Word Count: 14,500
Disclaimer: Wish they were mine... sigh
Author's Notes: This is for the Harlequin Challenge at undermistletoe. Somehow it turned into a Regency Romance (in more ways than one), so expect some serious OOC for our boys. Praise and bowing before the lovely fenchurch1 for her beta work. What she saw was incomplete so any mistakes are mine!
Summary: At sixteen and after the death of his mother, the young High Prince John ran away to Athosia where he became just John Shepard. At thirty-six, he has been recalled by the City to perform his duty.
Background: This is a Pegasus where the Ancients once lived but never created the Wraith or the Replicators. But many of the other dangers of Pegasus still exist and, like any large civilization, different areas developed at difference paces. All of that is another story, for another time. Atlantis, however, is still the crown jewel of the galaxy and the seat of power.
"Sir," Lorne began, relenting when green eyes glared at him. "John."
John sighed. He knew it wasn't fair to take his anger out on Lorne but... it wasn't fair! "I'm not going to do it," he said flatly.
"There's no one else," Lorne said softly. "It is necessity. The message from the City was clear."
John closed his eyes, wishing he were anyplace but here. He walked over to the window and looked out over the city that stretched out in front of him. As a child, he had always enjoyed the view from the Tower but today he didn't really see it.
Instead, John saw the home he had made on Athosia. The long, white beach came up to the patio although he didn't have as much time to surf in the endless waves as he wanted. The farm and the animals he raised with the Athosians who had adopted him took most of his time.
"We have to go," Lorne informed him firmly.
John put on the formal jacket depicting his rank that had been brought for him and it settled heavily on his shoulders. "All right," he agreed, bracing himself for the events to come.
Lorne escorted him to the meeting room. John knew he was unhappy that there wasn't a full escort but John had been on his own so long that even the single escort – a polite way of saying 'guard' – was annoying.
"His Royal Highness, High Prince John of Atlantis," Lorne announced to the room. He stepped aside to allow John to enter the room.
Everyone stood as John entered the room. He hated that, wanting to tell them to remain seated, to ignore him. He did not know these people, he did not know who they were.
"John." His father said. There was a thin thread of warmth in the voice that John was surprised to hear. The welcome was formal since they both knew there were no other options. They had their roles to play and his father would not deviate from that.
"Sir," John answered with a small nod. It had been a long time since it had beenFather. Now that he had the perspective of distance, he realized it had never been Dad. That thought made him sad for both of them.
He looked critically at his Father. Patrick John Sheppard, Ruler of Atlantis and effectively Ruler of Pegasus. John was thrown for a moment by how old his father looked. He knew that the memory of his Father was a child's memory and that time had changed them both but the man in front of him looked weary.
Not for the first time he wished his mother had not died so young. She had been the buffer between them and could cajole them into at least working together. John stayed for almost a year after she died, making no small effort as a halfling to work with his father but the bitterness between them was too much for him to bear. He was too young at that point and his father was lost in his grief. So at sixteen, he left.
Now he was thirty six and he was back. At the command of the City, not even at the request of his Father.
"I'd like to introduce Scholar Rodney McKay, from Bending University," his father introduced the uncomfortable looking man standing with him.
"A scholar?" John asked, neutrally. He knew better than to let his dismay show, although, if pressed, he would not have been able to articulate his expectations.
"Yes," McKay answered, lifting his chin a bit. "I am the lead Scholar in Physics and Engineering at the University."
"I have no doubt of that," John replied gently. His father would allow nothing but the best, always looking to gain an advantage where he could. The City had its own, unknown, agenda.
"I... I want this no more than you," McKay offered, waving a hand to encompass himself and John.
John took a close look at the other man. He was reasonably good looking, broad shoulders, sturdy but a bit soft about the middle. John looked into clear, blue eyes. Eyes that looked back at him steadily.
"Join me for supper," John found himself issuing an invitation.
"I'm allergic to citrus," McKay replied immediately, then realized what he had said. "Sorry. It's just... important. Yes, I would like to join you." The eyes lit up in a way John found himself wanting to see more of.
"No citrus," John promised solemnly.
"Thank you," McKay answered with a touch of relief.
"If you would come with me," John offered. He turned to his father and nodded his head. "Sir, if you will excuse us."
John did not wait for a dismissal but turned to face Scholar McKay. "This way," John pointed to the door he had come in.
John retraced his steps to the apartment he had been assigned. Lorne shadowed them as they walked the halls in silence and stood quietly in the transporter, pressing the map to the Tower John was in.
