."
Ronon stopped eating for a moment and although his expression didn't change, Rodney could somehow hear a mental huff of pure disgust.
"I'm from an island called Sateda," the large man finally offered.
"Sateda," Rodney frowned at the name. "Wait, I think I've read something about Sateda. It's in," he sorted through his memories, "Polynesia isn't it?"
This managed to earn him a surprised second stare.
"How did you end up all the way in India?" Rodney asked, genuinely curious at what had led the man so far from home.
"Oh," Rodney felt his shoulders slump in defeat. He saw Sheppard open his mouth, possibly to prod at Ronon some more when the attention of all three men was drawn to the sound of the door opening and Rodney felt his mouth drop open in shock as the last person he would have ever expected to see strolled through the door, smiling warmly at the men.
"Teyla!" he cried out in surprise, rising automatically at the presence of the woman. What on earth was Teyla Emmagen doing here? Apparently it was not an uncommon event to the other men because Sheppard just shook his head and walked over to greet her.
"Teyla, you do remember that thing I keep saying about how proper women don't go around visiting the homes of bachelors?" Sheppard mentioned even as he reached down to kiss her on the cheek in greeting.
"Yes, you have mentioned that rule quite often, as I recall," Teyla smiled up at him. "And as you may recall I have mentioned just as often that I do not find it proper to abide by foolish rules. Besides," she nodded cordially to Ronon, smiling in the face of his narrow eyed glare, "my father is a commoner and my mother was foreign born. I am already considered 'not good ton'."
Sheppard scowled at that. "Your father is the most brilliant swordsman that London has ever seen and your mother was a foreign born princess. London should be at your bloody feet."
Teyla merely smiled wryly. "Yes, well, not all of London is as...open-minded as you are John."
"London is filled with fools," Ronon uttered darkly as he scooped up a large slice of egg. Teyla Emmagen, as annoying as she could be, was worth far more than any boring, pampered, London milk and water socialite.
Teyla's smile widened at Ronon's defense and the quick unguarded look she shot the other man as he focused on his food had John reconsidering his previous notions that Teyla's 'Ronon-baiting' was for entertainment value only. Huh.
"In any event, I desired to greet Rodney in his new home." Teyla crossed over to Rodney and offered him a simple hug.
"Wait, but what are you doing here? I mean, how did you know I was here? You know Mr. Sheppard?" Rodney turned to shoot Sheppard a puzzled stare.
"Yes," Teyla nodded. "I am well acquainted with John. We met some time ago through my father. In fact, I was the one who suggested that you would make a fine secretary," she offered serenely.
"You did?" Rodney gaped at her now. Although he had entertained more than a few daydreams involving Teyla Emmagen he honestly hadn't thought she had ever given him a second thought after their one chance meeting. He had run into Teyla at the British Museum in the natural sciences wing one day last summer. She had been beautiful and clever and nice to him and he had been half in love with her by the end of their meeting. He had desperately wanted to see her again and had even braved a few of the social events he had been automatically invited to as a member of the McKay family but, not seeing her at any of them, he had soon returned to his habit of shunning parties. She was to blame for his being here? He felt torn between anger and an odd thankfulness. "But why would you do that?"
"I..." he watched her hesitate. "I thought that you might want the opportunity to experience life outside your father's house," Teyla finally said carefully. "Was I wrong to suggest it Rodney?"
Rodney thought of his father's anger yesterday and the fact that he had not been given a choice in the matter. He thought of John Sheppard, watching him now with a casual interest which was belied by a certain tension in his lean frame. He thought of the lesson this morning, the promise of books, the food he was eating and his uncertain place in this new world. He sighed. Teyla couldn't have known father would force him to accept this job. She had thought she was helping him. And, a voice in the back of his head whispered, perhaps she had. He managed an awkward smile and said somewhat stiffly "it was good of you to think of me Teyla."
Teyla beamed up at him and his smile softened foolishly. God, she really was as beautiful as he remembered.
Sheppard reached over to pull out the chair to his right and offered Teyla a boyish lop-sided smile as he indicated the chair. "Well, you're here, are you hungry? You might as well help us polish off breakfast."
"You appear to be doing quite a fine job of that on your own," Teyla observed in amusement, as she allowed herself to be seated and viewed the demolished platters of food.
"It's these two," Sheppard nodded ruefully at Rodney and Ronon. "I thought Ronon could eat but McKay gives him a run for his money."
Rodney looked down a bit guiltily at his plate but then firmly scooped up another bite of ham, hastily stuffing it in his mouth. Food was important. Besides what if Sheppard didn't always set his table like this or the man got angry and fired him? What if he ended up cast out on the streets penniless? Alarmed, he reached out and stabbed the last slab of ham, moving it to his plate.
"I could do with some tea if that is not too much trouble," Teyla smiled at Suzy who hurried over with a pot of the steaming brew and a cheerful smile.
"So Rodney, is your new job to your liking?" Teyla looked at him inquiringly.
"Well, uh, it's my first day and no one's actually told me what my job really is so far," Rodney admitted.
"I told you," Sheppard responded mildly.
"Yes, uh, your explanation was rather broad Mr. Sheppard," Rodney couldn't stop himself from replying rather apologetically.
"Well, I knew you were going to be talking to Ronon today," Sheppard defended himself easily. "No sense in repeating everything twice."
"Besides, he doesn't have a clue what I do," Ronon added, a hint of amusement barely detectable in his deep voice.
"Hey! That is not true," Sheppard defended, frowning over at Ronon. "I know what you do."
Ronon just raised one eyebrow in skeptical rebuttal.
"I do," Sheppard insisted, scowling now at the other man.
"Really? So how much does Suzy here make and what's her day off?" Ronon asked, a smile playing across his face as he tossed his head to indicate the young maid who was clearly trying to quash a giggle at the conversation.
"Well, I don't know all the little details," John responded indignantly. "But I know you handle the household accounts."
"Perhaps John is just...big picture, Ronon," Teyla offered, an amused smile of her own hiding behind her teacup.
"Is that what you call it?" Ronon snorted as Rodney watched with the interplay with fascinated eyes. He tried to imagine this same scene with father and Kavanagh at the table. Any servant who talked to father with such lack of respect would have been beaten and then dismissed without reference. Of course, even father would have hesitated about hitting a man the size and fierceness of Ronon Dex but still, he would never have stood for such teasing even from Kavanagh, his pride and joy. He would have seen it as an attack against his authority. Sheppard was frowning but he didn't appear to be genuinely upset. If anything, he looked almost amused at the banter that continued to flow around them. The man continued to be a surprise to Rodney. He was so different from father or the other men of society Rodney had known. Or at least he appeared to be different. Rodney felt himself wanting to like the man, to trust him. That was dangerous and yet...Teyla and Ronon and Sheppard seemed so...at ease with each other, Rodney thought wistfully. So friendly. Maybe he could really trust Sheppard? Trust him not to hurt him? But what if he said something to upset the man? Would Sheppard turn on him? Would he hurt him? Rodney frowned down at his now empty plate, considering.
"Something on your mind McKay?" Sheppard asked, causing Rodney to look up at the other man who was studying him calmly with what Rodney could swear almost looked like concern hiding in the depths of his eyes.
"Oh, yes," Rodney smiled hesitantly. "I was just thinking..." he made a quick mental decision to test his newly developed theory and push...a little. "You have very strange hair," he offered then forced himself to keep watching Sheppard cautiously for his reaction.
"I...what?" Sheppard looked both amused and affronted, one hand going automatically up to self-consciously pat his thick spiky hair. "I do not!"
"Yeah you do," Ronon argued, tossing Sheppard a quick glance of amusement.
"Oh, please, you do not get to say anything about anyone's hair," Sheppard ordered as he eyed the other man's wild braids. "And what is this," he scowled at the table in general, "pick on John Sheppard hour?"
Teyla, who had begun giggling after Rodney's comment, piped in "if it is John, then might I add that I am not very fond of the waistcoat which you are currently wearing?"
Sheppard looked down indignantly at his striped waistcoat—which Rodney actually thought was quite fine—and crossed his arms in affront, awarding all three of them a narrowed eyed glare which to Rodney's wary eye, didn't seem to hold a real threat. "Oh, I see how this is, the three of you ganging up on me," Sheppard turned to gaze at Teyla with wounded eyes, "I am shocked that you would take part in this while you're an honored a guest in this home. I gave you tea. Good tea."
"Very good tea," Teyla agreed blandly, taking another sip.
"And you. You work for me," he pointed dangerously at Ronon. "You too," he turned to point just as dangerously at Rodney who shrank back a little despite being almost sure that Sheppard was still playing. "I could dock your pay you know."
"I control the household accounts, remember?" Ronon responded dryly.
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Then you can dock your pay for me. Remind me to bring you back a book on manners too." He turned to Teyla, "do you want to go to Thessel's with us?" he offered.
"Thessel's?" Teyla inquired.
"A bookstore I discovered a few months ago. I promised McKay some new books. He really likes them," Sheppard indicated, throwing a smile Rodney's way. "I tried to get Ronon to come too, but you know him. He'd rather stay here and play with his knives," he smirked at the other man who grunted in agreement.
"Ah, well then, I would love to accompany you," Teyla smiled.
"All right then, I was going to have McKay spend some time with Ronon learning about his job duties before we went, but since you're here we can just go now and McKay and Ronon can meet later today." Sheppard turned to raise an inquiring eyebrow at Rodney. "If that's all right with you?"
"Perfectly fine," Rodney nodded hastily. Because...books and putting off spending time alone with Ronon...both very good things.
Sheppard smirked as if he knew exactly what was going through Rodney's mind. Rising he dropped his napkin on the table and nodded to the rest of the party, "I'll go have the carriage made ready. We can leave in about ten minutes." He smiled wryly, "feel free to continue insulting me while I'm gone."
"We will make every attempt to do so," Teyla responded, her face serious while her eyes danced in mirth. As Rodney watched Sheppard shake his head at her response and depart, he felt a smile of his own escaping. No, apparently Sheppard wasn't like father at all.
Chapter 8: An Excursion
The carriage ride from Sheppard's townhouse to the bookstore was a continuation of the good-natured bantering that had enlivened breakfast and Rodney found himself being included in the camaraderie with a casualness that was exhilarating. As the trip progressed Rodney found the courage to make a few tentative quips of his own which were met with easy grins and laughter filling him with a warm glow. By the time the carriage pulled up in front of a busy London street, he was feeling almost giddy at the unusual feeling of companionship.
They exited the carriage and Rodney looked up to read the store sign which was hand carved and painted a cheerful blue with yellow trim. It read simply 'Thessel's Reference Books.' He followed Sheppard and Teyla in and immediately paused inside the front entrance, captivated. To Rodney McKay, book stores had always been wonderful places which held all the promise and comfort and welcome that Rodney had never found at home. This bookstore was no exception. It was high-ceilinged and a little narrow and it stretched back beyond his vision. And most importantly it had stacks and stacks of beautiful, beguiling books, the musty smell of the old mingling with the sharp, clean scent of the new. The aisles between the rows were somewhat narrow, the room being utilized, very much to Rodney's approval, to its maximum potential of holding as absolutely many books as possible. Standing in its entrance he drank in the scents and sights which beckoned him into its depths to explore its treasures.
"So I guess you like the place?" Rodney turned at the hand on his shoulder and felt a wide and happy smile break out as he looked at John Sheppard. "I love bookstores," he admitted happily, his smile drawing an answering grin from Sheppard.
"I'm pretty fond of them myself," Sheppard agreed, still smiling back at him, his eyes crinkling at the sides. "So, take your time. I'll be around browsing." He motioned after a quickly disappearing swoosh of skirt. "Teyla's already exploring." He pointed to a stair case in a corner of the store. "The math and science books are upstairs if you're interested."
"Oh, wonderful," Rodney replied eagerly, immediately heading to the stairs, although he gave a quick longing glance back at the books on the first floor. Maybe there would be time to explore those too. He hoped Sheppard really did like bookstores and wouldn't want to leave for awhile but he couldn't imagine the other man wanting to stay for more than a few minutes so he'd better be quick. The few times he had been in a bookstore with his family they had begun impatiently tapping their toes after just a few minutes.
He reached the top of the floor and felt his smile blossom again. There was nothing like a bookstore. Nothing in the world.
John wandered towards the back of the first floor and soon found Theodore Thessel, the proprietor of the store, allegedly shelving books in the back stacks. Allegedly because the shelving cart was currently pushed to the side, apparently forgotten, and the man sat with his tall frame hunched on a stool, peering through thick spectacles at a text book lying open in his large hands.
"Thessel!" John clapped the man on the back with a hearty whack and grinned in amusement when the other man let out a yelp of shock and, startled, looked up with eyes gone wide, a hand reaching up to his chest as if to make sure it was still beating. "Jesus and precious Mary, John Sheppard, you startled me. Are you wanting to send me to an early grave?" the other man snapped, bushy eyebrows drawn in irritation.
"Sorry," John smiled at the other man, cheerfully unrepentant. "So, anything interesting come in?"
"Well, and to be sure, there's always something interesting coming to my store," Thessel snapped indignantly. "Picked up some fascinating books on metallurgy from the old Glassman estate. Heirs didn't want the library," he snorted in disgust. "Damn fools. But I picked up some fine deals," he concluded gleefully. "Now, anything in particular you'd be interested in?" he asked, his face taking on the serious tones of business. Sheppard was a good if eclectic customer and Thessel could usually count on the man picking up a volume or ten.
"Well, actually," John paused feeling sheepish for some reason. "I brought a friend in to browse awhile. He's interested in math and sciences so I sent him upstairs," he pointed up.
"Ah, well then," Thessel reached over to the idle cart and deftly pulled a thin volume from the middle of the shelf, flipping it up to John with a quick but careful twist. "If your friend's interested in math and science this might be of some interest to him. Just acquired it. It's a rare copy of Uebler's last published work."
John studied the thin volume appraisingly, opening the book and gently riffling through the pages, feeling his own tug of genuine interest. Huh. From what little he'd seen of Rodney McKay so far, the man would give up a month of breakfasts to own this. And after having seen the man eat, that was really saying something. He passed the book back to Thessel. "I'll take it. Wrap it up for me would you?"
"Don't you want to know how much it is lad?"
John raised an eyebrow at the other man. "A rare edition of Uebler's last theories? If you quote me anything less than thirty pounds you're a fool; anything more and you're greedy."
Thessel smiled at Sheppard approvingly even if he had been about to quote the man thirty-five. "That's what I like about you John Sheppard, you do know your books."
John grinned back at the man. "Don't tell anyone," he mock whispered. "It'll ruin my reputation."
"And sure your secret's safe with me," Thessel rolled his eyes and grimaced. "Although why anyone would want to pretend to be ignorant is a mystery."
"Keeps your enemies underestimating you for one." He shrugged, "for that matter your friends too. Anyway, I'll be around for awhile. I'll track you down when we're ready to go."
"All right, I'll have this beauty wrapped for you when you're ready," Thessel nodded down at the book he still held. "Good hunting."
John wandered over to the history and warfare section of the bookstore and spent a contented twenty minutes browsing through the shelves. Before moving on to the rest of the sections he did a reconnaissance to check up on the other members of his party. Teyla he found on the first floor in a corner with a pile of books at her feet and a distracted smile for him. McKay he tracked down on the second floor with a veritable mountain of books around him and complete silence when he attempted to communicate. After the third irritated grunt from the other man, John rolled his eyes and went back down to keep browsing. He liked roaming all the sections of the bookstore. He had a broad range of interests and tended to wander around until some title or shape or size of a book caught his eye. It didn't really matter what the subject was. He had brought home books on topics ranging from animal husbandry to Plato to cooking. The cooking had only been the once though. He'd decided to try one of the recipes, figuring, well, how hard could it be? Cook still hadn't forgiven him for what he'd done to her kitchen. He was almost positive the stove had been faulty and that the explosion hadn't actually been his fault.
After browsing for another twenty minutes he looked up to find Teyla smiling at him, a small pile of books in her hands. "Ready to go?" he asked, nodding at her choices.
"Yes, I have made my selections," she nodded. "However, if you and Rodney are not yet ready to leave, there is a milliner shop the next street over I have been wanting to visit. I could go and return to give you more time."
John shook his head, efficiently re-shelving the book he'd been looking at and hefting up the four books he'd chosen. "I'm ready too. I'll go check on McKay and if he's not ready, I'll escort you to the milliner's and we can come back for him after."
"Very well, I will wait down here for you," Teyla agreed with a nod and wandered over with her chosen items to the front area.
John quickly jogged up the stairs to the second floor and was absolutely not surprised to see that McKay was sitting on the floor exactly where he'd been the first time John had checked up on him. "McKay," he called and rolled his eyes when it got absolutely no reaction.
"McKay!" he called again loudly, this time navigating the stack of books around the other man and reaching down to shake the man by the shoulder. Even so he had to call McKay twice more before the man finally looked up, a dazed expression in his eyes that made him look about twelve.
"Yes?" McKay asked as his eyes momentarily cleared.
"Are you ready yet?"
The man immediately looked torn. It was obvious to John that McKay wanted to say no but that he was afraid of offending him.
Shaking his head John smiled indulgently down at the man. "If you're not done yet, Teyla wants to visit a shop nearby. I'll escort her and we'll come back for you when she's done."
"Oh! Yes, that would be excellent thank you," McKay smiled up at him happily and before John even turned away he was buried back in his book.
Shaking his head in amusement, John jogged down and dropped his books on the front check out desk where a young lad of about fifteen was assisting customers, which at the moment meant mooning over Teyla. "Is Thessel still in the back?"
"Yes sir," the young man, crisp and starched as a new pound note, nodded politely, reluctantly drawing his attention away from the very amused Teyla.
"Go fetch him for me would you?" John leaned forward.
"I'm not allowed to leave the front area, sir," the lad looked mildly affronted at the suggestion. "If you'll allow me to call one of the other assistants," he intoned a bit importantly and started to reach for a small bell sitting on the side of the counter.
"That won't be necessary," John said quickly and then leaned back and shouted "Thessel! I need to talk to you for a moment!" Ignoring the scandalized air of the assistant shopkeeper and the rolling of eyes of Teyla, John nodded agreeably at the man who quickly appeared from between the stacks, frowning his disapproval.
"This is a bookstore John Sheppard," the shopkeeper muttered darkly. "People don't go shouting about in bookstores."
"Sorry," John offered somewhat insincerely. He'd never agreed with the whole being quiet in libraries and bookstores tradition. If people couldn't focus through a little noise then clearly either the book wasn't any good or the people needed to learn how to concentrate.
"So anyway, I'd like you to have these books delivered to my address. Teyla's should be delivered to Porter street," he quickly dispensed the exact address. "And my, uh, friend is still upstairs," John grinned ruefully. "I think he's permanently affixed to your math and science section. Teyla and I will be back in a bit. If he comes down before we get back, which I doubt, just toss in his books with mine and charge it all to my account."
"Yes, yes, excellent," Thessel said, crafty eyes gleaming at the prospect of the large sale.
"Teyla," John offered the woman his arm, smiling down at her.
"John," Teyla smiled back at him and graciously placed her arm through his and they exited the store heading north.
"How many books do you think Rodney McKay will buy today?" Teyla inquired curiously.
"Well, I figure there are only so many he can carry down the stairs," John replied.
Rodney came up for metaphorical air when his stomach loudly grumbled. It was far too empty he concluded with concern. He looked around at the stacks of books around him and sighed in happiness and not a little wistfulness. Oh, if he could have all the books in sight he would be a content and happy man. Probably. He wondered how many he could convince Sheppard to buy for him. He hadn't really been given a number. Part of him wondered if he should just take down one or two books so that Sheppard wouldn't get upset about having his generosity taken advantage of. The rest of him was frantically insisting that he take them all down and try to sneak as many into Sheppard's offer as possible. He compromised and ended up taking down his top fifteen choices.
Panting and red in the face with the weight of the books by the time he made it down the stairs, he gratefully deposited the stack on the counter top of the front desk. There was an older gentleman, as tall and skinny as a beanpole, with a fascinating shock of red hair who was dealing with paperwork and another, younger man, helping a customer. The older gentleman looked up as Rodney placed his books on the counter, eyed the selections with an astute gaze and then smiled down at Rodney approvingly. "You must be Mr. Sheppard's friend. I'm Thessel, the proprietor of this establishment."
"Oh, I, uh, well I am his new employee," Rodney responded hesitantly.
"Yes, yes, the one who likes the math and sciences," the older man nodded a little impatiently. "I can see Mr. Sheppard was not exaggerating," he smiled at Rodney's choices. "Good selections. Good selections. Well, Mr. Sheppard instructed me to have your selections delivered along with his own to his town home."
"Oh, but, I haven't asked him yet if I can get all of these," Rodney protested, worried.
The shopkeeper just shrugged and slid the books away from Rodney. "Mr. Sheppard instructed me to put your selections on his account," he raised an inquiring eyebrow and viewed Rodney through shrewd eyes. "Unless, that is, there are some of these selections you'd be wanting to put back?"
"Oh, no! If that's what Mr. Sheppard said I'm sure it's fine," Rodney hastily shook his head in negation and watched as the other man smiled in satisfaction. "I didn't think so," Thessel replied a bit smugly.
"Uh, where is Mr. Sheppard?" Rodney looked around puzzled. A faint memory teased at him and focusing on it he suddenly recalled Sheppard's earlier appearance. "Oh! I believe he said something about escorting Miss Emmagen to a shop nearby?"
"Yes, he said he would be back shortly. If you want to join them though, I do know the establishment the young lady wanted to visit. It's only two streets down on Briverton," Thessel pointed out and North of the store. "It's called Delacroix's Millinery."
"Well, yes, perhaps I'll do that," Rodney agreed, after a pause to consider. After all, there was no need for Sheppard and Teyla to have to come back for him if he was finished. And he was hungry, he thought ruefully, hearing his stomach gurgle again. Perhaps he could find a food vendor. Sheppard had hastily stuffed some notes into his hand before they'd left the townhouse, muttering about an advance on his salary.
Turning he started to leave and stopped, turning back to face the shopkeeper. "Your bookstore is a wonderful place," he told the other man sincerely and saw a genuine smile beam back at him.
"Thank you lad, I'm quite fond of it myself. Your Mr. Sheppard is quite a regular customer you know. I hope you'll become the same."
Smiling in return, Rodney exited the bookstore, pondering Thessel's last parting words. So John Sheppard really did like to read. Hmm. The man was just such a contradiction, Rodney thought, shaking his head at it. A Corinthian. A soldier. A bibliophile? Shaking his head again he started up the street in the direction indicated by Thessel, wondering what other facets of John Sheppard remained to be discovered. As he walked he let himself enjoy the bustling London activity around him. It had been so long since he'd had a chance to go out wandering the streets of London. It was fairly pointless to do so without any money to spend and after father had fiercely forbidden Rodney to attend any more science or math society meetings Rodney had slowly withdrawn over the past few years, spending more and more time shut up in the McKay townhouse.
Now he found himself experiencing a new appreciation for the cheerful hum of energy, the purpose of the busy Londoners hurtling to and fro, the decorative elegance of the ladies and gentlemen of quality as they strolled in their colorful silks and satins with the leisure afforded to the gentry.
Eyes brightening as he spotted a sausage vendor across the street Rodney started cautiously into the busy thoroughfare and felt the sudden shock of being yanked back and thrown against the brick wall of a side building. Shaking his head to clear the shock, he looked with a sinking heart into the malicious blue eyes of Kavanagh McKay.
"Rodney," Kavanagh smiled his superior smile, friendly on the surface, cruelty lurking slyly underneath. "Now you are a sight I did not expect to see. My brother hardly ever ventures from his cave these days," Kavanagh called back to his companions and Rodney looked past him to take in the unhappy fact that his brother was roaming with a pack today. Stephen Davenport and Aubrey Mathers he recognized as old school mates of his brother's. Eldest sons all, the three were well received and a favorite of the matrons of the ton whom they acted the perfect gentlemen to. They saved their shared cruelty and bullying for those who life had placed in positions lacking the power to protest or fight back.
"Kavanagh," Rodney responded warily. They were in public, surrounded by people. Even if Kavanagh was in one of his moods, Rodney should be relatively safe here, out in the open.
"Father told me he tossed you out of the house," Kavanagh kept smiling, that same pleasant smile that had prefaced trouble from the time Rodney was a toddler, already realizing it would be soon followed by a fist or a stolen toy. "Really, Rodney, a secretary," the smile dropped now in exchange for a sneer. "To be so much of a pathetic loser that father had no choice but to send you out to act as an underling, it's embarrassing to the McKay name." His sneer deepened into something more ugly. "To my name."
