Word Count: 8,000+
Rating: PG *weeps*
Summary: They lived in the forest in tents and stole to stay fed and to feed whoever begged them for help, and when they weren’t stealing they just kind of lolled about and shot arrows at trees.
Prompt: Robin of Locksley has gone to a state dinner fresh from killing a King's deer when Prince John tells him he is assuming power. Robin vows to stop him and collects every peasant he can find to create a resistance movement. Along the way, he meets, woos, and wins the Lady Marrion who slips him information about Prince John's plans. When Marrion is captured, Robin and his men decide to storm Nottingham Castle to rescue her.
A/N: Wow, this isn’t like the prompt at all, and I mainly just mixed up every version I’ve ever seen of Robin Hood, and then did my own thing. Title comes from that insanely catchy song the rooster sings in Disney’s version. The important thing, obviously, is to picture everyone wearing Technicolor tights. And by everyone I mean John and Rodney. And Ronon. And Carson probably looks pretty hilarious in them, too.
Massive thanks to devildoll for the lovely beta.
Rodney’s head snapped up, and he glared across the clearing. “No.”
The man had been standing there for the better part of a quarter hour – well, lounging was the more appropriate term, arms crossed over his chest, hip and shoulder cocked against a tree – watching Rodney with palpable amusement as he struggled with Sally. Rodney wasn’t about to ask him for help, but Sally was stubborn as a mule, and refused to halt her impromptu late-morning meal of sweet grass no matter how much he cajoled or threatened. Rodney finally just slid to the ground, legs folding in front of him with a frustrated oath, back propped up by a shady maple. He really, really hated horses.
Within moments, the stranger crossed the small field and paused above him, long legs parted, one hand on a hip, fingers curled dangerously close to the hilt of a dagger strapped to his side. His hazel eyes were sharp, a hint of hardness beneath the blatant mirth, and Rodney blinked, breath hitching, because he knew exactly who he was.
Rodney wasn’t stupid – quite the extreme opposite, in fact – and although gossip was hardly ever correct, and rarely unexaggerated, John Sheppard had disappeared months ago from the royal court, vowing revenge on the prince, and the rumors that he’d taken up the role of highwayman in the King’s Forest apparently had some basis in truth. Rodney hadn’t known him personally, of course, but the sketch on the reward notices bore a striking resemblance to the man looming above him.
“I don’t actually have anything of worth on me,” Rodney pointed out, trying not to fidget.
One half of Sheppard’s mouth quirked up. “Good to know,” he drawled.
“Except for Sally, of course, but she’s honestly a shrew and deep-down hates all mankind, and if you took her, I’m not so sure I’d be able to find my way out of this forest alive, and you wouldn’t want my death hanging over your head, right?” Rodney gazed up at him, a nervous smile flicking across his lips.
The other half of Sheppard’s mouth curled, sharp grin belying his lazy stance, and Rodney knew he was in a whole lot of trouble.
It was all dirty-faced kids and women and chickens and burly men in tattered clothes with strangely jovial expressions – Ford had introduced them as “a merry band of men,” and Sheppard’d wrinkled his nose and jabbed a finger at him, and told him he wasn’t allowed to name anything. Ever. Ford had just snickered, though, and mouthed, “Merry men,” behind Sheppard’s back, and Rodney really wondered if he hadn’t been relegated to a special hell for past infractions against what passed for humanity, but anyway. Everyone sported happy, happy faces except for Bates and Dex.
Bates and Dex didn’t get along. Well, Bates really didn’t seem to get along with anyone, actually, and Dex was quiet and gruff and large and mainly lurked menacingly in the shadows around the encampment. So Bates didn’t trust Ronon – which he announced vocally at every opportunity, Rodney found - and Dex always looked like he was one step away from eating him in retaliation.
Sheppard mostly seemed to think it was funny.
Rodney thought everyone was out of their freakin’ minds.
They lived in the forest in tents and stole to stay fed and to feed whoever begged them for help, and when they weren’t stealing they just kind of lolled about and shot arrows at trees.
“You realize this is completely ludicrous, don’t you?” he snapped.
Sheppard bit into an apple and leaned back onto his elbows, feet stretched out towards the fire. Sheppard excelled at lolling about.
“Seriously,” Rodney insisted. “It doesn’t make any sense! I mean, you don’t honestly care who’s on the throne, do you?”
At that, Sheppard turned dark, unreadable eyes on him, firelight washing half his face gold. “I kinda liked Hammond,” he said.
Rodney stared at him. Then stared at him harder. “Did you just hear yourself? You know what? Just,” he struggled up, darting his gaze around, “I think I might make it out fine without Sally, so—”
“—it’s been great wasting a few precious days of my life in this dive, but I really should be going.”
“McKay,” Sheppard drew out again, amusement couched in his voice, “you’re not leaving.”
“See, you’ve said that before, but you’ve yet to give me a valid reason why,” Rodney bit out, frustrated. He really would’ve hightailed it out of there already if he didn’t suspect Dex or that weirdly-hot warrior girl, Teyla, wouldn’t hesitate to take him down before he could make it past the line of tents.
Sheppard grinned. “I like you.”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “You know, I actually have a life to get back to.”
“Oh yeah?” Sheppard didn’t sound particularly interested. Tossing away the apple core, he closed his eyes and folded his arms under his head, yawning widely.
“I’m very important!” Rodney insisted stridently, and Sheppard murmured what sounded like, “You’re important to me, too,” and Rodney was really glad it was twilight and blue-dim because he flushed all the way to the tips of his ears, and he added dirty, rotten liar to his mental list of Things to Hate John Sheppard For.
Dex was really good at throwing knives. He hid daggers in his hair. Rodney held a healthy amount of respect for that - because he wasn’t insane - and the two of them bonded over delicious fire-roasted pheasant.
