"Be nice," Jennifer hissed as the bell over the door jingled happily. He rolled his eyes at her back as followed her deeper into the bookstore. As if she hadn't reminded him the whole way here! He had argued with one customer at a single event and had never been allowed to forget it.
He looked nervously at the long line winding its way through the bookshelves of the store. It was his first book signing in at least two years and while it was an ego boost to see so many people eager to meet him, he was feeling preemptive pain in his hand at the thought of signing all those books. Rodney wished he hadn't forgotten his wrist brace at home; carpal tunnel was a very real danger for him.
Finally, Jennifer seemed to reach her destination. She pushed open a door in the back of the bookstore, a plaque that said Employees Only adorning it, but before Rodney could follow she was coming back out, brow furrowed in consternation.
"The owner isn't back there," she reported. "Stay here, I'll go find him."
Rodney hovered awkwardly outside the door. After a moment of indecision, he began to peruse the titles on the shelf nearest him, which was apparently dedicated to bestsellers of the fantasy genre. Not normally his thing, but there were a couple books that looked of interest, and he hasn't read anything in so long, not wanting to accidentally incorporate things from other books into his own. He had just gotten to the third page when someone cleared their throat behind him.
The man was hot, with ridiculous hair and full lips, which were quirked up in amusement. The light was glinting off his glasses, concealing his eyes, and for one moment Rodney hoped this was a fan. Rodney smiled in greeting and hoped the stupid sweater looked as good on him as Jennifer insisted.
"Hello," Rodney said, waving one hand.
"Hey," the man drawled. "Welcome to Puddlejumpers."
"It's good to be here," Rodney began, then winced when a child began to wail. He reminded himself that this was only going to last for a couple hours and then he could go back to his quiet little house and hide from the world.
"I'm sure," the man agreed, and no doubt about it now, he was laughing at Rodney. "I was surprised when you agreed to hold the event in my little store."
"Oh, this is - this is your store?" Rodney asked, surprised. John raised his eyebrows at that, and Rodney hastened to reassure him. "No, I love it. There's something about small bookstores, you know? That sense of comfort and, and possibilities. This place is fantastic, I love the reading nooks and armchairs and everything. I just thought the owner would be..." Old. Not quite so disarmingly hot.
The owner pushed his glasses further up his nose and smiled. "Thank you. I've worked hard to make it homey."
"Well done!" Rodney nodded enthusiastically.
"I'm John Sheppard," the man continued. He tilted his head just so and Rodney could see his eyes, a pretty green hazel, and of course he couldn't have boring brown eyes or everyday blue ones.
"Rodney McKay," Rodney supplied, holding out his hand for a shake. John's smile widened.
"I know, I invited you here."
"Right, yes, of course. Bad habit."
"John! I've been looking for you everywhere." Jennifer appeared from between the stacks, looking young and beautiful. When John smiled warmly at her, Rodney let go of his hand, which he'd held for too long, and resigned himself to his publicist getting yet another phone number. He didn't begrudge her the opportunities, of course, but would it hurt for one beautiful person to look his way?
"Ms. Keller," John greeted. "Is everything ready?"
Jennifer nodded. She sent a quick, teasing glance Rodney's way. "We should probably get started now, before the crowd scares Rodney off."
"Hey, I'm committed to this!" Rodney objected, not wanting John to think he was a flake. "I'm not going to back out."
"Of course not," Jennifer's smile went indulgent. She hurried off to get things started, and Rodney figured he was supposed to follow. Before going, however, Rodney glanced at John.
"If you find me after I'm finished, I'll sign something of yours," he offered.
"Thanks, buddy," John said, and clasped Rodney's upper arm. His warm touch lingered as their eyes met. Rodney licked his lips and John's eyes dipped to follow his tongue. Rodney swayed closer, tilting his head up. He really wanted to see if those lips were as soft as they looked.
"Rodney! We're starting!" Jennifer called, and Rodney froze. John took a step back, a light flush coloring his cheeks. He gestured for Rodney to go first. Disappointed the moment was over, Rodney did, hyper aware of John at his back.
The crowd looked even more intimidating sitting at a small table in front of them all. Rodney wiggled his fingers to stretch them, pasted on his brightest, most welcoming smile, and greeted the first patron. Faces and names began to blur as Rodney met person after person. His cheeks hurt from smiling so much and his signature grew sloppier and sloppier as time passed. When John slide a cup of coffee onto the table, Rodney sent him a heated look, gratitude and attraction making him bold. John winked and was gone again, and the long line continued.
The jingle of the bell sounded as the last customer left, and the sound of the front door being locked behind them broke whatever dazed, mechanical state Rodney had fallen into. He dropped his pen and pressed his hand flat against the table.
"Oh my god," he moaned pathetically.
"You did great, Rodney," Jennifer murmured. She patted his back encouragingly. "Call me tomorrow, okay?"
She was gone before Rodney realized something was wrong. He and Jennifer always went out to eat after an event. They'd walk back to their cars together, going over the event and what was coming next. He blinked tiredly and ran a hand over his face.
"Good turnout," John said suddenly. Rodney jumped, banging his knee on the underside of the table. John was standing before him in his wrinkled black shirt, Rodney's book in one hand. His smile was warm and his eyes were crinkled at the corners. Rodney felt his night improving and sent Jennifer a silent thanks for her quiet exit. He held out his hand for his book and their fingers brushed as John passed it over.
Rodney had spent the day writing brief notes for strangers. He wanted to write something special for John but his tired brain couldn't come up with anything pithy or witty. Scribbling quickly, he handed the book back to John. He fidgeted nervously in his seat while John flipped the book open and read silently. Already he was regretting being so bold - what had he been thinking? Rodney stared down at the table and felt his cheeks heat with embarrassment. John's hands came into view as he carefully set the book down on the table, the cover still open, revealing Rodney's message:
To John: Great book shop. Wonderful collections on your shelves. Maybe add me to them? (164) 318-7919.
"I know a great restaurant nearby," John offered. He reached out and touched Rodney's hand with the tips of his fingers. He gave Rodney an inviting smile and arched an eyebrow. Rodney slowly smiled back, feeling warm all the way through, and had a strong feeling he'd be getting to see what books John kept at home.