The evening began so promisingly.
The restaurant they chose for dinner had a mouth-watering menu, relaxed atmosphere, and truly spectacular view of the bay. Rodney couldn't help looking over to where he knew Atlantis lay behind the cloak, hidden from all eyes.
People inside of their city were busy in the labs and conference rooms. Because of the nature of their return to Earth, this was certainly no vacation—except for those few who had officially taken some time off, like Radek, who wanted to visit his family in Prague.
Rodney himself had had countless meetings, and like always when he was within easy reach of the SGC there were a thousand little things for which they wanted his input. Not to mention that with Radek gone he had no one to push personnel decisions on. Or not decisions so much—because he did like to have the last word on those—but the weeding through of the first dozen layers of incompetency.
If anything, being back on Earth was more stressful than being in the Pegasus galaxy. And the fact that they weren't going on missions didn't make it any better. He actually found himself missing it, and he could see that his teammates did too.
Teyla spent most of her time with her family. She hadn't said anything, but Rodney got the feeling that Kanaan had a very hard time being holed up in the city all day and night. He was used to visiting the Athosians very frequently, and right now there was no telling when they would return.
Ronon was doing better than Rodney would have thought. Of course, that probably had a lot to do with the thing that was going on with him and that female tech. Rodney wasn't sure if they were really together or just friends working their way towards more. In any case, Ronon wasn't spending all his time in the gym, getting increasingly aggressive or childish when training with the marines or John as he usually did when they were grounded.
John was... John. He also had a lot of meetings and paperwork to go through, which certainly didn't improve his mood, which wasn't great to begin with. He didn't like being back on Earth, where his superiors were looking right over his shoulder. Not that there was much to command now anyway. Everyone was on standby, waiting for the decisions on if, how and when they would return, and it seemed to make John more restless than everyone else, with the exception of Teyla and Kanaan.
When Jennifer had suggested the two of them spend the evening in San Francisco, Rodney had gladly agreed. He turned back to her now and found her own gaze returning from the sea to meet with his. Her face lit up in a smile that he answered in kind. She looked quite radiant today—happy, youthful, full of energy.
"This was a good idea," he told her.
"I know," she said, her smile turning into a grin before she picked up the menu.
Since the mess on Atlantis was serving Earth food daily now, Rodney found it had lost some of its appeal. "I actually miss the sweet roots from Talua."
Jennifer snorted. "If you always look at what you don't have, you'll never be happy," she said, looking at him over the edge of the menu for a moment.
Rodney frowned and gave her a look. "It's too late to turn me into a glass-is-half-full kind of guy."
She just continued reading the menu, one corner of her mouth curling up.
Plus, it was only natural to miss everyday things that were suddenly unavailable. But he knew they'd get nowhere in that discussion, and the evening was too nice to spend it arguing. Arguing with Jennifer wasn't like arguing with John. It wasn't fun.
They ordered, and Rodney even managed to only remind the waiter once—though emphatically—that there was to be no citrus at all, anywhere.
While they waited, Jennifer talked about some of the new medical personnel. She seemed to be quite happy with them, but then Jennifer wasn't as unforgiving as Rodney was. She demanded that everyone did their best, of course—they really wouldn't get very far in the Pegasus galaxy if people didn't—but she was much more understanding than Rodney could ever hope to be—not that he thought he should change in that regard.
Jennifer still thought of herself as not good enough in some situations, especially on missions and when faced with the Wraith. Rodney had no idea why, because she was brilliant and handled herself fine. But he thought that this was probably the reason why she was more willing to forgive mistakes and encourage people to do better the next time, whereas Rodney would fling insults—or rather, well-deserved assessments of incompetence.
He let her talk, only half-listening, because he couldn't care less about some nurse's first day on the job, unless it concerned him directly. Instead, he looked at Jennifer. She was beautiful. Sometimes he couldn't quite believe how he'd gotten so lucky.
The waiter came with their drinks and Rodney's eyes instinctively flicked to the tray. He froze in his seat. One of the drinks had a slice of lemon prominently and proudly—threateningly—stuck on top of the glass.
The waiter took the glass without lemon and put it front of Rodney.
