John wakes up to Rodney sprawling across two thirds of the bed, same as he has nearly every day for twenty-five years. He crawls out from beneath Rodney's arm with less grace than he used to, pausing for a stretch that sends a cracking down the length of his spine. Rodney grumbles and rolls over, mashing his face into the burgundy flannel of his pillowcase. He mumbles something about potatoes or possibly particle accelerators and then settles down to the important work of snoring fit to wake the dead. Or maybe just the birds on the balcony railing.
John stands and watches Rodney sleep for a long moment. Something warm and achingly familiar settles in his chest.
Today’s the day.
John pads barefoot to their en suite, perfunctorily washes his face and gives his teeth a thorough brushing. He briefly considers his hair, silvered strands as wild as they ever were, before giving it up as a lost cause. He tugs on a fresh t-shirt and running pants before slipping his feet into worn sneakers. Casting one final, fond glance at Rodney’s slumbering figure, he heads out the door.
Ronon’s waiting down the hall, performing his usual battery of painful looking stretches. They exchange a wordless nod before setting off at a brisk jog.
It’s the same route they’ve run for twenty-eight years. Two miles to the East Pier. Roundabout loop over the catwalk. Sidetrack towards the main lab. Back to the residential wing in the central tower.
Ronon deposits John at his doorstep, sweaty and smiling. He sketches a quick wave before jogging down the hall to the suite of rooms he shares with Amelia, Radek, and the youngest of their six kids.
“And you’re standing out here grinning like an idiot at the empty hallway why?” Rodney’s slumped against the doorway. His sandy hair is sticking up in fluffy tufts and his blue eyes have the shine they rarely get before his first cup of coffee.
In lieu of answering, John backs Rodney inside and presses him flush against the wall next to the door. He swipes a quick hand across the panel and the door shuts with a soft, obedient whoosh.
“Ah. Well, that explains that,” Rodney smirks, parting his knees so John can slot a leg into place. “Good morning.”
“Good morning,” John replies, voice still rough with disuse. Rodney shivers and tilts his head back against the wall. “Have you had enough real coffee for this?”
“Today I would have been up for this with no real coffee,” Rodney says.
That’s all the answer John needs before giving his hips a tight roll that has them lining up and pressing together in all the best places. Rodney’s gasping wetly into the stubbled line of John’s jaw, every puff of air a searing brand on his skin. John grins as Rodney strains against the hand securing his wrists above his head.
“Today I would have been up for you waking me before your morning constitutional, you ridiculous man,” Rodney gasps when John’s free hand worms its way inside of the too-small USAF sweatpants he stole from John years ago. “I would think you were hottest thing in two galaxies even if you got paunchy and went bald. Why you still feel the need to--”
And then John silences Rodney in the only way he’s found effective in thirty years.
John has never forgiven Rodney for kissing him for the first time with Laura Cadman’s mouth.
(So that’s not entirely true, but he wishes it happened differently all the same.)
Laura’s gorgeous and funny and everything, but considering John’s type is pretty firmly Rodney-shaped she’s not his cup of tea.
“I swear to God, you better live through this so I can kick your ass for that, McKay,” John said. His hands still hovered, useless, a few inches from Cadman’s shoulders. He glared into eyes that were wrong, hazel instead of piercing blue. They widened slightly and then the open expression on Cadman’s freckled face shuttered and John became abruptly aware that he was looming over his DO.
Then there was some scowling from Cadman and Elizabeth, some zapping with Zelenka’s machine, and Laura and Rodney were deposited on the lab floor, whole, and transferred to gurneys. After a thorough examination, Beckett pronounced them stable, but unlikely to wake for a while. John sent Ronon and Teyla to bed and was lounging in a torture device masquerading as a chair when McKay woke up.
“Colonel,” Rodney said stiffly, refusing to meet John’s eyes. “I wanted you to know that I...I apologize for my behavior earlier today. Before you hit me, I’d like to point out that I’ve been under a great deal of mental stress and had to spend the last few days in that,” he glared at Cadman, who was drooling peacefully into her pillow, “so I don’t really see how you can hold me responsible for--”
“Rodney,” John gripped Rodney’s chin, forcing him to look up and meet John’s eyes. “I was pissed I might not get a chance to kiss you as you. Not ‘cause it was you doing the kissing.” He paused, taking in Rodney’s puzzled frown. “Do you get what I mean?”
“You’re a genius, McKay,” John smiled, leaning forward. “You’ll figure it out.”
When Cadman woke up, she threw her drool-sodden pillow at them and threatened to set off the fire suppression system. John was only a little embarrassed their teammate caught them making out in the infirmary.
Rodney just looked smug.
“Good morning, John, Rodney.”
Teyla looks radiant in some sort of traditional Athosian dress, all interwoven pieces of vibrant fabric that somehow pleases the eye when it should probably register as blinding. Maybe John’s just gotten used to it. She’s in their usual spot near the open balcony doors. Still-steaming tea and the remnants of an almost-chocolate banana muffin rest on the table in front of her.