Once in the room, he closed the door behind them. "What may I get for you?" Lorne asked.
John looked at McKay for guidance. McKay offered, "As long as there's no citrus, I'll eat pretty much anything."
"Then a sausage casserole, cheese rolls and salad," John decided. "And a sweet for after."
"Certainly," Lorne answered. "Should not take long."
"May I offer you a drink?" John offered after Lorne had left.
"Look... " McKay started.
John held a hand up. "I know you have questions. As do I," John stopped him. "But there are some choices we do not have. Now, a drink?"
John saw McKay give a small sigh. "Certainly.Water, or... beer if you have it."
"Beer I can do," John was relieved the request was for something simple and not to dissimilar to his own preference. He went to the cooling unit and brought out two bottles of beer. "It is local brew. While the color is pale, it has a hearty taste."
"Thank you," McKay replied taking the beer. He waved away the offer of a glass and took a drink directly from the bottle. John watched as McKay tilted his head back and the long lines of his neck became evident.
John took a swallow of his own beer. "We can sit on the balcony until supper arrives," he offered.
McKay nodded agreement. "I haven't seen any of Atlantis," he said. "Tell me about it."
John led him to the balcony. "I haven’t been here for twenty years. What I know is mostly history," he apologized.
"Considering all I know is what there is to learn from the history books," McKay pointed out, "anything you can tell me is more than what I know."
"Well, this is the central Tower of the city. Mostly living space but some science labs on the lower levels. We were in the Administrative Tower before, a large number of formal rooms and meeting spaces. It also has suites for some of the off world delegations that visit regularly," John pointed out the other buildings. "The pier just ahead of us is the Market, where hundreds of planets bring their goods to trade. It has no equal. Long ago the Stargate was in the Administrative Tower but it was moved to a better location to assist in the development of the Market. Goods and people can travel through the Stargate and go directly to the Market without having to travel through the city."
"I've heard of the Market of Atlantis, as many have, but I have never been there," McKay admitted. "If we have time, I'd like to see it." With a small grin, "And I have commissions from my sister and niece to fulfill."
"Sister?" John asked, allowing curiosity to color the question. He had wanted a brother, or a sister, at one time. David had been a fosterling from Hoff that John had grown up with for some years and remembered fondly. After the great plague that took too many lives on too many planets, David had been called home to his own family. They had kept somewhat in touch although now that John thought about it, he had not communicated with David in some time.
McKay snorted, "A younger sister, Jeannie. She was studying to be a Scholar – she would have been very good and stood highly in engineering – when she met a poet." John could hear the derision in that word. "They fell in love and ran off to marry and she has followed him from place to place, planet to planet. They were visiting me when... the Call came." John could not decide if the bitterness in the Scholar's voice was about his sister or the Call.
"I can take you later," John offered. "The Market is always open and, unless you are commissioned with something very rare, a variety of shops will still be available after our supper."
"Nothing rare," McKay said. "Just... fripperies not available back home. Some lengths of cloth, threads, perfumes... although I would like to look for some equipment and tools for myself."
"Lorne can take us," John decided. "I do not know the shops but he can guide us." And, John knew, they would not be allowed to roam around the Market without an escort. He knew it would be easier to give in willingly to the escort than to put Lorne and the Guard in a position that would turn it intoa State visit.
"I would appreciate that," McKay sounded relieved. "I would be grateful for your advice on cloth and threads since I have no experience on what sorts of things are both pretty and durable." He was obviously quoting his sister.
John laughed at the frustration in McKay's voice. "Women always think they are giving you enough information and are annoyed when you cannot read their minds," he grinned. "I think we will request that Lorne to bring one of the women guards with us as a guide."
"That's an excellent thought," McKay sounded relieved.
The silence wasn't –quite – awkward. They stood on the balcony and looked out over the city that shone red in the setting sun. As a child, John had enjoyed this time of day when he and his mother would watch the sun set over the city. She would hold him on her lap and would tell him stories about the various parts of the city as the day grew dark. To this day, he had no idea whether the stories were true or something she had made up to entertain a small child.
The door chime sounded and they turned to see who was at the door. "Come," John said.
"Dinner," Lorne announced as he pushed a cart into the apartment. John thought perhaps there was a hint of concern that John did not question who was at the door before he allowed entrance.
Grateful for the distraction, John said, "We can serve ourselves. Thank you."
"Not a problem, sir," Lorne replied.