"What is that? Did I not explicitly say no citrus?" Rodney demanded.
"Yes, sir," the waiter said. "This drink is for the lady," he said, nodding towards Jennifer.
"Right, because it will be so much fun when I lean over to kiss her, only to choke to death!"
"Rodney," Jennifer said in a calming voice.
But when it came to his life, Rodney wouldn't just sit down and shut up. "Do you know what happens when I drink a drop of that? My throat swells up, and within seconds oxygen is nothing but a sweet last memory before I die. So no, it doesn't matter that the drink is for her. When I said no citrus at all, anywhere, surprisingly, I actually meant exactly what I said."
"Of course, sir," the waiter said, forcing an apologetic smile onto his paling face. "I'll bring a new drink immediately."
"Right, because I would trust you not to sprinkle lemon on the chicken now."
"Rodney, I'm sure—" Jennifer began.
"Well, I'm not!" Rodney shouted.
The waiter looked from Rodney to Jennifer, who smiled at him almost apologetically.
Rodney wanted to tell her that there was no reason to apologize for being upset about possibly choking to death on the restaurant floor because people couldn't follow simple instructions. But he was pissed off enough that it might end in a shouting match and some part of him still had the hope that this evening wouldn't turn out completely badly.
"Let's go," he said, and after a moment, she nodded.
They ended up getting hot dogs at a stand. Jennifer was quiet, and he could tell that she was biting her tongue. He could imagine what she wanted to say. That he didn't have to overreact. That she was sure the food would have been fine. That the evening had been so nice.
But at least she knew him well enough to realize that he wouldn't apologize or change his mind.
After finishing the hot dogs in silence, Jennifer looked at him kindly and asked, "Better?"
He wanted to tell her that he was perfectly fine. He was used to life threatening situations, after all. But he could see that she wanted to put that scene behind them. And really, he wanted that too, so he nodded grudgingly.
She snorted and smiled at him, hooking her arm in his. "Angela told me about a nice club here. Not too fancy, not too loud. How do you feel about checking that out?"
Rodney had no idea who Angela was, although the name sounded vaguely familiar. Maybe she was the nurse that Jennifer had been going on about before their lethal drinks had been served. Either way, he didn't know what weight to give her recommendation, and he wasn't the club-going kind of person, but not too fancy and not too loud seemed like a good idea, so he said, "Lead the way."
They chatted about inconsequential Earth things as they walked, and Rodney felt the tension from the threat of death slowly leaving his body. By the time they arrived, he was in a pretty good mood again. The club did seem nice. Jennifer left to get the drinks. "Don't worry, I'll make sure you're safe," she said with a smile and quickly kissed him before going.
The other people all seemed quite young. Not quite a student crowd, but youthful enough to make him feel a bit self-conscious. But hey, he was here with his hot young girlfriend. Jennifer looked better than most of the women here and he couldn't help a smug smile at the thought.
The club wasn't too full, but the bar was pretty crowded, so Rodney began to do calculations for the stardrive improvements in his head. He heard Jennifer before he saw her coming back. "I'm really not interested." He looked up to see her approaching with two drinks—and a guy tailing her.
She turned to the guy, then to Rodney and back to him, giving him a meaningful look.
"You're here with your dad?!" the guy asked incredulously.
Jennifer's face fell, and for a moment Rodney felt like he was in free fall until he came back down to the bad mood he'd left behind and then some. If the guy had been messing with him, he'd have gotten the full-on McKay assault. It wouldn't have been pretty. But it was obvious that he genuinely thought Rodney was Jennifer's father.
Rodney's mind whirled around how Jennifer's halter-top dress made her look especially young and how his hair seemed to be thinning by the day and with the light shining right on top of it, this was possibly highlighted. He wasn't that much older than Jennifer, but the fact of the matter was that she was fourteen years younger, and looking at the puzzled fresh-faced young man in front of him, he was very aware that any normal person would consider him to be much more suitable in age for his girlfriend than Rodney.
"Go. Away," Jennifer told the guy coldly and took Rodney's hand. She leaned in and kissed Rodney on the mouth, but Rodney only stood stiffly and let it happen. This was humiliating.