“Morning, Teyla,” John sets his tray down across from her. His breakfast is a much less exciting egg white omelette and apple juice. Last time he went in for his physical Carson started making noises about his cholesterol, so he and Rodney are both on the health food wagon. “That’s a lovely dress.”
“Thank you, John,” Teyla smiles beatifically.
“Yes, yes, you’re the most beautiful woman in Pegasus, we’re all very shocked and surprised you’ve aged so well,” Rodney sits next to John, who kicks him none-too-gently. “Ow, Jesus, are you wearing steel-toed boots today? Teyla knows what I mean.” He turns to Teyla. “You know what I mean, right?”
“Yes, Rodney,” Teyla laughs. “It is safe to say that after many years of acquaintance I have grown to accept your intended compliments in your particular style without taking offense.”
“That means you’re a jackass, but she’s known you long enough not to care,” Ronon says, helpfully, setting down a tray laden with everything the mess has on offer.
John and Rodney both eye the tray’s contents mournfully before tucking into their heart healthy meals.
“Are you ready for today?” Teyla asks, sipping delicately at her tea.
“Hmm, yes, I’ve already arranged for the transfer of the new equipment and John’s seen to the allocation of housing for the new personnel,” Rodney says around a mouthful of the Pegasus answer to spinach. It’s purple, and thus even more unfortunate if caught between teeth. John passes Rodney a toothpick and keeps chewing without missing a beat.
“That is not what I meant, Rodney,” Teyla rolls her eyes.
“He knows what you meant,” John says.
“Of course,” Teyla nods and leans back in her chair. “I, myself, am looking forward to seeing Torren and my granddaughter.”
“I’m looking forward to the new Marvel movie,” Ronon says. John should be less surprised that Ronon’s still obsessed with superhero films. “This Professor Magneto guy sounds cool.”
“Professor Xavier,” Rodney sighs. “I showed you the Wiki, you’re just messing it up now to irritate me.”
“Is it working?” Ronon quirks an eyebrow.
Rodney scowls into his wheat bran, but doesn’t reply.
“So what’s the over-under on me messing up my lines, today?” John asks the table at large.
“John,” Teyla chides, “I am sure no one is--”
“Radek’s got four to one odds,” Ronon cuts in.
“He’s your husband; can you really do nothing about that?” Rodney asks.
Ronon gives Rodney his best blank stare. It's pretty good. “Why would I want to do that?”
Rodney huffs and poorly conceals a smile behind his travel mug of decaf.
John loves weekly team breakfast.
Rodney knew John’s brain wasn’t the friendliest place. He’s not exactly fond of psychobabble, but it was always pretty obvious, at least to anyone with a modicum of intelligence. What with the night terrors and the months it took John to readjust to the idea that someone touching him in the night was not a Wraith or an insurgent or whatever bad guys tried to hurt John before Rodney even came into the picture.
It’s also possible that Rodney hacked the service records and SGC dossiers of every high-ranking member of the mission before they stepped through the gate for the first time. Sheppard’s service record reads like a series of nightmares in bland military jargon. The psych evals aren’t much better.
John’s been shot down and taken captive and tortured and a whole lot of really redacted shit dotted throughout a storied career with the USAF. He’s seen action on every continent on Earth and plenty of planets in Pegasus . Of course, knowing all of that intellectually is a far cry from having his boyfriend shoot him during a Wraith mind manipulator-induced hallucination.
“You shot me,” Rodney said, for possibly the hundredth time in ten minutes.
“And I said I was sorry, Rodney,” John was kneeling opposite Beckett, holding a pressure bandage in place against Rodney’s very manly, very painful wound.
“He shot me, too, McKay,” Ronon offered in commiseration.
“And I’m sorry about shooting everyone, okay?” John said, looking pale and more than a little wild about the eyes.
Rodney curled his bloodied fingers around John’s steady, clammy hands and squeezed. “We know. And I’ll forgive you just as soon as we’re home and our resident voodoo shaman shoots me up with the good drugs,” he added to Carson, who rolled his eyes and taped Rodney’s bandage into place.
“You’re allergic to most of the good drugs, Rodney,” Carson said, moving to check on Teyla’s leg wound. “But I’ll see what I can do.”
John Sheppard never expected to grow old with Rodney McKay.
To be fair, John never expected to grow old, period. If he had, spending his twilight years in a galaxy he’s helped rid of life-sucking alien vampires wouldn’t have been high on the list of possibilities, anyway. Or making two-star (hell, making Colonel had been a big enough shock). He figures saving a couple of galaxies from imminent death is worth something, even to the Air Force establishment.
They’re neither of them young men, anymore.
