sgasesa_admin (sgasesa_admin) wrote in sga_santa,

Fic: On the Bunny Trail (McKay/Sheppard, PG)

Title: On the Bunny Trail
Author: busaikko
Betas: The fabulous three: K, who did fierce battle with run-on sentences and babies; G, who tuned up the grammar and questioned motivations; and Miss T, for the capslock laughter and good advice
For: goddess47, who wanted Happy endings and fluffy bunnies
Rating: Angora-fluffy PG
Pairing: McKay/Sheppard
Summary: Bunny herding. Fluffy bunny herding. Manly fluffy bunny herding. *coughs* AU starting after S5 'The Seed'.
Soundtrack" (surprisingly angsty for this fic)

The encampment Ronon had arranged for them to visit was four hours by jumper from the stargate. Rodney spent most of the in-flight time hunkered down over his laptop reviewing the latest journals he'd received in the databurst. Occasionally he had to quote the stupidest parts out loud. Teyla nodded at him in the same way that she did when validating Torren's feelings (What a powerful kick you have. . . my, what a competent physicist you are).

Torren was (finally) asleep after a good hour or so of fussing, although every now and then (usually coinciding with Rodney's outbursts, oddly enough) he flailed his arms out like some kind of zombie creature reanimating itself. Teyla had so far been able to keep him down. Rodney still questioned Woolsey's wisdom in allowing Teyla to bring him, but the pre-departure meeting had included information about breasts and breastfeeding and breast pumping, and while Rodney was as fond of breasts as the next bisexual man, he liked to appreciate the fullness and not the function, as it were. Woolsey had been so discomfited that he'd reclassified the trip from mission of exploration to escort of guest speaker -- which wasn't even a lie, as Teyla had received an official gilt-edged Guest of Honour invitation.

Ronon was sprawled out comfortably on the floor, reading through some paperback about spies and ninjas he'd picked up on Earth. Every now and then he asked Rodney questions that Rodney had no idea how to answer (just what was a shuriken, anyway?). He thought Ronon was messing with his head for the amusement factor.

John was watching the HUD as if he was absolutely fascinated by the stream of data on the planet below. Rodney thought it was same old same old: the stargate had been on a grassy plateau, they'd shot out over a vast stretch of forest, now they were over the mountains, and apparently the place they were heading for was lush grassland. Most of the planet's population lived along the shores of the great inland lakes, well away from all of the nature, in rarely-culled cities with (apparently) good public transportation and bunkers. Their flight path had only taken them over a few small settlements, identified by the clearings made for fields. Other than that, there was a whole lot of nothing.

Rodney figured John wasn't as excited about this trip as Ronon and Teyla were. On the one hand, maybe he would be able to stand off to the side with John and exchange snide remarks about the ridiculous festivities. But it bothered him more than he was willing to admit that John wasn't excited by anything these days.

John had been up on crutches within the week of his second surgery for abdominal impalement in as many months; before he was even eating real food. Which was just John all over. He was like one of those weighted punching bags that popped back up after every blow. But Rodney's relief had quickly faded to confusion. He'd been more scared than he'd ever admit when John was brought into the infirmary the second time: partial evisceration by alien tentacle was a laughable B-movie clich? until it happened to your best friend. He wanted the reassurance of John returning to normal as soon as possible, but John didn't chafe at the schedules and the food and the enforced naptimes and the physical therapy. He didn't try to sneak out to do stupid things the way he usually did.

Most nights, when Rodney finished up work and went to hang out, John was already asleep. He spent far too much time watching John sleep, and the ache he felt when he catalogued how thin and weary John looked was something he didn't know how to exorcise. He'd had a free-floating crush on John from practically the moment they'd met, and he knew John felt something, but they'd agreed (if not in so many words) to keep it as been background static to their friendship. Somehow, seeing John like this had kicked Rodney's vague longing into overdrive, and it was all Rodney could do not to reach out and stroke his hand over John's hair. He didn't understand it at all.

Teyla said it wasn't right to expect John to be himself when he was still recovering. On Keller's recommendation, Woolsey had grounded the team for two months -- two long, worrisome months. The present expedition had been Ronon's idea. He'd been here as a child for the Annual Suqmong Festival and associated hoopla, blah blah blah. He sold Woolsey a story about making new allies for Atlantis and getting in a little rest and relaxation and -- incidentally -- seeing if John was well enough to be back in the field. Though Ronon hadn't said the last bit in so many words, even Rodney had understood that much.