"Oh, sorry," the guy said, before disappearing.
Rodney thought he might have meant it. Which didn't make it better at all. "I think we should just call it a night," he said curtly.
He could see that Jennifer thought about objecting, but in the end she sighed and gave in. "Can we at least finish our drinks?"
Rodney took a glass from her and gulped it down. She rolled her eyes and did the same.
"It was just bad luck," she said as they waited for the taxi.
Rodney didn't say anything. She was right, he supposed. These kinds of things just happened sometimes. But still he couldn't bring himself to feel that he should have handled it differently. A "better man" might have politely reminded the waiter of his allergy and would have taken the guy's mistake more gracefully. He did have Jennifer, after all. But despite Jennifer's nudges, Rodney knew that he would never be that kind of man. And Jennifer knew it too. Rodney just wasn't quite sure how much she really wished he were.
The ride to the little warehouse that was designated as a safe place to be beamed to Atlantis was quiet.
Jennifer had her hand in his, but still he felt far away from her. The age difference between them hardly ever mattered in their day-to-day life. The fact that she would like him to be less negative was more apparent, but he could live with that. All in all she liked him as he was. She loved him. And he loved her. They were happy. But right now it simply didn't feel that way.
But then, maybe that was how real life and real relationships were. You couldn't be happy 24/7. There'd always be waiters who didn't listen or people pissing you off, whether on purpose or accidentally. He'd be in a bad mood for a while and then get over it. That's how he was. It was just a shame for what could have been a nice evening.
Jennifer didn't even ask if she should join him after they arrived on Atlantis. She simply took his hands, kissed him, and said, "Good night," smiling at him.
"Good night," he said in return. He almost added an apology, but an apology would be akin to admitting he did something wrong and he hadn't, and if it happened again, he knew he wouldn't act any differently. So he left it at that, and they parted ways when the turn towards the infirmary came.
Rodney wondered if he should go to bed or to his lab. Since their evening had been cut short twice, it was barely nine. He could still get some work on the stardrive done, or play something on the little battalion of gaming consoles that John had set up there.
A smile snuck onto Rodney's face as he thought of the day John had come to the lab with a dolly full of boxes. "No more size limitations on what we can bring aboard. I'm going all out," he'd said with a grin.
Rodney headed to the lab, wondering which games John had bought that weren't about racing or golf or other sports. He was in the rare mood for virtually shooting things. However, when he entered his lab, he was surprised to find it wasn't empty.
John was sitting on the loveseat he'd obtained after Rodney had complained about the beat up armchair he'd first brought.
"Oh, hey. You're back early. Everything all right?" John asked, pausing the game and looking over the back of the loveseat.
"Let's not talk about it. What are you playing?"
"Grand Theft Auto. Wanna play death match?" John asked, wiggling his eyebrows in an inviting way. Before Rodney could answer he was already moving aside to give Rodney some space.
They played in comfortable silence for a while—save for a few taunts—and Rodney was really getting into the spirit of the match when John asked, "So, what happened?"
A quick look showed him that John was still playing, not looking at him. Rodney wasn't sure if he wanted to talk about it, but usually he felt better after a good rant. And he knew that John didn't mind. "The waiter served Jennifer's drink with a lemon."
"Ooh, ouch. Does he still have his job?" John asked, trying to take Rodney out from his Coquette.
Rodney snorted and smiled, ducking for cover. "Yes. But we had hot dogs instead."
"You're a classy guy."
"Hey, she's already my girlfriend, and we just wanted to go out for the night, not go out. Or do you see me wearing a smoking jacket?"
John raised an eyebrow. "Do you even own one?"
Rodney decided not to dignify that with an answer. "After barely escaping alive from dinner, she took me to a club that I think one of the new nurses recommended to her. It didn't look bad, actually, but when she came back with the drinks, she had a guy in tow who wouldn't take no for an answer. Jennifer looked at me, letting the guy know she's with someone else and the guy goes, 'What, you're here with your father?'"
John started and then laughed out loud.
Rodney glared at him, but John just kept laughing his wheezing laugh, starting up again every time he tried to stop. "I really hate you," Rodney said, but he couldn't help smiling. He didn't think he'd seen John laughing like that since their return to Earth. And possibly a while before that.