"Scholar McKay tells me he has need to visit the Market," John stated. "Can we do that later this evening? And, he is need of things for his sister where he would appreciate a woman's assistance. Do you have someone that can come with us?"
"Certainly," Lorne agreed promptly. John assumed it was relief that they were willing to take someone else with them. "Protector Cadman is available and would be able to assist you."
"If you and she would be available in," he turned to McKay with a question in his eyes, "say, two hours?"
McKay nodded agreement.
"Yes, sir," Lorne said. "Anything else just now?"
"Not at the moment," John assured him. "Thank you."
Lorne gave a small bow and left them.
"Shall we?" John waved at the table Lorne had set for them.
"Yes," McKay said. "I am hungry. I have found over time that I need to eat regularly or I suffer from a weakness. If I go too long between meals it can be debilitating."
They moved to the table, taking seats that let them look out a window as they ate.
"I... this is not easy for either of us," McKay stated the obvious. "Tell me something of yourself."
"I would have thought someone would have... briefed you about me," John replied.
"High Prince, ran away twenty years ago, no one knows where," McKay rattled off. "That's all anyone's told me."
John sat back in his chair. No one knew where he had been? He had been corresponding irregularly with David on Hoff and received at least yearly 'missives' from his Father which he had responded to dutifully if otherwise briefly.
"I have been on Athosia, running a plantation there. We raise tormack and tava beans for trade with others, most of that is overseen by the leader of the clan I first met when I landed there. Teyla Emmagen is the current leader of the clan, she runs the growing part of the plantation and we employ those of her clan who wish to work with us."
"Growing things is hard work," McKay put in. "My sister brings me cuttings that when planted and tended would serve as herbs for cooking or to sooth burns. Yet when she leaves, all turn black as they wither and die."
John laughed. "Yes, the first few years the Athosians were kind enough to put up with me until I grew into myself and became able enough to keep up with them. Now, I know to pace myself and can keep up with the adults but the halflings can outstrip me at harvest time."
McKay snorted. "Halflings are always showing off."
"True," John agreed. "We also have a herd of equines that I work with regularly. There, the Halflings often find that youth plays them no advantage."
"Equines?" McKay was astonished. "A herd?"
"Yes," John affirmed. "We captured a female when she was carrying young, twins. She died, mostly of fright we thought after, but we raised the young in an outbuilding. Getting them used to people from birth helped us to be able to train them, the way one often trains canines to be housebroken. Once we knew the two we raised could be domesticated, we captured other newly birthed equines in order to domesticate them. When we had a dozen about the proper age, we let them breed. They became the base of the herd we have today. We still search for newly born equines to add to the stock but not as frequently as we needed to in the beginning. More to strengthen the herd on occasion."
"What do you use them for?" McKay looked either fascinated or repelled, John could not be sure which.
"Some with the appropriate temperament, we can use for carriers. We can ride upon their backs to get to other locations more quickly than on foot. Some are better for pulling a wagon to carry a group of people or supplies. We're trying to see if we can use some to drag plows through the field to facilitate the planting and to allow us to plant fields that would otherwise take too long to dig up to be worth planting."
"Wait! You need an equine to get from place to place? You cannot take a transporter?" McKay asked in astonishment.
John sighed. "Athosia is... barbarian, you could say, compared to Atlantis or to your University world," he explained. "There is no transporter system, no energy grid. The Stargate allows the Athosians to communicate and trade with other worlds but, once one is through the Stargate and arrives on Athosia, there are few locations that have access to energy that does not involve manual labor. One large town about a day's walk from the Stargate uses a waterfall to generate energy for the town but they do not have excess to share. There is tell of a town that uses the heat from the ground to provide energy but that is more than a week's travel from the gate and I have not been there."
McKay looked in some horror at that information. "But... there are ways to store energy that can be used for years to power small towns! Surely, you could have obtained one of them!"
John knew this was a personally uncomfortable topic. "Perhaps High Prince John could have afforded such, but John Sheppard could not. The Athosians are proud people and to be given such riches, unearned, would be an insult," he explained softly. "Therefore, we do without."
"Your Athosians are... either spectacularly stupid or spectacularly honorable," McKay uttered.
"One does not miss what one has never had," John replied calmly. "I have done what I can for the clan that has adopted me but one man cannot change an entire world."
"Yet we are here together on behalf of the entire galaxy," McKay pointed out.
John gave another small sigh. "I wish it were otherwise," he said softly.