"So sorry to impugn your reputation," Rodney said stiffly, resisting the urge to push back against the hand that was holding him against the wall. Any resistance, physical or verbal might incite Kavanagh enough to forget the numerous passersby who might not approve of Kavanagh's less pleasant side.
"Well, you've been an embarrassment for years," Kavanagh continued in his town drawl, "so I suppose it's hopeless to expect you to change after all these years."
Rodney merely gritted his teeth against the response he wanted to make and smiled tightly. "Yes, well, fun catching up with you as always but, as you say, I'm now an underling and my employer is expecting me soon. I really should be going."
"Actually we were just going to take a training room at the Lord's Street studios," Kavanagh responded, now looking thoughtful. "Do a little fencing, you know," his smile widened now, a shark showing its teeth, "you should come with us, really, it will be fun."
Rodney's eyes widened and his stomach clenched in alarm. Bad idea. Oh god, very bad idea. "No," he said, trying to keep his voice firm in the face of Kavanagh's bullying. "I already told you, my employer is expecting me shortly. I need to go meet him now."
"Oh, don't be silly Rodney," Kavanagh put his hand up on Rodney's shoulder in a seemingly brotherly manner, making Rodney wince as the fingers dug painfully into nerves. "I'm sure your new employer won't mind, whoever he is."
"The new employer would be me."
Rodney looked past Kavanagh and felt pure, cool relief flash through him as he saw John Sheppard standing behind his brother, a cold expression on his taught face.
Sheppard moved forward to Kavanagh and put his own hand in a seemingly friendly gesture on Kavanagh's shoulder in an imitation of Kavanagh's earlier action with Rodney. Rodney saw to his somewhat vindictive satisfaction that Kavanagh tried and failed not to wince at the grip.
"And I do mind actually," Sheppard continued, his voice pleasant but at the same time with a look in his face that to Rodney's deep pleasure made Kavanagh pale, his normally white face going pasty.
"Rodney, are you all right?" Sheppard asked without looking away from Kavanagh who was looking back with the slightly hypnotized stare of a rabbit staring into the face of a wolf.
"I'm fine," Rodney answered, thankfully brushing past Kavanagh to stand behind Sheppard next to Teyla who stood calmly, a cool look of watchfulness in her eyes at odds with her lady-like demeanor. She flashed him a quick reassuring smile as he stopped next to her.
"Sheppard," Kavanagh finally spoke and Rodney was surprised at the wariness that had entered Kavanagh's voice. Did Kavanagh know John Sheppard?
"Kavanagh," Sheppard bared his teeth in a parody of a smile.
"Rodney's working for you?" Kavanagh glanced between Rodney and Sheppard, wary disbelief in his eyes.
"He is," Sheppard responded looking darkly amused. "You father didn't tell you, I take it?"
"No, he, uh, he didn't mention that." Kavanagh subtly tried to shrug off Sheppard's hand on his shoulder and then pretended he hadn't when he completely failed. "Well, uh, we'd better be off," he finally blurted out, looking to his cronies for support. Davenport and Mathers had been standing back, unsure what to do in the face of someone outside their normal venue of chosen prey. "We have an appointment."
"Well, we don't want you to be late. That would be ungentlemanly of you," John answered, his voice thick with irony as he stepped back, releasing Kavanagh who quickly sidled past him, shooting a nervous sideways glance as he did.
The three young men quickly departed, shooting backwards glances at Rodney's party as they hastened away and Rodney felt the sudden urge to jump up and down and scream gleeful childish taunts at their retreating figures. He turned to find Sheppard studying Rodney with an odd, probing stare.
"Are you all right?" Sheppard repeated his earlier question.
"Yes, I, uhm, thank you," Rodney smiled shyly, as he felt something like wonder stirring inside of him. No one had stood up for him in a very, very long time.
Sheppard smiled and only as the tension drained out did Rodney realize how much darkness had been filling the man's eyes. Relaxed now, Sheppard gave Rodney a friendly punch in the arm. "See, keep up with your morning workouts and after you've had a few more lessons you'll be able to throw your idiot brother on his ass."
Teyla shot Sheppard a side-long glance, amused. "Violence is not the answer to every situation, John," she rebuked mildly. After a slight pause, she continued, a small smile lighting her face. "But in this case, I would agree."
The three began walking back to where the carriage waited for them.
"So did you find any books?"
"Uh, a few."
Chapter 9: Changes
The next few weeks were an eye opening journey for Rodney. He decided to give the morning workouts a chance and soon realized that...he still hated them. All right, yes, it was oddly satisfying to be able to master a throw or a block and the sight of John Sheppard's grin of approval was enough to keep him doggedly plodding along in pursuit of a success that in no way, shape or form came naturally to him. But in the end he concluded that it was an unchangeable, immutable fact that he just really, really hated exercise.
Thankfully, the workouts continued the pattern set the first day of being followed by lots and lots of really excellent food. Rodney forced himself through many a final few minutes of a session grimly holding on to the thought of the food to come as his reward. Especially the chocolate. God, the chocolate. One morning, about a week into Rodney's stay, a pot of hot chocolate had been set at the morning table and Rodney had felt himself spontaneously combust in spasms of pure, almost carnal, delight. Even the stunned faces of Ronon and John at his vocal enjoyment barely made a dent in his focus. And, after that first morning, chocolate had started appearing regularly at various meals like the proverbial manna from a Mayan heaven and Rodney could only hope and pray that the miracle continued.
He finally had his meeting with Ronon two days after his arrival at the Sheppard household. Disproving Rodney's initial theory, apparently the man actually could talk when he had a subject to expound upon. Although, perhaps expound was the wrong word. If there was a way to say something using five words then Ronon, well, he would somehow find a way to use four. His comments were terse and ridiculously to the point but not hostile and slowly, warily, Rodney began to stop expecting sudden, immense death every time the other man was around. They split and shared certain duties and between the two of them it was easy for Rodney to accomplish his assigned tasks in a few hours, most often leaving the afternoons open for his studies. Although apparently part of being John Sheppard's secretary included being dragged out of the house at least two or three times a week by the slightly insane man to go riding—'it'll be fun McKay'—or to learn how to shoot a pistol—'everyone should know how to shoot a pistol Rodney'—or, once he learned how Rodney and Teyla had met, to have another outing at the Museum with Teyla 'for old times sake'. Although Rodney told himself he'd rather be left alone to work on his theories a part of him admitted that he was starting to look forward to seeing what horrific adventure John Sheppard was going to drag him off to experience next.
And three days into his new position he somehow started being Rodney and John started being John. Rodney decided it was because of the morning workouts. John had a tendency to call him Rodney when the man was encouraging him to try some new move likely to result in Rodney's bodily injury and it started carrying over outside of the ballroom/room of torture. And after one too many 'Mr. Sheppard's' John had rolled his eyes and said with exasperation, 'Rodney, just call me John.'
About a week into his new position Rodney learned that John could play chess. An hour and a half after that Rodney realized that John could beat him at chess. Yes, Rodney hadn't been trying very hard and John offered up an off-hand explanation along with an amiable smile that made his eyes go all crinkly at the corners that it was just luck but...no. People didn't beat him at chess with luck. It was at that point that Rodney realized with a narrowed glare that behind the easy going eyes and the messy hair and the athleticism John Sheppard was very smart. And that he played chess with an irritating combination of logic and occasional wildly illogical moves which should have been catastrophic but somehow ended up being incredibly useful twenty-three moves into the game. It drove Rodney crazy because no one ever beat him at chess and apparently he had a heretofore unknown ego about it. After the second game that John won with his irrational suicide moves, Rodney had his very first miniature temper tantrum and found that cursing at John Sheppard didn't cause the clearly insane man to hit him. It caused him to laugh in amused delight.
And as the days went on and Rodney settled into his odd new routine he, so slowly that he didn't even realize it was happening, began to relax. A tension that had been inside of him since before he'd arrived, that had lived in him for the better part of his life, slowly, slowly began to fade as days melted into weeks where no one hit him or yelled at him or mocked him. Maybe it began to fade the moment John stopped Kavanagh where no one else ever had. Or maybe it began to fade when John raised his eyebrows in amusement at the fifteen books Rodney had been unable to resist at the bookstore and, instead of being furious, casually tossed him another wrapped parcel saying 'I thought you might like this one too.' It faded just a little bit more each time John came home and, as if it was no big deal, handed him a box of chocolates or a star chart or an old used book the same way he sometimes came home bringing Ronon a new knife—like the man didn't have enough of those—or a really, really ridiculous looking purple scarf that had Ronon staring at it with such a horrified expression that only fear of Ronon-induced death had kept Rodney from dropping to the floor in uncontrollable, unmanly giggles.
And the tension faded just a little bit more, once Rodney got over the absolute, utter terror, when Ronon decided one rainy afternoon that it was time Rodney started learning the art of knife throwing. After an hour of missed targets, a few hits and one unfortunate slip which showed just how very impressive Ronon's reflexes were, Ronon ended the session with a clap on the back that almost sent Rodney to the floor and a 'you're going to need a lot of practice' for encouragement.
The tension faded a little more as the evenings came and went and, somehow, Rodney and Sheppard and sometimes Ronon got into the habit of sitting in the library after supper was over, reading—and in certain cases, knife-cleaning—in companionable silence.
It faded as Rodney slowly, without really realizing it, began to think of this strange new place as 'home.' Something he had never experienced except in wistful dreams. And John Sheppard was at the center of this new home. Rodney found himself watching John as the days passed by. Not warily now, but instead in fascination, bemusement, amusement, admiration and occasionally in irritation and resentment but, overall, just watching. The man was so many contradictions that it was like trying to prove out a complex theorem and finding factor after unexpected factor to mix into the equation.
Rodney found that the angry, sardonic man he had first met in father's study was not the man John Sheppard showed the world from day to day. John's normal behavior was almost the opposite; casual, friendly, easy natured, charming. But the danger, the anger, could switch on and off with scary ease when a certain subject came up or when John had confronted Kavanagh. It made Rodney wonder if that danger was always there, lurking just under the edges of the easy going smile. But unlike with Kavanagh and the sly cruelty that always hid under the edges of a charming smile, Rodney wasn't afraid of the anger that lurked inside of Sheppard. Perhaps because he had only seen it used in his defense. Or perhaps because Sheppard had been angry the very moment Rodney had met him and yet, in the end he hadn't hurt Rodney. He had saved him.
There were other things hiding beneath the carefree cover of John's smile. Like the surprisingly intelligent brain that hid behind the slow drawl and lazy smile. And, with a slip here, a casual remark there, Rodney was beginning to be suspicious about just how smart Sheppard really was and just how much the other man knew about math. Because an ordinary English gentleman, which Rodney realized John Sheppard was not, did not have the proof for Euler's Sequence memorized.
The man was exasperating and clever and since the first day of his employment hadn't really ordered Rodney to do anything. He didn't have to. It was more sheer stubbornness and a certain gleam of mischief in John's eyes that now convinced Rodney, often against his better judgment, to give in to whatever scheme the man was up to. Although, Rodney had taken a vow to never again get into a vehicle if John Sheppard was behind the reins.
And at the base of all those contradictions and odd angles and personalities, what finally, ultimately did Rodney in was the kindness. To see a man who was wealthy, powerful, athletic, charming and outrageously handsome treat every person he met with an easy kindness and equality fascinated Rodney more than anything else could. To find that almost careless kindness turned on Rodney himself, again and again, was quickly becoming an addiction, a feeling so good and sweet that, sometimes, he physically ached with it.
And oh God, Rodney had to admit that the man was just pretty. John's hair, a thick, black, inky mess, made Rodney itch to run his fingers through it, whether to try and straighten it or just to mess it up further he wasn't quite sure. And although facial hair had never caused Rodney so much as a moment of distraction before, Rodney now found himself fascinated by the shadow of stubble that appeared on John's face like clockwork every evening, his errant thoughts straying down a path of what it would feel like to rub his own cheek against the other man's, to feel it burn against his skin in gentle abrasion. The thoughts shook him. It was becoming a battle in the morning workouts not to get distracted by the easy grace in motion that was John Sheppard in a fight. True, getting enough air to breathe and trying to avoid being body slammed to the floor usually focused Rodney's attention pretty blasted quickly but there were always those few minutes every day when a flash of defined abdomen would show or a particularly graceful kick or roll would be executed and the breath would catch in Rodney's suddenly dry throat.
When had John Sheppard become the last thought in his head at night, Rodney found himself wondering. Recapping the latest excursion John had dragged him to that day. Remembering something John had said that made Rodney laugh. Or scowl. Sometimes it wasn't a particular memory but just the mental picture of the man's face, a comforting, aching companion to fall asleep by. Rodney was happier than he'd ever been in his life. And it terrified him. He had people he was slowly, carefully beginning to think of as friends. He wasn't being hit or berated and he was even, slowly, warily beginning to think of that as normal. He could spend hours on his papers and books and actually talk to John about them and see interest in those keen hazel eyes. But what would John do if he knew the path Rodney's thoughts were taking? Would the darkness that lurked underneath the golden smile emerge? Rodney didn't think that John would physically hurt him but what was starting to seem much worse was that John would turn him from the house. Rodney was beginning to fear that being turned away from this new life he was building might just break him in a way that father and Kavanagh never could.
John locked himself in his study and brooded.
He had gone to the McKay household that first day determined to prove Teyla wrong. She thought Rodney McKay was different from the rest of his family. Fine, he'd meet the man, prove Teyla wrong and pursue his plan of vengeance with a song in his cheerfully vindictive heart. The instant the other man had stepped into his father's parlor John had realized Teyla was, as bloody damn usual, right. The man was a victim of his family as much as John's family had been. And from the moment he'd seen Rodney's eyes shining with undiminished passion for love of something so very un-McKay like as math, he'd felt himself start down an inevitable road of wanting to protect the man from his family. Sure, yes, he'd kicked and fought it half-heartedly, but even as he'd been arguing with Teyla he'd known deep down the battle was already lost.
So he'd gone back and basically forced the man under his protection. He'd figured...well, he'd figured that Rodney would be safe under his roof and after that he purposefully hadn't thought about it much. He'd had a vague idea of keeping him for a couple of months, like a stray who needed a little polish and care, and then maybe write him a nice recommendation and see him safe and sound in some other secretarial position or maybe as an assistant at some scientific laboratory. John admitted ruefully that he was kind of an idiot.
The problem with the half-baked plan was, well, Rodney McKay. It wasn't that the man put himself out to be noticed. If anything it was the opposite. Rodney was wary of being noticed because for most of his life being noticed meant being hurt. And it made John, well, want to notice him. Notice him in a good way. Want to push him and nudge him and drag him off to do something fun until he saw that smile, a little bit shy, a little bit filled with wonder that something good was actually happening, turned in his direction. Like when John had given Rodney the Uebler book. He'd been looking forward to seeing the man's reaction but when it happened, when he'd seen the complete shock, the babbling happiness, the smile just beaming out of the man's face he'd had to walk away for a few minutes just to deal with the strange brew of emotions that swamped him, a mix of protectiveness, fierceness, warmth, anger and sadness that took him like a tidal wave. Just because of the look he'd put on the other man's face. That he'd been responsible for. It had been a casual gesture, getting that book. John liked getting presents for people. He liked the smile it put on their faces. He liked the baffled scowls that Ronon gave him at the weirder stuff John found for him. But getting presents for Rodney McKay was like going to a whole new level because every single time he was just a little bit surprised that someone had even thought about him. And then he was so damn happy. And it made John want to buy him every damn thing under the sun.
And it wasn't just the presents. It was dragging Rodney out of the house where he tended to hibernate if left to his own devices. It was the half-exasperated, half-baffled 'why are you doing this to me again' look that had John dragging Rodney out to try things like going boating in the Thames. Rodney had complained and whined which had made John grin in satisfaction because it meant the man was losing his fear of John. Then he'd babbled about drowning and sunstroke and pollution content in the water and John had to bite back a grin and solemnly promise to save Rodney if he happened to start drowning or collapsed of heat exhaustion. And then when they'd finally made it into the water the man had become maddeningly inquisitive, talkative and increasingly bossy which John was beginning to suspect was perhaps the true Rodney McKay. The man had talked about the water, the plants, the fish, the ocean, other lands, the stars, inevitably math and it's interaction with all of the above and finally back to drowning and shrieks of 'be careful where you're steering this deathtrap' which had John rolling his eyes and manfully restraining the urge to rock the boat.
Those moments of what John now thought of as 'The Real Rodney McKay' were happening more and more now that Rodney was starting to feel more secure. He would show flashes of annoyance; a pout here, a scowl there, a fast-paced rant of 'what do you mean Volman was a genius? Are you blind, deaf and insane!?' And every time it happened John just found himself grinning like a fool because a) it meant Rodney McKay trusted him enough to be himself b) it was amusing as hell and c) well, John had already admitted to himself he had a perverse sense of humor when it came to baiting his friends.
Everything would be just fine John thought grimly as he poured himself a stiff drink. Everything would be just wonderful and dandy if not for the damn chocolate. He liked Rodney McKay. The man entertained him, made him think, made him grin and roll his eyes and shake his head and never think 'bored now.' They had unexpectedly become friends. But by God, John groaned, the chocolate was killing him. In slow, excruciating inches.
It had started about a week after John brought Rodney home. Cook had served hot chocolate for breakfast. Both John and Ronon were fond of the stuff and so it was usually served about once a week. But fond did not even come one tiny particle of close to covering the deep, transcendental, undying love affair that Rodney McKay apparently had with chocolate that was as sexy as hell to observe. The man's eyes had lit up at the sight of the beverage like a holy man finally seeing the gates of heaven open for him. The expression on his face when he'd taken the first sip, the noises of appreciation he'd made. All John could think about as he stared, fascinated and suddenly, fiercely, aroused was that he wanted to hear those noises from Rodney McKay in a bedroom. Hell, at the kitchen table if he could give the staff the day off and he was the cause of those noises and not the chocolate. The arousal had flashed through John like an unexpected lightning bolt and thank God he'd been sitting down because it had taken most of the meal for him to think the erection away.
John scowled at the memory and tossed back the drink. Since that day, his amused, uncomplicated, growing friendship with the man had taken a turn for the carnal, at least in his suddenly undisciplined thoughts. Rodney McKay wasn't even that attractive, John had tried arguing with himself. His self didn't seem interested because apparently his self had a thing for bashful, hesitant, blue-eyed, chocolate loving math geniuses—and after a few conversations John had realized that a genius was exactly what he had on his hands—who was becoming less bashful by the hour. But, John realized, he couldn't do a thing about it. The fact that Rodney McKay was coming to trust him was a bleeding miracle given the circumstances of the man's life up until now. John couldn't betray that trust. Ever. And that's exactly what he would be doing. Rodney was dependent on him. Although John didn't really see the man as an employee, the truth was that Rodney was completely dependent on John's protection. And John had been raised from the cradle to respect the women and men in his employment. He had fought and disagreed with his father on many philosophies but on this he had always been in full, approving agreement and he had never violated this particular teaching of his father's. Well, all right, except with Ronon but that didn't count. It didn't matter if Ronon was technically in John's employment. John was secure enough to admit, to himself anyway, that Ronon could kill him with insulting ease if he wanted to. And they had been trapped in that little shack for three incredibly boring days by the monsoon. And it had been cold.
Rodney was an entirely different situation.
John sighed, letting his head drop back against the chair. And Rodney wasn't meant to be a secretary. The man was brilliant. John had seen the genius shining through the first time he'd had a real conversation with the man on his research and theories and realized that he couldn't actually follow him all the way through. Rodney should be somewhere that he could connect with others, where he could work on his theories in a real laboratory with people who would challenge him.
He deserved to have the life he was meant for. And that life wasn't as John's secretary. That life wasn't with him.
Chapter 10: Rodney Meets Radek
Rodney frowned down at a particularly offensive section of his latest set of equations that weren't working the way they should be working. He had moved on from frown to indignant scowl when the door opened and John ambled his way into the room.
"Rodney," he nodded in greeting. "What are you doing?" John stopped at Rodney's desk and leaned against the side, craning his neck to read over Rodney's shoulder.
"Hey that looks like an equation for deriving structures," John frowned down at Rodney's scribblings, trying to puzzle them out. "But it's got an extra set here, what's this for?" he pointed at the section that was giving Rodney the headache.
This caused Rodney to lean back in his chair, arms crossed, to fix John with a narrow eyed glare of suspicion. "All right that's it," Rodney commented in a flat voice. "Just how smart are you?"
John immediately stepped away from the table and fixed Rodney with an innocent look of 'whatever do you mean, Rodney?' puzzlement. Rodney had a suspicion that John had been using that look to good effect since the tender age of two, and he probably hadn't been all that innocent back then either. "Oh don't give me that look," he huffed, feeling a little cranky. "Clearly you have a brain and an aptitude for mathematics. The conversation on Euler last week pretty much gave you away."
He watched John relax a little and offer up a slightly abashed smile, shrugging. "Sorry, habit."
"Just how far through the mathematics curriculum did you get at school?" Rodney asked suspiciously, wondering if John would answer.
He watched John hesitate briefly before giving a little sigh. "My first was in mathematics," he admitted, looked a little sheepish. "My professors wanted me to go abroad to study further but I ended up joining the Navy instead."
Rodney kept his jaw from hitting the floor. Barely. "You got a first," he repeated weakly. "You got a first in mathematics!" he repeated again, caught somewhere between annoyance and happiness. He'd known John was smart. More than average smart but this...
"You should be working on your own theories," Rodney finally said indignantly, after finishing processing. "You should be contributing to the advancement of the field instead of doing...whatever it is you do."
John just shrugged. "Hey, Rodney, I like math, believe me. It's a fascinating subject. I just don't want to spend my every day on it. It's a hobby."
While Rodney was sputtering over that completely unacceptable and oh so John response, the not-so-idiot in question decisively reached forward and yanked away Rodney's papers, evening them out with a gentle thwack against the desk. "Anyway, let's go out," John's voice took on a coaxing tone which immediately made Rodney wary.
"I don't want to go out," Rodney muttered, still offended by John's rejection of math as a true calling. He eyed the papers John had stolen and made a half-hearted grab for them, whereupon, sure enough John immediately lifted them up above his head with a mischievous grin.
"Are you twelve?" Rodney sighed, resisting the urge to lunge up after the papers because there wasn't a chance in hell he'd be able to get them back without looking like a complete idiot. A month of learning to fight wasn't nearly enough to get him through John Sheppard's defenses.
When Rodney refused to accept the bait, John rolled his eyes and dropped the papers back on the desk with a casual thump, promptly resuming his wheedling. "Oh, come on Rodney, trust me you'll like this trip."
"Does it involve water?" Rodney asked suspiciously.
"No water of any kind is involved," John promised, his bearing solemn, except for the twinkle sparkling unchecked in wicked green eyes.
"Does it involve live animals or going anywhere at a speed with which I could be killed?" Rodney interrogated further, eyes still narrowed in suspicion.
John rolled his eyes and rocked back on the heels of his boots. "No, Rodney. I do solemnly swear that there is minimal physical risk of you being maimed, trampled, thrown or squashed in any way on this excursion."
Rodney tilted his head in consideration. "Well, all right then," he finally said grudgingly. "Where did you want to go?"
"It's a surprise," John grinned like the twelve year old Rodney had so recently accused him of being.
It was Rodney's turn to roll his eyes. "Fine," he muttered and then couldn't resist smiling back as he felt a happy little glow in his stomach that John cared enough to want to surprise him. Before he'd met John, surprises had been things to avoid at all costs.
"So, uh, great, I've got the carriage pulled around up front," John paused and raised his brows hopefully "unless you want to take the phaeton instead?"
They pulled up about forty minutes later in front of a large multi-storied building which, when Rodney stepped down from the coach, he instantly recognized. Eyes popping in surprise he pointed out the obvious. "This is the site of the Royal Scientific and Mathematical Research Laboratories!"
"I know," John grinned, moving past Rodney to jog up the pale stone steps which graced the front of the building leading up to a pair of majestic double doors.
"What are we doing here?" Rodney asked, staying frozen at the bottom of the shallow stairs, as a thrill raced through his heart.
"We're here to meet someone," John called back down to him from the top of the stairs.