John’s knees are the handiwork of the finest Atlantian engineering and they still ache when the worst of the winter storms come in. His skin’s a veritable patchwork of scars. When they’re lying on Rodney’s ridiculous prescription mattress, blunt-tipped fingers trace across the numerous imperfections. There’s the feeding mark at the center of his chest; the Iratus bug’s bite at his neck; the remnants of Ellia’s attempts to feed on his arm; not to mention the array of smaller marks from knives, shrapnel, scalpels, arrows, bullets, and--on one memorable occasion--Torren’s rattle.
Rodney’s a stone lighter now than when they met. There’s a precise scar on his chest where Carson cut him open after that terrifying, if theoretically mild, heart attack. His broad shoulders and strong arms look much the same, but his middle has started to sag with weight loss and age and his pants never sit quite right. John still loves the solidity of Rodney’s frame, the way Rodney can curl around John and make him feel small and safe.
There are things John never thought he could have. Rodney’s breath, sleep-warm against the back of his neck as they doze to the susurration of the waves outside their balcony door. Rodney’s ring, a sleek band of a metal--not unlike titanium, but not found in the Milky Way--wrapped around John’s bony finger. Rodney’s hand, clasped in his as they stand in the gate room, waiting for Madison and the team of children who will take charge of their city’s day-to-day operations.
“Well, look who finally decided to grace us with their presence,” Rodney says, but his tone is tellingly soft and the ghost of a smile plays at the corners of his mouth.
“Some of us aren’t experts at traveling light,” Madison smiles, ignoring Rodney when he begins barking out orders to the people pouring through the open wormhole. Madison releases her hold on Meredith’s hand and steps into John’s welcoming embrace. “Good to see you, Uncle John.” She takes a half-step back, smoothing the lapels of John’s jacket. “How is he?” she asks, voice lowered as her blue eyes dart toward Rodney.
“Himself,” John says, bending down with a creak of Ancient knees to smile at his grandniece. “And how’s the most beautiful girl in two galaxies?”
“Hungry!” Meredith giggles, letting John scoop her up and rest her on his hip.
“It’s entirely possible we have something special in the mess for you,” John says, tapping her on the tip of her upturned nose.
“Cake?” Meredith’s eyes grow wide.
“It’s a distinct possibility,” John nods.
“Are you already bribing my child with sugar, John Sheppard?” Torren asks, wrapping an arm around Madison’s waist with a smile.
“You’ll never prove a thing, right, Mer?” John lets Meredith slide to the floor to wrap herself around Madison’s legs with a shy grin. “Good to be home?” he asks Torren, whose eyes are searching the crowd for his mother’s bright head.
“Home is wherever my family dwells,” Torren offers. He releases his wife and moves forward to greet John with the traditional Athosian head tilt.
“Well, then home it is,” Madison nods, detaching Meredith from her pant leg and sweeping her up in one smooth motion.
“Well, aren’t you just the model of a modern Major-General.”
“You sing that song and I’m busting you back to private,” John laughs, offering Cadman his hand.
She brushes his hand aside and wraps him in a rib-crushing embrace, one tiny fist pounding heartily against his back. “Civilian now, remember?” Laura says, releasing him.
“Once a marine,” John shrugs, running a hand through his hair.
“I really thought you would’ve lost at least a little bit of it, by now,” Ford says, stepping up with one of the twins clinging to his back. John’s never been able to tell Logan and Lucas apart. “It’s downright mean of you to have that much hair when McKay--”
“Don’t even think of finishing that sentence,” Rodney snaps, exiting the morass of bodies sorting the new equipment and supplies. “Well, isn’t this a cheerful little reunion.”
“Oh, stow it, McKay,” Laura wraps Rodney in a hug, and John can’t help but notice she’s much gentler with his husband. News travels fast at the SGC. There’s a whole thing about gossip traveling faster than the speed of light and accelerating with proximity to wormholes, but that’s usually when he starts tuning Radek out. “You know you’ve been dying to see me.”
“Yes, yes,” Rodney waves a dismissive hand, but his cheeks are flushed when she releases him. “Getting the band back together is my fondest, dearest dream, I think there are birds singing in the distance, et cetera. Where’s my namesake, hmm?”
“Right here, Uncle Mer,” Meredith waves from her mother’s embrace.
“Well, that can’t possibly be right,” Rodney mock scowls. “You’re far too big and beautiful to be named after me.”
Meredith giggles and hides her face in Madison’s shoulder.
“Hey, Uncle Rodney,” Madison moves forward, wrapping her free arm around Rodney’s middle and bussing a quick kiss to his cheek. “It’s good to see you.”
“You saw me two weeks ago, you haven’t even had time to miss me,” Rodney replies, going for dismissive and missing by a mile.
“Of course, Dr. McKay,” Torren moves into the space his wife vacates. Rodney submits to an Athosian greeting with some semblance of good humor.
“Well,” Rodney brusquely shakes Aiden’s hand then turns to look at John. “Cake?”
“Cake,” John agrees, eyes crinkling as he smiles.
“Come on, I thought you were happy they’re sending more grunts to help out with the bridge,” John elbowed Rodney in the side. They were waiting for the new and temporary expedition members, leaning on the balcony railing overlooking the gate.