They ate the rest of their dinner in silence. John noted that McKay enjoyed the sweet after dinner, a confection of sugar and chocolate that he ate sparingly of, unused to such rich food. McKay hummed with happiness as he savored the treat, licking his spoon carefully to get at every morsel.
Knowing they had time before Lorne would come to take them to the Market, John poured mugs of caff and asked, "I have told you some of myself, tell me of yourself."
They moved to chairs in the sitting area, taking their drinks with them.
"The less said of my youth, the better," McKay started. "I was a bright child but my parents did not know what to make of it. Fortunately, the village teacher had connections with Bending and as a halfling I found myself far from home but in a place where my intelligence was welcomed."
John nodded encouragement. "Go on."
"I was placed in classes with others older than I but I was soon ahead of them," McKay recounted with a distant look in his eyes. "Fortunately, I was soon placed with a mentor, the lead Scholar in Physics. He simply gave me projects to do that were a challenge to my knowledge and helped me learn how to figure them out for myself. It was not long before he and I were essentially equals, working together... I thought... to solve problems the University set for us."
There was a touch of bitterness in the last part of the tale, John thought. He asked carefully, "It was not as you thought?"
It was McKay's turn to sigh. "Remember that I came to the University as a halfling and knew nothing of politics. It turned out that my mentor was a secret member of the Genii and was grooming me to work for them."
John absorbed this information with as neutral a face as he could manage. He had his own brush with the Genii that he had long buried in his memory. One he did not want to awaken.
McKay must not have noticed anything amiss for he continued, "I was stunned and horrified to discover we were not working on building an energy source but something that could be twisted to become a device of destruction. When I confronted him, he tried to have me kidnapped by Genii soldiers who were living on Bending pretending to be students. I was fortunate to be able to escape and report the attack to the Proctors." McKay was then silent for long enough that John thought the story was at an end.
"Rather than be questioned by the Proctors, he committed suicide," McKay said softly. "He left me a letter that blamed me for forcing him to take his own life rather than reveal his cause."
"That was not your fault," John said firmly.
A small, rueful sounding laugh escaped from McKay. "At the time, I did not understand that. This was someone I had looked up to, as a parent. He had taken me into his apartment, his lab, his life and I was treated as... one who was welcome to be there."
There was more than one form of abandonment, John knew. He had suffered from one form, McKay from another. Yet they had both survived.
A brisk knock on the door brought John from his reverie. "Come."
Lorne and a woman soldier entered the room, dressed informally John was grateful to see. "You wished to visit the Market?" he reminded them. "This is Protector Cadman, who assures me she can assist you with your commission."
The blonde woman did not look like the usual Protector, she was lithe and comely with an easy smile on her face. "Your Highness." She must have been coached by Lorne for she only made a small dip rather than the full bow the members of the Guard were required to make to John.
"John, if you would," John requested. "We wish to be... incognito, if at all possible." He turned to McKay. "I would be pleased if you would use my given name."
"Thank you," McKay replied. "If it pleases you, I am Rodney." He turned to the guards. "And to you also, please. I am not used to any ceremony and, honestly, would make something of a muddle of it if it were required."
The two guards nodded, slightly reluctantly he thought, although Cadman seemed more at ease with the thought than Lorne did.
"Then I must be Laura," she said cheerfully. "If we are to complete the charade, it will not do for you to call me Protector."
"Agreed. Shall we go?" John asked.
"Wait! I have to get funds from my room," McKay – Rodney protested.
"Allow me to fund this trip," John offered. "Rather, we can impose on the largess of my Father and Atlantis since they brought us here."
Rodney looked doubtful. "Are you sure?"
Lorne stepped forward slightly. "If I may?" John nodded. "His Majesty did provide for any needs you may have. It would be remiss if you did not take advantage of that offer."
"All right," Rodney gave in.
They went out into the hall to the transporter. It was a closer fit with four of them and John found himself close to Rodney. He could feel the warmth of his body along his arm, he had a sudden longing for more of that feeling.
They stepped out of the transporter into a corridor and John missed the warmth Rodney had provided.
"This way," Lorne directed.
A short walk brought them to one of the entrances to the Market. John knew that to get to the Market one had to go through the security of Atlantis but he also knew there were many things that could be used as weapons and physical security checks would not reveal intentions.
"Where to first?" Cadman asked.
"My sister requested cloth and threads," Rodney stated. "She travels with her husband, so they have need for materials that are durable. But she also wanted pretty which I have no eye for."