Eventually, John managed to stop laughing, grinning widely and tightly as if he might start again any time if he wasn't careful.
Rodney just watched him with a raised eyebrow. It wasn't that funny really.
John took a last calming breath, before speaking again. "Did she slap him?"
Rodney frowned. "Of course not."
"Did you?" John added, one corner of his mouth quirking up.
Rodney's only answer was a glare.
"So?" John prompted.
"So we called it a night and came back," Rodney said, maybe a bit defensively.
John looked at him, sobering. "The guy was probably just jealous," he eventually said, giving Rodney a little shoulder bump.
Rodney looked away. He really wished it had been the case. "It was probably the lighting. My hair looks—"
That was when John started laughing again. Rodney shoved at him roughly, but John only grinned and turned his attention back to the screen.
The IOA and SGC were taking their sweet time deciding how to proceed. Rodney was starting to be really annoyed by their indecision. He wouldn't mind waiting for another month or even more for the return to the Pegasus galaxy if at least he knew that would be the final decision. Right now, he didn't want to start any new projects because at any moment people could be assigned elsewhere, or they could be asked to prepare for the ride home.
He was busy enough between his administrative tasks and the little things that they could finally catch up on, but the whole atmosphere of waiting grated on him, and he could feel that the other scientists, even those who were used to staying on Atlantis only, were getting anxious.
"You could tell them to take some leave. They'll never get a quicker ride to Earth," John suggested after yet another fruitless meeting.
"They couldn't all take leave. And that still wouldn't solve the problem for me," Rodney pointed out.
"You haven't visited Jeannie yet, have you?" John said.
Rodney made a face. He loved his sister. It was just that as soon as they spent some extended time together, the chances of one of their discussions ending in a fight went up to a hundred percent. But he knew he had to visit her while they were on Earth. He wanted to. "Haven't found the time yet."
"Uhuh," John said knowingly. Then he dropped his gaze, before looking at Rodney again almost nervously. Rodney wasn't sure what that was about. When John spoke, it seemed overly casual. "Gonna take Jennifer with you?"
Rodney had thought about that. Jennifer and Jeannie had already met, of course, but it hadn't been under the best of circumstances. So it still felt a bit like taking your girlfriend home to meet the family for the first time. That important step in a relationship where you're saying the other person is not just important to you and your life, but so important that you want your family to consider them a part of your life too. "I'm not sure," he said honestly.
John only looked at him, open enough to listen should Rodney wish to expound, but not actually asking for details.
"Things seem different on Earth," Rodney said.
"That night was just..." John began.
"Bad luck, I know. But it hasn't been just that night. I mean, that night was horrible, but I was feeling strange when we went out before. I wasn't sure if it was just generally being back on Earth," Rodney tried to explain.
John frowned, clearly not understanding.
"On Atlantis, being together with Jennifer feels natural, but when we went out here for dinner or just a coffee, it felt... It just feels so alien sitting in a crowded restaurant or sidewalk, with people—humans—walking by as if..."
"As if everything were normal. I know how you feel. I look at them and can only think about how they have no idea about what's really out there," John said.
"Exactly," Rodney said, relieved that he wasn't the only one. "Jennifer doesn't seem to notice. It's like she belongs here."
"Maybe she's better at adjusting," John suggested. "And she hasn't been in the Pegasus galaxy for as long as us. She was never there when we didn't know if we'd come back at all."
Rodney nodded. He vividly remembered their first year when every time you ran out of an item of food or anything, there was no telling if there'd ever be a replacement. "Plus, she likes people."
John snorted. "You like people too. You need them to admire you and, more importantly, to yell at."
Rodney couldn't help a little laugh. "It's not quite the same."
John smiled. Then the smile turned a bit forced, as he said, "I'm sure Jeannie would love to meet her."
"They've already met," Rodney corrected him.
John gave him a look. "You know what I mean."
"Yes. And yes, I'll probably take Jennifer when I visit Jeannie. And when I do, Jeannie will ask me if we're getting married, so I'll have to have an answer for that too," he said, sighing at the thought.
"Why?" John asked.