"Who?" Rodney called up after him as he began to climb almost tripping several times because he was so busy eyeing the building's façade with fascination and not a little awe. The greatest scientific minds in England, in all of Europe came here to work and study. When he'd been a student at Eton he'd often dreamt of being noticed by the sponsors of the RSMRL. Of course then school had ended and father had refused to pay his way to Cambridge and his contact with the world of mathematics had narrowed but...it had always been a dream.
"An acquaintance of mine," John answered, jogging back down to pace Rodney and to keep an eye on him. "Watch your step," he frowned admonishingly, noting Rodney's distraction.
"Mm," Rodney responded with an off-hand wave but did manage to navigate to the entrance without any more close calls.
They entered the building and Rodney followed John up two flights of stairs, which, he noticed with a pleased smile of surprise, hadn't left him winded. Perhaps those workouts really were starting to show some results. As they started down a long hallway Rodney asked "just who are you acquainted with at the RSMRL? I thought you didn't move in mathematics circles."
John just grinned back at him. "You'll see."
Rodney rolled his eyes at John's back as he wondered just who John could know here. He was still trying to come to terms with the fact that John had a first in mathematics and he fought back a wave of sudden envy. To have been able to go on and study mathematics at University would have been a dream for him. And John didn't even use his degree. Which brought back the question of why they were here. Rodney caught up with John and they paced side by side in companionable silence, barring the occasional sidelong glance of irritation Rodney shot him at the smugness that was starting to radiate off John in palpable waves. They came to a stop in front of the third door on the left and Rodney's eyes shot up when he read the sign on the door. Mathematics Laboratory III.
Pausing, Rodney stopped suddenly, wary for some reason. "Wait..."
But John just grinned again and opened the door, grabbing Rodney's shoulder and propelling him into the room where he raised a hand in cheerful greeting at a small elf of a man in glasses with wild, wispy brown hair and OH MY GOD, that was Radek Zelenka! Rodney felt the blood drain from his head at the same time his body tried to spontaneously combust and oh God, he was going to kill John—secretive bastard—Sheppard for springing this on him. Standing in front of him was his hero, a man whose work he both admired and respected, and he had no idea what to say and maybe he could run before Dr. Zelenka looked at him and...wait, was that equation wrong?
John studied Rodney with growing alarm as the other man went dead white in the face, looking at Radek Zelenka with an indescribable expression of horror and awe as he began to waver on his feet as if he was thinking about fainting.
"Rodney?" John asked tentatively, coming to the conclusion that, uh, maybe he should have given Rodney some kind of advance warning.
He was about to try something a little more drastic to get the other man's attention when suddenly Rodney's eyes narrowed in concentration, everything about him just seeming to snap into focus, and before John could say 'mathematics', Rodney was advancing with extreme narrow-eyed purpose on the chalkboard that Zelenka and another man were arguing over.
"No, no, no," Radek was saying with an irritated air. "You are wrong, Bruno. This sequence here. It does not work." His hand slashed the air decisively.
"You're wrong Zelenka," the other man arrogantly rebutted, pointing his chalk emphatically at the sequence in question. "This will work, you just need to factor in the..."
"You're an idiot whoever you are," Rodney interjected absently as he came to study the chalkboard beside the two men.
"I beg your pardon," the other man, a medium sized gentleman of middling years with a well fed belly and a receding pale hair line turned to stare at Rodney, bristling with indignation. "Do you know who I am? I am Doctor Bruno Davenport. I have a doctoral degree in..."
"You're Bruno Davenport?" Rodney flicked his attention momentarily away from the chalkboard and flashed the scientist an annoyed grimace. "Your theories on radical free movements are completely wrong." With that he dismissed the man and went back to studying the chalkboard intently.
John's brows shot up and he wondered somewhat bemusedly exactly when his shy and diffident Rodney McKay had made the final transformation to...not so shy and diffident. Of course, he had noticed from the beginning that if there was one area of life which Rodney was confident in it was the area of mathematics. He wondered if he should intervene before Doctor Bruno Davenport, who was now sputtering and red-faced with outrage attacked Rodney with his chalk but he hesitated. This Bruno bloke looked pretty soft. If it came to that, John was pretty sure Rodney had learned enough that he could take the other man down. But before there could be a scientist brawl, which John was almost looking forward to because, now that he thought about it, it might be good for Rodney's confidence to get a little practice on someone not a highly trained soldier, Doctor Zelenka moved between the two men and nodded emphatically in agreement at Rodney.
"Yes, yes, this I have told him many times," the smaller man beamed up at Rodney in appreciation. "But Bruno, he does not like to listen to anyone who disagrees with his theories. You, uh, see a problem with this sequence here do you?" he inquired politely, firmly ignoring the still sputtering Bruno.
"Well, first of all, this section is all wrong," Rodney announced, grabbing a rag and hastily wiping out two sections which had been written out in beautifully precise handwriting.
"But, if you modify it so that..." he started jotting down replacement equations in his messy hand.
"Ah, yes..." Zelenka peered forward, nodding thoughtfully. "But what about the..." he started to point at the section Rodney was writing in.
"Huh, yes, that's a good point," Rodney frowned for a second before using the back of his sleeve to smudge out one equation and replace it with another.
Zelenka nodded approvingly. "Yes, I think you have something there. What do you think about the interaction of the Dhoemler theory with this?"
Rodney's eyes widened, considering. "The Dhoemler theory, the Dhoemler theory, hmm...do you think that...?"
"Yes, yes, exactly," Radek nodded vigorously and with his own piece of chalk hastily wheeled up another board and began to write a second series of equations out.
"Don't forget to factor in the..." Rodney began causing Radek to wave his free hand impatiently. "The collision effect. Yes, yes...I know. What do you think about the implication on this section?"
"Well..." Rodney moved a little back to peer at both of the boards simultaneously as John watched with a grin which felt big enough to split his head open. Rodney looked so spectacularly alive in this, his true element. Sexy as hell too, being all genius-like. John's grin faded a little, turning bittersweet. He was going to have to give Rodney up to this. But, God, he'd never seen Rodney look as alive as he did right now. If he'd wondered before, he had no doubts about it now. This was where Rodney belonged.
John leaned back against a wall and just watched the conversation continue, feeling a little awed when it went so far beyond his comprehensive reach that he felt about the mental age of five, trying to keep up. He didn't feel so bad about it though. After all Doctor Bruno whatshisname left the laboratory a crushed man about twenty minutes into the discussion, tears actually shining from his eyes which held a whipped expression. John didn't feel any regret. The man had been mean to Rodney.
The other scientists and assistants in the laboratory had ended up sort of crowding to one side of the room as well, watching with a combination of awe and whispered conferences trying to figure out who this Doctor McKay was who could keep up with Zelenka and 'hadn't he presented a paper at last year's Berlin conference' which John's sharp ears caught and had him suppressing a snicker.
Half-an-hour after that John took out his pocket watch and checked the time. He had arranged for them to have lunch with Radek but it looked like they weren't going anywhere for awhile. Radek and Rodney were still chattering away in math speak, talking over and under each other and finishing each other's sentences with a familiarity that made John wonder if they were somehow twins separated at birth. Shrugging, he went out to find some food, sure they wouldn't miss him. Twenty minutes later he was back with a box of fish and chips from a local pub and he walked up to the two men who, he noted with amusement, were in exactly the same place they'd been when he'd left, only there were now five and a half chalkboards filled with scribbled equations surrounding them instead of two.
As entertaining as it was, John realized that the two men might stay at this all day if he didn't intervene and so he went to stand up by the two to let the smell of the food waft up and do its magic. If there was one thing that might distract Rodney from his work it was food. Sure enough, after a few seconds Rodney stopped mid sentence and, nose sniffing the air experimentally, whipped his head around to focus on the food in John's hands like a bloodhound.
"Hungry?" John asked the two men wryly.
As Rodney nodded vigorously, eyes still locked onto the food, Radek smiled sheepishly. "Ah, John, I apologize. We have missed our lunch yes?"
"Not a problem Doc," John shrugged philosophically. "I brought lunch to us. Do you have somewhere we can eat?"
"Oh, yes, yes, you and Rodney must go to my office. You have been there before? I will follow shortly. I just give my staff some instructions on these equations." He went back to studying the boards with a satisfied smile as he waved them off absently.
John nodded and led Rodney away, looking at the other man as they walked. Rodney was lit up like a kid or, well, like a Rodney, presented with the world's largest chocolate bar. "Did you see the thinking?" Rodney babbled as he allowed John to escort him out of the lab and down the hallway, his hands moving as fast as his mouth. "The man's brilliant! And he said something about me coming back! I think he likes me! And the other scientists weren't that bright but Radek, his theories on forced ratios could help me go miles on my own theoretical research and..."
John reached out and handed Rodney a piece of candy which he had tucked away in his pocket which shut Rodney up long enough to chew for a few seconds, swallow, and then he was off again. John shook his head with a grin.
"That's great Rodney," he stopped at the door on the right which had Radek's name painted on it and, shifting his food to one hand, he opened the door with the other. "In here," he nodded and followed Rodney in. The place was surprisingly well organized, and they managed to unearth two chairs with relatively little shifting of files and there was actually some clear space on a table to set out the food. A few minutes after they entered Zelenka showed up, dropping into a third chair and immediately digging into the food spread out before him. "That was a most excellent session," Zelenka mentioned happily as he munched on fish. "John, I must thank you for bringing Rodney to visit. We have broken through a problem I have been wrestling with for the past two weeks. Rodney," he turned to the other man who was practically beaming with pride, although John noted that it wasn't interfering with his eating at all. "Rodney, you must come back yes? There are still the refinements to be worked out and there is another problem I have been working on in my spare time which I would like to run by you and I would like to hear more about these equations on spatial analysis you have been working on."
"I would love to come back Doctor Zelenka," Rodney answered happily. "I..." he turned to John with eyes that would have put a puppy's to shame, shining with hope. "Could I? I'll make sure my secretarial duties are finished," he promised hastily. "I'll make sure it doesn't interfere."
"Of course you can come back Rodney," John shifted a little uncomfortably, eyeing Zelenka with a question in his suddenly uneasy hazel eyes.
"This secretary business Rodney," Zelenka raised an eyebrow at John, received a subtle nod in return and proceeded with full earnestness. "This is nonsense. You are wasted in such a position, yes? I would very much like you to consider coming to work on my research team. To take a full position. I have known John for some time and I respect his knowledge of mathematics. When he told me about you, I was very much intrigued. I say to myself, anyone who impresses John Sheppard that much, well, that is someone whom I must meet, and now that I have met you I see how very much John is correct in this matter. You are not meant for this secretarial work," he made a dismissive gesture. "You are a mathematician. A scientist. This is what you were meant to be doing with your life."
The look on Rodney's face was hard to decipher. John saw the joy and happiness he would have expected, but he also saw puzzlement, hurt and oddly enough, fear flashing across his pale face as well. Finally, after a moment of silence Rodney turned to John and said hesitantly, almost as a question, "but I work for you."
Chapter 11: Conversations
The carriage ride back was filled with silence hanging thick and heavy in the air. After Rodney's hesitant response of 'but I work for you" Radek had taken a quick look between Rodney and John and, being an unusually astute and tactful man, quickly excused himself, citing a half-forgotten meeting as his reason. He had told Rodney it was a sincere pleasure to meet him and that he hoped that Rodney would 'consider his offer, yes?' and hastily departed, leaving John and Rodney alone with the growing silence. Rodney had refused to meet John's eyes and instead looked down at his hands and at the scattered remains of his food which he half-heartedly pushed around his plate. John had opened his mouth, not really sure what to say, and then had closed his mouth because he really didn't want to have this conversation here. Instead he'd stood and shoved the remains of lunch back into its carry box and, standing, had nodded to Rodney. "Let's go, all right?"
They had left the RSMRL in a much more subdued manner then they'd entered and as they got into the carriage the silence had stretched on.
Finally, John decided to ask the question because he honestly had no idea what the answer was. "Rodney, what are you thinking right now?"
That got Rodney's attention and he finally looked up at John who was taken aback by the emotions storming in Rodney's eyes. He waited but Rodney kept silent, his mouth opening and closing as if he was trying to figure out what to say but couldn't quite get there.
"Rodney," John said softly; an encouragement, an order, a plea.
"Did I do something wrong?" The question was hesitant, misery and doubt evident in his voice.
"What?! No!!" John jerked back in shock and shook his head in vehement denial. "Rodney, is that what you think?"
"Because I can be better," Rodney said almost desperately. "I mean, I know that I forgot to pay the petty cash out yesterday. I was going to, and I mean, I am, but I got sidetracked into this theory on whether the sun at different degrees can affect the path of..."
"Rodney!" John cut him short, appalled now that he realized what had been going through the other man's mind. "You haven't done anything wrong. I'm not trying to get rid of you."
"You are trying to get rid of me," Rodney responded quietly, making John wish rather desperately he were yelling instead. "You talked to Doctor Zelenka about me. About me leaving."
"Rodney, I talked to Radek about you because, you may not have noticed this, but you happen to be a bloody genius! It would be a crime for me to keep you away from that. I mean, can you really tell me you'd rather spend your days being a secretary for me or spend them with men the caliber of Radek Zelenka working on what you love?" John spoke with focused intensity, trying to force Rodney to hear the truth in his voice.
Rodney looked at John, doubt in his eyes. "I..." he hesitated, looking torn.
"Rodney," John frowned as he cursed himself inwardly for not anticipating this. He needed to make this right.
"You're my friend Rodney," he finally said simply. "I want you to be happy. You can't tell me that working there won't make you happy," he said coaxingly.
"I...I, where will I live though?" Rodney asked his voice subdued.
John blinked at the question, thoughts flashing through his mind at a rapid fire pace as he cursed himself again for not considering that Rodney would react this way. Apparently, he could predict the London investment market and plot air tight strategies against foreign warlords with scary ease, but when it came to one excitable, insecure mathematician, he had a fucking blind spot a mile wide. Of course Rodney would be worried. His father had forced him from his home. He'd only recently started to feel settled in at John's home and, hopefully, begun to think of it as his own. And now from Rodney's point of view, here was John doing the exact same thing as Rodney's father. Forcing him out like an unwanted pet.
And Jesus, the irony of that didn't escape John. Because having Rodney leave was absolutely the last thing he wanted. And John thought with a sudden rising hope, maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't have to. He'd seen Rodney taking the new position with Radek as inevitably losing Rodney. And even though he'd had no doubt in his mind it was what was right and best for Rodney the ache of losing him had been sitting heavily. But, just what if Rodney's new job was actually a way to keep him?
"Rodney," he finally said, cautiously feeling his way. "I promise you I contacted Radek because I thought you'd be happier doing something you love." He smiled ruefully. "And don't tell me that you love being a secretary. It's something you wade through to get to your studies. You're too smart to be doing that for the rest of your life," he watched the other man's mouth open to protest and raised a hand to stall him. "But you have a home with me as long as you want." He shook his head, trying to look earnest yet casual. "I mean it's, uh, it's a big house and, well, you're really starting to get some of the moves I've been teaching you at our workouts. I'd hate to see you lose it all by stopping now. And, well, I—that is, we—Ronon and I like having you around and ..."
"You do?" John watched the smile start to blossom, the worry begin to slip away under a pure, beaming smile of gratitude and joy that almost blinded him before it too settled into something more desperately casual. "I mean, uhm, yes, that would be excellent if it's not too much trouble." The smile was forcibly more subdued now, just beaming a little around the edges.
John felt the answering smile light his face and didn't try to fight it. "No, that, uh, wouldn't be any trouble at all."
They both settled back into the silence, which was unusual with Rodney, but at least this silence felt calm, without the tension that had hung about them since the moment Radek had made his offer.
Rodney sat back in a swirl of emotions and undercurrents which were slowly settling down as the negative emotions that had swamped him began to fade away to be replaced by excitement and a burgeoning joy. He, Rodney McKay, was going to work with Radek Zelenka. Radek Zelenka. A man he had always admired and who had lived up to every expectation at their meeting today. Not only had Radek been as brilliant as Rodney had hoped from his reading of the man's work but he'd been...kind. And he'd welcomed Rodney without question, without a sneer at his lack of credentials, accepting his intelligence at face value, as if, of course, Rodney belonged there. My God, the way they had worked together had been like nothing Rodney had ever felt before; the energy, the give and take, the sparking of ideas off of each other. It was as if together they were capable of so much more than they were alone. Or at least Rodney had felt that way. For all he knew Radek was capable of feeding off energy like that from anyone. But Rodney didn't think so—he allowed a small bubble of smug to form—from the stares he'd been getting from the other scientists. And he was going to get to go back and do that every day. He was going to be able to work in a real laboratory. Because of John.
Even more than the joy and anticipation of being able to embrace his work in a real setting, was that one shining fact which overlay everything else. John had done that for him. John had done that for him. It was like the feeling Rodney got when John bought him chocolates only magnified by about a million to the power of 10. It was sinking in now, into every particle of Rodney, the prickly, searing awe that someone had seen that need in him, that John had seen that need in him and filled it. And, even more importantly, John didn't want him to leave. He wanted Rodney to stay. He'd recognized and believed the sincerity in John's voice even when a part of him had wanted to hold back in protection.
But he believed John. He trusted him. God, he so much more than trusted him he finally admitted. He loved him. He loved him even though he could barely dare to let the thought whisper through his mind and soul in case it somehow showed on his face for John to see. But, really, Rodney thought with sudden almost irritation, how the hell could he not love John Sheppard. What did the man think was going to happen when he kept doing all of these wonderful things for Rodney? It was clearly all John's fault.
Rodney resisted the sudden, insane, urge to fling himself at John and see what would happen. He desperately stomped down the feeling because...well, they were in a moving carriage and if John reacted badly then it would be a little awkward not to be able to escape. Although, Rodney thought with an inward wince, if John reacted with revulsion or perhaps worse, with pity, throwing himself under the carriage might look like an attractive proposition. Impatiently Rodney pushed the thought aside, refusing to let his mood darken as his eyes lingered on John's face, the other man apparently deep in thought. It didn't matter if Rodney couldn't tell John he loved him. It would still be there. And the look in John's eyes when they'd been talking. John liked him. Rodney had to force himself not to break into an idiotic grin. Maybe...just maybe he more than liked him. Maybe he didn't love him the way Rodney loved him, but to have done something like this for Rodney, it meant something. It had to.
John sat back and thought about the fact that he was a great big idiot. He had been so focused on losing Rodney to the world of mathematics that it had never occurred to him that it could be the best thing for the two of them. With Rodney as his dependent, he had been bound by honor to keep silent on his attraction but if Rodney had an independent source of income, if he could leave whenever he wanted then that was one less barrier for John to let his feelings be known. Slowly, to make sure Rodney didn't feel pressured in any way. It would be hard since John's first, second and third inclination was to push Rodney against the carriage and ravage his mouth until any hesitations he might have were washed away but he couldn't do that to Rodney. No, he had to take it slow, to show him that he could trust John. A voice inside of him rose up and mocked, 'trust the man who's about to destroy his entire family? What do you think he'll feel when he finds out what you're planning? Do you think he'll want to stay under your roof then? Do you think he'll still look you in the eyes and smile?'
John resisted the urge to flinch back from the inner voice, instead grabbing it in a mental chokehold, throttling it for awhile and tossing it firmly out the carriage. He'd find a way. Rodney had no love or loyalty for his father and brother that John had seen. They sure as hell didn't deserve any from him. Rodney would understand. He had to. He had already set the pieces in motion and John couldn't—wouldn't— back off now. Not even for Rodney. He owed his father that much. He owed Elizabeth. Warren and Kavanagh McKay had to pay.
Warren McKay sat in his study as his solicitor showed himself out. The man had been apologetic but implacable during the meeting, his face a careful blank that had Warren barely resisting the urge to smash his fist into it to see the man showing something while he dealt the McKay family such a heavy blow. But he had resisted the urge and watched that careful blankness, too well trained to show any emotion, cautiously explain that his client's markers had been bought up one by one. By one individual. By John Sheppard. His loan with the bank, his mortgages on his properties, even the personal loan from Babbage, they were all now in the hands of Sheppard who had just given a demand through his own solicitor for immediate payment in full. If he could not raise over thirty thousand pounds in the next seven days or get Sheppard to forgive the notes, he was going to lose everything.
The idea of it shook something inside of him. If he had been another man, Warren might have recognized the emotion as the cold touch of fear but he was not a man who was familiar with that weaker emotion. No, it must be cold outrage making him tremble. He was Warren McKay, bred to believe in his own invincibility as an aristocrat of England. He and those like him ruled the world and did so because they were strong and ruthless and by God better than any untitled bastard who thought he was owed some sort of petty revenge for imagined wrongs. The man was owed nothing. The fear he would not recognize began to recede under the rage as his vision began to bleed over with a red haze. He would not allow it.
He would not allow it.
Chapter 12: Ronon Meddles, John Fumes, Rodney Panics & Teyla Soothes
"You weren't a very good secretary anyway," Ronon commented dryly once he heard the news that Rodney was going to be changing careers.
"Hey!" Rodney said, feeling indignant. "I was a perfectly fine secretary."
"Uh huh," Ronon said skeptically.
"I was!" Rodney turned to John and demanded support. "Wasn't I?"
"Uhm, yeah," John agreed in what Rodney thought critically was a much too half-hearted manner.
Rodney turned to Teyla for support. "Teyla?" he prodded.
"You are a brilliant man Rodney," Teyla offered after a pause that Rodney thought went on just a little too long. "I'm sure that, while I did not actually witness you in your duties, that you did an extremely fine job," she ended supportively, smiling in her serene Teyla way.
While not exactly the most ringing endorsement, Rodney decided to take it and went back to his happy description of Zelenka's laboratory. Rodney and John had arrived home to find Teyla ensconced in the parlor with Ronon. Rodney still wasn't quite sure what Teyla found so interesting about Ronon Dex. All right, fine, he was kind of God-like and the two could have amazingly attractive warrior children together but what exactly did they talk about? Knives? International politics? The weather? Maybe they didn't talk at all. Maybe they found other things to do...Rodney winced and quickly cut off that thought because he respected Teyla Emmagen far too much to pursue it to its fascinating and rather arousing conclusion. Anyway, certainly when John and Rodney had entered the two had been a proper distance away from each other, fully clothed and observing all the proprieties with the exception of, well, Teyla once again coming to a bachelor's residence with only her lady's maid and the slight smirk that had graced both of their faces.
"So anyway John's going to arrange another meeting for us to discuss hours and projects and things like that but Radek, did I mention that he said that I'm meant to be doing this? That he wants me to work with him as a member of his own personal team?" Rodney couldn't stop the almost certainly silly grin that kept popping up on his face, no matter how many times he wiped it away.
"Yeah, you did mention that already," Ronon said, only rolling his eyes a little, because McKay was so damn happy and it was kind of...cute. He was getting soft, he decided a little regretfully.
He looked over between McKay and Sheppard and saw them sharing a silly grin. The two had been doing that since they'd gotten back. Ronon didn't think they even really realized they were doing it. He frowned considering for a moment. "So," he said slowly, "you're not going to be Sheppard's secretary any more."
"Right, but apparently I wasn't a very good one anyway," McKay remarked snidely, apparently still smarting from the earlier comments. Ronon ignored that because McKay hadn't been that great at it—kept getting distracted by weird science shit—and he ignored about half the things McKay said anyway.
"But you're going to keep living here," Ronon continued on his train of thought.
"Uhm, yes, I mean John wants me to, I mean," McKay actually blushed, "I mean we don't want my morning lessons to go to waste and, I, uh, really think I'm getting the hang of the knife-throwing so..."
"You are instructing Rodney in the art of knife-throwing?" Teyla frowned and shot Ronon a 'look'. Ronon was getting pretty good at deciphering Teyla's 'looks.' He was pretty sure this one was part annoyed that he was introducing sheltered Rodney to something that was dangerous and part annoyed that he hadn't offered to introduce it to her.
Ronon shrugged his massive shoulders in response. Once he had decided that McKay wasn't a spy for the McKay clan, Ronon had developed an amused liking for the quick-talking, awkward man who was clever even if he couldn't fight. If Sheppard wanted McKay to learn self-defense, knife-throwing was a good way to take down a target from a distance.
And he'd figured Teyla already knew how.
"So, you, uh, you don't mind that I'm staying do you?" McKay was trying to look like he didn't care, but the anxious puppy-dog eyes sort of gave him away.