At least there wouldn't be any tentacles here. Ronon had obtained some grainy old 3D footage of the festival from the local version of public TV. The camera had panned from whooping herders in dusty hats to majestic herds of suqmong thundering past, and Rodney had choked coffee up his nose when he saw they were nothing more than overgrown rabbits. Fluffy, flop-eared forty-kilo rabbits: the terror of every wild carrot and cabbage on the plains.

John hadn't been himself enough to make any lecherous comments about the name suqmong, but Rodney had seen the gleam in his eyes and his barely controlled smirk. Rodney would probably do any number of stupid things to make John happy. In the grand scheme of things, a week spent celebrating the return of the bunny herds to their summer pastures wasn't that bad.

And if it turned out to be a nightmare come true. . . well, he'd brought his camera. There was no humiliation so great that it couldn't be improved by being uploaded to the Atlantis servers and turned into FAIL macros.

Which reminded Rodney that he still hadn't doctored the pictures from the last science department holiday drinking binge. He was idly photoshopping heads around when Ronon pulled himself up with a hand heavy on Rodney's shoulder. "Heads up, McKay," Ronon said, giving Rodney's shoulder a shake and nearly sending the laptop flying. "We're here."

Rodney looked up to watch John land behind some (surprise, surprise) trees. Torren was tied up in the traditional American baby sling that someone (Carter?) had sent. He was doing deep knee-bend bounces of glee and blowing spit bubbles. Teyla didn't seem to mind at all that the Ancients hadn't invented even rudimentary car seat technology. Rodney supposed it was the sleeplessness wearing down her intelligence.

Somehow Rodney ended up having to carry all of his own luggage when they disembarked, even though John and Rodney had divvied up Teyla's diaper bags and the cache of Athosian weapons she'd brought for a demonstration she was scheduled to give as part of her Honourable Guesting. Ronon was even carrying John's guitar, slung over his back carelessly. One would think he'd be able to manage an additional duffel bag as well, just for a couple of kilometres. But no.

The tedium of the hike was broken up by the olfactory joys of passing right by the pasture where all the flocks of suqmong had been brought from their winter-over farms. Several people in heavy boots wandered around doing veterinary things; the suqmong mostly ignored them and entertained themselves by having loud bunny sex. Ronon said that if they'd arrived a few days earlier, they would have been able to watch the shearing. Rodney muttered under his breath about how so very not sorry he was, but Teyla talked over him, asking serious questions about yarn.

John had somehow managed to walk far enough ahead of them to miss all this fascinating cultural discourse. He'd found a split-rail fence and was watching the horses and the herders on the other side. Except that when Rodney made it to John's side, breathing carefully so as not to give away that he'd hurried, it turned out the horses were more like gigantic goats on steroids.

"Now that's just wrong," Rodney said, crossing his arms. He wasn't sure whether the creatures reminded him more of the cover art for a Satanic metal band or of Todd the Wraith. A herder with a bucket of feed and a brush grabbed one of the goats, which licked her ear enthusiastically. "And unsanitary. And is it just me or is she getting slobber all over her Easter best?" Rodney blinked. All of the herders, men and women alike, were wearing fuzzy pastel sweaters under their rugged riding vests. The biggest, toughest-looking herders seemed to have the most number of bouncy furry pompoms. "Help, I think I'm going into culture shock."

John snorted and shifted the stuff he was carrying from one side to the other. "Did you somehow miss that the entire local industry is based on rabbit fur?"

"That doesn't mean that they have to wear it," Rodney argued, irrationally hopeful that he could have a good meaningless argument to carry him through the afternoon.

John just tipped his head to the side as if sliding Rodney's comment off his Teflon indifference. "Yeah, well, you should probably do your Christmas shopping here anyway. For Jeannie or someone," he added, and gave Rodney an uncomfortable sideways look before swinging back onto the road and rejoining Ronon and Teyla.

Rodney was utterly baffled. He hated being baffled.

They arrived in the encampment after a further tedious half-hour's walk, and Ronon asked directions to the lodging house where they had reservations. Teyla and Torren had a sunny room on the first floor and a line of girls wanting to babysit. John, Rodney, and Ronon were in the loft, which meant crawling up a wooden ladder nailed to the wall and collecting bedding from a sour-faced warden, who directed them (of course) to the far end of the corridor.

"I slept on a futon once," Rodney said, dumping everything on the floor in front of the window and cracking his back, carefully. "It was like torture by mattress."