It was a step in the right direction, he felt.
He also made friends with young Ford – which was much, much easier, since Ford was about as dangerous as a patch of grass, despite his “flaming dung” slingshot trick – and Teyla had taken to smiling indulgently at his honestly uncontrollable ranting. She was like a tougher, female version of Sheppard.
Bates gave him wary, accusing glares, though, as if Rodney was an inch away from stabbing them all in their sleep, and he called Sheppard, “sir,” with an almost-sneer in his voice, and routinely beheaded saplings with his sword, and the only one better than him at archery was a gangly, brown-haired man with a wide mouth and wide hands and an absent laugh.
Parrish, Rodney thought his name was, and he tended to fold himself up into the trees and disappear for hours.
At night, Rodney would curl into a set of blankets in the tent he shared with Beckett, a nervous Scotsman that served as the encampment’s surgeon. He was cleaner than most of them, though, and kept his living space almost scrupulously neat, and apparently he’d been taken much the same way Rodney had, unfortunate enough to have split a wheel on the path five months before.
“Do you make a habit out of kidnapping unsuspecting intellectuals?” Rodney demanded one evening as they sat side-by-side at the fire, after learning that Corrigan and Ager knew his good friend Zelenka, a not-quite-as-brilliant-as-him star among the budding sciences, but Sheppard just shrugged and grinned and said, “Only the ones worth the effort.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean? Did someone put you up to this?” Rodney shouted, because Rodney had more than a few enemies in the academic world and the landed gentry, and, come to think of it, he didn’t have many friends, either, but he didn’t think anyone would actually pay John Sheppard, of all people, to get rid of him. He at least deserved someone semi-competent at evil machinations.
And if Sheppard considered cuddling a proper way to behave around hostages, well. Rodney greatly feared for the man’s mental health, and hoped it wasn’t catching.
“You’re really tense, Rodney,” Sheppard drawled, hands curling over his shoulders, thumbs digging into the top of his spine. Then he murmured, “Relax, no one paid me to kill you,” and, “I like you,” and Rodney muttered, “Yes, yes, I’m important to you,” under his breath and Sheppard leaned closer and grinned against his cheek.
“Important, my ass,” Rodney grumbled, sprawled out across the path, waving a feathered cap as the carriage approached. Sally shifted beside him, nose buried in the bushes, and the rider out front hailed him, “Hey! Are you all right?”
“Oh yes, I’m peachy,” Rodney snapped back irritably. “You just interrupted my afternoon nap. What do you think?”
The guard was dressed in dark blue livery, had an unstylishly shorn head, and was actually smiling at Rodney when he drew closer. “Get thrown?” he asked, and a pretty woman with blonde hair and a sharp face leaned out of the carriage window.
“What’s going on?” she demanded, and just when the rider turned in his seat to glance at her, Sheppard and Ford swung down from the trees and Dex appeared in front of Rodney almost out of no where, and an unseen archer – either Bates or Parrish, but most likely Bates – missed the guard by a hairsbreadth and took out the carriage driver with an arrow straight through his shoulder, pinning him to the painted wood.
It was actually the third time Sheppard had used Rodney and Sally as bait, and it wasn’t much fun.
After a stunned moment, the guard unsheathed his sword and danced his horse backwards to block the carriage door, but the woman inside slapped at the steed’s flanks and shouted at him to move out of the way.
Sheppard grinned lazily and advised, “You might want to drop your weapon.”
Lady Laura Cadman, it turned out, was Sheppard’s cousin twice removed – on his father’s side – and she was a massive pain in Rodney’s ass.
She thought Beckett was adorable, and pestered him constantly about his tent mate, asking inane questions that consisted mostly of, “Don’t you think he’s hot?” and “Is he courting anyone?” and “Do you think he likes me?” and seeing as how Rodney wasn’t a fourteen-year-old girl, he growled out, “No,” and “Who cares?” and, “You’re trying to make my brain bleed, aren’t you?”
Eventually, Rodney was forced to abandon the Scotsman’s tent, and when he shoved his blankets at Ford and recruited Dex to lug Sally’s heavy tack across the clearing, Ford grinned at him and asked, “Why don’t you just move in with Shep?”
“Right, yes.” Rodney snorted derisively.
Dex gazed at him stonily, brow furrowed in warning.
Ford’s brow furrowed, too, except it just made him look really, really confused. “But—”
“I’m perfectly aware he’s trying to seduce me,” Rodney cut Ford off, waving a dismissive hand. “I’m not about to make it easy for him.”
It was the first time ever Rodney saw Dex smile – well, at least he thought it was a smile, and the behemoth’s teeth were surprisingly white – and Ford’s eyes went round as he choked out, “What?”
“Oh, please. Like it’s not obvious.” The nightly backrubs were a dead giveaway. Although Rodney still hadn’t figure out why the man was trying to seduce him. Rodney wasn’t held in any particularly favor in either court – King Hammond’s or the dastardly usurper Kinsey’s. In fact, he’d been thrown out of the keep more than once for his radical and incredibly brilliant, revolutionary ideas, as well as his stunning, as-yet unreciprocated crush on one Lady Samantha Carter. Of course, it was clearly blatant discrimination for being born with a mental capacity far beyond anything those monkeys in the royal circle could even fathom, but that didn’t change the fact that he wasn’t privy to any sort of political secrets.
So. Rodney, despite his self-admitted egotism, couldn’t think of a single reason why Sheppard would keep him on hand as part of any kind of strategy. Flagging down unsuspecting travelers was something any one of his able-bodied man-apes could do, and the outlaw didn’t seem interested in utilizing his genius at all, and really. That was more than a little insulting.
