Rodney lies alone in a green meadow, soft sunlight breaking through the leaves above him to shine on his gleaming mane. Around him, blue and gold butterflies dance, their colours setting off his sparkling white coat. The meadow is quiet (except for the sweet sound of birdsong), its lush green grass dotted with bright flowers.
Just as he begins to contemplate eating one of the closest flowers, he senses a presence nearby. Self-conscious, he tosses his mane and tries to look majestic.
Unfortunately, there's a shrubbery next to his head, and his horn gets caught briefly in its branches.
"Ow! Fucker!" he curses, then freezes with a leaf in his eye. If the presence nearby is one of the other unicorns, he's going to be in deep shit. They hate it when Rodney swears.
Untangling his horn from the shrubbery, he turns his head to look. He just hopes it isn't Sparkles; Sparkles would have Rodney busted down to virgin-duty if he saw Rodney struggling with a shrubbery in an undignified manner.
But when he looks around, the meadow is empty: just the flowers, and the butterflies, and the birds, and the fat bunnies hopping about. Nothing out of the ordinary.
"Huh," he says. But his unicorn-senses aren't wrong; there is a presence nearby. On impulse, he looks up.
Through the gaps in the leaves, there's a flash of colour: bright blue and watery green and soft pink. Oh.
"Hey, rainbow," Rodney says.
"Hey," the rainbow answers.
Rodney goes back to trying to look majestic – even if it's only the rainbow, it's good practice. After a while, the rainbow speaks again.
"So, how's it going?"
"It's okay," Rodney answers. "Y'know."
"Yeah," the rainbow agrees. "You wanna come over to the river? I'm awesome over by the river."
Rodney thinks about it. These flowers and butterflies aren't working for him anyway.
The rainbow is right: he is much awesomer over by the river, where there's more direct sunlight and more water vapour in the air.
"Hey, purple bits today," Rodney notices, impressed.
"Yeah, I like that too. It's a new thing I'm trying."
Rodney nods, at least as much as unicorns are able to nod. Nodding is generally discouraged.
"Hey," Rodney asks, "are you the same rainbow from yesterday?"
"Yup. This is my turf."
"Really? But there's nobody around. There aren't even very many fat bunnies, and I'm the only unicorn in the area."
"Yeah," the rainbow sounds hesitant, and some of its brightness fades. "I'm not very high up in the ranks. The other rainbows get the good spots."
Rodney whinnies; he knows how that is. "I know how that is," he says. "The other unicorns say that it's easier for them to be majestic and gleaming without me around."
The rainbow brightens again. He really is beautiful; strange that he doesn't have a higher rank.
"Hey," Rodney asks, "what's your name?"
"Really? You're a rainbow named John?"
The rainbow is silent.
"Um, I'm Rodney," Rodney says.
"Oh, and that's such a unicorny name," John-the-rainbow pronounces, rolling a wisp of his red sarcastically.
"Excuse me, unicorny?"
"Yes," John says, clearly being an asshole now, "that's the word I was looking for."
It turns out that the rainbow isn't bad company, so Rodney starts hanging out by the river instead of in his assigned meadow. It isn't like Sparkles ever comes to check up on him anyway, out here in the middle of nowhere, and besides, that meadow is way beneath Rodney's talents. Just because he isn't conventionally majestic didn't mean that he couldn't outshine the rest of those guys – Sweetberry, Featherglitter, Moonbeam, even Sparkles himself. Rodney knows he could hold his own in the most magical of hidden meadows if only those morons would give him the chance.
"So I told him I'd do indigo when I felt like doing indigo."
John shrugs. Rodney isn't sure how, but John manages it. "I don't like indigo. One time I didn't do indigo for a whole year."
That's impressive, but Rodney can top it. "I once accidentally gored a virgin," he says, trying to suppress a giggle.
The blues and purples disappear almost entirely for a moment as John laughs, his spectrum shifting involuntarily to the longer waves.
"You did not," he says, when his blues finally come back.
"No, really!" Rodney doesn't know why he's telling this story; this is the story of how he got banished to the Siberia of magical meadows. But it doesn't hurt, telling it to John like this. "I only gored him a little; I'm sure he's fine. But yeah, the thing is, he was wearing this nasty homespun wool sweater, and I'm extremely allergic, which hello, the admin people are supposed to take that kind of thing into account when matching unicorns to virgins; it's only their job. Anyway, I sneezed."
John's spectrum shifts to the red again, for longer this time, making a bright, brash flare against the blue sky. It's inelegant, John's laugh, unrainbowy; Rodney kind of loves it.
Without a thought for his dignity or majesty, Rodney flops down in the soft grass, scratches his back against a rock, and stares up at that delicate place where John's yellow dips into his orange.