"Huh," Ronon said. He'd somehow already made up a comfortable-looking bed out of the squishy pad and the quilts, and was now tuning the guitar. "Hurry up. They do good barbeque here."

Rodney had a horrible vision of rotisserie bunnies. "They don't eat the suqmong, do they?"

Ronon snorted. "The fluff's worth more than the meat. They've got these big dumb birds that are pretty good eating. It's traditional," he went on. "I came here with my father when I was a kid. It's changed a lot -- " he flicked the electric lights on and off, just to make Rodney squawk -- "but the barbeque recipes have been passed down for generations. There are feuds and vendettas and things," and he grinned, with a quirk of his eyebrows. "Need help, Sheppard?"

John dropped the top quilt down in messy defeat. "No," he said, with just the right mix of sulky petulance and humour to make Rodney's heart skip a beat. "I'm a big boy, I can make my own bed."

Ronon grinned, easily and wide. "No wonder Teyla says you're a bad influence on her kid."

John pushed at his sad pile of bedding with his foot, hands shoved in his pockets, obviously trying not to look pleased at the idea of corrupting youth (but Rodney knew who had given Torren his little chew-toy football, which was a ridiculous thing to give a child, and he didn't just think that because Torren had once flung it in his face and John had crowed touchdown!).

"So barbeque," Rodney said, snapping his top quilt into place and brushing his hands together in a brisk that is how it is done gesture that made John roll his eyes. "Now?"

"Sure," Ronon said. This turned out to be not entirely true, in the sense that it was a vicious lie. Before the traditional eating of the big dumb birds there were also traditional speeches by local politicians and other boring people, the presentation of awards for the agricultural fair, and the singing of songs of great emotion. He deduced the latter by the number of people who sang along (and swayed, and shouted hey, hey, ho more-or-less in unison). Ronon played the guitar and did some weepy Satedan top-forty ballad about flowers and love, but he was topped by an impassioned a cappella number about a girl who married a boy to get her hands on his mother's barbeque sauce recipe.

And then they could eat. Rodney would never admit it, but he'd be willing to put up with all the singing every day if he could eat like that.

"I'd totally marry someone for that recipe," he told John much, much later, as they were all rolling back down the dusty main street towards the lodging house. Ronon carried Torren in the crook of his arm; Teyla was surrounded by groupies, or disciples, or something. John had one arm slung over Rodney's shoulder, whether because he was drunk or John was drunk, Rodney didn't know, but between them they managed to walk a mostly straight line. Which Rodney thought might just be a metaphor.

He wasn't quite sure. So after the comedy of errors with the ladder and a kerfuffle with the bedding that found him tangled up face-down, he had to raise his head and ask John if he was gay.

"I don't think so," he remembered John saying, as John stripped off his jacket clumsily and looked confused.

"Then it was a metaphor," Rodney concluded happily, and would have said even more damning and embarrassing things if he hadn't fallen asleep right then.

He woke up alone in the room and desperate for the toilet, which was down the ladder and out the back door and at the end of a long queue of intimidating-looking people. After that traumatic experience, he stalked off towards Teyla's room, where he assumed everyone would be, trying to finish off all the coffee before Rodney woke up. At least, he hoped there was coffee. His head hurt and he felt twitchy. He needed coffee.

Teyla did press a warm pottery mug into his hands when he walked in, and he inhaled well over half the drink before realising that it was some kind of herbal concoction. He gave her his best glare of betrayal. She smiled back at him, serene and relaxed.

"Good morning," Teyla said. She had her hair pinned up and was wearing a gilt-edged name-badge on her jacket. Rodney suddenly realised what was missing with this picture.

"Where's the kid?" he asked, looking around the floor reflexively, because Teyla would never forgive him if he stepped on the baby.

Teyla waved a dismissive hand. "John calls this the planet of babysitters. Several girls took Torren for a wagon ride out to the pasture. I must say I wish I could bring some of them back with me."

The idea of having a group of hormonal teenagers running loose around Atlantis gave Rodney the creeping horrors. He looked at Teyla hard, and then snapped his fingers. "You slept through the night!"

Her grin was smug. "So did you, I hear. I believe the phrase Ronon used was that you slept like a very loud rock."

Rodney hmphed and was about to explain how he couldn't be faulted for snoring when people insisted on making him sleep on the floor on a thin mattress (not to mention the full stomach) when the door banged open and Ronon pushed John in, laughing and tossing in a large bag that landed at Teyla's feet.