“Just make some room for me, Ford,” Rodney snapped, interrupting the young man again.
Later that night, though, when Ford whispered across their tent in a still-bewildered voice, “But. Shep’s sworn his love to Lady Elizabeth,” Rodney harrumphed and rubbed a palm over his chest and pretended that he didn’t care.
Sheppard was more of a mystery than anything else, and he got ridiculously giddy over the stupidest things, like stumbling upon a swarm of swallowtail butterflies, or getting caught in a patch of mid-morning sunshine, or watching Dex scare screaming laughter out of the children.
He never talked about himself, but gave pieces away with his smile, and showed shades of his past in the fall of shadows over his face when anyone mentioned the Wraith or the Ori or the waning Crusades.
General consensus was that Hammond wasn’t coming back. Kinsey had allied himself with the Sheriff of Genii, and the holy wars were second in his eyes to the domination of the people. Atlantis, the King’s Forest, was home to all sorts of ragtag outlaws, damned by Kinsey and loyal to the crown. Sheppard was only unique in that he fostered a massive hero-complex, and played savior just as often as thief.
Rodney thought it was fairly endearing, except for the times the man’s schemes got him shot at, nearly trampled, or lost.
“You’re lost, aren’t you?”
“You have absolutely no clue where we are.”
“Shut up, Rodney,” he growled, stomping through the undergrowth, letting a lean branch whip back to hit Rodney in the head.
“No, really,” Rodney went on, ducking, “I find it amazing that you live in this forest, and yet have all the directional sense of a retarded pigeon. Can’t you just whistle for Ford?”
Sheppard shot him a withering glare.
“I’m surprised Bates didn’t follow us, actually, just to make sure I didn’t bludgeon you from behind and leave you in a ditch somewhere.”
“You’re really not helping, McKay.” Sheppard stopped, placing his hands on his hips, surveying their surroundings with a pinched expression.
“I didn’t actually think I had to.” He gestured towards himself. “Prisoner here.”
“You’re not a prisoner,” Sheppard groused.
Rodney cocked his head. “Oh, I’m sorry. I suppose I’m an honored guest in your filthy little urchin camp?”
Sheppard’s mouth tightened. “That’s right, McKay,” he forced out.
Rodney tapped his foot, waiting. Sheppard gazed off towards the left, over Rodney’s shoulder. Rodney crossed his arms and made several more impatient sounds, just in case the any-day-now toe jig wasn’t getting through.
Finally, at Sheppard’s continued silent brooding, Rodney sighed and asked - much, much milder than he’d intended - “Why are we out here, exactly?” because normally when he was bait they left him near a visible path, and there was absolutely no way Sheppard had brought him out to hunt.
Everyone in camp knew Rodney’s views on skewering little furry animals. He was perfectly willing to eat the nearly unrecognizable juicy remains, but no. He’d tried it once, of course, but the rabbit had just brought out those big pleading eyes and stared at him with its nose twitching, and how the hell was he supposed to kill and eat something his mind had instantly named Fuzzy McFurskins?
A flush spread up Sheppard’s neck, the tight twist of his mouth relaxing into a slightly sheepish half-grin. “There’s a waterfall out here somewhere,” he offered, shrugging.
Rodney blinked at him. “A waterfall?”
“And a spring,” Sheppard added. His half-grin spread into full bright bloom.
Rodney blinked again. There was ample evidence suggesting Sheppard wasn’t fully sane. “Are you—do you think I—seriously, what?”
Sheppard rocked back on his heels, frustration from before apparently melted away. “I was taking you swimming,” he said, and Rodney palmed his forehead with a groan.
“You got us lost because you wanted to go swimming?”
“We’re not lost,” Sheppard countered, but it seemed more of an automatic protest than an actual belief. There was no way they weren’t lost, and it was so very obvious that Sheppard couldn’t find his way out of a potato sack.
“Okay, right, maybe if I yell loud enough—”
“Dex’ll find us,” Sheppard cut in confidently.
And he was probably right too, because from what Rodney’d seen, Dex was an excellent tracker. Not to mention the fact that he truly doubted anyone was unaware of Sheppard’s horrendous sense of direction. He’d been joking about Bates – mainly – but there was bound to be at least one of Sheppard’s men not too far behind them.
A swim would’ve been nice, though. The trickling stream that ran past the encampment was only ever satisfying after a heavy rain.
“Right, well.” Rodney sighed. There really wasn’t anything left to do but wait.
Sheppard folded his legs up underneath him, dropping gracefully to the ground, and Rodney settled down next to him.
He sent him a sideways glance. “How much do you know about current mathematical theorems?”
There were a number of brats running wild in the camp, and they all loved Rodney. It was sickening.
Rodney’d managed to last thirty-six years without overexposure to the runny-nosed dwarves, with their tiny minds and ridiculously big eyes, grabby hands and lisping, grating voices, and suddenly he was accosted by children whenever he set foot out of his tent. The more abrasive he was with them, the wider their gap-toothed smiles became. Rodney suspected brain damage. Or – and the speculation was largely improbable, but a possibility nonetheless – Sheppard had fathered every single one of them. They seemed to share his amusement for Rodney as a whole, which was thoroughly disrespectful, but more than likely that simply proved Sheppard had the emotional development of a twelve year old.
Jinto and his little friend Reed were among Rodney’s most stringent stalkers, so when they failed to materialize as he stomped down to the stream one morning, Rodney was just the slightest bit worried.
“Look, not that I’m not thrilled I’m two short of my fan club, but has anyone seen Jinto and Reed today?”
Teyla glanced up at him. “I have not seen them since last night,” she said, pursing her lips.