On the rare days when it's too sunny, even by the river, for John to show up, Rodney goes to visit Teyla by the seaside.
"So, I think I have a thing for this rainbow," he says.
Teyla's busy gamboling in the surf, though, and doesn't hear him at first.
"Pardon me?" she asks, when her gambol quiets down to more of a light frolic. Teyla is just way too good at being a dolphin.
"I said, I think I have a thing for this rainbow. The one who hangs out by the river?"
"Yes, John; I know him well," Teyla says, her dorsal fin perfectly spangled by crystal-clear droplets of water.
"Yeah. I can't stop thinking about him." Rodney really can't; he's started hating sunny days, started waking up in the morning hoping for the light fog that chases through the meadow and means that John will arrive with the dawn.
Teyla's face becomes as serious as it can, behind her bottle-nose. "A dolphin may love a warm spring breeze, Rodney, but where would they live?"
"Can we talk about me, here? This isn't about you and Ronon and your tragic love affair," Rodney protests.
Ronon grumbles and ruffles Rodney's mane warningly.
" . . . and so she says, 'that's not my circumhorizontal arc!'"
Rodney tries not to laugh, but can't hold in the soft huffing snorts. John shimmers, pleased with himself.
"That is the dorkiest joke I have ever heard," Rodney says. "Listen, here's a good one. A unicorn, a centaur, and a pegasus walk into a meadow . . . "
Before he can finish the joke, though, a huge crashing noise sounds from somewhere nearby in the forest.
"What was that?" John asks, his violet bright and alert.
"It sounded like . . . " Rodney remembers the time that Humans invaded the East Valley, breaking through the ranks of magical creatures with their machines and their smoke, not a single virgin among them. But surely, if this were a vulnerable area, Sparkles and Moonbeam and the rest would be here? Surely they wouldn't just let Rodney patrol out here by himself?
"I'm going to check it out," John says, and disappears.
"What? No! John!" Rodney stamps his hoof in frustration. "You asshole, get back here!"
But Rodney's all alone by the riverbank. The horrible crashing noise comes again; he can't imagine what it is, if it isn't Humans.
He paces up and down the bank, frustrated, until he can't stand it anymore. He may not be the most majestic, but if John is off facing those Humans by himself, Rodney can't stay here.
He gallops off toward the sound of the crashes. As he runs, he begins to hear the high-pitched whine of the Humans' machines.
He finds John shimmering above a waterfall, looking down across the little valley.
"Rodney," John says, startled, "what are you doing here? Fuck, get back, they'll see you, you idiot."
Rodney doesn't get back. "I wasn't going to let you face them on your own." Below, trees are falling beneath the Humans' machines. Rodney sees the telltale shift in light as yet another dryad flees her home.
"What are you gonna do, accidentally gore them?"
Rodney gapes. "What are you gonna do? Wow them with your indigo?"
John is silent.
"Okay," Rodney allows finally, "Maybe we're in over our heads."
"The Humans shouldn't have even been able to see this place. Aren't you people supposed to keep the borders magical, keep the Humans from seeing this place?"
"Don't look at me, this is Featherglitter's territory. Wherever he is; that guy couldn't keep a paper sack magical, much less a forest."
"Right," John says, then shimmers out of existence again, reappearing at the bottom of the waterfall, closer to the Humans.
"John!" Rodney hisses. "What do you think you're doing?"
"If we make it magical enough, the Humans won't be able to stay. They'll forget their purpose."
"What! You and me? John, the last Human invasion, it took Sparkles and Moonbeam and Featherglitter all working together with the other magical creatures to fend them off!"
John doesn't answer him; he just keeps shifting closer and closer to the Humans and their machines.
"Shut up, Rodney, I'm trying to be magical over here."
Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Rodney watches as John gets closer to the machines, but he can see already that it won't be enough; the Humans look distracted, but they keep felling the trees.
"Shit," Rodney says. John's almost directly below him, now, arcing from the bottom of the waterfall into the forest. Soon he'll be gone, out of sight, and Rodney knows better than most what happens when too little magic comes up against too much mundanity. It's a suicide mission.
Trying not to hyperventilate, Rodney backs up to give himself a running start. Then, without giving himself time to think about it, he runs and jumps off the side of the cliff.
He lands on John's back, just at the last edge of his arc; his hooves spark against John's blue.
"Ooof," John says.
"You're not doing this alone," Rodney proclaims, trying not to lose his footing on the slippery surface of the rainbow.
"Cool," John agrees. "C'mon, get up to the front."
Rodney does, trotting as quickly as he dares over the rainbow and down the other side.