“Yes, because my idea of a good time is breaking in a whole new slew of morons so they don’t get themselves--or worse, us--killed,” Rodney griped.
“They can’t be that bad,” John said as the gate activated in a familiar rush of noise.
“Off-world activation,” Sergeant Campbell called towards Elizabeth’s office. “General Landry’s IDC.”
“Lower the iris,” Elizabeth said, striding into Command with a smile on her face. “Open a channel.”
“Dr. Weir, this is General Landry.”
“General, we’re ready to receive new personnel,” Elizabeth replied.
“Personnel incoming,” Landry said, moments before crates of supplies emerged from the gate.
Cadman and Bates were below, directing incoming travelers, when a figure in SG-16 BDUs tumbled through the gate to land flat on his ass.
“That was unexpected,” the marine said, blinking up with a dazed smile on his face.
“Smooth landing, Lieutenant,” Cadman laughed, offering him a hand up.
“It’s my first intergalactic gate, ma’am,” Lieutenant Ford replied. “Rougher skies than anticipated.”
“I’ll just bet,” she smiled, still clasping his hand.
“Oh, this’ll end well,” John muttered to Rodney with a roll of his eyes.
“Well, I don’t know,” Rodney tilted sideways, lining up their shoulders so their upper arms were pressed firmly together. John shot an amused grin his way. “I think they might make a cute couple.”
That was the catalyst for Rodney’s one and only attempt at matchmaking. It was an unmitigated success, obviously.
John’s met all of Ford’s team members over the years. They’re a smart, if green, selection of the Stargate program's preferred collection of misfit toys.
John remembers the trip to Earth for Madison and Torren’s second wedding. The food was terrible (to Rodney's horror, Jeannie and Kaleb never got over the vegetarian thing), so he and Rodney hit up the commissary at the SGC (i.e. Rodney wanted an excuse to eat onbase and harass Carter for a while). That’s when they met the Stilinski kid; sharp and funny, if a bit uncoordinated. Calliope Taylor tagged along on a goodwill mission John got roped into on some godforsaken Milky Way planet. That adventure came complete with a malfunctioning Ancient outpost. He likes any engineer who keeps him from getting blown up. Kavya Patankar was Madison’s maternity leave substitute before transferring to a permanent position on Atlantis. Now she’s on AR-13 and is John’s regular Go partner. John has never and will never be much of a people person, but he likes Ford’s team just fine.
He’s not entirely sure about this Derek Hale guy and he says as much.
“Old friend of Stilinski’s. He was a sheriff’s deputy in California for a few years before Carter appropriated him,” Ford shrugs, taking another bite of carrotish cake with not-unlike-cream cheese frosting. (So what if the cake is purple and the cream cheese comes from a creature that most closely resembles a kangaroo? It’s delicious.)
“Appropriated?” John is watching the children’s table. And yes, he feels he’s earned the right to call them all children, just look at that youthful vivacity. It’s sickening--there’s no way they were younger than Madison’s team when the expedition first came to Pegasus. Hale is staring back at John with an amused expression. He bends slightly, but doesn’t look away, when Stiles speaks to him. John considers it a pretty impressive feat considering how the scientist’s arms are waving wildly to punctuate whatever point he’s making.
“He sort of tracked Stilinski to the SGC,” Laura says, sounding tickled. “You know overprotective boyfriends, Shep. And he can hear you. Aiden, you know this.”
“Hale knows it’s rude to listen in. Anything embarrassing he hears is entirely his fault.” Ford’s smile is more than a little mischievous. “Shall we tell the story of Derek’s first contact with an offworld female or--hey! Using your superpowers to throw food is cheating!” Ford wipes off the piece of cake that’s just landed on his cheek.
“And it’s a waste of cake!” Laura snickers, taking a sip of coffee.
“His superpowers?” John asks.
“Did you not read any of the new personnel files?” Rodney asks, setting down his plate and slipping into the empty chair across from John.
“Why would I?” That earns him an irritated huff and a kick to his left ankle. “Ow! Be gentle, Rodney. I’m getting delicate in my old age, remember?”
“That’s not what you were saying this morning, old man,” Rodney smirks.
John’s ears redden, but he’s smiling at the horrified expression on Hale’s face. Oh, this superhearing thing could be fun.
“So, everybody ready for tonight?” Laura asks. She slides her plate towards Rodney, who wordlessly accepts the half eaten slice as if its his due. In his mind’s eye, John can see them swapping out MREs and different flavored Power Bars in the field, bickering over the last muffin at team breakfast.
“It took John three hours to find his dress uniform, yesterday,” Rodney snorts.
“Real nice,” John kicks halfheartedly at Rodney’s sneakers. “You’re the one that stowed it in the underfloor storage of Jumper 2.”
“Well, I knew you’d need it and it’s not like we have a decent dry cleaner in the neighborhood,” Rodney says. “Sonic cleaning is terrible for creases. I didn’t want to be tempted, is all.”