"That I can help you with," Cadman assured him. "I know a dressmaker that has goods I think you will find appropriate. If you will go this way?" She pointed up a street off to their immediate left.
They strolled down the street, pausing slightly on occasion, for both John and Rodney were interested in the sights. It had been many years since John had been to the Market and Rodney had never been. As a result, there were many shops that caught their eye. They did not stop but John made mental note of some of the shops that Rodney seemed to find of particular interest.
John listened as Rodney maintained a continuous monologue about some of the items they saw on display. Some shops he dismissed as "charlatans" while others seemed to pique his interest, more often food and sweet shops. He did not profess an interest in entering, disparaging most with an over-use of citrus in their goods, making them inedible for him.
"Here, sirs," Cadman pointed. "John," she amended with a blush when John looked hard at her.
"Help me," Rodney commanded as they entered the shop. Even John was overwhelmed by the choices on display. He looked down as his own deceptively simple black outfit and understood why Rodney would want assistance.
"Merie," Cadman spoke to the elderly woman who came forward to meet them. "My friend is in need of goods for his sister. She travels much and needs cloth that will wear."
Merie eyed John speculatively but after a brief nod, turned her attention to Rodney and Laura.
"Her husband is a traveling poet," Rodney added. "They must look proper when he is making presentations for an audience. And they have a young child of eight years who is always in need of new clothes."
"Ah! I have some things back here that I think you will find appropriate," Merie offered. "Please, come with me."
Rodney and Cadman went with her to the rear of the shop. John could watch them over the rows of goods, Lorne did not move from his side.
"Even here?" John asked softly.
"Even here," Lorne confirmed in a similar tone. "But Merie designed for your mother at one time. She opened this shop after you left."
John had not realized that and appreciated the information. He looked about the shop with renewed interest.
"John!" Cadman called with a gleam in her eye after she and Rodney had conferred for some time with the shop keeper. "Come and help us."
"I doubt that I can be of much help," he protested. "I have no eye for dress goods." He joined the small circle in the back of the shop.
"I.... I do not know which to choose and... Laura suggests I take them all," Rodney complained plaintively.
"Well, that is not a bad idea," John replied. At Rodney's obvious distress at the suggestion, he relented. "Which are your top choices?"
Rodney pointed to three of the several lengths that were on display. "Take those and add," John looked the offerings over and pointed two others, "this one as my gift to your sister, the other as a gift to your niece. Will that be acceptable?"
"Better," Rodney answered in some relief. "Threads that are appropriate, then, also."
"And buttons," Cadman put in.
"Buttons?" Rodney sounded faintly bewildered.
"Let us ask Merie to add what she thinks will suit," Cadman suggested. "And some extras, for one never has enough buttons."
"Done," John agreed. "Madam, if you would?" he asked Merie.
"Certainly," she answered. "Where to you want it all sent?"
Lorne stepped in. "Ca-... Laura can pick it up... tomorrow?" he suggested.
Merie nodded. "I can have it ready then," she promised.
"Thank you," Rodney said to both Cadman and Merie.
"Anything else?" John asked.
"Fragrance?" Rodney put forth tentatively.
Cadman looked Rodney up and down critically and offered, "Did she give you any idea what she wanted?"
"Something light and something she would not be able to get on Bending is all she said," Rodney replied.
Cadman tilted her head in consideration of Rodney's dilemma. "If I may suggest...." Rodney nodded encouragement. "Allow me to make some selections to bring to you. That will be much easier than trying to visit a perfumerie."
"Would you?" Rodney was relieved. "That was the part I dreaded the most. Thank you."
"Not at all," she replied cheerfully. "What else?"
Rodney hesitated and John asked softly, "Something else?"
John found the small blush charming and Rodney said, "If you'd indulge me for a bit, perhaps to a shop that provides musical instruments?"
"Certainly," John assured him. "We have time." He looked at Lorne and Cadman. "Suggestions?"
"This area of shops would not have such," Lorne obviously debated. "I have no talent for music and do not know of any specific shop to bring to your attention but we can go to that area of the Market and see which shops might still be open. If nothing that suits is open we can return again tomorrow."
Cadman turned to the shop keeper, "Merie, do you have any recommendations where we should look at musical instruments?"
"Also not one of my talents, but Grodin's is well known," she offered.
"I am only interested in looking briefly," Rodney protested. "It does not matter to me."
"How about if we look in Grodin's, see if there is anything you would like to look at closer and then call it a night?" John offered. That should also make their escort happier, putting limits on what they might do.