"Because I know she will. She did the same thing with Katie. It hasn't been a year with Jennifer, but taking her along will be enough to make her ask."
"I meant why do you have to have an answer. Why not tell her you don't know if you don't know," John clarified.
"Have you met my sister?" Rodney said, giving him a look.
"She's a McKay," John conceded, "but so are you."
"Oh, of course, Mr. I-haven't-visited-my-brother-either-because-I'm-a-coward," Rodney shot back.
He knew he'd hit his mark when John made a face. "I'm very busy," he said, mouth getting suspiciously close to forming a pout.
"Playing video games in my lab?" Rodney countered.
John glared at him. "I'm not a coward. I'm going to visit him. I just haven't set a date yet."
"Well, neither have I."
They were quiet for a moment, glowering. Then John quirked a smile and said, "We're the worst siblings in history, aren't we?"
"Oh, please! There are people who kill their siblings."
John snorted and grinned. "I don't think that excuse will fly when I turn up without presents for my nieces."
"Presents?" Rodney said, panicking at the thought. How old was Madison, again? Was she going to school already? She'd seemed very little the last time he'd seen her, though not like a baby anymore. And time tended to fly. At least, he was fairly certain she wasn't a teenager already.
"Rodney," John said in his calm down, everything's going to be all right voice.
"Yes?" Rodney asked, trying to pull himself together.
"Why don't we go shopping for our nieces together," John suggested magnanimously.
"Oh yes, please. I suck at presents," Rodney admitted. Then he looked at John. "So do you, probably," he added.
"Hey!" John said, insulted. "Though you're not wrong," he added, squirming a bit, presumably at the thought of having to buy not just one, but two presents for a little and not-so-little girl.
They looked at each other before, as one, their faces lit up and they said in unison, "Teyla!"
When they asked Ronon if he wanted to join them on their little outing, he just laughed at them.
So it was just the three of them and Torren, strapped to Teyla's stomach. Some jerk at the SGC had strongly asked Teyla and Ronon to make sure that they fit in when they went out. Rodney had wanted to ask, how you could not fit in in a city like San Francisco where all kinds of weirdos ran around, but Kanaan had taken the hint. He wasn't as used to interacting with people from Earth as Teyla or Ronon were, and even though Rodney tried to tell him that he couldn't possibly act any more alien than a tourist from another country as long as he didn't mention stargates, the Wraith, or things like that, he preferred to play it safe.
Rodney couldn't shake the feeling that Teyla was worried about her husband—or boyfriend. Rodney wasn't sure which word the Athosians would use for their relationship. There had never been an official ceremony that they'd attended, but then Athosians didn't always celebrate the same things people from Earth did. Husband sounded more right to him, though.
Teyla never said anything, and her questions about when they'd be able to return were pretty restrained compared to those of Rodney and John. But she was as restless and impatient as the rest of them, even if she was better at hiding it, and Rodney thought the little trip to San Francisco would be good for her too.
She and Torren seemed to enjoy it in any case. Torren, of course, enjoyed everything that was different from his normal surroundings. He was certainly a curious kid, with a special love for anything shiny. Rodney had learned to keep his gadgets out of his reach, because Torren would unfailingly grab them and get them sticky. Rodney wasn't sure how, but kids seemed to have sticky hands at all times. It was like a law of nature.
"What do they like?" Teyla asked them, after they'd taken a walk towards an area more populated with shops.
John and Rodney looked at her blankly.
"Surely, you have at least a little idea of what kind of thing your nieces would enjoy," she added.
"I've seen her half a dozen times or so. And many of those times, we didn't exactly spent a lot of time together," Rodney defended himself. He was hardly at fault for not paying attention to his niece when people kidnapped first his sister and then him.
"I've seen my nieces once," John countered.
Rodney glared at him. Then he turned back to Teyla. "She's this high," he said, putting his hand somewhere at his waist, "and a girl. She's very smart!" he added as an afterthought. "Oh hey! Maybe we could get her a little kit with scientific experiments."
"She's seven. Do they make them for that age?" John asked.
Rodney turned to him. "How the hell do you even know that?"
"She was five when I last saw her two years ago. I'm good with numbers," John answered dryly.