“The dress blues are nice,” Laura shares a wicked grin with Rodney. John feels his cheeks redden to match his ears. Ford makes a disgruntled noise, but keeps eating his cake. Aiden would continue eating his cake if the walls came tumbling down.
“Exactly! Nobody wants General Sheppard here to have any not-so-mysterious stains today.”
There’s a sudden commotion from the kids’ table. Stiles and Madison are laughing at Derek, who’s covering his ears and staring at John’s table with a horrified expression. Calliope and Kavya are poorly concealing smiles while drinking coffee and tea, respectively.
“That’s what you get for eavesdropping, kid,” John says, not raising his voice. Derek scowls at him, but removes his hands from his ears.
“Oh, yeah,” Laura laughs, “you guys are going to be much more fun about this than Aiden.”
After ten minutes of Rodney’s gaze boring a hole through his back, John’s patience wore out.
“What’re you staring at?”
“I’ve never actually seen you in those before,” Rodney said, sitting on the edge of their bed. He was fidgeting, foot bouncing against the handwoven rug Teyla gave them as a housewarming gift.
“Sure you have,” John replied, fitting the last buckle into place. The dress uniform was always more trouble than it was worth, but the brass from Homeworld Command were conducting an inspection and Woolsey had insisted. Rodney got away with throwing a lab coat over whatever stained slogan t-shirt he happened to be wearing because. Well, because he’s Rodney.
“I mean yes, but not--and not since--” Rodney’s voice cut off. When John turned, Rodney was resolutely staring at the floor, his face flushed pink.
“Really?” John asked with raised brows and a broad grin.
“Oh, shut up, Sheppard,” Rodney buried his face in his hands.
“No, no, McKay, I get it,” John laughed, walking the few steps between the dressing table and the bed. “You love a man in uniform.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Rodney scowled, lifting his face to glare with as much vehemence as possible. “I’m always around men in uniforms. If that’s what did it for me I’d be walking around with a constant case of blue balls. It would be a parade of awkward boners and me running face first into walls. It’s not the uniform, I just love you.”
They both froze. John was afraid to breathe for a moment.
“I mean, I just love you in uniform!” Rodney said, voice panicked and half an octave higher than normal.
“No takebacks, Rodney,” John said, leaning down to rest one hand on the mattress. He used the other to push on Rodney’s chest until he was lying flat on his back.
“That’s real mature, John,” Rodney said, sagging against the bed with an embarrassed expression.
“Goddammit, Rodney. I love you too, asshole,” John said, climbing up on the mattress.
“Oh,” Rodney’s eyes widened. “Oh, good then.”
“Yeah. Yeah, real good,” John laughed, ducking down to kiss the ridiculous smile off Rodney’s face.
“I don’t see why everyone is acting like we’re dying or moving to another galaxy or something,” Rodney complains, slipping a blue silk tie around his neck. He turns from the bathroom mirror and tilts his head back, letting John tie a perfect double Windsor.
“I’m pretty sure those were both more likely than what’s happening, buddy,” John smiles, smoothing a hand along the length of Rodney’s tie. He flips the shirt collar down, getting both sides as even as possible.
“Yes, well…” Rodney’s voice trails off. “I spent too many years trying to fix this ridiculous galaxy. I wasn’t going to run away just because of a little heart attack, now, was I?”
John closes his eyes and takes a shaky breath, hands curling into fists around the lapels of Rodney’s suit jacket.
“Hey, hey,” Rodney’s hands wrap around John’s wrists and he tilts his head forward until their foreheads are pressed together. “None of that, John. None of that, I’m fine.”
“Yeah, now,” John replies, voice a harsh whisper in the still room. “You don’t ever get to do that to me again, Rodney.”
“That’s rich coming from General Kamikaze, over here,” Rodney’s grip tightens infinitesimally.
“It’s been a long time and it’s not the same,” John says.
When he opens his eyes, Rodney’s staring at him in that painfully open way that always makes John feel like his heart might fly out of his chest.
“I know,” Rodney says, simply. “Never again.”
They stand like that, waiting for John’s breath to slow and sync with Rodney’s. They're interrupted by a knock on the door.
“You assholes better not be making any mysterious stains, right now!” Laura calls from the hallway.
John laughs, a weak, wet sounding thing, and unclenches his fists from Rodney’s jacket.
“I can’t believe I thought I missed you, harridan!” Rodney shouts back, releasing John’s wrists. His gaze is firmly fixed on John’s. “Ready?”
“For you?” John slips his hand into Rodney’s cool, dry grip. “Always.”
The corner of Rodney’s mouth tugs upwards in a familiar half smile. “Always.”
“And I thought perhaps it would be a good for us to attend the Harvest Festival on Geworra next week,” Teyla said, adding a precise spoonful of sugar to her tea. “They’ve recently discovered a rich vein of naquadah in the mines to the north of their capital. A goodwill mission would not be out of place.”