Ronon was wearing his usual leather trousers and sleeveless shirt, but under the shirt he had on something fuzzy and kitten-soft and violet. Part of Rodney's brain recognised this as the kind of sweater worn by the suqmong herders, so it was probably a sacred tribal honour or something, but the rest of him was battling giggles.

"Hey, guess what?" Ronon said, oblivious to the fact that he had little white pom-poms on his shoulders. It turned out that Ronon had gone to school with the sister of the cousin of the man who hired the herders -- Rodney might have got the details wrong, he didn't really care -- but the upshot of it was that they'd been offered the amazing, once in a lifetime chance to ride ill-tempered goat-like beasts in hot pursuit of giant rabbits.

While dressed in leather and pastel angora sweaters, apparently.

"Oh, hell no," Rodney said reflexively, and drank the rest of his tea quickly in hopes that the nastiness would make the bad idea go away. It didn't.

John was grinning and bouncing a little on his toes, and wearing his t-shirt with a pair of trousers that looked like they'd been peeled off a biker. Rodney couldn't help noticing that, while this planet had television and combustion engines, they'd apparently never invented the zipper, at least judging by the sturdy laces that held the trousers up. Or maybe they were just kinky that way.

"The mirris are real friendly, you'll get the hang of riding," Ronon said. Rodney made a face. "Or you'll fall on your ass a lot."

Rodney looked to Teyla for help. "Torren hasn't even had his vaccinations yet -- and what if he gets trampled?"

Teyla fingered her badge and looked at Ronon. "I think perhaps you don't understand why I'm here," she said, her non-accusation somehow. . . accusative.

"She's the Athosian delegate," Ronon said. "We're kind of her henchmen."

"Attendants, buddy," John said. While Rodney had been trying to extricate them from a truly appalling fate, John had been quietly rummaging from a bagful of Pegasus-Salvation-Army sweaters. "What did I tell you about learning English from pulp fiction?"

"The green'd look good on you," Ronon said, cocking his head and mashing his eyebrows together pensively. "But the stripes are -- "

"Yeah, kind of dumb," John said, and handed the sweater to Teyla. She held it up: on her it was more of a mini-dress.

"The whole idea is kind of dumb," Rodney burst out. "You're up to your ears in a war with the Wraith and you're trying to find something that will bring out the colour of your eyes while you're playing cowboy with rabbits and keeping me away from about a hundred ongoing research projects that none of my minions are capable of not screwing up? I just -- there are no words to explain, and you two -- " he waved at Ronon and Teyla -- "you're enablers."

John opened his mouth, shut it again, and straightened up in a slightly pained way, letting the sweaters pool to the floor. He turned on his heel and walked out. The door sliding shut behind him sounded very final.

Ronon settled down onto Teyla's folded quilts and looked at his hands. "Sheppard's brother had these things like mirris. He said he used to ride them, when he was a kid."

"That was not well done," Teyla said, with a vacuum of chilly disappointment in her voice. "The Colonel did not deserve that," she said, and Rodney blushed despite his best effort not to. "John did not deserve that."

"I never claimed to be nice," Rodney protested, but even he realised he didn't have a leg to stand on.

"My favourite show when I was little was about suqmong herders." Ronon got a look as if he might suddenly start talking, but then he just rolled his shoulders and picked up a slightly tattered beige sweater. "Dibs."

Rodney stared, and then sighed and stuffed the rest of the sweaters back in the bag. The fluff was incredibly soft and warm and gave him an overwhelming sense-memory of Cat when she was a kitten. "I'll just -- go talk to him?" Teyla arched her eyebrows, and Rodney left fast, before she could make any suggestions.

Rodney had no idea where John would have gone, but he figured he'd check their room first, as it was a lot closer than the jumper. The door wasn't locked, which was good, but John was there, just standing and looking lost and weary, which was bad.

"I know how stupid it all is," John said, before Rodney could even get his mouth open. "Trust me, I do." He looked down and off to the side. "And you're right. Again."

"No, wait, look," Rodney said, and then followed up with, "so, well." He took a breath and paced, trying not to trip over the bedding that he'd left out in the middle of the floor. "Yes, it's true, I was right, but I was also wrong, and I'm trying to figure out how to say this, but it's that -- what is all the fighting for, if not for the chance to do dumb things. Especially to do dumb things. Happy dumb things." He circled his hands around and made a sort of framing gesture to indicate John's outfit. "I can't construct a logical sentence in the same room with you in those pants. I managed almost forty years without a kink for leather and now I'm going to have an inappropriate reaction to expensive laptop cases for the rest of my life."