Teyla smiled. "So where could we look for such kits?" she asked.
"How should I know?" Rodney said, turning to John.
"Don't look at me. Just because I know your niece's age, doesn't mean I know everything."
"Don't worry. The thought that you might know everything never once occurred to me," Rodney said.
Before John could respond, Teyla said, "Major Lorne took me to a very large toystore on one of our first days here on Earth. I am sure we will find something suitable there."
She started walking, and Rodney could only muse over the fact that of the three of them, it was the one born and raised in another galaxy who led the way.
The store turned out to be huge. Torren's eyes grew bigger and bigger over all the shiny, colorful, blinking and noisemaking things around him. Though John and Rodney weren't far behind. They were supposed to be looking for presents for their nieces, but ended up together in the model car section.
They'd already set aside half a dozen cars to buy—after testing several more than that—when Teyla found them. She gave them her patented I-am-a-very-nice-person-but-it-would-be-better-for-both-of-us-if-you-do-exactly-as-I-say look.
John and Rodney dropped the cars they'd been currently trying in the cart with the others and went off to look at the pink section. It was disgusting how gendered toys were. Though he had to admit he never would have noticed without Jeannie pointing it out on his last visit to Earth. He also had to admit that they had awfully cute things that he would never ever buy for a boy, but thought Madison might like.
"Would it be sexist of me to buy this for her," he asked, showing John a stationary set with pink butterflies on it. The pen and pencil had little wings at the top and a cute little face.
"It's a butterfly," John said.
"Well, yeah, but would you ever give this to a boy?" Rodney asked.
John made a face. "That doesn't mean you're sexist."
Teyla walked by and took the butterfly stationary from Rodney. "You are both sexist at times, and I think Jeannie mentioned that Madison likes horses."
"Hey," they both said.
"It doesn't make me any less fond of you," Teyla said, turning to them before she put the stationary where Rodney had taken it from.
John dropped his gaze, while Rodney flushed. Even if she wasn't as emotionally stunted as John, Teyla didn't put her feelings for them into words like this very often. It felt nice.
"So horses?" he said after a moment. John was still frozen to the spot, so Rodney nudged him with his shoulder. "I hear there were horses at your mansion."
That seemed to get John out of it. He frowned at Rodney. "My mansion?"
"Ronon told us about it after your return when your father, uh, died," Rodney said, hoping not to open old wounds. John had never really talked about it.
John only blinked for a moment, then said, "It's not a mansion, and it's not mine."
"He said it had wings," Rodney pointed out. "And it was where you grew up, right?"
"One of the places," John mumbled.
"And it has a stable, right?" Rodney pressed on.
"Yes, we had horses, what's your point?" John said, getting annoyed.
"You will help me pick a present for Madison," Rodney said, poking John in the chest.
"I've already got two nieces to buy presents for," John protested.
"Pah. How old is the youngest? Two? Three? They like anything at that age."
John was about to protest again, when Teyla called for them from the end of the aisle.
In the end, they just got several presents each for their nieces.
"That way, if one sucks, you have a backup. Plus you won't have to buy one for the next birthdays."
"Or you could make up for the time you did not think of her birthday," Teyla pointed out innocently.
"I was in another galaxy!" Rodney defended himself.
John gave him a sharp look, moving his head to remind them that they weren't on Atlantis and people were around.
"We should pay," Teyla said. "Then maybe we can find a little park where I can set Torren down."
"You okay?" John asked. "Should I take him?"
"I am fine. Thank you."
John nodded, but still pushed Rodney towards the cashiers.
Outside the sun was shining, and Rodney relaxed as they sat down on a bench, watching Teyla play with Torren in the sand. "This went a lot better than I thought," he commented, looking over at John who smiled, completely at ease and content. Rodney saw him far too seldom like that. John was easy-going by nature but there was this other side of him, the responsible side, that he never fully let go of on Atlantis. Except maybe when they played together.
Rodney looked into his bags and fished out one of his cars.
"We should keep them for when we return," John said, stopping him.
"Why?" Rodney asked.
"Once we return it'll be back to the limitations of the Daedalus or Apollo. And then we won't have a lot of peaceful days in a park," John said, looking around them.