Ronon shrugged again, reaching for the ale that was sitting in front of him. "That's fine. I was just wondering if this means you and Sheppard are going to finally mate now that you don't work for him anymore." He put his drink back down and then looked up with a frown, alerted by the sudden complete sense of stillness in the room. The others were sitting frozen in place as if they had suddenly decided to become statues. Teyla's eyes were wide in her suddenly taut face while McKay and Sheppard were turning pale. Well, paler.
The silence stretched on and Ronon began to wonder if he shouldn't have said that.
Then Sheppard erupted from his chair, leaning into Ronon's space and hissing "what the hell is wrong with you!?" and Ronon decided that, yeah, he probably shouldn't have said that.
Ronon blinked in surprise, not sure why Sheppard was so pissed. "Well...I know you like each other but you have that thing about fu..." he looked at Teyla and McKay, "having sex with employees."
At that Sheppard looked even more pissed off, which hadn't really seemed possible before he managed it. His face was ghost white now, contrasting with the glittering green shards of his eyes and Ronon felt a prickle of caution. Sheppard in this mood was dangerous. He watched Sheppard turn his coldly furious gaze from Ronon to McKay who, if anything, was even paler than Sheppard. McKay didn't look furious though. McKay looked like he was about to faint.
"Rodney, are you well?" Teyla asked in a concerned voice which was at complete odds with the furious glare of her own which she was shooting at Ronon. Ronon responded with a defensive scowl, resisting the urge to hunch down in his chair. Why was everyone getting upset with him? It wasn't like it was a secret. The looks McKay and Sheppard were always giving each other. The tension between the two of them that seemed to get thicker by the hour. A few days of sex would clear it right up and back home they'd have mated weeks ago. What was everyone's problem?
McKay rose suddenly, stumbling back from his chair, pale face stricken. "I, uhm, I just need to...I forgot something in my room." He literally ran from the room, quickly disappearing out the door.
John hesitated, staring after Rodney, torn between going after him and staying here and throttling Ronon. What the hell could he say to Rodney though? It wasn't like Ronon was wrong. But so much for taking it fucking slow.
Teyla, catching his hesitation, swiftly stood and offered John a reassuring smile. "I will go after him John. It might be better for you to give him some time to...calm down." Casting another furious glare at Ronon she disappeared out the door in a swish of skirts leaving Ronon and John staring at each other.
Ronon frowned at John. "Sorry," he offered.
"Sorry?!" John nearly spat the word back at him. "Sorry!? Why the hell did you say that?"
Ronon shrugged and looked at John with a hint of apology and puzzlement in his usually impassive features. "I didn't know it was a secret."
John looked at Ronon in complete disbelief. "Rodney is under my protection!"
"Not any more," Ronon defended himself, brows furrowing. "That's why I asked. And you want him right? I mean, it's pretty obvious."
John snarled. "I. Was. Planning. To. Take. It. Slow."
"Why?" Ronon frowned, genuinely puzzled.
John's face was starting to lose its bone white pallor and instead was beginning to flush an angry red. This was good in Ronon's estimation. The few times he'd seen Sheppard in a cold rage back in India, there had been deaths and large explosions and even Ronon had walked a little carefully around him at those times. If Sheppard was just plain old pissed off they could work it out with their fists.
"Because I didn't want to scare him off," Sheppard responded with a snarl, fighting the urge to rip something to shreds. Like Ronon's head. Because that plan was sure to hell blown what with Rodney's face looking like a child who'd found out that yes, Rodney, there is a Father Christmas, only he's a cannibal who eats small children.
"He did look pretty weird," Ronon admitted. Of course the British were pretty weird in general. He decided not to say that part aloud.
"Yeah, I did notice that," Sheppard snapped, still looking kind of homicidal.
"We could fight if it'll make you feel better," Ronon offered.
John glared down at Ronon and before the higher thought portion of his brain could finish considering, his fist flew out and caught Ronon on the jaw, snapping the larger man's head back. John watched Ronon shake his head, put his hand up to rub at his jaw and then return Sheppard's fierce smile with one of his own.
"Rodney?" the voice was hesitant and laced with concern and Rodney looked up to see Teyla standing in the door of his room a sympathetic smile on her beautiful face. Rodney looked at her lovely features and realized with sudden suprise that sometime over the past few weeks his old infatuation with her had melted away into pure friendship, burned away by the sheer force of his feelings for John.
He found a smile for her, a weak one, but a smile. "I'm all right," he offered, trying to set her mind at ease.
"It...must have been a shock. To hear what Ronon had to say. He should not have said it," Teyla shook her head in displeasure at Ronon's faux paux.
"John...John looked really upset," Rodney responded miserably, looking down at his hands. That was the thought that had hot and cold shivers racing through his body. John had looked so furious at Ronon's casual words. Had he misjudged John's affections so badly? And, oh God, had Rodney been so very obvious that Ronon—that everyone—could tell the way he felt about John? How much he thought about him? How much he wanted him? The thought sent curls of panic shooting through him.
"Rodney, I believe you have misunderstood John's actions," Teyla answered firmly, coming to sit beside him on the bed and taking his hands in hers. "John was indeed furious but with Ronon and not with you."
"But he was upset because of what Ronon said, because he implied..." he trailed off miserably as Teyla shook her head, her dark eyes filled with understanding.
"John was upset with Ronon for being so blunt, for bringing the topic to light now. I believe..." she hesitated, searching for the words. "I believe that John has strong feelings for you but that he has hesitated to express them because you are under his protection. John is a man who bears his responsibilities very seriously."
"So I'm just a responsibility to him," Rodney said a little bitterly, latching onto that thought in his misery. He was beyond thinking rationally about this now, the memory of John's reaction to Ronon's comments seared too vividly into his memory.
"Rodney that is not what I am saying," Teyla responded, her voice taking on a hint of sternness, unwilling to let Rodney continue down this path if she could help it. She had been convinced that John and Rodney were right for one another for some time now and had watched their burgeoning relationship with great approval. And Ronon Dex would know the full force of her wrath if his ill-timed outburst damaged their tentative love.
"John is a man who feels a great responsibility for those people who he sees as his family. It is part of what makes him a man people wish to follow and it is a great strength." Teyla smiled at Rodney, willing him to believe her. "John feels more responsibility for you for the very reason that he does care so deeply for you. I believe you have become very important to him."
She saw the doubt looking back at her and took a deep bracing breath, praying that her next words would be the right ones. "Rodney, John knows that your life growing up was not..." she hesitated, "an easy one. Your father and brother, they did not take care of you as family should," she saw Rodney's face whiten and pull back but she pressed on. "John does not wish to betray the trust and friendship that has been built between you by taking advantage of you when you are under his roof. Under his protection. He does not wish to betray you as others have."
"But...but it wouldn't be like that," Rodney protested automatically, dismissing Teyla's reference to his best forgotten family as her explanation of John's recent actions began to sink in. "John would never take advantage of anyone. That's just ridiculous and..." he trailed off as he really began to think about the situation from John's point of view. John and his soul deep sense of honor. Honor that should have been at odds with his careless disregard of rules and conventions but, instead, was somehow a perfect complement.
Did John really feel that way about him? The spark of hope that had begun to kindle warred with Rodney's insecurities. Yes, fine, John was nice to him and paid attention to him but John was nice to everyone. And the fact that John, who with his easy grin and shining charisma and complete lack of fear hadn't said a word to him, well, that was just further proof that of course it was only friendship that John felt. If it was more he would have said so in his easy, charming way that disguised his surprisingly intense nature.
The darkly amusing fact was that friendship was more than Rodney would have even dared dream of just a few scant weeks ago. But apparently he had grown greedy on the steady diet of John's affections because friendship wasn't enough now. Rodney wanted...he wanted everything. He wanted everything that made up John Sheppard. He wanted everything that made up John Sheppard focused on him.
And what Teyla was saying...made sense, Rodney concluded cautiously, hope beginning to win. He had witnessed John's protective streak every day since they had met as John interacted with the people around him, from the grooms to the ancient butler to the clearly not in need of protection Ronon Dex. But the person John was most protective of was...Rodney.
He looked across at Teyla and saw that she was smiling at him. Then he realized he was smiling back. "John Sheppard is an idiot," he said slowly.
Teyla nodded, still smiling. "And would you want him any other way?"
No. No, he really would not.
Rodney and Teyla walked down the stairs together, Teyla's hand a comforting warm presence on Rodney's shoulder. He needed it. It was one thing to believe that John's silence was the result of being too stupidly honorable for his own good, instead of just plain not caring, when he was upstairs a whole floor away from facing John. But now he was about to come face to face with the man and if John looked at Rodney with the same fury he had shown just a short time ago or, worse, with pity, Rodney knew he would cut and run. Because the hope was too strong and too new and too...everything. And if the hope was taken away he wasn't sure what would be left.
They reached the dining area and Rodney let out the breath he'd been unknowingly holding. It was empty. They turned to look at each other with considering frowns. "Where do you think..." Rodney started just as Teyla said "John was quite upset..." They both paused and looked down as they noticed the remains of what appeared to have been a chair. It was very...broken. They followed the trail of smashed items down the hallway, although apparently the men had managed to mostly restrain themselves until they had gotten to their chosen destination.
They reached the entrance to the ballroom in time to see John go skidding across the floor, somehow turning it into a controlled roll, smoothly springing back up to aim a vicious kick at Ronon's balls. The kick was smoothly side-stepped but the follow up elbow to Ronon's face landed, causing the larger man's head to snap back before his own almost instantaneous recovery and counter attack of a flying kick which John mostly managed to dodge and a vicious backswing which John spectacularly did not manage to dodge.
Rodney stared, horrified and fascinated at the same time. During the past few weeks John had spent most of his time working with Rodney. This was nothing like the sparring that Rodney and John did. This moved at a speed that Rodney could barely follow with no 'all right I'm going to do this now Rodney, you counter it with this' easy-paced instructions. This wasn't planned out. This wasn't even one of the ballets of beautiful, choreographed motions that Ronon fascinated Rodney with on a daily basis. This was savage, brutal, unplanned, un-choreographed and mesmerizing by its very elemental nature. And, oh God, Rodney felt his eyes widen with horror as John caught a fist in the ribs, Ronon was going to kill the love of Rodney's life!
He hadn't realized he'd spoken the last part aloud until Teyla snorted, a delicate, little snort, and shook her head in exasperation. "No, they are not trying to kill each other Rodney. Perhaps when this battle was begun they were truly angry. Now they are playing." Her words were dry and implied in her tone was the underlying statement 'men.'
"They don't look like they're just playing," Rodney said doubtfully, although the confidence in Teyla's voice lulled away some of his panic at the thought of John being in harms way although—Rodney's eyebrows shot up in impressed surprise when he saw John slip through Ronon's defenses again and land a solid, vicious kidney punch before he danced away from Ronon's longer reach—John was surviving pretty well against Ronon 'Bestower of Death' Dex.
"They are definitely playing," Teyla said in amusement as she crossed her arms and watched the show.
Casting another doubtful glance at Teyla—she certainly looked confident this wasn't a severe bodily injury type match—Rodney settled back and watched as well. It was an education. He had seen men 'fight' before. In gentlemen's clubs or at sporting matches. The word 'fight' now seemed silly as applied to those previous engagements. This was fighting. This with its no holds barred, no rules, no styles fighting constructed of lightning fast attack and counter-attack, thrust and parry, with fist, heel, knee, elbow and—Rodney winced—ow, the occasional very painful looking head butt. This was what John had been introducing him to in small, steady baby steps. Seeing it at full speed, played out by masters, by warriors he shook his head in rueful denial. He would never come close to this. If he worked and trained for fifty years he wouldn't be close to this. But then how many people could? Certainly not any of the people he knew. No one from his world. From his old world. He smiled at the thought.
He watched Ronon stagger back, grunting against a blow. The large man shook his head, braids dancing, circled, and with narrowed eyes feinted left, right, left quick as a cat to grab John with massive arms into a ruthless hold. John struggled viciously but remained firmly caught.
"Give?" Ronon asked in a voice hoarse with exertion.
John growled and managed to land a backward kick which caused Ronon to tighten his hold and shake warningly. "Give?"
"Fuck! I give," John finally grunted out and staggered when Ronon released him, sinking to the floor and lying in an exhausted pool of sweat and blood. He looked up at Ronon who stood, panting heavily. John noted with satisfaction that Ronon was breathing just as hard—all right almost as hard as he was. And there were red marks blooming along one cheekbone where Ronon was gingerly feeling the damage. And not all of the blood was his. And he was in a much better mood now. In pain. But in a better mood.
Ronon looked down at Sheppard and offered a low, sincere apology. "I'm sorry I messed up your plan to take it slow with McKay."
John sighed and let his head thunk back to the floor, wincing a little as it jarred his bruises. "I know you didn't mean any harm."
Ronon nodded and walked to the exit of the ballroom. He paused briefly and looked at McKay, who was watching him with wide eyes. "I'm sorry I messed up Sheppard's plan to take it slow with you." He watched the eyes widen further and heard Sheppard utter a strangled groan behind him and another 'thunk.' Smiling inwardly he walked out, hearing the door shut firmly behind him and a moment later Teyla fell into step beside him.
He looked at her out of the corner of his eyes as he automatically shortened his stride to accommodate her. At least she didn't look pissed anymore. She was frowning though.
Her beautiful eyes, narrowed in contemplation, rose to meet his. "I believe you made your last remarks on purpose. To make Rodney realize why it was that John was upset. That was clever."
He shrugged, feeling a little smug.
Her eyes narrowed further still. "Unlike your earlier statements which were said without purpose or thought and were hasty and ill advised."
The smugness slipped. Huh. So maybe she was still a little pissed.
Rodney hesitantly moved towards John's prone figure, Ronon's departing words echoing in his ears. They gave him the courage to move forward, step by unsteady step towards what he wanted so badly. Part of him wanted to turn around and run from John's silent regard as he lay, cradling his head in his hands, sprawled on the floor. As Rodney approached he watched John slowly pull himself upright, giving a grunt of pain as he brought his arms up to rest loosely on his thighs, eyes never leaving Rodney's.
Rodney came to a halt and looked down at the messy figure. And God, how was it possible that even after being pummeled by Ronon, John Sheppard still managed to look amazing? "Is...is what Ronon said true?" Rodney asked hesitantly.
"Ronon says a lot of things," John said, almost warily, reaching up to wipe his sleeve against his damp forehead and to run a smoothing hand through his messier than usual locks. It didn't help.
"About you wanting to..." Rodney swallowed nervously, "to take it slow with me."
John looked up at him and finally, green eyes dark and unreadable, gave a cautious nod.
Rodney felt something start to expand inside of him, filling him up. It was hope. It was...so much more. "You don't have to, you know."
John cocked his head at Rodney as if he'd said something fascinating in a language he didn't quite understand. "I don't have to...?" he trailed off leadingly.
Rodney felt his face redden and cleared his throat. Grasping his courage he looked John square in the eyes and smiled. "To take it slow with me John. You, uh, don't have to take it slow."
John stared up at him unspeaking for a moment, just long enough for Rodney to start to feel a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach as he wondered if he had somehow misread John. The narrowing eyes were the only warning before the leg sweep came from nowhere. One minute Rodney was standing and John was sitting relaxed on the floor, the next Rodney was half sitting half lying down in John's lap, his fall cushioned by John's kind of scary reflexes. Blinking, startled, Rodney looked up and was met by John's blinding grin and Rodney realized he was still falling. And he wasn't sure he was ever going to touch ground.
"You said I didn't have to take it slow," John offered, still grinning down at him, like a little boy who had just pulled off a prank.
"Uhm, I did say that," Rodney admitted, rolling his eyes and half-smiling. "I didn't know you were going to take it quite so literally."
"Well, I want you to be happy so I should try to do what you say," John explained, his voice lowering to a raspy whisper as his head dipped down closer until Rodney could feel the ghosting of John's whispered breath on his suddenly sensitized lips. "So I shouldn't take it slow?"
"No you..." the words were drowned out as John closed the gap and Rodney McKay found that talking was just...so overrated. John's lips, like the rest of him, were warm from his recent bout and Rodney felt the heat sinking through him, fizzing along his veins, along his nerves, God, who knew he had so many nerves? So many beautiful nerves. He reached up and sank his hands through John's damp hair and John seemed to take it as a signal, deepening the kiss, tongue questing, exploring, meeting Rodney's inexperienced but oh so very determined own. John's hands came up to stroke gently down Rodney's back and Rodney issued a muffled groan of encouragement against John's lips as he arched back into John's hands and the perfect sensation he was creating.
Rodney opened his eyes slowly, wanting to see John's face as he kissed him and frowned as he felt something liquid drip onto his forehead and slide into his eyes. Jerking at the sting of it he sat up hastily, breaking the kiss and muttering "ow, ow, ow, ow," as he rubbed at his eyes, trying to wipe the sting away.
"Rodney, are you all right?" John asked, concern evident in his voice, and probably just as evident in his face but since Rodney couldn't actually see John's voice because he was currently blind Rodney was going to have to take that one on faith.
"What happened?" Rodney heard John asked as he hesitantly risked opening one eye and saw the blurry figure of John's face swim into view.
"You dripped blood on me," Rodney accused, eyeing a cut above John's eyebrow which was slowly oozing blood.
"Oh," John looked sheepish, reaching up a hand to dab at the cut. He then looked down at himself, as if just realizing how much of a mess he was. "I, uh, I guess I should clean up." He plucked at his sweat drenched shirt.
"At least stop the bleeding," Rodney agreed with an eye roll. So much for the perfection of romance.
He watched John grin at him, his eyes playful and full of sin at the same time. "We could continue this 'not taking it slow' tonight after dinner," John suggested, his raspy voice causing all of the blood in Rodney's body to decide to head straight for his groin.
Rodney felt his face heat under the weight of John's smile but managed to smile back.
On second thought, perfection was overrated.
Chapter 13: After Dinner
Dinner was torture. Not that Rodney had ever actually been tortured, unless you counted growing up with Kavanagh, but this...this had to be pretty damned close. Like the water torture Rodney had read about years ago where water was dripped on you drop by tiny, insignificant drop wearing you away until all you could feel, all that you were was that one painful pressure. All he could think about was sex. Sex with John. Sex with John tonight. And he had to sit here, pretending everything was normal, as John sat across from him, looking as cool and relaxed as he always did, calmly eating his steak like it really was a normal dinner.
It was just the two of them at the dinner table. Teyla had tactfully made her departure while John and Rodney had been occupied in the ballroom and Ronon had vanished to his rooms—Rodney figured Teyla must have threatened him—having a tray sent up claiming he had, of all things, a headache.
Which left Rodney alone with John at the dinner table desperately trying to think about anything except what was to come after dinner because then he just might jump over the table and attack John right now because he didn't want to wait but he didn't want John to think he was a freak and he actually did kind of want to wait because now that he knew John actually liked him and actually wanted him he was terrified that he was going to screw this up and John was going to be disappointed and not want him anymore and oh God, what if he did something wrong and...
"Stop it Rodney," John ordered firmly from his place across the table, calmly raising a bite of steak to his mouth as he watched Rodney with mild, amused eyes.
"Stop what?" Rodney frowned at John, yanked from his internal panic attack. "I'm not doing anything."
"You're worrying," John pointed out wryly.
"I'm...I'm not worrying," Rodney said defensively, hastily stuffing a bite of potatoes into his mouth even though, for once in his food-appreciating life, he wasn't the least bit hungry.
John tilted his head to one side and raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Rodney, you're worrying so hard, the French are having Rodney-induced panic attacks across the Channel."
Rodney let out a huffy sigh and gave up his 'apparently not working anyway' air of calm. "I've just never, uhm, I mean I'm not sure I..." he shot a glance at Suzy who was serving out the next course and waited impatiently until she left the room taking her annoyingly chipper smile with her. "As you might have noticed I'm not very good at physical activities," he finally muttered, not meeting John's gaze.
The silence stretched out until, finally, Rodney's curiosity overcoming his embarrassment, he looked up to find John staring at him, green eyes gleaming and unreadable in the dim light. And then John smiled, a slow, cocky smile filled with sex and dark promises and Rodney forgot his panic and, God, his name, as his blood unanimously deserted his brain for southern parts.
"You'll be good at this," John promised in his raspy drawl that made Rodney want to whimper. "Besides, it's like anything. We'll just have to practice until you get the hang of it." Sin filled eyes pulled him in. "However long it takes."
Rodney tried mightily to prevent the blush that crept up his face but knew he was failing from the way he could feel the heat burning. Amazing that his face even had enough blood to blush since he could have sworn it was all currently pooled in a very different area of his body. After a moment of mind-not-working silence, he managed to roll his eyes and mock glare at John. "And I suppose you're the one to teach me," he meant the remark to come out snide but it was hard to sound snide when the words came out breathless and a register higher than normal.
John's face darkened. "I'm the only one who's going to teach you." It was a vow, and the possession and promise in John's voice and face made Rodney melt into a boneless puddle of goo. Oh God, dinner needed to end...right...now.
Rodney sat on his bed and fiddled nervously. Dinner had finally...finally ended and he had rushed back up to his room only to have no idea what to do with himself. John had said after dinner, but what time after dinner? And was he supposed to go to John's room or was John going to come to his room? Why hadn't he asked John that, Rodney silently berated himself. Of course, there had been two footmen in the room when they had gotten up to leave and then the butler had shown up asking John for a moment of his time and 'say John, your room or mine for mind blowing sex?' just wasn't the sort of question you generally asked in front of the servants in Rodney's limited—all right, fine, non-existent—experience with such matters.
Oh God, what was he doing? He was going to have sex with John Sheppard. Rodney couldn't quite wrap his mind around it. Why? Why did John even want him? Rodney moved up off the bed and went to the mirror set against the wall. Did he look like someone John would want to have sex with? He looked...like himself, only freaked out. Well that was no help Rodney thought in disgust. Anyway, he didn't even know what kind of person John Sheppard liked to have sex with so how could he really answer that question? He needed a data set for comparison. But Rodney had a feeling that most of the men—women?—people that John had slept with in the past had been a lot more confident, attractive and less insane than the madman currently looking back at him with wild, panicking eyes.
This was crazy, Rodney told himself morosely. He was insane to think that John really wanted him, and even if John thought he wanted him, once they were together and alone and...oh God, this was a huge mistake, he had to let John know.
John stared at Rodney's closed door and took a deep, settling breath. All he'd been able to think about during their eternally long dinner had been what was going to happen after dinner. It had been hard to keep his cool when what he really wanted was to order the servants out of the room, lock the door and initiate the dining room table, but Rodney had already been looking more and more skittish as the meal wore on and just the thought of Poole, his butler, who was so old he creaked, walking in on them was just...no. Besides, Poole was still pissed off about the damage he and Ronon had done earlier to the chair. And the clock. And the settee. So, no sex in the dining room. Besides, the waves of freaking out coming off of Rodney had almost reached the visible spectrum and John had focused all of his considerable energy on settling Rodney down and making him look forward to tonight. To now. A grin of anticipation on his face and a surprising dance of nerves in his stomach, John knocked on the door.
After a moment of silence, the door was yanked open and John could immediately tell that all the work he'd done over dinner calming Rodney down had unraveled. Rodney looked at him with huge eyes that were practically whirling in his pale face and immediately started talking at an even faster than normal pace. "I've been thinking and this is not a good idea. This is, in fact, a huge, huge mistake and I think that maybe the 'not taking it slow thing' was just really not the way to go and...mmphh."
Deciding there was only one way to cut this off John grabbed Rodney's head firmly with both hands and kissed him, backing him into the room, kicking the door shut behind him, all the while deepening the kiss. Jesus, he'd been wanting to do that every second of that eternally long dinner. Fuck dinner, he'd been wanting to do that for weeks. Coming up for air he studied Rodney's dazed face. "Better?"
"Uh huh," Rodney said vaguely. John grinned and dove in for another kiss, walking Rodney back until they hit the bed. A little pressure and Rodney went over backwards onto the mattress, John quickly following, landing on top of Rodney, his hands to either side to take the weight of the fall. After another minute of kissing—Jesus, John didn't know what Rodney was freaking about anyway because he was a natural genius at kissing—John raised his head and studied Rodney as he felt his own ragged breathing slowly come back under control. Rodney looked...a lot calmer, John noted with satisfaction. But as much as he was loving the 'not taking it slow' concept, John was acutely aware of just how inexperienced Rodney was and that he needed to take this in stages. So however appealing ripping their trousers off and burying himself inside of Rodney—and, fuck, he was getting rock hard just from thinking about it—it was time to ease back a little and let Rodney get his bearings.