“Isn’t ‘Harvest Festival’ code for ‘alien orgy at which we’ll attempt to seduce your military commander’?” Rodney asked without looking up from his tablet. It was the first time he’d spoken since sitting down. He’d spent the meal so far he’d been shifting restlessly in his chair and picking at the remains of his eggs and bacon. “I’m almost positive that’s how the linguists have been translating it in their reports.”
“Sounds like a good idea, Teyla,” John nodded, ignoring Rodney. “I’ll take it to Lorne, see what he thinks.”
“You feeling okay, McKay?” Ronon asked around a mouthful of breakfast burrito.
“Hmm?” Rodney looked up from his tablet, still absently rubbing at his neck.
“Are you feeling well, Rodney?” Teyla asked, brows furrowed. “You have barely touched your breakfast.”
“Fine, fine, just a little nausea. It’ll pass,” Rodney took a large gulp of his coffee.
“You’ve been rubbing your neck like that all morning,” John frowned and nudged Rodney’s foot with his own. Rodney had been unusually quiet all morning, plus he looked a little pale and sweaty since they sat down.
“It’s nothing, John, just a little sore,” Rodney snapped. “Probably from the ridiculous calisthenics you think are appropriate for a man in his sixties.”
“Gotta keep in shape if you want to stay in the field, old man,” Ronon said.
“Oh, yes, thank you very much for that pearl of wisdom, Ronon, I--” Rodney paused, still pointing an accusing finger in Ronon’s direction. “Oh. Oh, that’s...huh.”
“Rodney?” John put a hand on Rodney’s shoulder.
“John,” Rodney turned to him, “I love you and you should probably call for a medical team. I’m having a heart attack.” Then Rodney passed out and nearly slipped from his chair.
After that there was a lot of shouting and medical equipment and pacing in the infirmary waiting room. John doesn’t really like to think about it.
From a logistical standpoint, John understands why Sergeant-Major Campbell chose the West Pier for the Change of Command ceremony. It’s one of the largest and there’s probably some sort of important symbolism to the exchange of power happening during the sunset. John’s never been big on the whole pomp and circumstance side of service, but he gets that it’s important to his men.
The Atlantian Marching Band--a ragtag group of expedition members and Athosians playing whatever instruments they’ve dug up, or, in some cases, made themselves--is tunelessly making their way through a collection of folk songs as the crowd gathers. On the raised dais, Chuck’s gathered an array of flags for display. Every expedition member’s country is represented, as well as the various organizations and allies associated with Atlantis. The central flags are the expedition flag and that of Homeworld Command.
John, Rodney, and Evan Lorne sit on one side of the podium. On the other side, Ford, Madison, and Miko Kusanagi--who’s tightly clutching a tablet--are standing at attention. Ronon flanks Teyla, who’s adjusting the podium microphone for her opening address. She smiles out at the silent crowd as the sky turns bloodied orange at her back.
“Friends, colleagues, allies, and honored guests. We welcome you to this, an hour and a day we thought might never come.” Her voice rings loud and clear across the pier. “Thirty years ago, the Atlantian expedition first stepped through the Ring of the Ancestors and into this galaxy.
“You were scientists and soldiers with the hearts of explorers beating beneath your breasts. You knew not what danger lay in wait, but this knowledge never kept you from your goals. Your fear never stopped you from helping those in need. You came as strangers, you remain as dear friends.” Her eyes dart towards John, Rodney, and Evan. “As family.
“Over the years, this expedition, this thriving city, has seen many achievements. They range from the vital and mundane to the truly extraordinary. And yet, we have also seen great loss. A long-departed friend, Dr. Kate Heightmeyer, told me of a tradition amongst the peoples of Earth. I ask that you join me in a moment of silence for all the brave men and women we have lost.”
As one, the assembly bow their heads. The only sounds come from the birds wheeling overhead, the lapping of the waves below, and the gentle weeping threading through the crowd.
The silence is broken by the Atlantian Marching Band playing an almost-recognizable rendition of ‘General’s March.’. Judging by the smug look on Rodney’s face, John can make a good guess whose idea that was. Teyla gestures for John to take the podium. Her Athosian greeting gives John a moment to focus on the sweet smell of her hair instead of the clogging of his throat. She retreats to stand at Ronon’s side, leaving John alone at the microphone.
“It’s at this point in the proceedings that I would traditionally conduct an inspection of the troops,” John says, fingers tapping against the lovingly crafted driftwood of the podium. Kanaan spent the better part of a month building it, so John hopes they find it a permanent place. “But I think we all know how much I enjoy tradition, so...” And that gets him a decent bout of laughter. “So we’ll skip ahead to the important bit. Evan, Rodney, would you join me?”
Once they’re standing to his left, John straightens as best he can and digs through decades of training to bark, “Attention to orders.”
The entire assemblage straightens like their spines have been replaced with steel rods. John barely keeps a straight face when he hears Rodney’s amused snort.