"Yes, if you are sure you would not mind," Rodney agreed, eyes shining brightly in eagerness.
For that look, John found he would agree to almost anything. It made Rodney look younger and even more attractive and John thought he could drown in the blue of those eyes. He shook himself.
"If I truly mind, I will tell you," John promised. "Lead on," he told Lorne.
As they walked along the streets to the portion of the Market where the musical shops congregated, John asked, "A Scholar and a musician?"
Rodney grimaced slightly. "I started out to be a musician when I was very young. I studied with all of the traveling bards I could meet and practiced on a keyboard instrument my mother was able to find for me. It was of relatively poor quality but all she was able to convince my father to obtain. One of the traveling bards I was working with told me that while I certainly would be an acceptable player and could play the music of others, I lacked the creativity to create my own music."
"But you must have been very young at the time!" John protested. "It was cruel to tell a child they cannot do something at that age!"
"I know," Rodney answered. "But I took it to heart and told my mother to sell the keyboard to another and did not play again for many years. I have started to study music again in recent years since there are relationships between science and music that are more evident when one knows more about music. I have not the skill to entertain others but I entertain myself and learn more about both science and music as I play."
"I would like to hear some of your playing," John asked. When Rodney stiffened at the request, John hastily amended, "Only if you are willing, of course."
"I... I will think on it," Rodney conceded.
They easily found Grodin's shop but it was already closed for the day. John made note of the hours of business and hoped they could return when the shop would be open.
As he turned to Lorne to ask about a tavern they might stop in, John noticed fast moving shadows approach.
"Down!" he commanded to Rodney, grabbing the Scholar about the shoulders and gently tumbling him so he lay on the ground. "Stay there," he hissed. Rodney's position on the ground and against the building was the only protection he could provide at that moment. He crouched in front of Rodney, taking a calming breath as he looked to see what was happening.
Lorne and Cadman had their weapons out but Cadman was positioned awkwardly, cut off from the ambush. Lorne was between her and the primary group and while she could pick off some of the attackers on the edges of the group, she could not aim at others without risking a hit on Lorne.
John looked around and saw a broom sitting next to the door of the shop. Thankful to the lazy apprentice that had not put the implement away, he grabbed it and swung it experimentally to get the feel of the weight on the end and the strength of the pole. It would be more than sufficient.
A pair of attackers came less quickly from the opposite direction of the group Lorne faced, probably hoping to take advantage of Lorne and Cadman's blind side. They looked at John and one laughed in derision, "Ho! Look at the high and mighty prince and his broom!"
They came at John and, with an ease of years of practice, John flowed through well honed moves as he swung the end of the bristle end of the broom to push one attacker off balance while plotting in his head the trajectory he would need to take with the other end to smack! the pole against the back of the head of the other.
The movement must have caught the corner of Cadman's eye since John could see her turn to shoot at the man he had tumbled off balance. One assailant taken care of, he focused on the other. Taking advantage of the moment he had before the man would be able to regroup after John's first strike, John turned in place to be able to bring the end of the pole up under the man's chin. The strike was true and the man's head snapped back, hard. He dropped to the ground without a sound.
Cadman darted over to them, keeping an eye on Lorne's progress with the others as she moved. "Are you safe?" she demanded.
"Check Rodney," he commanded, not moving from his place between Rodney and the two downed attackers, not daring to look in back of him.
"My duty..." she started.
"Your duty is to do as I command," John said sternly. "Check on Rodney."
"Yes, sir," she darted around him."Safe!" she called.
The group attacking Lorne must have realized that the others had been subdued and quickly melted back into the shadows. Lorne or Cadman must have called for backup –the tromp of troops could be heard approaching at a fast pace and an aircar appeared overhead.
Not until Lorne came back to their position did John relax. He turned to see Cadman helping Rodney stand, brushing him off as she helped him become steady on his feet.
Lorne looked down at the two men at their feet. "The rest got away and took their wounded with them," he announced unnecessarily. "You did better than I did."
John knelt and felt for the pulse on the man he struck under the chin. "Dead," he announced.
Lorne was at the other man. "Shot," he said, "but still alive."
"Cadman's work," John gave credit where it was due. "Take him in, see what he can tell us," John directed. "Otherwise, this is for naught." He looked at Rodney who seemed to be unharmed. "Go, we're fine."