John sat back on the bed and began edging off his houseboots, kicking them onto the floor, while he slowly eased out of his jacket and began to unbutton his shirt, keeping a cautious eye on Rodney all the while, in case he started to freak again. "How you doing Rodney?" he asked casually, biting down a smile at the dazed look that was still covering Rodney's usually animated face. Laughing was definitely out because Rodney could still be a little insecure and of all times this was definitely the one where John wanted Rodney feeling as confident as possible.
Rodney's eyes were slowly starting to clear and the sharpness was seeping back but he continued to watch John with a kind of awe. It made John proud and aroused and a little uneasy all at the same time and it made him want to replace it with something that would make Rodney look less like he couldn't believe he was receiving a gift like this and more like he damn well deserved it. Because he was Rodney and he deserved everything amazing and John just wanted to give that, to be that, for him. He dropped his shirt to the bed and started crawling towards the other man, enjoying the way Rodney's eyes widened at his approach. John crawled over him, gently pushing Rodney back from his sitting position until he was lying back on the bed, still wide eyed like a...well, like a virgin being seduced for the first time.
John leaned down and kissed Rodney briefly, almost chastely, before pulling back to look down at him, studying the planes of the man's face and wondering when they had become so familiar to him. "Do you know what I was thinking about during dinner?" he asked, reaching a hand down to slowly move his finger up and down the side of Rodney's face in an absent caress.
"Your steak?" Rodney muttered a little resentfully while reaching up to thread his fingers through John's hair, tugging insistently because he wanted more kissing. He really liked the kissing.
John resisted, giving a brief shake of his head and grinning down at Rodney. "I was thinking about this. I was thinking about how much I wanted you. I was thinking about undressing you," as he said it he slowly moved a hand down and undid the top button of Rodney's shirt.
He saw the flash of insecurity on Rodney's face, the aborted movement of Rodney's hand to stop him and the mouth opening to panic again and immediately lowered his head to Rodney's for a long drugging kiss as his hand slid lower to undo the next button. "I was thinking that you're brilliant..." he bit back the smile as Rodney made a half-agreeing 'mmph' as he swept down for another kiss, slowly working his way down with kisses on Rodney's chin, his neck, his collarbone where John couldn't resist a gentle possessive bite, causing Rodney to moan. John smiled into Rodney's skin. "Liked that huh?"
"It wasn't bad," Rodney half-muttered, before letting out a strangled moan and arching off the bed as John moved to the other collarbone, biting harder this time. Oh yeah, John smiled to himself at the reaction, he liked that. John worked the third button undone and began kissing his way down Rodney's chest, stopping to nibble and suck here and there in a lazy meandering path.
"I was thinking you make me so fucking hard Rodney," he heard the aborted sound of denial and reached out to grab Rodney's hand and place it firmly against his straining dick. "You make me hard Rodney," he repeated and almost groaned when Rodney's hand reflexively tightened. He put his forehead down against Rodney's chest for a minute and concentrated on breathing. When Rodney experimentally rubbed his hand up and down the front of John's trousers, the groan escaped and he grabbed Rodney's hand pulling it away. He smiled ruefully down at the muffled protest and Rodney's suddenly mutinous features. "If you do that again I don't think this I'm going to last very long," he explained. John watched his words sink in and Rodney start to smile, a little awed around the edges, as he finally started to believe just how much John wanted him.
"But I want to touch you," Rodney complained as John went back to his meandering path down Rodney's chest and, oh God, Rodney was starting to become an eager participant in this as his large hands began to roam up and down John's back, sending shivers of pleasure down John's spine. Rodney's hands moved to John's chest and began sliding down John's stomach heading determinedly south. John uttered a strangled hiss when Rodney's hands found their target and he hastily reached down and pulled Rodney's hands up again. Right, if he was going to last, it was time for a distraction.
Pulling Rodney's determined hands away John detoured up and took a persuasive tongue to one of Rodney's nipples, letting his teeth graze against the sensitive flesh and laving the nipple over and over. Rodney forgot all about his own roving and arched up letting out a strangled half-scream, half moan and muttering "Oh God, John, fuck, that feels so...John!" The last three buttons of Rodney's shirt were quick work after that and John was pretty damn sure Rodney wasn't feeling insecure about getting naked now. He wasn't thinking about anything, he was feeling, as John kissed and sucked and bit his way down Rodney's chest to his stomach. John was rock hard now just from the incredible noises Rodney was making. Oh, God, he wanted to bury himself inside of Rodney so fucking much. He wanted to feel Rodney surrounding him, he wanted..."fuck, want you so much Rodney, want you so much," he frantically pulled and yanked at Rodney's trousers, losing some of his normal dexterity in the frantic need to be skin to skin. Rodney wasn't protesting anymore, beyond thinking, wrapped up in pure sensations as John finally yanked down Rodney's trousers and Rodney's dick sprang free. John grasped it firmly and looking up at Rodney, wanting to see the emotions, the need on the other man's face, he swallowed Rodney down, firmly holding Rodney's hips as the other man screamed and would have jack-knifed up off the bed if John hadn't anticipated the reaction. One, two, three firm sucks and Rodney came, shouting hoarsely, shuddering against him, muttering incoherently as he writhed against the sheets.
Feeling the aftershocks and Rodney's shaking against his mouth as John swallowed was one of the sexiest things John had ever known and he sat back slowly, lifting a hand to wipe against his mouth and feeling his own dick thick and heavy and needing, his breath coming in harsh pants. Rodney lay back, gasping for oxygen and watching John with a glazed expression on his sated face. Shaking his head slowly he smiled in dazed awe at John. "God John, whoever invented sex, which, I guess...actually...God, was a freaking genius. That was the most amazing thing I've ever..." he frowned then in confusion, finally taking in John's state. "You're still..." his face became a little uncertain, "I can...what do you want me to do?"
John looked down at Rodney's earnest face and prayed, because if Rodney said no at this point, John was just going to have to go drown himself. "Rodney, I want to come inside of you." Please, please, fuck, please say yes, please...
"Oh...all right...I mean, yes," Rodney said, looking a little nervous but the trust in his eyes outweighed it.
Oh, thank you, fuck, thank you GOD.
Reaching down, John blindly groped for his discarded jacket and finding it quickly grabbed the jar he'd stuffed into one of the pockets. Tossing it on the side of the bed he moved up and began to tug Rodney's trousers the rest of the way off from where they'd become tangled at his knees. Rodney immediately lost more of his relaxed air and reflexively grabbed at John's hands causing John to just shake his head and smile at Rodney in disbelief. "Rodney, you can't possibly believe I'm not incredibly happy with the way you look." He looked pointedly down at the distinct bulge straining against his own trousers.
Rodney smiled a little sheepishly and hesitantly let go, helping John pull his trousers free of his feet, leaving Rodney naked except for his unbuttoned shirt. John looked down at him for a moment, drinking him in, appreciating the fact that they had finally gotten here. Rodney, tense again at John's regard, slowly began to release the tension as John made no effort to disguise how aroused he was, how much he wanted Rodney, the awe that shone in John's eyes that Rodney trusted him enough to let him do this. John knelt down and began to kiss Rodney's stomach, wandering back up the path of Rodney's chest to his nipples, where he spent a happy minute kissing and sucking, as his hand slowly began to work Rodney's dick. Rodney, who had so recently experienced what in his admittedly limited experience was the best, most incredible orgasm in the history of all orgasms ever, was amazed when his so recently indulged dick gave an interested twitch. When John trailed down and began a lazy tracing circle with his tongue against its underside while his hands moved in gentle circles on the sensitive inner skin of his thighs his greedy dick decided that yes, it really could show some interest so soon after mind altering orgasm, if this was the quality of attention it was going to be receiving.
John smiled in satisfaction at the renewed signs of interest in Rodney even as he ruthlessly crushed his own dick's urgent messages to fuck Rodney, do it, do it NOW. There was no way he was going to let Rodney's first experience be anything except amazing. Just no way.
Rodney was starting to make approving groans again and John took this as the sign, thank you God, to move to the next stage. Stopping for another minute of kissing because kissing was always good he smiled down at Rodney and grabbing the jar, he quickly unscrewed it and swiped a dab onto a finger. While administering more attention to Rodney's increasingly happy dick, he spread Rodney's legs wider and slowly began to work a finger in. The lotion helped but John could feel Rodney immediately start to tense around him and while it felt amazing and the thought of his dick being in there while Rodney was doing that made him let out a hoarse groan, that was never going to actually happen if Rodney didn't relax.
"Am I hurting you?" he asked Rodney looking up from his position.
"No," Rodney answered honestly, looking a little fascinated as well as a little freaked out. "It just feels strange."
John could work with that. "You know how you felt when I made you come before?"
"Like I'm ever going to forget that," Rodney smiled at the memory, which had immediately shot up his list to 'best memory ever.'
"This will be even better," John promised fervently.
"Not to feed your ego but I don't think that's really possible," Rodney disagreed critically making John grin up at him.
"Trust me, this will be even better. You just need to relax."
Rodney stared down at him for a considering moment and John could almost see the analysis going through Rodney's mind. 'Possibility of even better sex. Weighed against weirdness of having John's finger inside of me. Relaxing necessary. Analyzing...' The promise evidently made the difference because Rodney took a calming breath and John immediately felt the tension on his finger lessen. Taking a calming breath of his own he slowly worked his finger in, gently pulling back and pushing in again until his finger was all the way in this time, all the while trailing kisses on Rodney's stomach and thighs and running his tongue along Rodney's half-awake dick. Then he repeated the process with two fingers, taking the time in between kisses and gentle nibbles to mutter a fervent litany about how insanely hot Rodney was, how John had been wanting to do this to him for weeks, how brilliant and sexy and amazing Rodney was.
Rodney was unusually quiet throughout and John had a feeling Rodney was absorbing it all in, computing and analyzing the entire experience and that he might as well appreciate the semi-silence because if he knew Rodney, and he really thought he did, the next time they had sex—and the thought of a next time made him smile against the skin he was currently worshiping—he wasn't going to be a passive observer for long. Finally John reached the point of working in three fingers and as they fully penetrated they bumped against Rodney's sweet spot causing the other man to let out a strangled cry and arch up off the bed, his dick suddenly at full attention.
Uttering a final, fervent prayer, John withdrew his fingers against Rodney's sudden protests against their absence and, after hastily warming more cream on his hands and smoothing it over his own dick, he finally, finally, positioned himself and slowly, oh so fucking slowly pushed in. Oh God, the need to thrust was almost overwhelming and John ruthlessly brought to bear every ounce of self-discipline his old commanding officers would have sworn he didn't possess not to thrust mindlessly. When Rodney instinctively tightened again against the larger intrusion of John's dick, John could barely hold back the whimper. "Rodney, please relax," he pleaded against gritted teeth, forcing himself to stop.
After an agonizing moment which seemed like an eternity of torment for John, he felt Rodney relax and he pushed forward again. He managed to push in slowly, so slowly, no longer talking, no longer really thinking, everything in him focused on not letting go, not thrusting in hard, not...oh, and fuck, he was all the way in and it was everything he had thought it would be and so much more. And, God, he was starting to lose the battle. The need to thrust was taking over and he barely controlled himself to move slowly as he pulled back and pushed in again, inexorably, all the way to the hilt and when he heard Rodney let out a strangled cry he prayed sincerely to God and Jesus that it was a cry of pleasure because he couldn't stop it anymore and he was pulling out and thrusting in again and it was so good, so perfect, so much, too much and he was thrusting in and out in a steady rhythm now and he could barely hear Rodney's cries over the pounding rush of his own blood and "fuck! Rodney, fuck!" he was coming in the most blinding, explosive rush he had ever known and bright lights and explosions were going off in his mind and body and darkness began to close around the edges of his vision, so intense and overwhelming, before it slowly receded and he slowly, so slowly came back to his surroundings and awareness and...
"Rodney?" he asked hesitantly. Looking down at Rodney, he saw the man's face and relaxed. Rodney's expression was a pretty clear indication that he had enjoyed the experience since he looked like he had died and gone to heaven and had no intention of returning anytime soon. As reality returned, John realized there was cum all over his stomach and that he was still gripping Rodney's cock in his hand, where John had apparently jacked him off without even realizing it. Exhaustion sent a shudder through him and dripping with sweat, John collapsed down beside Rodney on the bed, absently using his discarded shirt to clean himself off. The thought flashed through him that he should really get up and find something besides his now ruined shirt to clean them both off. And he would. Eventually. When he regained the use of his muscles.
He watched Rodney, enjoying the sleepy satiation, the rare perfect contentment looking back at him. The last thought before John drifted off to sleep was that Ronon was getting one hell of a raise.
Chapter 14: The Plot Thickens
Rodney walked the bustling streets of London with what he knew was an insanely happy smile on his face. He couldn't help it. He had tried frowning. He had tried scowling. Each attempt lasted a few seconds at most before he would realize in exasperation that his mouth had stubbornly tilted up again and it was all he could do to suppress a stupid giggle. And...yes, dammit, there he went again. Rodney sighed, gave up the fight, and let the giddy smile have its unsavory way as he indulged in his second new most favorite habit in the world. Remembering having sex with John. The first most favorite habit, of course, was actually having sex with John, because nothing, nothing, was as good as actually having sex with John. He could now attest to that fact with certainty after having had said sex with John seven times. Seven! If his Majesty the King himself decided to appoint Rodney to the post of Royal Mathematician it wouldn't, well...Rodney paused, considering, actually that might come close.
Even the fact that he was on his way to a meeting with Radek Zelenka to talk about the best position ever couldn't really distract him from his memories. The last few days—and nights—God, the nights, had been like an amazing dream, only so much better, because they hadn't been fuzzy and rose tinted and based on what ifs; they had been sharp and sizzling and funny and real.
Rodney thought back to that first morning; of waking up with the odd, uncharacteristic feelings of happiness and, even stranger, optimism bubbling up inside of him. He'd been puzzled by the emotions for the briefest of moments as he'd blinked sleep encrusted eyes and tried to work out just what the hell the heavy weight on his stomach was. And then he'd seen the hairy arm sprawled possessively over him, seen the owner of the arm, and felt the memories flood back. John was lying asleep next to him, hair reaching epic proportions of messiness, red creases on his cheek from the pillow his face was smashed into and there was a damp spot on the pillow that was probably drool. It was the most beautiful sight that Rodney had ever seen.
At that moment, seeing John sleeping next to him, it was like a ray of light had exploded inside of Rodney, scouring away everything bad and leaving in its place...joy. Because John was there. And, of course, God, because they had actually had sex. And when John's eyes had opened, bleary and sleep deprived and with a sweet, boyish smile on his face that made him look young and vulnerable in a way he never had before, Rodney had felt his heart take one final, irrevocable tumble.
And then came more sex. Amazing sex. Rodney's grin widened even further at he recalled just how amazing. An older gentleman and his wife, strolling by, returned Rodney's beaming smile with friendly ones of their own and Rodney realized that, by God, this smiling business was apparently infectious. Doffing his hat at them and shaking his head at his own foolishness, Rodney tilted his face up to enjoy the rare London sun as he walked on. And that was another thing. He was walking. Voluntarily. If his persistently happy smiles weren't a sign that love was affecting his sanity, the fact that he had chosen to leave the carriage behind and walk the last mile to the RSMRL, voluntarily, was a sure sign that his normally logical brain was broken. He should really be more worried about that. His brain was by far his most valuable asset.
Funny, though, he just couldn't bring himself to worry too much about the apparent brain damage. That was probably because he was too preoccupied figuring out how to get John alone before dinner to have sex again. Being a smart man—hey, John had even called him brilliant—Rodney was sure he would be able to figure something out. Especially since Ronon was making himself scarce these past few days. It made Rodney curious about just what it was that Teyla had threatened Ronon with. Whatever she had said, Ronon was on his very best behavior. Which, all right, wasn't actually all that different from his normal behavior. He was just hiding in his room more, which suited Rodney just fine as he had yet to be able to look Ronon in the face since 'the incident' without blushing and because if Ronon wasn't around...easier to have sex with John!
Rodney paused at an intersection to wait for a closed carriage to pass, not even feeling a hint of his usual impatience when it continued to sit unmoving because...he was having sex with John!
The carriage door opened in front of him and Rodney glanced up automatically and felt shock hit him like a body blow. Apparently there was something that could rob him of his smile after all. Or someone. The happiness and the sheer giddy joy that had infused Rodney ripped away in the brief instant it took him to recognize the hawkish features of his father who watched his son with the same cold disdain that Rodney had known all his life.
"Rodney," Warren McKay nodded. "I would have words with you boy."
Rodney stared up at his father, feeling the unreality smothering him at the sight of the man he had feared and loved and almost hated for as long as he could remember. He almost climbed into the carriage in sheer automatic obedience to the stern authority, to the ingrained knowledge his father could and would punish him for disobedience. And then Rodney stopped, spine stiffening. The fear was still there, yes, but suddenly John was there too, in Rodney's head. And imaginary John was glaring at Warren McKay, green eyes hot and dangerous, and drawling 'Rodney, your father's an ass.'
Imaginary John gave Rodney courage and, taking pride that his voice remained even and steady, he answered his father as cordially as he could manage. "I don't really have anything to say to you father, other than that I am well and hope you are the same."
Warren McKay's stern visage darkened thunderously at Rodney's refusal and Rodney fought the urge to step back, to run, all the way to safety. To John. But he wouldn't. Rodney had done a great deal of thinking over the past weeks. About his life. About growing up at the mercy of father and Kavanagh. It had been the only life Rodney had ever known and he had accepted it because he had nothing to compare it to. Nothing except an ache in his heart to tell him it should be better.
And then he'd found himself in another household. A household with laughter and smiles and good natured teasing and yes, anger as well, but anger that was clean somehow, that didn't leave you bruised or shaking or with a soul sickening feeling of being less than nothing. Seeing John's household, the respect the inhabitants, even the servants, had for one another, had begun to convince Rodney that he was worth more. That he...deserved more.
Rodney reminded himself that he was no longer dependent on father for money or shelter. That he was no longer weak and afraid because he wouldn't let himself be. That he wasn't alone. He had John. And, looking up at father, Rodney realized with a jolt of surprise that he felt...nothing. No fear, no love, nor even hate. The only emotion he felt was wariness. The kind you felt when you were in the presence of a predator. The wariness deepened as Warren McKay smiled down at his son. It was not a pleasant smile.
"I am surprised, Rodney," Warren McKay responded, his tone vaguely mocking. "I would have thought you to be interested in Jeannie's future." He shrugged in a pretense of indifference, "but perhaps I underestimate your regard for your sister." He shook his head sadly. "Well, I will give her your regards when next I see her." He made as if to close the carriage door nodding curtly to his son. "I will be sure to inform her you were too busy with your new position to come and visit with her..."
"Wait, Jeannie's coming to town?" Rodney interrupted, surprised to say the least. Jeannie was only fifteen and currently exiled to the same place she was always exiled, one of the McKay country estates, accompanied by whichever governess she had yet to terrorize into fleeing. Not being a male and, therefore, of no importance, Jeannie had never been brought to London. Rodney had privately thought father's parental indifference was one of the kindest things he had ever done. Certainly, Rodney had often wished to be similarly 'unimportant.' Being left to a long succession of nannies and governesses whom Jeannie had started outwitting at the tender age of two, his little sister had grown up unfettered, strong and clever and more confident than Rodney had ever been. And if Rodney was a poor substitute of a parent for providing any warmth and affection, at least Jeannie had escaped the fear and anger and grinding down of the soul that came from a parent's constant disdain. If father was focusing on Jeannie now, Rodney thought with rising alarm, it couldn't mean anything good. In answer to Rodney's question, Warren McKay merely lifted an aristocratic eyebrow and sat back in the carriage, clearly confident Rodney would follow.
Rodney stared up at the open door for a brief frustrated moment but knew that father had won this round. Jeannie was the only family member whom Rodney could honestly say he had some affection for and if father had plans for her then Rodney couldn't walk away. Taking a deep bracing breath and keeping the mental picture of John firmly with him, Rodney climbed up the carriage steps and into the dark interior, sitting down across from his father as the carriage door was shut by a servant.
As he sat, Rodney took the opportunity to study his father, shadowed in the dim light. It still surprised him, how the storm of emotions his father had always called up in Rodney was now absent. All his life, Warren McKay had intimidated and crushed his youngest son down with words and fists and most crippling of all, contempt. And all his life Rodney had fought against his father in his own stubborn, passive way, refusing to give up his 'useless experiments', refusing to take up the proper—in other words useless—life befitting a member of the ton.
Father was still an imposing figure, sitting erect, silver hair and hawkish features giving him a striking air. And he possessed an aura of power that came from a life time of being instantly obeyed. But, to Rodney, after weeks in the company of Ronon Dex—who could crush Warren McKay with one casual squeeze of a massive hand—and John Sheppard—who behind the lazy smile and careless manner might be the most extraordinary man Rodney had ever met— well, it was hard to see Warren McKay as anything but...ordinary. But ordinary men could be dangerous too. Better to get to the point and get away as soon as possible. "You were talking about Jeannie?"
Instead of answering, the elder McKay gazed upon Rodney with an expression of 'concern', instantly setting off alarms in Rodney's head. "Rodney..." his father paused. "Son, I know you must resent having been forced from your home. Forced to take a position with Sheppard," a sneer accompanied the mention of John's surname. "But I want you to know that I had no choice in the matter."
"No choice?" Rodney frowned, genuinely confused, and not a little suspicious. No one made Warren McKay do anything he didn't want to do.
"I had not wanted to tell you this," his father continued in his concerned, I only want to protect you my son, tone of voice that the part of Rodney's analytical brain that wasn't focused on figuring out just what the devil his father was up to, was wondering cynically just how gullible father thought he was. "I had wanted to keep this burden from my children," his father continued. "But the truth of the matter is that our family is in great financial difficulty and it has reached a critical point."
Rodney wondered whether he should tell father that he kind of knew about that already given that the furnishings in their homes had been getting shabbier and shabbier over the past years, the number of servants had been decreasing and that Kavanagh had been complaining bitterly in Rodney's hearing, if not in father's, about having his quarterly allowance cut down. Instead he answered with a noncommittal "I see."
"Yes," Warren McKay nodded gravely. "There have been some unfortunate investments which, although at first I took to be the result of mere bad fortune, I now believe were the insidious work of one man."
The McKay family with an enemy? Imagine that, Rodney mused. Actually, it was amazingly easy to imagine given that Rodney had occasionally fantasized about burning down the McKay townhouse himself.
"And that man is John Sheppard."
Oh, well that made sense because...wait, what? "What?" Rodney asked, truly gobsmacked.
Warren gave a cold smile of satisfaction at Rodney's stunned reaction before his face settled into his 'concerned' expression again.
"Sheppard intends to destroy our family."
"That's ridiculous, John wouldn't do that. Why would John do that?" Rodney automatically defended his lover as his mind scrambled to figure out just what the hell father was up to.
Rodney's use of Sheppard's first name did not escape Warren McKay and he filed the fact away with interest and a certain grim satisfaction. If his son had somehow gained the trust of that bastard then all to the good.
"Sheppard has a vendetta against the McKay family Rodney," he informed his son gently. "He intends to destroy us for some imagined slight to his family's honor. He is entirely mistaken of course."
While part of Rodney's mind was examining 'imagined slight' scornfully, knowing full well his family slighted with ease and great practice, the rest of his mind was starting to deal with a slow, uneasy stirring. He had wondered from the very beginning why John had hired Rodney as a Secretary. Rodney, a man with no experience, a man John hadn't even seemed to like upon first meeting. Was this why? Could father be telling the truth?
As if sensing the hint of doubt unfurling in Rodney, Warren McKay circled in for the kill. "It was never my desire to force you from your home," he assured his son intently. "You are a McKay. You belong in the McKay household. But the truth of the matter is that the blackguard forced my hand."
Aware of his son's complete attention, Warren's autocratic voice softened with faux regret. "Sheppard has been systematically buying up every note and marker our family owes. He came to me that day and threatened me with them," his face darkened with outrage at the remembered insult. "He threatened to call the markers in, something no true gentleman would ever do, unless I ordered you to work for him. So that he could take his revenge upon you," he shook his head in sorrow. "I hoped that, as a 'gentleman', he would not abuse you unduly and for the good of the family I had no choice but to acquiesce."