“To General Evan Lorne, Atlantian Expedition Commander,” and John can never thank Lorne enough for taking that particular bullet, “on this day, May 1, 2034, an order is given. You are hereby requested and required to relinquish command of Atlantis to Dr. Miko Kusanagi, former Deputy Head of Science, as of this date.” John’s glad that someone from the old guard is staying in charge. Miko was first-wave plus she has the gene; he trusts her with his city. And anyway, after thirty years she’s more than earned it. “Signed, General Samantha Carter, Homeworld Command.”
Lorne steps forward and places his right hand on the tablet Miko’s holding in trembling hands. She offers him a watery smile before tucking the tablet under her arm and shaking his proffered hand. Lorne leans forward and whispers something in her ear that has her blushing and laughing before he steps back.
“The city of Atlantis is now under command of Dr. Miko Kusanagi,” Lorne nods.
Miko manages a near-textbook salute and replies, “I relieve you, sir.”
“I stand relieved.”
“To Dr. Rodney McKay, Atlantian Head of Science,” John doesn’t dare turn to look at Rodney right now, “on this day, May 1, 2034, an order is given. You are hereby requested and required to relinquish command of Atlantis’s Science Divisions to Dr. Madison Miller, former Deputy Head of Science for Stargate Command, as of this date. Signed, General Samantha Carter, Homeworld Command.”
When John can’t help it any longer, he turns to watch as Rodney hugs a softly weeping Miko. They’re murmuring to each other in heavily bastardized French, because Rodney’s Japanese is terrible and Miko always says that English is the most emotionally constipated language in two galaxies. Rodney pulls away, slapping a hand on the tablet with more force than necessary before turning to his niece.
Madison is studying Rodney in that fondly exasperated way she inherited from Jeannie. John’s heart breaks a little bit knowing she couldn’t come, what with Kaleb recovering from an emergency appendectomy. Jeannie’s already promised--threatened, more like--to visit in a few weeks, but it isn’t the same.
“The Science Divisions of Atlantis are now under the very capable command of Dr. Madison Miller,” Rodney says. He moves to salute, but she smacks his hand down and wraps him in a gentle hug.
“Thanks, Uncle Rodney,” she mumbles against his shoulder. Stepping away she adds, “I relieve you, sir.”
Rodney rolls his eyes and straightens his tie with a soft huff. “I stand relieved.” Then Rodney takes John’s position at the podium. He places a warm, steadying hand at the small of John’s back and John can breathe easy again.
“To General John Sheppard, Atlantian Military Commander, on this day, May 1, 2034, an order is given. You are hereby requested and required to relinquish military command of Atlantis to Colonel Aiden Ford, former Deputy Commander of Stargate Command, as of this date. Signed, General Samantha Carter, Homeworld Command.”
John places his hand on Miko’s tablet, meeting her warm gaze with the most reassuring smile he can muster. They’re the best and the brightest. They’ll love and take care of his city. He knows it deep down in his bones.
“The military of Atlantis is now under the command of Colonel Aiden Ford,” John says, saluting Ford.
Ford precisely returns the salute, and for a moment all John can see is the curly haired kid who first tumbled through the gate and fell in love with John’s DO. “I relieve you, sir.”
“I stand relieved.” After a beat he adds, “Hey, Chuck, it’s about time for that party, now, right?”
“So,” Rodney said, not looking up from his monitor, “I’ve sent Sam my notice.”
John--who’d been sitting on a lab table and happily munching away at one of those weird kiwi-apples from P4J-338--froze.
“You…” John lowered his hand, setting the fruit down. “You did what?”
“I’m resigning as Head of Science, effective the first of next month,” Rodney replied, spinning in his desk chair. “You heard what the baby voodoo shaman said, John. Plus, I sent my files on to Carson because he has a modicum of intelligence and the ability to grow some semblance of facial hair. Another heart attack could be the big sayonara. My job’s a lot easier now that the Wraith aren’t threatening to rain destruction down on our heads, but it’s not exactly stress free.”
“This is…” John had to force the words around the lump in his throat. “Don’t you think it’s something we should’ve discussed?”
“John, I thought you’d be happy,” Rodney frowned, tilting his head to the side and studying John with narrowed blue eyes.
“Happy?” And John’s ears were ringing, he felt sort of lightheaded. This couldn’t be happening, not now after everything-- “Happy that you’re leaving me, Rodney, what--”
“Oh, you--” Rodney leapt to his feet--or as close to leaping as Rodney could get these days--and moved to stand between John’s parted knees. “You thoroughly ridiculous man.” Rodney took John’s face in his hands and gave a decisive shake of his head. “God. You truly insane human being. I could never leave you. Never, not for a million Nobels. John, are you listening to me?” John nodded. “Madness. I’m retiring here. Sam granted me special dispensation by having me sign on as a consultant.”
“Oh,” John replied, breathing in deep gulps of air, dizzy with relief. “Well...well that’s good, then. Much better for your...you know.” He placed a gentle hand on Rodney’s chest, next to where he knew the scar was.