John looked down. "Ronon got all this stuff really cheap. For the thing."

Rodney nodded. "Three words for you: lace, up, crotch."

John crossed his arms in a way that looked as if he was fighting back the urge to wrap himself up in a quilt like a sarong. "Ronon's trying really hard."

"I noticed that."

The lines around John's eyes tightened. "I said goodbye to him," he said, and Rodney blinked incomprehension. "In Michael's base. Teyla and the baby were lost, you were probably crushed flat, and Michael's hybrids were coming, so I told him goodbye because we were about to die. Or be captured, which would have been worse, because I'd get to live longer with failing my whole team." His mouth mashed together, turning up at the corner in a way that wasn't a smile. "That's what's up with Ronon, he's trying too hard to say we're still cool. Because he thinks that's what's bugging me."

Rodney was afraid to breathe, almost, for fear that John would clam up and hide his secrets away again. "It doesn't bug you?"

John flashed Rodney a God, you're stupid look. "Of course it does. But there's also -- I'm jealous," John said, after flailing painfully for the right word. "I see Teyla and Kanaan and Torren and I'm jealous, I see Ronon racing off to save Keller, you show me an engagement ring -- " He circled his hand so on, so forth.

"You could -- " Rodney started, and he was glad when John cut him off with a glare. He didn't want to think about John finding himself someone.

"It's not going to happen, and I know that." John shrugged. "I'm fine with being everybody's Uncle John from here on in. I just. . . hadn't figured on how it would feel when everyone moved on." He looked right at Rodney and then let his gaze slide away. "And you know, you kind of -- " John brushed his hand down towards his trousers and looked embarrassed.

"Flirt? Tease? Hit on you?" John shrugged; Rodney took that as a yes. John had always been amazingly comfortable with that frisson to their friendship, but maybe Rodney had slipped and revealed just how much he wasn't really joking. Or maybe John just wasn't finding it funny anymore. Rodney tried to be dismissive and not dismayed. "I've told you, I can stop." John sighed and rubbed his stomach. Rodney didn't know if that meant he was in pain or just hungry. "Or, you know, you and me, that would be the mother of all big dumb happy things," he added, speaking slowly so that the words didn't get lost. "Erase all the lines we agreed to stay behind for some abstract greater good." Rodney pointed at John and then at the floor in front of him. "At least come here."

He didn't think John would. In the first years on Atlantis, they'd almost slept together twice that Rodney recalled. Both times John had been the one to pull back, talking about duty and chain of command and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Rodney understood that far too well: he'd been dumped by more than one person who'd asked him whether he'd choose them over Nobel-worthy research. He could almost make himself believe that he'd choose John -- but he was entirely certain that John would never ask the question to begin with. That was one of the many things he liked about John.

But what he loved about John was his courage and the faith he had in people, so it made him stand a little taller and breathe deeper when John fixed him with a level, perfectly trusting stare and took the three steps to stand where Rodney had indicated. Rodney grabbed him and hugged him, at first out of disbelief (and possibly relief). But he hung on because John took a long time to acclimate himself to hugs.

When he figured John was relaxed (John's hands were against Rodney's back and his head heavy on Rodney's shoulder), Rodney shook him a little, to get his attention. "Kiss me," he said, and John stiffened. Not quite a recoil, but not especially a hopeful sign. "I mean, you don't have to. You may not have noticed, but we already have a pretty good friendship. I can live with that. But, you know, kiss me and I'd marry you in a minute even if your barbeque sucked." John snorted; at least he was listening.

"Rodney," John said, and it sounded as if he were smiling, "are you asking me to be your big dumb thing?"

"Big dumb happy thing," Rodney corrected. "Because I'm romantic like that."

John shifted, sliding his cheek up to the underside of Rodney's jaw and then pulling back just enough give Rodney one of those devastatingly open looks, before leaning in to press his crooked smile right to the side of Rodney's mouth in a kiss so chaste he might as well have been Jeannie, or God forbid her mother-in-law. Rodney was right in the middle of saying oh, please (he'd got as far as oh) when John shifted, hands moving heavy and warm to settle on Rodney's shoulders as he licked his way into Rodney's mouth.

Rodney quickly established that John was much better at kissing than he was at hugging. He got one hand tangled up in John's cowlicks and held John to him with the pressure of his other hand sliding slowly down the ridge of John's spine, so that there was nothing between them. John leaned into Rodney and kissed with his eyes shut, which was both geeky and adorable, and he made soft little noises when Rodney bit gently at his bottom lip, which had been tempting Rodney for years.