Rodney wanted to scoff. He wanted to respond scornfully to father's accusations against John but...it explained why father would have suddenly decided to exile Rodney after all of these years, to a man he clearly did not like. It explained why John had suddenly decided to hire a man with no experience. A chill began to creep through his bones and, numb, Rodney listened to his father's voice continue on, his smooth words chipping away at Rodney's fragile new confidence in good things and kept promises.
"I thought that was the end of it. That Sheppard, as depraved as he is, would at least be a man of his word and leave us in peace. But several days ago I learned that he had acquired even more of our debts. Debts which he helped arrange. He now holds the mortgages on Three Hills, the smaller estates and on this town house in addition to several smaller loans." Warren leaned forward, intent on making his son see the severity of the situation. "Rodney, he holds enough to destroy us utterly. To destroy our family. And he's called them. If we cannot repay John Sheppard thirty thousand pounds by this Saturday we are ruined." At Rodney's continued muteness, his voice sharpened. "Do you hear me Rodney, ruined."
Rodney could barely see his father past the sudden muffled roar in his head. "Why are you telling me this?" he asked, feeling the world receding as he desperately fought back against the doubt being created by father's words. As his brain and heart alternated between 'you should have known this was too good to be true. Why would John possibly love you?' and 'John wouldn't do that, he wouldn't do that, he wouldn't do that...'
"Because it is your duty, as a McKay, as my son, to help preserve the family name," his father answered fiercely.
Rodney shook his head bitterly. "I don't have access to any sum of money that would make any kind of difference. What could I possibly do?"
"You are in a unique position Rodney," Warren said, tone suddenly silky as he got to the heart of the matter. "You have access to the man's home. As his secretary you have access to his papers, his financial records. Sheppard was a fool to allow you such a position even if his intent was to humiliate me." He leaned in, eyes intent. "You must find the original copies of the notes. Without those, he has nothing. It will be his word against mine and no one would dare question the word of Warren McKay."
"Father, if I'm caught stealing from my employer I'll be sent to Newgate. I could be deported." Rodney wanted to say he was surprised at father's request, but in truth he wasn't. Not really. He smiled bitterly, knowing Warren McKay didn't care about the risk to his son if it got him what he wanted.
He was proven right by his father's implacable reply, "then do not get caught."
Rodney looked at the man who had sired him and thought of John. John who might have planned to betray him before they'd even met. John who had made no effort to conceal his dislike—rather, seething hatred, if his father was telling anything close to the truth—of the McKay's.
John who brought him chocolates and books. John who had woken him up this morning with a smile, a blow job, and breakfast in bed before packing Rodney off in the carriage to meet Radek, reminding the nervous Rodney that he was fucking brilliant and Radek knew that and that if any of the other scientists were mean to Rodney, John and Ronon would shoot them for him. And suddenly the answer was simple.
He watched his father's face turn red then white. Watched from some far away emotional distance as his father, in a cold rage, dropped all attempts at 'familial love and loyalty.'
"You will do as I tell you boy."
"No, I really won't." It didn't matter whether father was right about John. It didn't matter whether John had hired Rodney to get back at his father. Actually that mattered rather desperately, but if it came to a choice between father and John...there was no choice.
He watched, still numb from the shock of the conversation, and wondered idly if father was going to hit him. He could block it. John had taught him how to block it. John had drilled it into him over and over ignoring Rodney's whines and complaints until he was satisfied Rodney could defend himself. But he wouldn't block it. Let father hit him. It would reinforce what Rodney already knew. That there was nothing he owed his family any longer. Except Jeannie.
As if reading his mind, his father smiled, and Rodney's wariness shot up to new heights. "I must say I am disappointed in your sad lack of loyalty to your family. Disappointed but not surprised." In truth, Warren McKay was very surprised at Rodney's rebellion. He had always been confident in his ability to order his children to do his bidding. But he had not come unprepared for this obstacle. "If you will not do your duty then your sister will."
Rodney blinked in surprise. "What? What do you mean? What could Jeannie possibly do?" Jeannie was fifteen for God's sake. Rodney had the sudden image of his petite little teenaged sister clad in black, breaking into the Sheppard townhouse to clandestinely search for the notes. Then the image rose of Ronon catching Jeannie at it and lopping off her head. Oh, that would be bad. Very, very bad.
"Very simple Rodney," his father continued acidly. "Jeannie knows her duty. I have arranged a match for her which will bring in needed income to this family. It may be enough to satisfy Sheppard until arrangements for the remaining funds can be made."
This was a lie of course. Sheppard's man of business had made it quite clear that if all the loans were not paid off by the required time he would foreclose on everything. But there was always, as a last resort, the continent. As distasteful as it would be, forced to live abroad among foreigners, the funds Warren would receive for Jeannie's marriage would allow him to live abroad in some semblance of comfort.
"Jeannie is only fifteen!" Rodney exclaimed in disbelief. "You can't seriously be considering marrying her off."
"I have no choice," Warren McKay barked back. "We can no longer afford a dowry for her and, in any event, no gentleman of polite society will have her once word of our ruin becomes public. The gentleman in question is offering to pay a dowry for her. This is a Godsend for us. Your sister will be taken care of. It will be a perfectly fine match."
"Who?" Rodney asked, dread rising in his stomach. "Who wants to marry her?"
The smile grew crueler. "Gerald Raines."
"What?!" Rodney gaped at his father, unable to believe his ears. Surely not ever father would...oh God, he couldn't let this happen. He knew Gerald Raines. The man was a sixty year old lecher and blackguard and the few times Rodney had been in his company he had come away feeling unclean. The man had married and buried seven wives in his life, all under the age of eighteen and unsavory rumors spoke of his enjoyment of girls much younger than eighteen in the more notorious of London's brothels. He was barely tolerated in polite society and only because he was rich as Croesus and titled. But mothers—at least those who cared anything for their daughters—kept them far, far away from the man. The thought of Jeannie being married to the disgusting old roué made Rodney want to vomit.
"You can't do this," he insisted desperately. "You know what kind of man Raines is. How can you even consider giving Jeannie to that monster?"
"Monster? I don't know what you mean," Warren answered suavely, settling back against the carriage, calmer having gotten the reaction he had been seeking. "Raines is rich and will indulge and pamper his new bride. Jeannie will have her every want satisfied."
Rodney shook his head helplessly. "You can't do this father," he repeated, sick to his stomach as he dealt with the knowledge that his father could, in fact do this. That he had every legal right to do this. Jeannie was a minor and the property of her father. If Warren McKay decided to 'sell' his daughter to Raines there was nothing Rodney could legally do to stop him. He thought of Jeannie, of her spirit, her stubbornness, her biting wit and sheer enjoyment of life. He couldn't let that happen to her. He couldn't.
He looked at his father, eyes dull with defeat. "I'll do what you want."
Chapter 15: Truths
Rodney entered the Sheppard town house feeling exhausted, as if the conversation with his father had opened up a black hole inside of him that was draining every emotion, every thought away into darkness. He felt numb, his mind moving sluggishly instead of at its usual kinetic pace as he struggled to come up with a solution, to solve the problem, to know the right thing to do but all he could feel was a numbing fear. Because he couldn't fail at this; couldn't make a mistake. Jeannie's future depended on him. If he failed there was no one else who cared. And beneath the fear for Jeannie, beneath the growing cold and numb duty, beneath it all lay a howling void waiting to consume him, waiting for confirmation that his beautiful new life was a lie.
He noticed Jacobson, the footman currently on duty, viewing him oddly and, straightening his shoulders, Rodney tried for a smile which, from the man's unchanged reaction, was a complete failure. "Do you know where Mr. Sheppard is?" Rodney asked, ignoring the man's look.
Will Jacobson had been viewing Mr. McKay with concern from the corner of his eyes since the man had entered the townhouse. Mr. McKay did not bloody look good. In fact, if Will had to make a comparison he would have likened Mr. McKay's expression to those of soldiers during the war, suffering from shell-shock; who had seen too much and had shut down in an effort to protect their minds and their souls. But that was stupid wasn't it now. This wasn't a war zone and Mr. McKay was a civilian. Still...well, the Captain would sort him out.
At the question he nodded. "Yes, sir, Mr. Sheppard is actually..." he sensed movement to his right and turned to see the Captain striding towards them, "right there."
John entered the foyer, his features drawn into a scowl aimed directly at Rodney "Where the hell have you been? I've been worried sick about you!" His eyes examined Rodney from head to toe as he scanned for signs of injury. Finding none the tension that had been winding tightly inside of John relaxed but his scowl remained firmly in place as he made the jump directly from worried to pissed off. "You never showed up at the RSMRL, Zelenka sent a note asking if everything was all right, and then the coach came back without you," he ran a hand through his hair in a harassed gesture. "I've got Ronon and Teyla combing the city looking for you. I thought you were attacked or had an accident or...where the hell have you been!?"
At the sight of John's scowling face, Rodney felt the numbness that had descended try to lift as he fought off the sudden near overwhelming urge to wrap himself in John's arms and tell him everything. Even with the doubts and fears that his father's words had raised and that now plagued him he still felt a painful lurch of his heart just seeing John's face, upset and concerned. His concern had to be real. Didn't it?
"I...I had to think," he stumbled on the response.
"Think?" John raised his eyebrows incredulously. "About what?" Seeing the blank look on Rodney's face he took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. When he looked at Rodney again the fear induced anger was starting to fade to be replaced by exasperation. "Is this about the RSMRL?" he hazarded. "Were you too nervous to show up? That's crazy Rodney," John shook his head in disbelief. "I mean, Radek is practically drooling over the prospect of having you come to work for him."
"It wasn't about Radek," Rodney shook his head.
"Well then what?" John scowled again, honestly puzzled and wondering just what the hell was going on. Rodney had been thrilled when he'd left this morning. A little nervous around the edges, but excited to the point of giddy. It had been kind of adorable actually. Like a kid going on the best field excursion ever.
"I...can we go to your study?" Rodney asked, avoiding the question, avoiding looking him in the eyes at all.
John gave Rodney a long careful look. Rodney looked...fragile. "All right," he responded slowly. He didn't know what the hell was going on but all of his war developed senses were starting to send out alerts.
He looked at Will who was standing at attention, doing his best imitation of inanimate furniture. "Will, ask Poole to send a note to Radek Zelenka at the RSMRL letting him know that Mr. McKay is fine, he was unavoidably detained and we'll be contacting him to reschedule."
The footman nodded, "aye, sir."
"Oh and when Ronon and Teyla return please inform them of Rodney's safe return," John finished.
John gestured for Rodney to precede him and they walked together to the study in silence. The moment they entered, John firmly shut the door and started towards Rodney. "Next time you get the urge to skip your appointments and wander around London for hours, send a note, all right?" He stopped in surprise when Rodney flinched back from his outstretched hand. The small movement had John biting back a snarl. He'd been working his way up from worried to frantic ever since the carriage had come home with no sign of Rodney and even though Rodney was here now, clearly safe and standing in front of him, his adrenaline had yet to be fully convinced and his primitive instincts were in full gear.
Rodney wasn't sure why he had backed away from John's touch. It was probably a far, far too late attempt by his subconscious to protect himself from the other man. But how could anything protect him from John Sheppard when he had Rodney's heart and trust and hope and probably his soul for safekeeping. If Rodney had made a mistake in giving John that trust, if Jeannie was destroyed because of it Rodney didn't think there would be anything left of him. God, if Jeannie's life wasn't at stake he'd have been tempted to bury father's words in the darkest, most cobwebbed recesses of his mind and hope that if John really was playing some kind of game that it lasted forever. But that wasn't an option now.
After leaving his father's carriage Rodney had wandered the streets of London aimlessly, feeling as if he was being torn in two. The growing sense of surety, the sense of belonging, the sense of trust in his new life was badly shaken. And overlying it sat the fear for Jeannie; the knowledge that if he failed there would be no one to protect her from father and Raines. That he couldn't fail. He had considered for a brief moment appealing to Kavanagh. The man did have a careless fondness for their sister. But Kavanagh would never risk going against father and, mildly fond of Jeannie though he might be, he was far fonder of the McKay position and money. No, in the end Kavanagh would sell Jeannie with a smile and a pat on her head if it meant preserving his own lifestyle. Rodney was alone.
Rodney had walked for hours with his thoughts running in the same frantic circles. Even if he tried to do as father demanded there was very little chance of success. John was the furthest thing from stupid and if he had notes worth thirty thousand pounds, they wouldn't be easy to find. Rodney had been given full run of the townhouse since his arrival and hadn't seen anything of the like. There was a safe in John's study but Rodney had seen the contents and while there could be a second safe somewhere in the house, if John was really out to destroy the McKay's he would never disclose its location to Rodney. My God, there was no guarantee the notes were even in the house.
And even if he did find the notes, how could he betray John after everything he'd done for Rodney? Of course, if father was telling the truth then everything was a lie and John had already betrayed Rodney. But these past few weeks couldn't have all been a lie. Because if John had really hired Rodney to wreak vengeance against the McKay's then he was clearly the worst vengeance wreaker in the history of vengeance wreaking ever. From the beginning John had built Rodney up not torn him down. John had given Rodney friendship and confidence and love. The only way John could wreak vengeance would be to take those things away from him.
Rodney realized bleakly that there was no way to win. If Rodney took the notes he would lose John, if he even really had him in the first place. If he didn't take the notes he would lose Jeannie. And the small part of his brain still thinking rationally pointed out that there was no guarantee father wouldn't just go ahead and sell Jeannie to Gerald Raines in any case. Because while destroying the notes might get the McKay's out of debt it wouldn't provide income for the future and Warren McKay was used to living in a certain style. If Gerald Raines really was willing to pay a great deal of money for Jeannie then it would solve father's problem of having to provide a dowry for her and his need for funds to continue on with his accustomed lifestyle. The only thing stopping father would be his feelings of caring for his child. His non-existent feelings.
Rodney considered running, taking Jeannie far, far away where father had no power over her. But he would need to flee the country and he would need money for passage. Not to mention he would have to find a way to support them both wherever they landed. There weren't a lot of positions for mathematicians out there. He could try to find work as a tutor but he would need references for that, references he didn't have.
The more Rodney considered his options the more it seemed that he was trapped in a nightmare with no exit. No matter what choice he took it seemed to lead to failure. Finally, exhausted by his thoughts chasing each other in circles, by the uncertainty gnawing away at him, Rodney had slowly made his way to the place he had come to think of as home, no closer to a solution then when he had left father's coach.
And now here he was with John standing a step away from him; beautiful, dangerous, incredibly alive John. And looking into his scowling, worried, almost hostile face, Rodney felt something go snap inside of him. And suddenly all of his choices fell away except one. One path. One gamble. And if it led him off a cliff then let the Gods have him as a willing sacrifice.
"You're going to destroy my family." The statement was simple, the voice behind it numb as he risked everything on John Sheppard.
He watched the anger fall away from John's face, watched him go pale, watched him back away and felt the ground begin to crumble beneath his own feet at the acknowledgement in his lover's face.
He watched John look away, closing his eyes for a brief moment before opening them and looking at Rodney directly, body unconsciously squaring into a military stance, face impassive. Except for his eyes. John's hazel eyes were a storm of emotions: anger, resolve, fear. It was the fear that kept the ground beneath Rodney from crumbling completely.
"Yes," John finally said his voice a hoarse rasp that held emotions but no apology. "I am. I'm going to destroy Warren McKay. I'm going to destroy Kavanagh McKay. I'm going to make them suffer," his eyes were unwavering as he met Rodney's gaze. "I thought about killing them, putting a bullet or a sword through them but in the end I decided that was too kind," his lips twisted bitterly. "And I didn't want to be kind. So I'm ruining them; financially, socially. They'll lose the two things that matter most to them and they'll suffer." Rodney watched muscles working in John's jaw, clenching and unclenching. "And they'll lose the power to hurt anyone else."
John's eyes never left Rodney's as if he was searching for something in the other man's eyes. "How did you find out," John asked slowly, as Rodney wondered what the man was searching for.
Rodney felt his own mouth twist into a humorless smile. "My father told me. He told me you hated us. He told me you were going to ruin us. He told me you hired me so that you could have the fun of destroying me in person. Because I'm a McKay. He told me..." he stopped as John was suddenly in his face, hands grabbing his arms tightly, pushing Rodney back against the wall, eyes fierce. "I didn't hire you to ruin you Rodney," John's hands were iron bands digging into his arms but Rodney barely felt the pain. "I hired you to protect you. I hired you because you're nothing like your father or your brother. I hired you because you love mathematics and you smiled at me and you were scared of me and you had ink stains on your shirt and...Rodney," John's voice was hoarse, pleading and demanding at the same time. "Rodney, you're not about revenge. You're...I need you to believe me. I need you."
Rodney closed his eyes against the intensity in John's face, in his voice. He felt the numbness crack, tried to hold onto it in a brief desperate struggle because it was his last protection. And then he let it go. Because underneath it, the void of emptiness wasn't empty after all. He opened his eyes and looked at John. And believed. Believed that whatever happened, whatever reasons John gave, whatever hatred John had for Rodney's family, what John had done for him what they had become together was real. And the knowledge filled the void. John filled the void.
Rodney's hands came up slowly and braced against John's chest, his arms still pinned by John's desperate grip. He smiled gently, "I believe you," and watched relief start to melt away the fierceness in John's eyes, felt John's hands give a convulsive shudder before relaxing into a looser hold. Felt, even in these circumstances, the awe that he mattered to John, that he could affect the other man so much with a few simple words.
"You believe me?" John asked, eyes gleaming green in relief.
"I believe you," Rodney repeated simply.
John let go of his grip on Rodney and moved his hands up to cup Rodney's head, resting his forehead briefly against Rodney's as he took a shuddering breath. "Thank you," he murmured, barely audible and Rodney felt the ground beneath him solidify into stone.
They stood silently for a moment, both of them dealing with the fact that they had almost lost each other. Finally, John pulled back and went to the side bar, shooting Rodney a rueful glance as he poured them both a shot of whiskey. "I think we could both use this about now," he commented dryly as he handed off one of the glasses to Rodney.
Rodney frowned at the alcohol. "Yes, because alcohol is the appropriate reaction to all horrifying situations," he said automatically, some of his sarcasm returning now that he wasn't about to be swallowed into a dark pit of endless despair.
John shrugged and downed his glass in one long swallow and Rodney, rolling his eyes, did the same, only choking a little as he blinked back tears.
They both sat down and Rodney turned to John waiting.
John sighed, knowing what Rodney was waiting for and trying to figure out how to start. He stared broodingly into his empty glass as he gathered his thoughts, before determinedly looking back up at Rodney. No more secrets.
"I never got on with my father," he started, raising his hand to cut Rodney off when he opened his mouth. "I rebelled against him in regards to well...just about everything," he admitted with a half smile. "My sister Lizzie," his face softened at the name, "was the only one who could make us behave in even a half-way civilized manner towards each other."
Rodney's eyes widened as questions sprang to his mind and fought to escape but he stayed silent. John had never talked about his family before. He hadn't even known John had a sister.
"I tried to run away and join the Navy when I was fourteen," John continued, shaking his head at the memories of his younger, impossibly stubborn self. "Father caught up with me before the ship could set sail. He was an army man himself," John explained. "I think he was more offended by my trying to join the Navy instead of the Army than he was about my actually running away," he added with a small smile of remembered amusement.
"Anyway, after all the threats and the lectures and the worst caning of my life, I was sent back to school. I finished up, went to University, took my first in mathematics." John flashed a small grin at Rodney. "And then I joined the Navy." He shook his head. "Father was so furious I think he would have disowned me if he'd had another son to inherit. He thought I did it to spite him. But I didn't. I...just wanted to see what was out there," his voice was almost wistful now. "The ocean, the feeling of sailing, when you're at the bow of a ship with the sea air rushing past you...it's like...it's like what flying must be."
"After I joined the Navy, father and I stopped speaking," his voice turned indifferent, masking whatever hurt the break may have caused. "My only contact with the family was Lizzie. She wrote me every week, faithful always; insisted on telling me how father was doing; keeping me abreast of the village gossip; advising me to please not get myself killed; giving campaign suggestions," his voice lightened at the memories of his sister's precocious letters. "Compared to her I was a terrible correspondent but I tried to send her letters and gifts from the different ports we made." It had actually been his favorite hobby. He'd spend days at each port trying to find the perfect gift for his curious, adventurous sister.
He shrugged. "The years passed, the war ended and I left the Navy and landed in India. And I never went home. If I'd gone home it might have been different," he murmured, almost talking to himself now. "Letters take a long time to get to India. Sometimes they don't get there at all. I didn't find out what had happened until it was all over. Until there was nothing left to do."
Rodney kept still and silent, afraid that a sudden move or sound would stop the flow of John's words. Although a part of him wanted John to stop talking. Because whatever John was about to say was going to be bad. And his family was somehow involved in the story. But he needed to hear this. He didn't have the luxury of hiding from the truth.
John shook his head as if to gather his thoughts and his voice firmed, evened. "Father was an arrogant man but honorable. He also had a tendency to think that being of a certain birth automatically made everyone else honorable." He shot a wry glance at Rodney. "That was one of the many things we fought about. Father had very traditional notions. Among other things, he considered actually trying to make money to be vulgar and ungentlemanly; which is probably why he was already in debt when he met Warren McKay at a house party." Rodney almost flinched at the sound of his father's name.
"Apparently they struck up a friendship and when your father learned of my father's financial difficulties he offered him an opportunity for investment. A mine guaranteed to triple his money." John smiled humorlessly. "Of course, father didn't have the funds to make the required investment but McKay was more than happy to offer a loan. Father could pay him back when the mine profits came through, there was no hurry. It was a gentleman's agreement."
Rodney closed his eyes, feeling the dread building. He already knew how this story was going to end.
"The mine was worthless of course," John continued on relentlessly. "And father's new 'good friend' Warren McKay called in the loan. Father lost our family seat. He lost everything. And then like an 'honorable' man he put a bullet into his brain to avoid the shame," John's voice was hoarse. "That's the only thing I can't forgive him for," he looked at Rodney now, his eyes dark and carefully blank. "He left Elizabeth alone. He left a sixteen year old girl alone to pick up the pieces of his mess because he couldn't face what he had done."
"John..." Rodney said gently, not even sure what he was going to say. To beg forgiveness for his father's actions. To tell him it wasn't John's fault that he hadn't been there to stop it.
John shook his head to cut him off. He wasn't finished. "Lizzie was devastated of course. She was only sixteen. Her father was dead, her home was being taken away from her and her brother," John paused, looking down at his hands. "Her brother was on another continent, pursuing fortune and adventure. She was all alone." And that he would never forgive himself for.
"Lizzie's an amazing girl," John said quietly. "She's absolutely brilliant and I'm not just saying that. She's fluent in seven languages, she's read every book in our library twice over, she has a passion for history and a grasp of political situations that any member of parliament would envy." John shook his head at the thought of his sister. "She's a complete bluestocking and she'd probably be an outcast if she wasn't so bloody good at getting her own way. If Lizzie wasn't such a decent person I think she'd be the next Napoleon," John half-smiled. "Only more dangerous."
"When father...when the tragedy happened she wrote me letters, telling me what was happening, asking me to come home. And then she just pulled herself together and took care of things. She couldn't access father's accounts, she couldn't sell the household items, everything belonged to Warren McKay; so she sold some of her personal things to pension off the servants who were too old for McKay to keep on and to...to arrange for father's burial." Which he hadn't even known about until father was cold and rotting in his grave. "She was given ten days to vacate the premises and she made preparations to stay with the Fosters, our neighbors, until word arrived from me. Because she was sure I'd come." He thought of his sister all alone, waiting for her brother to arrive.
"Lizzie's beautiful too," John continued, stating the simple fact. "Not pretty; beautiful. Kavanagh McKay noticed."
Oh God, no, was all Rodney could think at the mention of his brother's name. He knew Kavanagh; knew his reaction to the weak and defenseless. Knew what his reaction would have been to a young girl, stripped of the protection of her family and home. A young, beautiful girl. He wanted to shake his head against what he knew was coming. He wanted to deny that his brother would be a threat. But he knew better. He knew Kavanagh. Kavanagh preyed on the weak.