Lorne waved to the aircar, directing the arriving troops to seal off the area to allow the aircar to land. "Take him in, keep him secure but let me know when he becomes awake," Lorne told the medics.
An 'aye' came from the medics and they quickly had the unconscious assailant on a stretcher and in the aircar. They took off and were soon a speck against the night sky.
"If you would, sir?" Lorne asked. "We need to go." He kept his anxiety from bleeding into his speech but John could see the tension that still held his body.
"Yes," John agreed. He turned to find Rodney and Cadman just behind him. "Hey," he said softly to Rodney. "You okay?"
"Yes. And thank you for saving my life," Rodney answered. "Although, ow, I think I bruised my elbow with the take-down you used." He rubbed the elbow in question. "Did you have to be quite so forceful?"
"Do you need a medic?" John was immediately concerned.
"No, it'll be fine, although I think some ice would help," Rodney pointed out.
"We're good here," John told Lorne. "Lead on."
They left the Market, troops leading and following this time. A group preceded them on the transporter and waited for them at the far end. Another group came immediately after them. Not until they were ensconced in John's apartment did he relax. Lorne and Cadman did a sweep of the apartment before they bowed briefly and left, closing the door behind them. John knew if he checked, there would be a pair of guards stationed outside the door.
John went to the cooling unit and got ice from the upper compartment. He placed some in a towel and brought it over to Rodney. "Why don't you sit?" he asked. "It will be easier than trying to hold on to this while standing."
Rodney sat in the chair he occupied earlier. He took the towel, set it on the arm of the chair and rested his elbow on it. Giving a small sigh of relief, he crumpled into the back of the chair.
"You are not all right," John made that a statement and not a question.
"Physically, I am fine," Rodney retorted in a show of spirit John was glad to see. "Just... nerves. And seeing you turn all... Warrior."
John huffed. "As a barbarian world, Athosia has its share of bandits. Learning personal defense is imperative, that is all." There was more than that but not part of the current discussion.
"You killed a man with a broom!" Rodney pointed out.
"Before he could harm you," John retorted.
"Me? You think he... they... were out to harm me?" Rodney squawked.
"You're unique," John pointed out. "Without you, without your... genetics, you would not be here."
"You are more unique," Rodney countered. "You're the Bearer."
For that was the crux of John's problem. Once every few generations, generally attributed to intervention by the City itself for there was no other explanation, a male child was born with the capability to have children. Any children born of the Bearer became a new line of Rulers of Atlantis. It had been thus for at least the three thousand years for which records existed in the City. Scholars spoke softly about Bearings even prior to those in the records.
John's great-great grandfather had been a Bearer, a member of the Guard who protected the Ruler of his time. His match, identified by the City, had been a cousin of the Ruler. They had one child, John's great grandfather who had become the next Ruler.
Even as a child, John knew he was the next Bearer. Before he left, the City refused to identify his match, the one who could make him with child. For some unknown reason, the City only recently identified Scholar Rodney McKay as his match. With the release of that identification by the City, John had been ordered to return from Athosia and Scholar McKay summarily brought from Bending.
There was always a faction who opposed the Bearing. Whether they supported the current Ruler or were offended by the ideal of a male pregnancy or opposed the Royalty in general, it made no difference. There was always a disaffected group that would try to stop the Bearing from happening. Occasionally they would succeed and the current line would continue for another generation but never more than two. Another Bearer would be born and the cycle would occur again.
The fact that John's Father was the current Ruler and John was already the next in line made his own condition an oddity. Never before had someone directly in the Ruling line been the next Bearer. The fact that John had no siblings, no direct rivals for the Throne, made it even odder.
John sat opposite Rodney. "I know," he replied despondently. "I... I never wanted this. I had been hoping that you... not you but the one who would be my match, I was hoping maybe he did not exist in this generation."
"If you gave up the Throne, who would become King?" Rodney asked.
"There are cousins," John shrugged elegantly. "I do not care which one, just anyone but me."
"I think... that is not to be," Rodney said softly.
"I know," John agreed, reluctant to voice what in his heart he already knew.
They sat in silence, this time a more comfortable silence.
"Beer?" John asked, finally.
"Yes, please," Rodney replied. He moved his elbow experimentally. "The ice, and sitting, helped."
John got up and opened two more beers, handing one to Rodney. They drank as the stars came out over the city.
"I don't know how to do this," John said into the darkness that had overtaken the room. They had not turned on any lights as they came in, letting the darkness seep in.
Rodney snorted. "You think I do?" he asked. "At least you've had a lifetime to get used to the idea. I've barely had a sevenday."