"Maybe later I'll show you my pot of gold," John leers.
"This is not the time for sexual innuendo!" Rodney yells, as John carries him right into the middle of the group of Humans. The Humans look up for a moment, puzzled, but then carry on with what they're doing.
Right. Time to be magical.
"Now would be good, Rodney," John growls, exuding his rainbow-magic.
"Okay," Rodney says, and forgets to be afraid. He strikes a hoof against John's green, lowers his head, and gives them all the majesty he's got.
It takes some time, but eventually the Humans wander away, dazed, leaving their machines behind. Rodney imagines that, eventually, the forest will grow up over them.
Once they're gone, though, Rodney no longer has an excuse to stay here, touching John; no longer has an excuse to trail his legs through the light wisps of colour that rise from John's body. He clambers off awkwardly, then turns to look up at John.
"Uh, that was. I mean, you were great back there."
"Thanks," John says, and is Rodney just imagining it, or is John getting a little pink around the edges? "You too."
Rodney ducks his head quickly, blushing a little himself, and bangs his horn against a low-hanging branch.
"Ow," he complains.
John laughs at him, red-shift red-shift, and then nudges Rodney with a wisp of blue.
"C'mon, let's go home."
As it turns out, saving the magical forest from encroaching Humans and generally being brilliant doesn't count for as much as you'd think. Sparkles gives Rodney a gruff word of praise or two, but doesn't offer to move him to the one of the bigger meadows. Rodney concludes that Sparkles wouldn't know magic if it bit him on his big white rump, but doesn't kick up too much fuss. He finds that he's gotten used to working alone, and he likes his little meadow by the river.
"You get any recognition from your people?" John asks.
"No, they're all morons. You?"
John sun-dogs for a moment, then sighs. "Nope. But then, it's hard to get rainbows to agree to do anything."
"Fair," Rodney says.
They sit in silence for a long time, John arcing directly above Rodney where he lies on the riverbank. Their riverbank, as Rodney has come to think of it. John's end is planted in the grass near Rodney's head; since they saved the world together, John's been sticking pretty close to him. Rodney would just need to shift his head to nudge his horn right into John's colours.
He doesn't. A unicorn might love a rainbow, but where would they live?
The next sunny day, he goes to see Teyla again, confident that, if nothing else, she'll commiserate with him about their star-crossed loves.
But Teyla, as it turns out, is anything but star-crossed; she is, in fact, leaping out of the water over and over, each time holding in the air just a little too long. Rodney hears Ronon's low laugh hum through the air on every leap, watches as he holds Teyla up out of the water just for a moment, then lets her go.
From the noises that Teyla's making, being held by a warm spring breeze is a pleasant experience for a dolphin.
Rodney goes off to get lunch, and comes back later.
"So, I guess you and Ronon got together finally," he says, without preamble, as he canters up to the seaside.
Teyla is as serene as ever, though Rodney suspects that she's glowing a little more than usual. "Indeed; we found a way to make things work." She pushes her nose into the air, as if rubbing faces with another dolphin, and Rodney hears Ronon's low chuckle again.
"Geez, you two should just get a room," Rodney grumbles.
"You should just tell John how you feel," Ronon says, tickling Rodney's ears.
"Yes, because I'm going to take advice from a breeze," Rodney says, tossing his mane.
Ronon tickles his ears again.
"And would you stop that!"
"Hey, Rodney," John says the next day. "Wanna play tag?"
"You always win," Rodney says.
John, who can't take no for an answer, shifts the end of his arc to brush against Rodney's flank.
"You're it," John crows.
Something flares up inside Rodney, as if he's made up of light just like John is: before John can get very far away, Rodney turns, and presses his face to John's soft violet, letting his horn slip along the harder streak of John's green.
For a moment, John freezes, his normal shift and play of colour suspended in the air. But then, miraculously, the quality of light changes, and Rodney opens his eyes to watch, in amazement, as John whirls around to form a full circle around Rodney's body.
Rodney sighs and lips at a wisp of light, at the part of John that's most insubstantial. He feels John's colours tighten around him, covering him, circling him; it feels amazing.
John makes a noise Rodney's never heard before: a happy humming noise that sounds like the wind playing over the water.
"I never thought you'd – " John is saying, his colours pulsing unpredictably.
"Me neither, I never thought," Rodney says, letting his eyes flutter closed again as he rubs his long neck against a patch of orange. "We're so different, I didn't know if you'd want this with me."
"What about Sparkles, and Moonbeam, and the others?" John asks.
"I think," Rodney says, as John flutters a bit of yellow-green over the base of Rodney's horn, "that we'll find a way to make it work."
And they lived happily ever after.