Apparently, no one had seen them since the night before, since they’d been sent off to bed after dinner. So of course Jinto’s father, Halling, freaked out, and Dex had to sit on him to keep him calm. Then they split up into groups of three and stalked the dense forest around the camp.
They found the boys after hours of searching – they’d been treed by a stag who’d quickly grown bored, but they hadn’t been able to make their own way down - and by the end of it Rodney was dirty and sweaty and his entire cover was blown. He was also wound ridiculously tight, since Sheppard had attached himself to Rodney’s side for the whole adventure, worried and focused and incredibly hot, and really. How much of that could one person take?
“Awww, you care about them, Rodney,” Sheppard teased, leaning into his shoulder as they sat by the fire. “It’s sweet.”
“Shut up,” Rodney snapped - of course he cared - and then he turned and grabbed the front of Sheppard’s tunic and kissed him.
He caught Sheppard’s squeak of surprise, muffled it with his tongue, and Sheppard held onto the crooks of his elbows as if he’d drown if he let go. And then his grip changed and he pushed Rodney away, and his eyes were distressingly sad, even as he licked his lips.
“Rodney,” he drawled, not quite a question.
Rodney hated himself for stammering, “I’m sorry. I. I shouldn’t have. It didn’t mean,” and he shrugged, trying to ignore the pounding in his chest.
When Sheppard just nodded at him slowly and got up to walk away, Rodney’s hands clenched into tight fists against his thighs.
When he actually bothered to listen, there was a low-level hum of Elizabeth that threaded throughout the entire camp, a buzz of excitement and fond smiles wherever and whenever her name was mentioned. Once a week, when Dex brought out his sack of coveted correspondence he and Ford had collected from the villages, there was almost always a note for every single person from the lady in question - barring anyone new, of course, such as Rodney and Lorne and Lady Laura and Chuck the carriage driver.
When he finally caught on, though, Rodney noted that the folded square of parchment that passed from Dex to Sheppard was always met with a true grin that brightened Sheppard’s hazel eyes.
Rodney was more than a little disgusted that whenever he happened to catch it, open and honest on Sheppard’s face, he had to look away.
Nobody liked Kavanagh. Well, all right, some people liked Kavanagh, but Rodney wasn’t one of them. It was difficult to pin down why, exactly, since the man had a capable brain. He just used it injudiciously and, honestly, to Rodney’s mind, that was almost as bad as being dirt-dumb, and occasionally twice as dangerous.
“You what?” Rodney demanded, incredulous.
“Two hundred and fifty pieces of gold, McKay,” Kavanagh sneered. “I’m not stupid.”
“No. No, apparently you are. Apparently rhesus monkeys are more intelligent than you! Are you under the impression that Dex will not kill you?”
“He can try,” Kavanagh said scoffingly, which was clearly all delusional bravado. There was no try with Dex. Dex could snap Kavanagh’s spindly neck with one hand.
Rodney didn’t bother pointing that out, though, because when it came right down to it, he didn’t care. Kavanagh had set Sheppard up. Sheppard was, at the moment, rotting in a Genii gaol. Rodney was tempted to kill Kavanagh himself.
He tilted his head back, watching the sun softly filter through the umbrella of aged oaks. The forest was noisy and lush, but autumn was creeping slowly in, the wash of cool air steadily turning leaves. He wondered idly how harsh an Atlantis winter would be. Kavanagh wouldn’t be there to find out.
The bastard had actually thought Rodney would ally himself with him, support his treasonous exploits against Sheppard in exchange for riches. It was ridiculous. “I’ll give you a five minute head start,” he said, mouth tight, still staring up at the forest canopy.
“McKay,” Kavanagh hedged testily.
Rodney flicked a narrow glare at him. “I could call for Dex now, if you prefer.” He was being overly gracious as it was, but he’d rather focus on finding a solution than tearing apart the instigator. Everyone would be better off if Kavanagh just disappeared.
Kavanagh cursed under his breath and stomped off through the brush, moving far slower than he should have been. It would be laughably easy for Dex to track him down.
Rodney rolled his eyes and turned back towards the camp.
Lorne was a true knight in every sense of the word. Good-natured, chivalrous, handy with a sword. But the only reason he hung around was because he refused to leave Lady Laura, not for any loyalty towards Sheppard – which made sense, since, you know, they’d sort of kidnapped them - so he really hadn’t been all that thrilled to help with Rodney’s plan to bust Sheppard out of prison.
With good reason, it turned out, because even though it was a good plan, an ingenious plan, Rodney was a horrible liar.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Sheppard hissed.
Rodney tried to shift up, but thought better of it when his ribs started screaming. He groaned and closed his eyes. His cheek felt raw against the gritty stone floor.
“McKay?” Sheppard snapped, then more desperately, “Rodney? Rodney, are you—”
“Fine,” he rasped. Just. He felt like one huge, throbbing bruise.
“Can you move?” Sheppard asked, and his voice was slightly softer. “Jesus. I can’t believe you—what were you thinking?”
Rodney grit his teeth, breathing evenly through his nose until the ache banding around his chest settled. “Oh, I don’t know,” he said finally, barely above a harsh whisper, “I might’ve been trying to save your ungrateful ass.”
“Seriously, Rodney, I could have handled this,” he growled, and Rodney snorted, “Right.”
Or at least he was aiming for the word; he was afraid he fell terribly short of coherency. Were the guards wearing iron boots?
He slowly blinked his eyes open again, taking in the dank cell, wan light highlighting the small barred window at the top of the door. Sheppard was sitting directly across from him, knees up and wrists shackled to the wall. It’d taken them two days to finalize a plan and sneak into the Genii castle under the guise of friars, peasants and dancing girls, and Sheppard’s hair was plastered to his skull, streaks of dirt or possibly blood framing his face.