"I've had a lifetime to deny what I am," John shot back. "I didn't want this. I was hoping to give this up and live my life out running a plantation on Athosia."
"Now what?" Rodney asked simply.
John was silent for a moment. "As I see it, we have a small number of options. One option that the City will fight us on is that we can go our separate ways, never... consummating the bond the City wants us to have. Another option is we can go slow, get to know one another, spend time together and make a decision about when and where on our own terms."
"Or?" Rodney asked.
"We can get it over with, then go our separate ways," John finished.
"Isn't that a bit... crude?" Rodney was disbelieving.
John stood and looked out the window overlooking the city. "It's unfair to you, to tie you down to someone you do not know," John offered. "That way you... we can... do our duty and you can go back to your life on Bending."
"You think so little of me that I would choose that? To... leave you... to leave an unborn child?" Rodney declared. He moved to stand next to John. "Look at me." It was a demand John could not refuse.
He looked in those blue eyes and was lost. "Rodney..." He was stunned by the depth of emotion there.
"You idiot," Rodney declared. He closed the distance between them and placed his warm lips on John's.
The kiss started soft, tentative... then John's brain kicked in. He was being kissed! He wrapped his arms about Rodney's shoulders to bring him closer. The warm body against his made him groan with the pleasure that curled low in his belly.
The kiss broke but John did not release his hold.
"I think perhaps not too slow, but I would like to get to know you. You are brave, capable and honorable," Rodney stated. "You have been here but a three-day and yet you command the loyalty of your Guard." He breathed warm air against John's neck. "The fact that you do not want to Rule makes you suited to the position." He leaned back to look John in the eye. "I would be honored to stay with you."
"But... your work," John protested. "It is important to you... and to others!"
"Are you bound to the city?" Rodney asked mildly.
Hope dawned in John. "I can go with you!" he exclaimed.
"We can go together," Rodney replied. "We can go anywhere. To Bending, to Athosia..."
"Rodney!" John could barely comprehend what he was hearing.
"John!" Rodney replied softly. "I would like to know you better. Perhaps if we take a sevenday... to spend time together, to consider our future... I have long suspected that the City makes a match based on temperament as well as genetics, therefore we are at least compatible. If we were to give that a chance..."
John leaned in for a brief kiss. "I would like that."
"While I am not adverse to staying in your arms," Rodney grinned mischievously, "if we wish to go slow I must put some distance between us."
John realized that he had grown accustomed to the warmth against his and there was evidence of growing interest, on both their parts. He leaned in for a small kiss, released Rodney and stepped back.
"I think you are correct," John grinned but missed the warmth of Rodney's body.
"It has been a long, and exciting, day," Rodney offered. "I think it is time I retire."
"The guard will escort you to your rooms," John stated. "Please do not wander about on your own. While it should be safe while you are in the Tower, tonight's experience means that we cannot let our guard down."
Rodney looked momentarily disconcerted. "Yes, thank you. I would appreciate an escort," he said.
Thankful that Rodney was being agreeable, John said, "May I see you in the morning?"
"I think I'm supposed to be the one wooing you," Rodney smirked. "Yes, please. How do I leave a request for caff in the morning?"
"Tell the escort what you would like for breakfast and what time," John directed. "I will have someone assigned to you tomorrow who will assist you with any needs you may have."
Rodney looked faintly disconcerted. "I don't want to be a bother," he protested.
John said gently, "You will never be a bother. And you are my match, for that you will be honored." John found the faint blush charming and in contrast to the voluble man he already found Rodney to be. He walked Rodney to the door and requested one of the guards escort Rodney to his room.
John wandered back into his own apartment, stripping off his clothes in the bathroom and setting the water temperature with a thought. He had not missed the constant hot water until he came back to Atlantis. Truly hot water for bathing was always a luxury and even warm water was sometimes tightly rationed when the weather was cold -- fortunately there were only several sevendays of that in most years. The climate of Athosia where the plantation was located was mostly temperate, not too hot even in mid-summer and cold to the point of water freezing for no more than six to eight sevenday. As a halfling living in the City, he had not thought about where hot water came from... it was not until he was on Athosia and had to heat water to wash his face that he understood something of what he had blithely given up.
Tumbling into bed, John thought about the day. He thought about broad shoulders, blue eyes and a quick wit. He fell asleep, a thread of hope he had not anticipated wending through his thoughts...Just maybe, this will work....
On to Part 2