“My ‘you know,’ John?” Rodney let his hands slip down to rest on John’s shoulders. “I thought it might happen one day, but clearly that was folly, since you’re never going to get any better at the words thing, are you?”
“Probably not,” John answered, wry grin twisting his mouth.
“Sam, she, ah...she offered you the same deal. If you want it,” Rodney added, eyes fixed at a point on the far wall. “I have absolutely no opinion whatsoever on the matter.”
“That would literally be a first.”
“Oh, ha ha.”
“You think I’m getting a little old for this gig?” John asked, eyebrows raised.
“You’re the spryest sixty-three year old I know,” Rodney said.
“They never call young guys spry,” John frowned.
“No. No they don’t.”
“Who’ve they got in mind to take over the department?”
Rodney’s eyes returned to John’s face. “Maddie.”
Rodney shook his head, smile widening. “Nope. Her team’s signed on.”
“Wait, so that’d mean Ford...would that mean Ford and Laura are coming back?”
“Well, see, that bit’s sort of up to you.”
“Of course it is.”
Because they’re classy out here in the wilds of Pegasus, the retirement party is less a dignified affair in what passes for the Atlantis ballroom and more of a beach kegger on the mainland.
Ronon and a couple of the marines have built a bonfire so big John knows they stole some of Radek’s experimental accelerant from the chemlab. It’s possible, but unlikely, that Radek gave them permission, since Zelenka’s a known sucker for Ronon’s pleading face. This is made obvious by the fact that Ronon somehow talked Radek into joining the circle of dancers on the far side of the clearing.
The mess staff have outdone themselves. There are tables overflowing with delicacies ranging from Athosian tuttle root soup to a chocolate fountain rigged up with a miniature naquadah generator. Further into the treeline, small wreaths of smoke circle a crowd of partygoers enjoying...well, it’s not John’s job to know anymore.
“Are they playing ‘Air Force Song’?” Lorne asks, tipping back an earthenware mug of Athosian ale.
John squints in the direction of the Atlantian Marching Band. They’re down to a couple of techs playing beaten up brass instruments, one of the Cadman-Ford twins on ukulele, Chuck with bongos (and he definitely didn’t have those at the ceremony), and Torren on a kokyū he borrowed from Miko.
“That or ‘Sweet Georgia Brown,’” John decides, leaning back against Rodney’s legs.
“You really shouldn’t be sitting on the ground,” Rodney chastises, left hand absently petting John’s hair. “It can’t possibly be good for you.”
“I think your husband’s calling you old, Shep,” Laura laughs from the next log over.
“I think you’re right,” John says, tilting his head up to frown at Rodney. He looks pretty funny upside down. “I’ve maybe had a little too much of...this.” He indicates his empty mug. How many was that?
“I really don’t know when you turned into such a lightweight,” Rodney sighs, deft fingers tracing whirls and swirls around John’s scalp and down the back of his neck. “I’m one of the designated drivers, so we can head back in Jumper 6 if you want to head home.”
“You know my feelings about Jumper 6,” John says, turning his head so his cheek’s resting against Rodney’s knee.
“He still has the thing about the damn gate ships?” Ford laughs.
“They’re jumpers!” John corrects, scrambling upright. “And they’re all different, okay. I don’t trust a ship that prefers Rodney at the controls.”
“Hey!” Rodney gives John a gentle kick to the tight. “I can hear you.”
“I know, and you should agree, ‘cause you know you can’t fly in a straight line,” John says.
“That’s--okay, fair,” Rodney sighs. “Does that mean you don’t want to go home?”
“Nah, let’s go,” John lets Rodney haul him to his feet. “Hey,” he adds, nuzzling at Rodney’s neck before he’s wrestled around and shoved in the direction of the jumpers.
“We’ll see you guys tomorrow,” Rodney waves to the group around the fire, who offer cheery goodbyes and raised mugs in farewell. “Come on, drunky.”
The jumper ride is uneventful--their flight path is very nearly a straight line, thank you very much--and Rodney lands in the bay with a minimum of fuss. They take a transporter to their floor and stumble their way to their quarters.
“Hey, Rodney,” John says, sitting on the bed and letting Rodney tug off his boots.
“Yes, John?” Rodney is clawing his way out of the sweater Radek knit him for his last birthday. It’s a hideously striped monstrosity and the warmest item of clothing he owns. He misses the laundry basket by a few feet and couldn’t care less.
“Today was a pretty good day, wasn’t it?” And he’s looking at Rodney with such wide, hopeful eyes. Rodney’s known this idiot for thirty years and he’s still the most beautiful thing in at least two galaxies.
“Yes, John. Yes, it was a pretty good day. Bed time, now.”
“Okay. You wanna be the big spoon?”
Rodney doesn’t even complain that they’re still mostly dressed and haven’t brushed their teeth. If that’s not love, he doesn’t know what is.