Rodney took heart in the fact that he was apparently the only one who’d been outed, and that Lorne, Dex, Teyla, Bates and Sora were still moving freely about the grounds.
“Kavanagh sold me out,” Sheppard said, and he sounded very, very tired.
“How...?” Rodney croaked, and layered with shadows he could still make out Sheppard’s mocking eye-brow arch.
“He’s the only one who really hates me. Not that hard to figure out, McKay.” Shifting, the chains clanged together, and he tipped his head back against the hard stone. “It doesn’t matter, anyway.”
Anger burned through Rodney, eclipsing the pain, and he struggled up until he was on his knees in front of Sheppard. “Are you kidding me? It doesn’t matter? Do you. Do you know how many people depend on you? How many people would give their lives for you?” He faltered as Sheppard’s eyes snapped to his, sputtering, “Well, not me, obviously—”
“Right,” he drawled, looking vaguely amused but still kind of pissed off.
“—but Dex and Teyla and Bates and, god, even Lorne is here—”
“You brought Lorne?”
“He has just as much to lose as everyone else,” Rodney said through gritted teeth. “We spotted outlaw posts on our way in. It seems Lady Laura’s disappearance wasn’t taken lightly by her parents.”
“Shit.” Sheppard shook his head. “Do they know who you are?”
Rodney shifted sideways and slumped against the wall. “No,” he breathed. “No, they think I’m one of your peasants.”
“Good, don’t tell them.”
“Thank you, because, you know, if you hadn’t said that, I probably would’ve just shouted my name at the guards when they brought us our dinner,” Rodney scoffed tiredly. “I didn’t think I actually had to point out to you that I’m not a moron.”
“I doubt you’ll get dinner, Rodney,” Sheppard said, ignoring his sarcasm, and Rodney spent a good five minutes worrying about his blood sugar levels until he realized he was too worn down and hurt to sincerely panic about it. That was not a good sign.
And then a melodious voice reached them through the cell door. “What have you gotten yourself into now, John?”
“Elizabeth.” Sheppard’s tone was threaded with relief, and Rodney’s entire body tensed.
Elizabeth. Sheppard’s one true love Elizabeth. Well, hell.
“And I see you’ve got company, too.”
Rodney could barely see her through the high bars, just elegantly gloved fingers curled around the metal in complete disregard of the dungeon’s grime.
“Rodney McKay,” he managed, and her reply was smooth, without even a hint of amusement, and Rodney suspected she was the kind of lady who’d shake his hand firmly if it was in anyway possible.
“Nice to meet you, McKay, although I suppose the circumstances are less than desirable. Can you hold on a few more hours, John?” she asked.
“Why not?” he replied flippantly.
Although it meant more time communing with whatever small and not-so-small rodents had probably nested in the corners of the cell, Rodney was kind of happy he didn’t have to move yet. He wasn’t one hundred percent sure his legs would work.
Elizabeth made a very small harrumph noise, then chided, “Soon, gentlemen,” and her hands disappeared, the soft pad of her slippers surprisingly loud as she walked away.
“So. That was Elizabeth,” Rodney said with forced nonchalance.
The silence was sharp, and Rodney could feel Sheppard’s eyes on him. Finally, he drawled, “You know about Elizabeth.”
Rodney shrugged, then winced, regretting the small movement and the pull on his shoulders. “Ford’s mentioned her.”
“Right. Ford,” Sheppard ground out tightly. “He’s always... helpful.”
Rodney heaved out a sigh, hands palming his knees, sliding down his calves and carefully massaging his abused muscles. “Yeah.”
As escapes went, it was fairly uneventful. She’d charmed the sheriff, drugged the guards, and managed to contact Dex and Teyla and the rest of their crew, herding everyone safely out of the castle on quiet feet in the dead of the night. Efficient and effective, and much less elaborate than Rodney’s original, failed – but utterly brilliant – plan involving a visiting friar and a hidden dagger, and slick words that Rodney apparently didn’t have.
They were away before the alarms even sounded, deep into the forest before they released the hounds, and it was all neat and pat and all they needed was King Hammond to show up fresh from the Crusades to make it a perfect happily ever after. Rodney was somewhat bitter.
Lady Elizabeth Weir was small-boned and pretty, dark hair braided into a beribboned crown, eyes reflecting the sharpness of her mind, mouth mobile with ready wit. Rodney would’ve hated her if she didn’t practically exude competence, a no nonsense thrift to her movements. She sat her horse with a straight spine and soft hands, and when she laughed it was throaty, full, and for pure amusement.
He ended up reluctantly admiring her, and his stomach felt like a stone had settled in the bottom of it when he watched Sheppard bend his head to hers, whispers private.
So. Sheppard was apparently a flirt, and Rodney’d read him completely wrong. Which was good, great even, because he hadn’t been planning on giving in to Sheppard’s supposed seduction anyway, right? One teensy, ill-advised slipup hardly counted.
In a way, it made things easier, because Rodney had always known that he couldn’t stay in Atlantis forever, no matter the illusion of freedom the camp gave him. He had responsibilities, a life, and there was absolutely no reason why he couldn’t go back. Whatever nonsense Sheppard had said before, Rodney certainly wasn’t important to the outlaw’s livelihood.
Still, when he finally made the decision to leave, he didn’t approach Sheppard. There was a chance that he’d continue to insist Rodney couldn’t possibly go, of course, but Rodney was more than half afraid the man wouldn’t protest at all, and he wasn’t exactly sure if he could take that without flinching. He asked Teyla to lead him out of the forest instead.
“You wish to go home,” she said slowly, carefully measuring her words, and he swallowed his own harsh “no,” because there was no “wish” or “home” about it, but he didn’t want to say that out loud.
Teyla was uncanny at catching what wasn’t said, though, and merely nodded.