It was maybe the best kiss of Rodney's life, but after first John's stomach and then Rodney's brought up the subject of breakfast, John started laughing and pulled away.

"Our timing sucks," he said, rolling his eyes and flicking his tongue over his bottom lip (unconsciously, Rodney thought, but it was mesmerising). "There's supposed to be a buffet somewhere."

"And you waited this long to tell me?" Rodney snapped. John's eyes went wide, and then he cracked up, doubling over with his arms pressed to his stomach. "Why do I like you again?" Rodney asked, grabbing the bag of sweaters. He fished out one that was mostly orange and not that much pink. The pompoms were shot through with gold and silver threads, which he thought was a nice touch. He yanked off his t-shirt, gave it the sniff test (it failed; he tossed it towards his duffel bag), and pulled the sweater on. He tried not to notice how John's eyes tracked the sweater's hem as it slipped down his chest and over his stomach. "There. You can tell Ronon that you intimidated me and I very abjectly apologised. This is much better than a hairshirt, although the colour is a horrible tropical humiliation." He shook his arm. "I haven't sparkled like this since Madison tried to reproduce the Messier objects with glitter." He shoved the bag towards John with his foot. "Hurry up and pick one."

"They don't have black," John said, and seriously, his lower lip ought to be declared illegal.

"Suck it up," Rodney said, and crossed his arms.

John pulled out a wildly fluffy thing in bright sky blue, gave Rodney a betrayed look, and sighed. He tugged his shirt off, half turning away but not before Rodney got an eyeful of the scars that filled the hollow under the arch of John's ribs. Surgical scars and scars from drains and a horrible tentacle-stab scar. He didn't see the place where John's side had been impaled with a metal rod, but he knew it was there. He watched John fumble the sweater on and then twist to give him a careless grin, and he was washed through with a strong primal urge to protect while also having to swallow down all the mocking remarks that came to mind about men with chest hair wearing V-necks. He suspected those were the poles of their relationship in a nutshell, a perverse balance of attraction and repulsion, but he was too hungry to think about it for more than a moment.

He snapped his fingers impatiently towards the door, and John took a step, kissed him hard and slow, and then continued on to the door.

"When we get home," Rodney said, "we'll need to talk and -- and things. But for now -- "

"Nothing changes," John said. "I can live with that." He bumped Rodney with his elbow. "We're cool."

"Ow," Rodney muttered, and shoved John out into the corridor. "I'm still going to bitch about the damn goats, and don't get me started on the rabbits."

"You wouldn't be you without something to bitch about," John said, swinging down the ladder with careless athletic ease. "I'll try and keep Ronon from hurting you too bad."

"You do that." Rodney glared down and nearly missed a rung. John caught him with a hand on his lower back that made Rodney's insides ten kinds of happy, and eased him down. "I have no desire to go home broken or even slightly bruised."

"Loosen up and live a little," John said, and pushed Rodney into Teyla's room before he could splutter his indignant reply.

Teyla seemed to read reconciliatory vibes in the air, and gave Rodney a very faint smile of approval. Rodney scowled to keep from blushing. Ronon was sitting with his back to the wall with his arms full of Torren, who was pulling gleefully on his dreads (Rodney hoped that this wouldn't bring a rain of cutlery). Rodney noted that Ronon kept a neutral face as he looked to John for some kind of cue, and even though Rodney didn't see John give the secret signal, Ronon grinned wide.

"You look pretty, McKay," he said, launching Torren towards the ceiling as he stood. Torren burped ominously. "You're going to have to eat fast. Your riding lesson starts at the next half-bell."

Rodney swore, rudely enough that Teyla grabbed his ear like any outraged Athosian parent, and held it hostage until he apologised. John was laughing at him too hard to be any use, and Rodney realised that he wouldn't need to change how he behaved at all. This madness was their default setting, and apparently everyone knew it.

"I blame you," he told John, as they walked out into the sunlight, following their noses to the food. His ear didn't hurt that much, but he kept one hand over it anyway. "I never used to be into these big dumb. . . things." He poked John with his free hand. "You're the one who makes me happy, so it must be your fault."

John snorted. "When we get back home, I'll find a way to make it up to you," he said, gave Rodney a significant but yet sarcastic wink, and left Rodney entirely speechless but still, somehow, absurdly and irrationally happy.

And so our heroes ride off into the sunset

nobly astride their ill-tempered goats

and even though still the war remains to be won

there is happiness everlasting to be found

so I believe

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