"Kavanagh occasionally accompanied your father to our estate for visits. In one of the last letters I got from Lizzie she mentioned him. She was amused by him. A little flattered that someone older, with so much town polish, seemed smitten by her but she thought he was too puffed up with his own importance. I remember when I read her news I was annoyed that some town buck was sniffing around Lizzie but I was sure father would send him off if he misbehaved. Of course, I didn't know that by the time I got that letter father was already dead." John's eyes were kindling with an ice cold fury. "And that after father died, Kavanagh's behavior changed. He began coming to the house alone, under the pretext of offering comfort to Lizzie. And the day before her eviction he offered to keep Lizzie as his mistress." John's hands tightened around his glass as if picturing Kavanagh's throat instead. "When she turned the bastard down Kavanagh got ugly. He told her she had no money, no family and no prospects, but that she was 'tolerably pretty' and once she learned a few tricks she should make a decent whore."
Rodney hadn't been looking at John. Too ashamed of his family to face him but hearing the buried rage he looked up, and shuddered at seeing the taught, icy mask of John's face, scarier than open fury.
"She slapped him and ordered him from the house. And that's when he grabbed her and threw her down to the floor." Rodney had never seen John as frightening as he was at that moment, describing the attack on his sister and he felt cold shivers of dread racing through him. Please God no, please.
"He forced himself on her?" He choked the question out, the first words he had spoken since John had begun his story. To his surprise he saw a small, vicious smile of satisfaction emerge from John's cold demeanor as John shook his head.
"She grabbed a fireplace poker and smashed him across the head," John answered; desperately proud of his little sister, even as he dealt with the fury that she had been put in such a situation.
"Oh thank God," Rodney felt giddy for a moment, a reaction of sheer relief that as horrible as Elizabeth Sheppard's experience had been she had protected herself from rape. His disgust for his family left him feeling dirty inside.
"Elizabeth had the local constable fetched," John continued. "She refused to let Kavanagh go quietly just to protect her reputation. And when the constable arrived, Kavanagh accused her of trying to seduce him into marrying her so that she could keep her home. And that when he refused her she flew into a rage and tried to kill him. He tried to have her arrested for the crime. If the constable hadn't known our family for years, she might have been arrested and deported."
Rodney closed his eyes. Of course, that's exactly what Kavanagh would have done. He would have been humiliated and enraged by Elizabeth Sheppard's refusal and her physical defeat of him. He would have wanted revenge. That he could have so easily tried to destroy a young, innocent girl made him realize that John was right, Kavanagh had to be stopped. Father had to be stopped. Before they could destroy another innocent girl. Before they could destroy Jeannie.
He opened his mouth to tell John that but before he could say words John took his hand, looking into his eyes intently. "Rodney, you matter to me more than I'm sure I can even say, but I can't let your family go. They have to pay."
"I know," Rodney agreed simply, nodding, knowing what John needed to hear. There was no choice to make, no question where his loyalties lay. "There's nothing that I can say that can excuse my family for what they did. You have every reason to hate me for my family's actions." He shook his head to stop John when he tried to respond. "I know you don't. Because you're a good man. You are a good man John," he repeated firmly. "Father and Kavanagh are my family and they've treated me worse than a stranger. You have every reason to hate me and you've treated me like...like a family should. I won't ask you to stop." He watched as the tension drained from John. Watched as John gave him a tired, relieved smile.
"But there's a problem," he continued, hating to see the tension return to John's face, but knowing there was no time to let the subject rest. John was the only one who could help him save Jeannie and he knew, without a doubt, that John would. Because, unlike Warren and Kavanagh, John Sheppard was a good and honorable man, everything Rodney's father and brother were not. He wouldn't let an innocent young girl be destroyed any more than he had been able to let Rodney be destroyed.
He took a deep breath and told John everything.
Chapter 16: A Rescue
"So we should just kill them both," Ronon concluded. He and Teyla had returned from their fruitless search to find Rodney and John in the study and, after being informed of the situation, the four had quickly settled into a planning session. Rodney had at first tried to insist that Teyla be sent away on the grounds that she was a female and should be protected. Teyla had very kindly not killed him in deference to his worry over his sister. John, who had grown up with the same notions of propriety being drilled into his head as Rodney, had half-heartedly thought about insisting too but...he wasn't stupid. Besides, Teyla was clever and practical and he trusted her.
"We can't just go around murdering people," Rodney objected to Ronon's suggestion, looking scandalized at the casual talk of killing. Father and Kavanagh were bad people. He was dealing with that. He had always known that. But the thought of them dead...a sick feeling of nausea swam in his stomach.
"Why not?" Ronon asked bluntly. "It'll solve the problem. The two men die. You inherit. You become guardian of your sister. Sheppard forgives the debt. End of problem." It was the perfect solution from Ronon's viewpoint. Simple, violent, and it would get the job done.
John listened to Ronon's arguments but he was distracted by the knowledge that, by underestimating the depths to which Warren McKay would sink, he had almost let a young girl's life be destroyed. He should have anticipated the situation. But for all that John was fully aware of the other man's ruthlessness, for the eldest McKay to be prepared to sell his own daughter, John found that he had some capacity for surprise left after all.
He should have put a bullet through Warren and Kavanagh McKay when he had first returned to England, he concluded grimly to himself. It was his own desire for a darker vengeance which had stayed his hand and if Rodney hadn't found the courage and faith to trust him...thank God he had.
Ronon's suggestion was tempting even now. Because he was right. Killing the two elder McKay's was the easy answer. The two well deserved deaths would solve their problems. But it would create new ones as well. Unless they could make it look like an accident, there was sure to be a scandal over the deaths which would reflect upon both Rodney and his sister. Not to mention that even if Rodney had no remaining affection or loyalties to his father or brother, they were still his blood. John had seen Rodney pale at Ronon's casual mention of a permanent solution. As disillusioned with his family as Rodney was, he was by upbringing and nature a civilized man.
John was civilized too...when it made sense. Ronon was civilized about once a week on Tuesdays. Teyla...well, John wasn't quite sure about Teyla but he had found over the years that women tended to have a practical streak.
John finally shook his head at Ronon. "No, we're not going to kill them."
He raised a hand to cut off the beginnings of Ronon's protest. Ronon subsided with a disgruntled expression while Teyla remained silent, keeping her counsel to herself, merely watching with an arched brow.
"We'll stop Warren and Kavanagh McKay," John looked at Ronon firmly, "without killing them." Unless they had no choice.
"Any funds Warren McKay gets for Jeannie's marriage will be automatically payable to me. It's not enough to cover the full debt so it won't actually do him any good and he knows that. So I'm betting if Rodney fails to recover the notes, Warren McKay is planning to turn Jeannie over to Raines, take the money and flee the country before I can assert the claim." John turned to look at Rodney. "That's why we're going to let the bastard think that Rodney succeeded in getting the notes."
"It will give us time," Ronon nodded.
"But time for what?" Rodney asked. Ronon's casual talk of killing had chilled Rodney, but he just didn't see how father would ever be persuaded to give up Jeannie. "How will you get father to let Jeannie go? Are we going to hide her?"
"Hell no," John smiled darkly. "Your father is going to appoint you as Jeannie's legal guardian."
"Father would never do that," Rodney shook his head.
"He's not going to have a choice," John assured him.
John had said there would be no killing. Threats, however, well threats were another story.
Warren McKay read the note in his hand with surprise and a rising sense of triumph. The boy had actually done it. He hadn't really expected Rodney to pull it off. His youngest son had always been clever yes, but in a bookish, useless sort of way. But according to the message Rodney had sent him the notes had been located and, once Sheppard was out for the evening, his son would arrive tomorrow with them safely.
This changed everything; he felt the excitement thrumming through his veins. He would be able to cancel his passage to Italy, although he would wait, of course, until he had the notes in hand and could be sure they were really destroyed. And with the funds from his daughter's forthcoming marriage his position in London society would be secure once again.
A muffled thud from above interrupted his planning and he looked up annoyed. Jeannie was being extremely difficult. His daughter had taken the news of her impending nuptials badly. She had dared, dared to refuse the marriage as if she had a choice in the matter. The girl had never even met Gerald Raines and had still thrown an unbecoming fit. Clearly he should have paid more attention to the quality of her governesses if this was the level of obedience they had taught her.
It had all started well and good when the girl had arrived this morning. She'd been very pretty and well-behaved if a bit overly emotional in her greetings. Due to the short timetable he was operating under, he had given the girl an hour to settle into the household before sitting her down in his study and informing her of the situation. Her first reaction had been disbelief. Her second had been to argue. When he had dealt her impertinence an appropriate set down the chit had actually had the utter gall to throw a temper tantrum, yelling and screeching like a common fishwife. He had almost given her a beating for her temerity but Raines was expecting to take his new bride to Gretna Green tomorrow and he would likely want the girl unmarked. So instead he had ordered Kavanagh, who had been hovering cowardly in the background, to take his sister up to her room and keep her there. She could bloody well stay locked up until Raines' coach arrived, the ungrateful, irrational brat.
Jeannie McKay rubbed determinedly at the tears still streaming down her face. Tears weren't going to get her out of this mess, now were they? Her heart could break later, when she was away from this horrible house and its horrible people. She had always known father didn't hold her in high regard. Always known he had a low opinion of females but to do this to her, to force her into a marriage with a man she had never even met. Her heart was breaking even as she fought back the pain of it with red hot temper. And Kavanagh that blasted cowardly dog, her mouth unknowingly formed a snarl. He had done father's bidding, dragging her up the stairs and locking her in here as if she were a recalcitrant child being sent up without supper. He had ignored her pleas for help and actually patted her on the head and told her that father knew what was best for her.
The devil he did.
And when she had asked him what this Gerald Raines was like, Kavanagh hadn't even been able to meet her gaze. That was a very bad sign, to Jeannie's way of thinking. A very, very bad sign.
She needed to find Rodney. He would help her. He loved her. The surety of that was helping her hold back the hurt at the rest of her family's betrayal and was giving her a lifeline to hang onto. Rodney may have spent most of his life buried in his books and research and avoiding father and Kavanagh but she had always been able to nag him into playing with her when she was a child and as she had gotten older he had never condescended to her intellect because she was a female. Instead he had impatiently insisted she had a brain and should therefore exercise it with something other than fashion magazines and proceeded to thrust ridiculously esoteric books at her, some of which she had actually read and some of which she had used as paperweights. Rodney would help her get away from here if she could only find him.
All Jeannie knew was that he had taken a position as a Secretary, which was bizarre enough. Jeannie couldn't imagine Rodney suddenly deciding to leave the shelter of home to take a position with someone even if he didn't get on with father and Kavanagh. Rodney was such a home body, so buried in his research and books. She felt a momentary pang of uncertainty, of concern for Rodney surfacing temporarily over the concern for her own self. What if Rodney was in some kind of trouble? She only had father's word that he had taken a position outside somewhere. She had to find him. But how?
Rodney entered the McKay town house feeling as if he were entering enemy territory, his heart beating a rapid patter beneath his breast. Everything and nothing seemed familiar at the same time. He had spent years of his life here and yet now even the furnishings seemed made of odd angles and alien lines. The one thing both familiar and actually welcome was Hodgkins, the elderly butler's lined and weathered face creasing into a genuine smile as he entered the foyer and took in the young master's return.
"Master Rodney, it is very good to see that you are well sir," the sentiment was obviously genuine and Rodney found himself touched, a wave of affection for the family retainer washing over him accompanied by simple gratitude that at least one person in this household held an emotion for him other than disdain.
"Thank you Hodgkins," he responded quietly, his smile small but genuine. "Is father at home?" He already knew the answer to that. They had timed it so that both Warren and Kavanagh McKay would be absent from the residence when they made their first move but Rodney still felt a thrum of nerves as he waited for Hodgkin's answer. What if father or Kavanagh had somehow doubled back? What if...
"Why, no sir," Hodgkins responded and Rodney released the pent up breath he had been holding with a woosh of relief. "Lord Warren is away at the moment. However, if you wish to wait for him, I can have tea brought to you in the library."
"Actually, Hodgkins, is, uh, my sister in residence yet?" Rodney struggled to keep his voice casual. "It would be quite nice to have the opportunity to catch up with her. Perhaps she could join me in the library."
Hodgkins blinked, the only sign that he was nonplussed at the request. "Miss Jeannie did arrive yesterday," he responded slowly. "However, she is currently...indisposed and resting in her room."
Rodney easily read between the lines and felt his mouth tighten. So the old man was keeping her locked in her room. Figured. Rodney could guess what Jeannie's reaction to news of her impending nuptials would have been and it did not include jumping up and down with glee. Pausing, he considered for a second before changing directions and heading up the stairs. "Well, I'll just say hello to her. Where is she? The green bedroom?" he called out over his shoulder.
"Oh, but Master Rodney, Miss Jeannie is indisposed," Hodgkins trailed up after him, distress evident now in his voice. "Your father made his wishes quite clear that she is to remain undisturbed until she fully recovers."
"Hang what father says," was the muttered response from the youngest McKay son, although Hodgkins was quite certain he must have misunderstood the young master's response. They soon reached Jeannie's quarters on the third floor and Rodney impatiently pointed to the door. "Open it Hodgkins."
"Master Rodney, it is my sincere wish that I could," strain showed in the elderly retainer's voice. "But your father left strict orders."
"Hodgkins," Rodney looked the butler he had known all of his life firmly in the eyes. "Father isn't here and I am. Either give me the key or I will take it from you. I will take full responsibility for any repercussions." As the butler hesitated still, clearly torn, Rodney's voice softened. "Hodgkins," he laid a hand on the other man's shoulder. "You know what my father has planned for Jeannie." The servants always knew. "She's only sixteen years old."
The butler studied him for a long moment and then very slowly pulled a key from a chain hanging from his waistcoat. As he placed the key in Rodney's outstretched hand the older man smiled tremulously, his eyes alight with something that might have been approval. "Might I be so bold, Master Rodney, as to say that your time away seems to have had quite a bracing effect on you."
Rodney felt himself smile in response. "Hodgkins, I couldn't agree with you more."
Straightening in anticipation, he inserted the key into the lock and the door swung open. Eagerly he began to enter calling out "Jeann...?" before ending with an undignified squawk of surprise as an object came hurtling at him with rapidly increasing velocity. Only the past weeks of training with John enabled him to deflect it and he was actually startled to find himself having reflexively disarmed his opponent and emerged from the attack unscathed, a fire place poker held loosely in his hand.
Of course, his opponent was a sixteen year old virago with blazing red hair.
"Rodney!" The shriek was heartfelt and relieved as Rodney suddenly found his arms full of excited teenager. "Jeannie," his smile was muffled against masses of red hair.
"Oh Rodney, I'm sorry!" She stepped back and her eyes raked him. "I was going to escape," she explained and then looked at the reproachful Hodgkins standing behind her brother. "Well, I'm sorry Hodgkins, but I didn't think that it would be you or Rodney opening the door. I was expecting Kavanagh, the dastardly villain." Her face darkened thunderously.
"Oh, well if it was Kavanagh, then good show," Rodney smirked approvingly as he tossed the poker to the side. His expression becoming serious, he studied Jeannie as intently as she had done him the moment before. "Are you all right?"
"Yes," Jeannie tossed her hair back and nodded. "But Rodney, father is planning to marry me off! To some horrible man named Gerald Raines!" Her young face shone with outrage.
"I know," Rodney answered grimly.
"Well, I won't do it!" Jeannie stated angrily, eyes flaring, as if Rodney were condoning the marriage. "I don't care if he's as rich as Croesus, I won't marry a man I've never met!"
"No. You won't," Rodney agreed and saw his sister relax slightly at his response. "Which is why I've come to take you away from here," he added.
The sun wasn't nearly as bright as the smile that broke across Jeannie's face as she threw her arms around her brother again. "I knew you'd come and help me Rodney. I knew it," she whispered, a hint of tears in her voice now.
"Oh, is that why you were going to run away?" Rodney asked dryly as he wrapped his arms around his sister.
"Oh, well...just in case you didn't make it back in time I was going to go off and find you myself," Jeannie answered off-handedly as she released her brother and moved to the corner of the room where there was a satchel resting.
"How would you have known where to find me?" Rodney asked, alarmed at the thought of his little sister running around London, completely lost. She had never even been to the city before.
"Oh, I have my sources," Jeannie said airily. Actually, she had bribed one of the chambermaids into telling her what the fate of her brother had been but she didn't want the girl to get in trouble. "Who is this John Sheppard anyhow and how did you come to work for him?" She asked, her eyes narrowing. "Is he treating you well?"
"That...is a long story," Rodney replied, suddenly very conscious of the time passing. "And we need to go now before father or Kavanagh return home. Unless, that is, you fancy being Mrs. Gerald Raines?" he asked politely as his sister opened her mouth again. At his question, her mouth shut with an audible snap and she hastened past him and down the hallway.
As Rodney and Jeannie moved swiftly to the front entrance, he looked at Hodgkins who was trailing after them with a worried expression on his face. "Don't worry Hodgkins," Rodney tried to reassure the elderly man. "Everything will be all right. No one will get fired for this and if they do, it won't be for long, and they're to come and see me at this address." He hastily handed the butler a card with John's address written on it.
As they reached the front door Rodney turned to give the place he had grown up—not his home, never his home—a final look and met Hodgkins' eyes.
"Master Rodney..." the old man hesitated and then smiled. "Good fortune."
Rodney smiled back. "I won't need fortune Hodgkins." He had John Sheppard.
Warren McKay returned home with a sense of satisfaction resting in his breast. Everything was going quite according to plan. Raines would be bringing his carriage around this evening for Jeannie. The chit was being ridiculous with her continued objections. The child had no notion of what was best for her. At Raines' suggestion, he had acquired a dose of opium to give the girl in her food. It would make her docile for the trip and probably make her first night as a woman easier to bear as well. All for the best. By the time she fully recovered from the dose she would be wedded and bedded and would have no choice but to settle into her new life.
Once he had the funds from Raines, he'd keep them close at hand in case Rodney bungled the job of securing the notes. Assuming Rodney did, in fact, do his job properly then Warren would see the notes destroyed tonight and have the funds from Raines deposited into his bank account tomorrow. He would then cancel his passage off island and all would be right with the world. Smiling in satisfaction he looked at the grandfather clock gracing the foyer. It was a bit before four. Raines was to arrive at six to collect Jeannie and the boy had sent a message that he expected to arrive this evening at seven. He would have Jeannie's things collected and her supper sent up at once. It wouldn't do to have Raines and Rodney's visits overlapping. The boy was overly fond of his sister and had a tendency to coddle her. While Warren was confident in his ability to cow any tendency Rodney might have to attempt interference it would be better to avoid any potential unpleasantness.
"Hodgkins," he shouted and frowned when the butler did not immediately appear. "Hodgkins!" He thundered. The man was getting old, Warren thought with irritation. It was time to think about putting the man out to pasture soon. "Hodgk...oh, there you are," he muttered irritably when the man hurried up, still managing to look dignified despite his rather rushed pace. "Have a supper tray prepared for Jeannie with the stew I mentioned. And bring it to me first. I'll take it up to her myself." He stopped when he did not hear the expected assent and threw a look of growing anger at the other man. "Well?"
"My gravest apologies, your Lordship," Hodgkins spoke, a hint of apprehension in his voice. "But I am afraid that Miss Jeannie is no longer in residence."
McKay froze. "What? What the devil do you mean, she's no longer in residence? Where is she?"
"Master Rodney came some time ago and when he departed, Miss Jeannie accompanied him," the words were carefully emotionless.
"The hell you say," McKay scoffed, even as a pulse began to beat in his temple, "the boy wouldn't have the balls to defy me."
"Master Rodney appeared...somewhat bolder than one is accustomed to seeing," was the reply.
McKay thought back to his son's actions in the carriage, of his unexpected rebellion. It had startled him but he had written it off as an aberration. He had been certain that the threat to Jeannie would cow the boy. Shaking his head, still refusing to accept Hodgkin's words, he strode up the staircase, heading to Jeannie's room almost at a run. He noted the open door as he approached and as he entered to silence he felt the pounding tempo in his head increase. He needed the girl. He needed the stupid girl. She belonged to him. She was his property. Rodney had no right to have taken her. Where could they be?
He had probably taken her to Sheppard's house, under some impression that they would be safe there. Well, the boy was a fool. In fact this could work to his advantage, he thought, his heart settling a little. If the girl was under Sheppard's roof, then he could have the man arrested for kidnapping. He could have the man brought up on charges. He was the girl's father; no law would keep her from him. He left the room behind and strode towards his study. He just needed a moment to think; to turn this around to his advantage. When he was done that bastard Sheppard and his traitorous son would be on their knees. He just needed to...he froze, some deeply buried instinct surfacing to warn him that something was not right even as he became aware of the study door swinging shut behind him.
He started to turn and had the impression of a massive shadow before a ruthless hand clamped over his mouth and he was held fast in an unbreakable hold.
He tried to shout out, but his cries were completely muffled by the hand on his mouth. Wide eyed, he took in the giant who held him in a ruthless grip. He was enormous, with long twisted hair and eyes that gleamed like some spirit devil. "We're going to talk," the man said in a deep bass rumble and Warren caught the glint of a blade approaching, curved and wicked from the corner of his eyes.
For the first time in his long and privileged life Warren McKay felt terror.
Chapter 17: Endings
John arrived at Teyla's residence feeling a certain grim sense of satisfaction. He wondered if he should feel more. After all, he was nearing the culmination of over a year's careful planning and manipulation; pulling strings, leading Warren McKay down a careful trail of bad investments to financial ruin while quietly buying up his loans. Every step taken had led up to this moment. So maybe he should have felt more triumph, more fulfilled; just more. But in the end, the overriding feeling to hit him was a sense of relief that this was ending.
He had done his duty by his family, avenged his father and Elizabeth, and made the world a better place by taking power out of the hands of two absolute bastards. He did feel satisfaction at that. But more than anything, John just wanted to move on...with Rodney. He wanted to lock himself in the bedroom with Rodney for a week and let the scary focus of a fully concentrating Rodney McKay settle on him. He wanted to be there to watch Rodney start at the RSMRL, immersing himself in the work he was destined to do. He wanted to watch Rodney working with Radek, the brilliant give and take they had established from the very start, and to hear the complaints John just knew would soon start flowing about the other idiot scientists.
He wanted to take Rodney traveling; to see the certain awe on his face as he beheld the Sistine Chapel; to laugh himself silly at the other man's reactions to elephants, sea voyages and sunburns. And he couldn't wait to introduce Rodney to Elizabeth. To see the man he loved and the sister he adored learn to care for one another. He wanted...the future. A half-smile quirked his lips. Maybe he was growing up after all. Father would have been...well, father probably wouldn't have believed it.
John entered the foyer and, directed by a servant, followed the hum of voices to a parlor where Teyla was sitting with Rodney and a teenage girl with brilliant red hair who was vibrating with the same kind of energy Rodney did when he was excited. No need to guess her identity. She was telling the others a story, accompanied with wild gesticulations.
"And then Rodney climbed up the tree after me, even though he hates heights. Unfortunately the branch really couldn't hold our combined weight and, well, at least the pond broke his fall..." the young girl broke off in the middle of her laughing recitation as she became aware of John's amused presence at the doorway.
Rodney, following his sister's gaze, jumped up from his seat with an anxious expression. "John! How did it go? What happened?"
In response, John held out the document he had been carefully holding and handed it off to Rodney who took it apprehensively, unrolling it and examining the contents. He blinked once as he read it through and blinked again as he started from the top and read it a second time. Then he looked up at John, an expression of almost disbelief on his face. "I didn't think it could happen," he said slowly.
"Your father was...persuadable," John said wryly. After all, Ronon was an amazingly persuadable sort of person.
"This is...this is amazing John," Rodney grinned then, a beaming wide grin, which faltered momentarily when his eyes, suddenly troubled, searched out John's. "Ah, father's not...I mean he's...?"
"He decided to take a trip to the Americas," John reassured him. "Ronon's just making sure he gets on the ship." And making sure the man didn't sneak off with any valuables which would make his new life more comfortable. No, Warren McKay was going to the New World with the clothes on his back. Let him make his own way. John had a feeling he wouldn't like it. "He's not hurt," well, hardly at all. Ronon had regretfully reported that the man had caved pretty quickly. John was just glad to see the man out of their lives. He didn't trust McKay not to try some other scheme to get back at them if he stayed in England and so John had arranged passage to get the man as far away from them as possible.
Rodney let out a relieved huff and started beaming again. "This is...John, this is..." he was actually speechless, reduced to shaking his head in giddy relief.