“I have a sister,” Rodney offered, fidgeting. “Younger. I’ve been completely remiss in my guardianship duties.” Which was true but not true, since Jeannie was twenty-five, married to an indulgent hulk of a man, and perfectly capable of taking care of herself.
“Of course.” Teyla’s smile was soft, and she placed a hand on his arm. “It will be no problem, Rodney. Have you told John?”
“Yes, yes, he’s fine with it,” he lied, waving a dismissing hand.
She arched an eyebrow, head tipped slightly to the side, and Rodney was truly terrible at lying, so he knew there was no way Teyla had believed that. Thankfully, though, she didn’t call him on it.
“We will leave at first light, then,” she said, and Rodney tried to convince himself that the fluttering in his stomach was simple relief.
Two weeks after Rodney found his way to the small holding he’d inherited from his father, exhausted, bruised and desperate to just curl up and lick his wounds in solitary self-pity, his sister arrived.
She left her palfrey, Brunhilda, cobbled in the courtyard, and bounded up the stone steps, tossing her arms about him even as he scowled down at her in the doorway.
“What are you doing here?” he groused, but automatically returned her enthusiastic embrace.
She leaned back and narrowed her eyes on his face. “You send me a note after nearly three months of silence, and you don’t expect me to show up?” Shaking her head, she peeled off her gloves and pushed past him, rushes rustling under her feet. “Have someone take care of Brunny, will you?” she tossed over her shoulder. “I’m going to get rid of this road dust and sneak down to the kitchens.”
“Where’s that bear you call a husband?” Rodney shouted, noting only her battle axe of a maid was trailing after her.
“Fishing with Jack,” she yelled back, then disappeared up the stone staircase.
He’d never admit it, of course, but it was good to have Jeannie around - loud and brash and just as likely to cuff the back of his head as hug him, the harpy. It’d been too quiet, and the servants had started tiptoeing around him days ago, wary of his black mood, and their precautions just made him even more disgruntled.
Rodney smiled a little inside.
“Are you going to tell me where you’ve been?” Jeannie asked over dinner.
Rodney stuffed a slice of roast duck into his mouth. “No.”
Jeannie arched an eyebrow, making her look scarily like their late mother. “No?”
“It’s politically sensitive,” he snapped, jabbing his knife towards her, “and none of your business.”
“Does it have anything to do with the hairy man lurking in the doorway?” she asked sweetly, inclining her head with a sharp grin.
Rodney spun about in his chair, eyes widening at the beast towering over his page. Dex - unshaven and large and brown and clothed in roughly fashioned animal hides - looked like a wild crazy man in such a civilized setting, and Elliot was literally quaking in his boots.
“Stop scaring the help,” Rodney demanded harshly, then waved him impatiently into the room. “And if you’re going to come in, come in. Don’t eat all the cheese or I’ll put you up in the stable, and my sister’s married, you jackal, so get that lascivious gleam out of your eyes.”
“Good to see you too, McKay,” Dex said gruffly, lips twitching.
“Yes, yes, manly hugs all around,” Rodney grumbled, secretly pleased. Had Sheppard sent Dex to check up on him?
Dex pulled out a chair next to Jeannie and dropped gracelessly into it, leaning forward onto his elbows and giving Rodney a decidedly wolfish grin, bared teeth and all.
A disturbing flash of homesickness squeezed Rodney’s heart, and he cleared his throat, dropping his gaze to his plate. “And you’re here because...?”
“Missed your face,” he said.
Rodney shot him an incredulous look, and Dex actually laughed, hoarse and rusty but surprisingly genuine. He couldn’t hold back his answering grin. It was just—he couldn’t—he’d missed him, too. God, he was so pathetic.
The matching wolfhounds had been his father’s. He was more of a cat person, himself, but Iain and Lyle were both nearly sixteen, with more than just their wiry-haired muzzles speckled gray, and they were staple fixtures in front of the great room’s hearth.
Rodney watched them from the doorway, Iain sitting with his massive head pillowed on Dex’s thigh, tail thumping rhythmically as the man roughly scratched behind his ears. Lyle had taken up position at Dex’s side, stiff-legged and more alert than he’d been since Rodney’s father had died. Rodney would’ve been jealous if he’d held anything but vague affection for the dogs. Truthfully, he was just amused.
Jeannie crept up next to him in the hall and peered into the great room, a sly smile spreading across her face. “So. You and,” she gestured loosely towards Dex and Rodney backed up, horrified.
“Are you joking? Me and.” He flailed a hand. “Oh, no.” He shook his head vehemently. “Hell, no.”
“He’s handsome. In a mountain man sort of way,” Jeannie prodded, still grinning.
Rodney shot her a glare, then stalked into the room, coming to a stop in front of where Dex was slouched in an upholstered wooden armchair. Lyle growled at him, low in his throat, and Rodney cut a hand through the air. “Behave yourself,” he snapped, and Lyle skulked forward a bit, pushing his skull up into Rodney’s palm in mute supplication.
“And you,” Rodney narrowed his eyes, “are you going to tell me what’s going on? Because as much as I want to believe you’re here for the pure pleasure of my scintillating company, I doubt that fact alone would drag you out of your cozy forest lair.” Rodney’d always gotten the impression that Dex wasn’t too fond of humanity on the whole. Something they had in common.
“You’ve been made, McKay.”
Rodney’s hand reflexively clenched, tugging on Lyle’s fur. The dog whined lightly and he just as quickly let him go, smoothing the shaggy hair back over his ears. “How do you know?” he asked.
“Posts.” He shrugged. “Someone must’ve recognized you at the Genii keep.”
“Well, that’s just great, isn’t it?” Rodney griped, dropping into the wingbacked seat on the other side of the fireplace. He obviously couldn’t stay at the manor any longer. It was a miracle they hadn’t arrested him already, but he supposed they might’ve been biding their time, waiting to see if any more of Sheppard’s merry men would show themselves. Like Dex. But did he really want to scamper back to Atlantis, tail between his legs, where he’d be tortured by all manner of horrible love-snuggles between Sheppard and his Elizabeth?
“They’ll snatch my property,” he said, resigned, rubbing his forehead. “Though I suppose Jeannie’s safe enough.” Judge had earned his land through his infamous fierceness and loyalty, and had powerful friends, no matter the regime. Rodney would simply leave his home in his sister’s husband’s hands. Maybe flee the country. He had a sizable fortune in movable goods. Time was a factor, of course—
“You’ll come back to the forest,” Dex said, cutting into his thoughts.
Rodney waved him off. “I hardly think—”
“Sheppard told me to bring you back.”
Goddamnit. Couldn’t that man leave well enough alone? Rodney ground out tightly, “I wouldn’t feel comf—”
“It doesn’t matt—”
“Stop interrupting me!” Rodney shouted, gaining his feet and jabbing a finger at him. “The forest isn’t a feasible option at this point.”
Dex eyed him narrowly. “You’re being stupid.”
Rodney spluttered,” Oh, I’m being stupid?”
“And you’re wasting time,” Dex added, arching a brow.
Then Elliot came running into the room, eyes bright and face flushed, exclaiming, “Mr. Albie’s spotted a royal banner!”
Crap. It was too late.
Without the benefit of a beating, prison wasn’t so bad. Of course, the dungeons smelled horrendous, and he really could’ve done with a square meal, but. It all could’ve been much, much worse, and at least he had Dex with him. Sheppard was bound to stage a rescue, if only because of that.
After four days, he’d exhausted Dex’s limited conversational abilities, and named the skinny brown rodent that chittered around the cell, feeding off the crumbs of their daily pittance of food. Sir Horton Twitchy, he called him, and when he actually handed the rat a chunk of stale bread, he knew he’d gone well past bored and was dangerously close to crazy.
“Sheppard’s certainly taking his time,” he groused, bending a leg up and resting his chin on his knee.
Dex grunted noncommittally.
Rodney rolled his eyes. How could he have ever thought he’d missed him? The man’s distressing lack of verbal skills was driving him insane. No wonder he’d befriended a damn rat. The rat was at least entertaining in a let’s-gnaw-on-this-bone sort of way. It was kind of cute, too.
“Sheppard’s been busy,” a voice hissed, slight irritation buzzing underneath the words.
“Um. Sheppard?” Rodney asked tentatively, straightening out of his slump.
“Yeah, McKay,” Sheppard whispered, filtered through a splintered opening in the heavy wooden door.
Rodney let out a noisy breath. “Oh, thank god.” He couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there.
There was a small sound like a choked laugh, and then Sheppard said, “Hang in there, buddy,” and moved away.
“Told you he’d come,” Dex said smugly, and Rodney snapped, “No, you didn’t! You haven’t said more than two words for the past day and half! I was beginning to think I’d imagined you, actually, and I’m still not entirely sure that isn’t the case.”
The large man pushed a fist into his shoulder, nearly toppling him over. “Relax, McKay. We’ll be out of here soon.”
“I hate you,” Rodney grumbled, and Dex just chuckled in response.
Everyone was ridiculously happy to see Rodney, and Rodney was embarrassingly red and flustered, because from a purely social standpoint, he usually wasn’t well-liked.
No one seemed to care about that, though, and Lady Laura gave him a near bone-crushing hug, and Bates’ grimace felt almost friendly, and Parrish, soft-spoken and actually sort of skittishly fey, clasped his hand and grinned from ear to ear.
Even Lady Elizabeth greeted him warmly, and Rodney swallowed his vitriol and clenched his jaw and shot Sheppard a look that he hoped to god no one could interpret, because he was fairly sure it was something akin to longing. Damn it.
That night, the fire was high and hot, and there was music, singing and laughter, and it was all incredibly frivolous. Mellow with ale, Rodney was in love with the entire encampment. Even Bates was looking mighty fine.
Sheppard, breathless from an enforced dance with Teyla, dropped down beside him, leaning into his shoulder. Rodney tried to summon the energy to move away, but his mutinous body was fond of the weight, and his mind was a tad too fuzzy to push the point.
“I’m sorry,” Sheppard murmured, head lolling like his neck was boneless, slumping further into Rodney’s personal space.
“I’m sorry,” he flapped a hand, “for, you know—”
“I’m well aware you’re a flirtatious rogue, Sheppard.” Now. Why had it taken him so long to realize that? “No need to apologize for something you can’t help.”
“Hey!” Sheppard straightened minutely, indignant. “You kissed me, McKay.”
“Yes, yes, let’s throw that magnificent faux pas in my face.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Rodney groused, struggling up onto his knees, intent on getting his shaky legs underneath him, hoping he wasn’t so deep in his cups that he’d stagger.
Sheppard caught his arm before he could do much of anything, though, and said, “Wait, Rodney, please.”
Rodney glanced down at his hand, Sheppard’s fingers coiled tightly around his wrist, then up into his eyes, reflecting cat-yellow in the firelight. He swallowed thickly. “All right.”
Slowly, he settled back down on the ground, subtly shifting his arm until Sheppard loosed him, brushing his warm palm over the back of Rodney’s hand as he pulled away.
And then they were both quiet. And Rodney chewed on his bottom lip and picked at the material covering his left knee and he was just getting ready to snap, “So are you actually going to say something?” when Elizabeth danced over, laughing, and bent down to snatch Sheppard’s fingers, tugging him to his feet.