"So you're John Sheppard," Jeannie McKay interjected as she approached him and John felt an involuntary smile tug at his mouth. There was a glint in the teenager's eyes, a challenge, as she viewed him suspiciously. She reminded him of Rodney somehow, even in looks. She had red hair—Jesus did she have red hair—while Rodney had brown, and she was a tiny snippet of a thing while Rodney was tall and stocky in just the right way. But the tilt of her nose was similar, if smaller, and her eyes and the way she held her head as she examined him, the intense almost scientific concentration of her focus, they were all likenesses Jeannie McKay shared with her brother. It made John naturally inclined to like her. "I am," he smiled down at her, letting easy charm slide in to commingle with genuine welcome.
"Rodney told me what you've done to help him...to help me," she amended, her eyes grave. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," his answer was just as serious.
"I owe you a debt Mr. Sheppard. But if you hurt my brother I will set you on fire," she concluded, smiling sweetly at him, ignoring Rodney's scandalized "Jeannie!"
John's brows shot up and he nodded seriously in return before grinning again. He really liked this girl.
"Jeannie, really," Rodney admonished again, reddening a bit at his sister's words. "And after everything that John's done to help us. Look," he thrust the legal document at her face accusingly. "As of today you are officially my ward."
Hesitantly, Jeannie took the proffered document from Rodney's outstretched hand, ignoring his muttered follow up "which means you have to do what I say" and after reading the document, her smile broke out, as beaming and delighted as her brother's had been. Squealing in glee she threw her arms around Rodney. "I'm free!" She laughed again, expression giddy.
Letting Rodney go she threw herself into John's startled arms next. "Oh, thank you Mr. Sheppard. Thank you so much! I'm sorry I threatened to set you on fire even though I really did mean it."
John stifled a laugh as he gave the girl a friendly hug and then stepped back. "Since my new goal in life is to make Rodney as happy as possible I think I'm safe from you." He shot a glance at Rodney and surprised a shy, almost baffled look of happiness on his face at John's words. Bringing that look to Rodney's face would never, ever, get old.
"So did you threaten my father?" Jeannie asked, bright eyed with interest.
"Ah..." John hesitated.
"Oh don't worry, I'm perfectly fine with threats," Jeannie assured him. "After what father almost did to me I want to threaten him myself."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "You and Ronon are going to get along just fine," he muttered.
Teyla smiled at that and rose to join them. "What of Kavanagh?" she inquired, arching an inquiring brow at John.
"He's got nothing left," John shrugged. "The McKay properties and accounts are mine as of tomorrow. He'll have to find a way to survive on his own. Maybe some of his friends will let him leech off of them." Although he doubted it. The kind of men Kavanagh McKay ran with weren't exactly the loyal types.
"You are not worried that he might prove dangerous?" Teyla asked, her voice serious. Cornered animals were the most dangerous after all.
John shook his head. "No." John had arranged to have a couple of bow street runners he knew to be trustworthy men trail the bastard for the foreseeable future. It was worth the money to know Rodney wouldn't be bothered by a revenge driven Kavanagh. If the man tried anything stupid he'd be dealt with. Besides, John planned to pay Kavanagh a personal visit tomorrow to emphasize just how displeased he would be if Kavanagh were to attempt to contact the remaining McKay's in any way. But he didn't want to get into that with Jeannie here so he left it at a simple no. Teyla, meeting his gaze, smiled slightly, guessing at some of what he'd left unsaid.
"I can't believe it's over," Rodney shook his head again and sat back on his chair, dazed, causing John to shoot him an amused smirk.
"Thanks for the faith Rodney. It's touching. Really."
Rodney rolled his eyes at him, slumping down further. "Oh please, you know I didn't mean it like that. You're my hero," the words were meant to be sarcastic but they were accompanied by a look in Rodney's eyes that had John fighting back an uncharacteristic blush.
"It's just, I've been afraid of them for so long. And then I was afraid for Jeannie. And now...it's just over," Rodney said wonderingly. He sat up suddenly as a thought struck him. "Can we go home?"
Teyla raised a perfect eyebrow and asked with a cool, slightly offended tone of voice, "is my hospitality so undesirable Rodney McKay that you wish to flee it so soon?"
Horrified that he might have offended their hostess, Rodney sputtered out "of course not Teyla! You know that I am very grateful for your hospitality, for letting us come here...you've been a true friend and..." his stuttered apology was interrupted by Teyla's highly amused smile. "Oh, funny...hah, hah" he muttered, resisting the urge to stick his tongue out at the laughing woman.
"It has been a long day for everyone," Teyla responded, her mirth settling down. "I can quite understand your desire to seek the comfort of your own hearth."
Yes, that was it exactly, Rodney thought to himself as he caught John's eyes and let the warmth there settle through him. He wanted the comfort of his own hearth. Their own hearth.
He smiled at John. "Let's go home."
Kavanagh McKay was livid but he was used to being livid. He was a man who indulged his temper frequently and, because of his chosen targets, without fear of reprisal. No, what was infinitely worse and unfamiliar was the panic gnawing at him like some feral animal taking up housing in his guts.
He didn't know what to do. He didn't know where to go. He had returned home to find that father had, of all things, taken ship to America. It wasn't possible and at first he had refused to believe what the servants were telling him. Father despised America, a backwater land full of heathens and uncivilized masses. He would never choose to go there. But go there he had. And apparently Jeannie had left the house with Rodney of all people. It didn't make any sense. Rodney was nothing; a cowering, pathetic intellectual who had always existed, in Kavanagh's mind, for the sole purpose of amusing him when he was bored. That Rodney would have the courage to come into their home and steal Jeannie from under father's nose was inconceivable.
Kavanagh felt a fine sheen of sweat beading his brow and raised a trembling hand to wipe it away.
Without Jeannie they were ruined. Father had made their full financial picture brutally clear when Kavanagh had hesitantly protested that Gerald Raines might not be the best match for Jeannie. Once Kavanagh had known the truth he had quickly changed his tune to agree with father. He was fond of Jeannie, certainly, but every girl had to marry. Perhaps Raines had a bit of reputation but Kavanagh was sure Jeannie would do all right. She was a clever bit. But now she was gone, as father was gone. And tomorrow, every property and bank account that the McKay's owned would be turned over to John Sheppard. He had to do something. He needed to get Jeannie back. He needed to get her back.
John entered the McKay townhouse and handed his card over to the elderly butler, tersely requesting an audience with Kavanagh McKay. In a way, it reminded him of his visit here so many weeks ago when he had come to a different McKay. Of course, this visit was destined to go a bit differently. Then he had come to see if Rodney McKay was worth saving and, in the end, discovered that he was worth everything. Kavanagh McKay, on the other hand—the man was scum who John would happily see sunk to the bottom of Davy Jones' Locker. But he would content himself to see the man sunk to the very bottom of London society instead.
The first inkling that something was wrong occurred when the elderly butler gave him a puzzled glance and said "I am sorry, Sir, Master Kavanagh is not currently in residence."
John felt a hint of unease. The two runners who had been assigned to follow Kavanagh had assured him the man hadn't left the residence since he'd arrived home the night before. "I know he's here," he said firmly. "I don't care if he's not receiving visitors, he'll receive me."
The butler shook his head again. "I am very sorry Mr. Sheppard but Master Kavanagh is not turning away visitors. He is truly not here."
"When did he leave and where did he go?" John asked, feeling tension building in the pit of his stomach.
Hodgkins looked at the gentleman and weighed his options. While normally the butler would not have answered, this was the employer of Master Rodney who seemed to be thriving in his care. And Hodgkins was also well aware that this man would shortly own the McKay townhouse and therefore be his own employer as well. Did he really owe Kavanagh McKay any loyalty? Decision made, the butler looked apologetically at the other man and wished he had a better answer. "That is the odd thing Mr. Sheppard. No one knows where Master Kavanagh went or what his destination is. He was just not in the house this morning."
Hearing the butler's answer, John wasted no time. Biting back a curse he turned and exited the McKay residence in swift strides, his mind racing as he vaulted up into his carriage, not even taking the time to alert the runners they had somehow lost their bloody man. He turned the carriage around and set off at a pace too quick for safety, threading through the streets of London at a break-neck pace, focused on one thing. He had to get home. His mind tried to assure him that Rodney and Jeannie were safe there. That even if Kavanagh tried to break in and take Jeannie away there was no way the household staff, many former military, would let him. But in his heart all he felt was the urgent need to return home and protect what was his.
"Oh Rodney, I do like him," Jeannie sighed, eyes going a bit dreamy and Rodney barely suppressed the urge to snap 'he's mine!' at his sister. Not that he was going to get jealous of his own sister or that he doubted John in any way but, Jeannie was very pretty and almost as smart as he was.
"He's quite handsome," Jeannie continued her musings as she raised her teacup to her rosebud lips and Rodney resisted the urge to slap her. "It's just a pity he's so old."
"Old!" Rodney stared at his sister in outrage, jealousy forgotten. "Old!? What are you talking about? John's not old at all!"
"Oh, well, not for you," Jeannie assured him, shooting him a bland look. "Since you're old too."
While Rodney was spluttering at this insult—he was not old—Jeannie continued on. "I don't suppose he has a younger brother?" she asked wistfully.
"No," Rodney said, still glaring at his sister. "And if he did he likely wouldn't want an impertinent chit like you."
"I am not an impertinent chit!" Jeannie gasped, glaring in return. "I am a perfectly amiable..."
"harpy," Rodney interjected.
"...well brought up," Jeannie continued, her volume raising...
"you went riding in trousers until last year..."
"delicate like a rhinoceros..."
"Lady!" Jeannie ended in a shriek, reaching out to kick Rodney in the shin with one silk clad slipper.
"Ow!" Rodney clutched his injured limb and eyed his sister balefully. "Oh, yes, lady-like is exactly the word I'd use to describe you," he muttered sarcastically.
"Ooh!" Jeannie reached out to kick him again and Rodney scooted out of the way, smirking at her. "Too slow to manage to kick your old brother?" he asked, taunting, biting back a snicker at her outrage. He'd forgotten how much he enjoyed spending time with Jeannie.
Both Rodney and Jeannie looked away from their battle of wills and looked guiltily up at Poole. "Uh, yes, Poole?" Rodney asked the butler, attempting to look dignified and not at all like he had just been squabbling with his sixteen year old sister.
"There is a gentleman here to see you, Sir."
"Oh," Rodney frowned in surprise. "All right, is he in the parlor?"
He watched Poole hesitate and felt a flutter of apprehension even before the butler answered.
"It is a Mr. Kavanagh McKay who has come to call. He insisted it was a matter of great urgency." Upon learning the name of the caller, the butler had been in something of a quandary actually. He knew of course that, unlike Mr. Rodney and Miss Jeannie, the elder McKays were not welcome in the Sheppard household. However, the man had insisted it was a matter of life and death. If Master Sheppard or Mister Ronon were here he would have consulted with them. However, they were both out of the house and so Poole had decided to admit the individual and let Mr. Rodney decide whether to receive him or have him escorted out.
"What could he want?" Jeannie asked, her face suddenly pale at the reminder of her close call with marital unbliss.
"I don't know," Rodney answered grimly. But better to find out now rather than hide. Kavanagh responded to shows of weakness the same way bullies always did. It would only encourage him. Rodney wished rather desperately that John, or even Ronon, were here as support, but then stiffened. It wasn't as if Kavanagh could hurt him here. The staff were loyal to John Sheppard through and through.
"You wait here," he ordered Jeannie. "I'll go talk to him."
"I'm not going to wait here," Jeannie immediately responded, putting her tea cup down with a solid thwack and standing up. "I'll go with you."
"Jeannie, there's no reason for you to have to see Kavanagh," Rodney argued, trying to glare her into submission. Since it hadn't worked very well when she was three, it didn't surprise him when it failed again.
"I want to see him," Jeannie answered seriously. "I want to let that, that...blighter know just what I think of him."
Rodney hesitated. Jeannie did have the right. She was the injured party here. And it should be safe. "All right," he finally nodded and rolled his eyes at Jeannie's suddenly beaming smile.
They entered the parlor and found Kavanagh standing restlessly in the middle of the room. Rodney watched his brother warily, placing himself between Kavanagh and Jeannie. Or at least trying to. As soon as Jeannie entered the room she tried to make a direct line towards Kavanagh, her young face wrathful. "You, you, you bounder!" she scolded Kavanagh, tugging against the grasp Rodney had on her arm. "You were going to let father sell me to that horrible old man. How could you Kavanagh?" There was genuine hurt beneath the anger.
Kavanagh smiled and raised a placating hand. "Jeannie you've misunderstood this whole situation. Gerald Raines is a good man, extremely wealth, and he will be devoted to you. It's a good match for you."
"Oh, please Kavanagh," Rodney snorted in disgust. "No one here is buying that ridiculous story. Jeannie knows exactly what kind of man Gerald Raines is. A depraved monster."
He watched as Kavanagh turned a vicious glare in his direction, his smile slipping. "You'll be quiet if you know what's good for you," the other man spat, features turning ugly. Kavanagh was slipping. Usually, he never let this face show unless they were alone together. Jeannie had certainly never seen it before today.
"Don't you talk to Rodney like that," Jeannie stormed and Rodney felt himself taken aback more at her defense than Kavanagh's behavior. He was touched at her instinctive defense of her brother. But looking at Kavanagh he realized he didn't need it anymore.
"You have nothing to say that either of us are interested in hearing," Rodney stated, proud that his voice was calm. "Either leave or I'll have you thrown out."
"I'm not leaving without Jeannie," Kavanagh spat back. "I'm the eldest brother. She belongs with me."
"Father signed papers appointing me Jeannie's guardian," Rodney stated coolly, feeling hot anger rising. Even after all this, he couldn't believe Kavanagh still intended to sell Jeannie to Raines.
"I don't believe you," Kavanagh snarled, frustration clear in his face. "Father would never have given Jeannie to you. He despises you."
"The feeling is quite mutual I assure you," Rodney shot back. "None the less, it's quite true and legal. If you wish to challenge it I suggest you make an appointment through your solicitor. Oh, wait," Rodney smirked, unable to resist. "You can't afford one anymore."
He watched Kavanagh's eyes narrow and hastily yanked Jeannie behind him. Thank God she was just cautious enough to let him. She was normally fearless, but she had never seen her eldest brother like this before and she had just enough caution to be wary.
"Leave Kavanagh. Now."
He watched, completely distrustful of the sudden smile that Kavanagh tried on. It wasn't one of his best efforts as malignance seeped around the edges of it. "Fine," his brother straightened his shoulders and reaching into his coat pulled out a pistol, aiming it directly at Rodney's heart before he could react.
"I was willing to be civilized about this but you leave me no choice," Kavanagh said but what concerned Rodney more was that Kavanagh's hand was trembling slightly and that...oh yes, there was a GUN being pointed at his CHEST. Rodney felt his heart pounding through his body and tightened his grip on Jeannie, keeping her behind him. Oh God, oh God, oh God...
"Kavanagh put the weapon down," Jeannie cried out, trying to get out from behind Rodney. "You're not going to shoot either of us. Or at least you're not going to shoot me," she amended after managing to peek her head around Rodney's shoulder and seeing the half-crazed look in her brother's eyes. "You can't sell me to your precious Gerald Raines if there's a bullet hole in me, now can you?"
"But I can certainly put a bullet in my pathetic little brother," Kavanagh snarled back. "Jeannie you're to come with me right now," he ordered. "Unless, that is, you want to see our family decrease by one. I ought to put a bullet in you anyhow," he eyed Rodney with hate, taking a step closer to the man he held responsible for ruining his life. "You've betrayed our family. Helped to ruin father. To ruin me. And for what? For strangers. For nobodies."
"No," Rodney answered, head held high as he eyed the distance between himself and his brother. "For justice." Kavanagh was almost close enough. He felt light-headed and clear-headed at the same time, using the panic to fuel his senses and his brain, feeling hyper-alert. He took a slow step forward. Kavanagh wouldn't see him as a threat. He had never been a threat.
"Father deserves to lose everything," he watched Kavanagh's eyes narrow in rage. Another small step. "And so do you." He acted. Shoving Jeannie back and down he dropped to the floor and did a leg sweep, his long leg just reaching far enough to hook his brother's ankle. Kavanagh went flying up and back, dropping heavily to the floor, the gun dropping as well, discharging a bullet into the plaster with a startling bang. Rodney leapt onto his brother's dazed form and, in what would later be remembered as one of the most satisfying moments of his life, punched Kavanagh solidly in the jaw, rendering his idiot brother unconscious. Adrenaline was spiking and when he felt another hand on his shoulder, he reacted unthinkingly, jabbing an elbow back and catching the second assailant with a blow that sent him staggering back. Wait...what second assailant?
Looking back Rodney's eyes grew wide with horror as he saw John on the floor, rubbing his jaw and looking at Rodney with a peculiar expression on his face. "John! I...I'm so...you, are you all right?" Rodney asked, forgetting entirely about Kavanagh as he scrambled up and went to kneel beside his lover.
John continued to sit on the floor, rubbing his jaw. At Rodney's question he offered a rueful smile. "Yes, but it looks like I was a little late coming to your rescue." He nodded over at Kavanagh, laid out cold on the parlor floor. "Not that you needed it. You did a fine job all on your own." His smile widened and Rodney felt a flush of pride at John's obvious approval.
"You rescued me a long time ago," he said quietly as he offered a hand to John and the two men hauled themselves up. Rodney looked over at the fallen Kavanagh. And John had taught Rodney how to rescue himself.
"Jeannie, are you all right?" Rodney asked as his sister slowly walked over to their fallen brother staring down at him with a pensive frown. When she hauled back and gave Kavanagh a solid kick with one dainty foot he rolled his eyes. "So that would be a yes."
Jeannie turned to them and said with bright eyed interest. "That was wonderful Rodney, the kick thing you did. Can I learn to do that?"
"Uh," Rodney and John exchanged wary glances. "I'm sure Teyla would be happy to teach you."
God help them all.
Chapter 18: Epilogue
Rodney had learned an important lesson tonight.
Melted chocolate in bed was very, very messy; but oh so worth it.
Rolling over Rodney spotted a smear of chocolate on John's shoulder he had somehow managed to miss and dredged up enough energy to lean over and lick the spot clean. John, opening heavy lidded eyes at the sloppy kiss, smiled lazily and drawled "'m never moving again."
"That's a good plan," was Rodney's muttered agreement as he let his head drop back onto the goose down pillow with a sigh of contentment.
After a moment of peaceful silence John, ever the strategist, mentioned drowsily, "of course, if we never get up, Ronon and the girls will probably break down our door eventually to find us. That might get a little embarrassing."
Rodney, viewing the mental picture that John had described and finding it worthy of a wince, nodded, eyes still closed. "Good point. We'll have to get up."
"But not right now."
Rodney let his own eyes drift closed and as he felt himself slipping towards sleep and fought it back, wanting to remember.
It had been several weeks since Kavanagh had come to the Sheppard townhouse and Rodney had delivered 'the punch that must be savored.' After making sure Rodney and Jeannie were really all right, John had disappeared back into the night with an unconscious Kavanagh in toe. Rodney wasn't exactly sure what John had done with his brother but had been more than satisfied when John had assured him that Kavanagh wasn't actually dead but wasn't going to be bothering anyone for a very long time. Considering the extremely grim look on John's face when he'd said it, Rodney might have actually felt sorry for Kavanagh...if it were anyone except Kavanagh. As it was, the sorry bastard deserved his fate.
Since that fateful day, Jeannie had settled happily into the Sheppard townhouse and quickly become a fixture in their lives. As Rodney had predicted, his little sister got along alarmingly well with Ronon. The teenage girl, fascinated by his exotic appearance and completely undeterred by his stoic silences, had blithely talked her way through Ronon's normal reticence and was often seen trailing after him like an enthusiastic Irish Setter trailing after a bemused Panther.
Rodney had a sneaking suspicion Jeannie had managed to talk the giant into giving her knife throwing lessons but had decided to willfully stick his head in the sand about it as long as there were no knives being flung where he could actually see (and be fatally wounded by) them.
Besides, Rodney was busy enough working at the RSMRL and, oh God, it was everything he could have hoped for. Working with Zelenka was like working with a twin who could read his mind half of the time (although Rodney had come to the secret conclusion that he was more intelligent than Zelenka—just a little). The other scientists weren't half as intelligent but they were an all right bunch, treating Rodney with a sort of awe and sometimes envy which spread a warm glow of satisfaction through him when he noticed them at all.
And if working at the RSMRL wasn't distracting enough there was what to do about a certain John Sheppard's money. Rodney had known John had money. He just hadn't known how bloody much money. Apparently when John wasn't forcing Rodney to exercise, locking him in the bedroom to experiment with sex and chocolate, plotting revenge or rescuing people, he used his spare moments of time to make money hand over fist.
Rodney had only found out when Jeannie had excitedly asked him how big of a dowry John would provide seeing as how he was one of the richest men in England. She had it ferreted out of Ronon, which, first of all how the devil had she gotten Ronon to voluntarily disclose information, and second of all why the hell hadn't he known about it first!? When he had gone indignantly to Ronon, the man had the gall to frown at him and say he hadn't asked. Even Radek had known and confirmed it with a bemused smile saying 'of course Rodney, how is it you did not know this?'
Because no one had told him obviously!
Apparently John Sheppard hadn't just made a fortune in India. He'd made ten fortunes. And then steadily increased it with an intuition bordering on magic when it came to reading the stock market and knowing what overseas ventures to invest in. It really wasn't Rodney's fault he hadn't known. It wasn't like John lived in a huge mansion or had, say, told him. Rodney had very loudly let known his feelings of being the last person in Britain to know of this minor little fact. This had caused eye rolling amongst Jeannie and Ronon and stifled fits of laughter from John, which had made Rodney start throwing things, which had led to...okay that part had been pretty fun actually. Anyway, once he'd gotten over his annoyance, Rodney had started madly plotting and nagging John into building a new scientific laboratory. The RSMRL was wonderful but with infinite amounts of money, well, Rodney got all tingly just thinking about the experiments he could conduct.
And then finally there was Elizabeth. Elizabeth Sheppard had finally arrived in town this afternoon to meet John's new 'family.' Rodney had been panicking about it for the last week, hesitant about facing the girl who was so important to John when Rodney's own family was responsible for everything that had gone wrong in her life. The only positive about his fears was that John had found it necessary to distract him with lots and lots of sex. But his fears had been groundless because Elizabeth Sheppard was...well, as wonderful as John's biased descriptions had made her out to be.
Elizabeth wasn't pretty in the blonde, milk and water, plump-cheeked way that so many young British beauties were. Instead she had the grace, bone structure and elegance which would keep her beautiful at sixty. But what really made her stunning was the poise and strength which were amazing to see in a girl of eighteen. And when Rodney had tried to make stuttered apologies for his family's behavior she had smiled right over them and welcomed him warmly as a brother.
Rodney had mentioned to John with half-hearted hope that maybe the lady-like Elizabeth would rub off on Jeannie, the knife-tossing hoyden. John had looked extremely doubtful, muttered something about graciousness covering up a 'very dangerous female' and when Jeannie and Elizabeth had taken to each other like long lost sisters proceeded to mutter concernedly about 'world domination' and 'they were all doomed.' Rodney thought John was as likely as not exaggerating—which, hey, was usually his job—but if John wasn't well...at least they had an inside track with the future rulers of mankind.
Rodney suddenly became aware of a gaze and, distracted from his thoughts, turned his head to see John studying him with sleep-filled eyes. "You're thinking really hard," John complained mildly, lifting up a hand to slowly stroke the nape of Rodney's neck. "It's keeping me awake."
"Sorry," Rodney murmured his apology even as he was arching back into the caress.
"Anything wrong?" John asked in his raspy half-awake voice, eyes studying his bed-mate.
Rodney smiled and snuggled closer to John, closing his eyes in contentment. "Nothing's wrong." Nothing at all.
"Good," John yawned, bringing an arm around to pull Rodney closer as he spooned against Rodney's back. "G'night."
"Good night," Rodney murmured, relaxing into the embrace.
They lay in silence, Rodney feeling the steady huffs of John's breath teasing against his neck and he was swept up in a sudden wave of love for the man next to him, feeling so much happiness it was likely to burst out of his skin and illuminate the room. He wanted to lie in John's arms like this every night for the rest of his life. And the amazing thing was that he could.
"You're thinking again," John grumbled in sleepy protest.
"I love you," Rodney breathed out the words as he turned his head, eyes seeking his lover's dark outline.
Even though he couldn't see it, Rodney felt the smile; felt John's grip tighten on him; felt the simple kiss on the back of his shoulder; felt the man who had become his home.
"I love you too."