“Dance with me, John,” she coaxed, hair pulled out of her braids and curling past her flushed cheeks.
He shot Rodney an unreadable look. “I, uh—”
“It’s only fair,” she pointed out, grinning, “since Teyla had you forever.”
“Of course,” he capitulated after a barely perceptible hesitation, and then, to Rodney’s surprise, Elizabeth winked slyly at him and asked, “You won’t mind if I steal him away for a little bit, will you Rodney?”
Since she actually seemed to be waiting on his answer, Rodney gave her a sharp, “No,” and sent Sheppard a wide-eyed is-she-mentally-unstable? look that quickly morphed into a slightly panicked oh-my-dear-god-did-you-tell-her? freak-out stare.
Sheppard’s expression was merely puzzled as he gazed down at him, though. “You all right, Rodney?” he asked warily.
Rodney felt like yelling “Of course not!” and stomping away in a huffy, righteous fit, but instead he just gritted his teeth and glared with deathly intent at the man, and Sheppard backed away slowly, a giggling Elizabeth in tow.
It rained for five days straight, poured, teemed, flooded, and Rodney was so wet he suspected he was growing moss in a number of unmentionable areas, and water dripped through every possible crack and seam in every possible tent.
In short, Rodney was miserable.
And Sheppard pouted.
Finally, after many days of torture and after the rain paused long enough to cough up a thick, chilly fog, Rodney snapped, “What in god’s name is wrong with you?” at him and, if possible, Sheppard’s pout deepened, lower lip jutting out and eyebrows peaking over wide puppy eyes.
He hooked his thumbs on the thick leather belt at his waist, canting his hips outward and rocking back on his heels, and then he fluttered his eyelashes dangerously and that was the last straw.
Rodney reached out and wrapped his hands around the back of his neck, tugging him off balance, and Sheppard’s palms came up to brace on his chest as he tripped forward, and Rodney growled, “Honestly, Sheppard,” against his mouth.
Sheppard grinned, murmured, “Hi,” and opened up into a kiss that caught Rodney completely by surprise, slow and hot and accompanied by forceful, wandering hands and fingers that slipped under the back of his tunic and burned over the suddenly really confining material covering his ass.
Rodney’s thumbs dug into the sides of Sheppard’s jaw and he pulled his head away, searching his face with narrowed eyes. “What are you doing?” he demanded.
Sheppard shook off his grip, a dopey smile gracing his lips that should’ve been a huge turn off, but somehow wasn’t, and leaned in to lick the patch of skin just below Rodney’s ear. He whispered, “Elizabeth’s in love with Dex,” and bit the corded muscle of his neck, and Rodney’s hands flexed in, wow, shivery pleasure, except.
“Wait, wait.” He tore away from Sheppard and jabbed an accusing finger at him. “Are you—did you think—just because Elizabeth’s not interested anymore, doesn’t mean you can—”
“Rodney, I didn—”
“I’m brilliant, I’m handsome, I’m, okay, not exactly lovable, but I have a fair amount of traits that’d appeal to any number of people anyway, and why would I ever want to be someone’s second choice?” Rodney ranted, crossing his arms over his chest defensively, backing away as Sheppard took measured steps towards him. “How could you think—”
“I didn’t mean it like that, McKay, and could you shut up a minute?” Sheppard growled, stopping two feet away from him and placing his hands on his hips. “I meant,” he went on, “that you don’t have to worry about Elizabeth. That I don’t have to worry about Elizabeth.” He waggled his eyebrows.
Rodney frowned. “Just to be absolutely clear here, you pledged your undying love to her—”
“When I was nine,” Sheppard cut in, slightly petulant, then muttered, “Stupid Ford,” under his breath.
“Wow, nine? What are you, thirty-seven? And you’ve been, um,” he cleared his throat, “faithful?”
“What do you think, McKay?” Sheppard rolled his eyes.
“Well, you certainly stepped away from me fast enough,” Rodney snapped.
A burn migrated in from Sheppard’s ears, shading his cheeks, and he palmed his nape, head dipping slightly. “Yeah, well. That was… different.”
“Different,” Rodney echoed woodenly.
“I told you.” Sheppard shifted tentatively closer, like he thought Rodney might bolt. Or bite. He gazed at Rodney expectantly, a sheepish, hopeful grin curving his mouth.
“I’m. I’m important,” Rodney finally said, and Sheppard’s face lit up, because of course. Of course Sheppard was emotionally retarded and incapable of actually saying what the hell he meant in clear concise terms. “You’re an idiot.”
“No, seriously.” He tilted his head, tapping a forefinger on his chin. “You’re almost spectacularly dumb. I can’t believe I didn’t see that before.”
Sheppard narrowed a glare. “Rodney,” he drawled, starting to advance on him again.
Rodney waved a hand, moving backwards semi-nervously at the gleam in Sheppard’s eyes. “Oh, all right, maybe not dumb as much as unfortunately—” He let out an embarrassing yelp and pinwheeled his arms as his heel caught on an exposed root, and Sheppard snagged the split front of his shirt, hands fisted in the thick material, reeling him upright and then forcing him even closer, noses almost touching.
They grinned at each other.
Sheppard waggled his brows again. He was such a huge dork.
Rodney kind of thought he was in love.
King Hammond marched home amid much rejoicing and ousted the cowardly Kinsey with little hardship, claiming his throne once again. Devastation by the Ori had been largely averted, the Wraith were staved off for the foreseeable future, and John asked Rodney to marry him.
All right, well. Everything but the last bit was true.
Rodney was sure it was only a matter of time, though, and if not...
He was getting pretty accurate with a bow and arrow, actually. And Dex was teaching him how to throw all manner of painful, sharp, pointy objects. John really didn’t stand a chance.
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