Rodney followed his gaze. It was nothing special, but he realized what John meant. They were out in nature often enough, but that was on missions, where there was always the danger of an attack by natives or animals and, in especially bad situations, plant life. Here, the most threatening thing was pollen and stray dogs and cyclists. And, of course, little kids with sticky fingers. They flocked to parks like moths to a flame.
"I think I'm just not the peaceful-day-in-a-park kind," Rodney admitted. He felt a bit bad about it actually, though he had no idea why.
John looked over to him, his smile widening.
"What?" Rodney asked. He had no idea why John was smiling at him like that.
"Where would you like to be right now?" John asked him.
Rodney thought about it, but not for long. "Back in the Pegasus galaxy."
John nodded. "Yeah," he said wistfully.
Torren threw a stone up in the air and squealed in delight. Teyla easily caught the stone and smiled indulgently at him.
"It's too bad that as you grow older it takes more than a stone to keep your attention," Rodney mused.
"Depends on the stone. I've seen you glued to one for days on end."
"You mean the Rhumba stone? That wasn't just a stone," Rodney reminded him.
"For three days it did absolutely nothing at all," John said. "It didn't even fly in the air," he added, mimicking throwing a stone.
Rodney glared at him. "That's because I don't play with delicate artifacts."
"Unless they're meant for playing," Rodney amended.
John raised an eyebrow.
"I'm talking about the selsar set."
"It is not meant for playing, Rodney," Teyla said, without looking away from Torren.
Rodney decided not to have that discussion with Teyla again. "I'm hungry," he said instead. "And we should get back to base at some point."
"Why don't we try to locate some food since you're restless," John said, looking pointedly at him at the last part, "and then head back after lunch."
"I'm just not as lazy as you," Rodney said.
"I just know how to relax, unlike some people," John said.
"You mean me. I can relax. I'm great at relaxing." Rodney crossed his arms in front of him. Then he realized that he looked the opposite of relaxed. "Oh for— Let's just go find something to eat," he said grumpily.
John smiled and stood up. "We'll be back in a minute," he said to Teyla, who nodded.
Rodney was still annoyed as they began walking. He could relax. He just didn't find sitting in a park relaxing.
"You know, some people would envy you for finding work relaxing," John said.
Rodney had just been thinking of that. Sitting in his lab, tinkering on his spare time projects. That was relaxing. Though not just that. "Racing," he said. "Chess. Even your stupid golf," Rodney added, still a bit defensive.
"I know," John said softly. "There's nothing wrong with that. I'm happy as long as you do relax. I don't care how."
"Are you worrying about me, Sheppard?" Rodney asked, a teasing note in his voice. Because it could be read that way.
"Not if I don't have to," John answered more seriously than Rodney would have expected.
Rodney took in their surroundings, the beautiful park, with the sounds of birds and children. "Do you miss relaxing like this?" he suddenly asked.
"A little," John admitted. "But I'm fine. No need to worry about me, McKay."
Rodney spluttered. He hadn't meant— Well, actually he had worried. "You don't find peaceful nature like this on missions." And even if they did, he knew that John would never truly relax on a mission. Not like here.
"No, but a quiet evening with a book works just as well. No Wraith, no mission reports, no team members complaining." He added the last with a grin.
Rodney huffed. "I always have valid reasons for complaints."
John didn't say anything, but his quirked mouth made it obvious he didn't agree. Rodney glared at him and John grinned. "I don't mind you complaining. It's relaxing as well. Just in a different way." His grin faded into a smile, and he looked at Rodney in a way that Rodney couldn't quite read.
Rodney was about to ask what he meant when John dropped his gaze and walked on, pointing at a little food stand nearby.
Rodney felt good after their little trip to the city. Whatever part of it had done it, he felt relaxed when they returned. He decided that now was as good a time as any to run through a full diagnostics beyond the checkups after their initial repairs of Atlantis. He had planned to do it before they left, but if there was anything wrong, a head start wouldn't hurt.
Jennifer found him in his lab around dinner time. She looked very happy. "Do you remember the conference I told you about the other day?"
Honestly, he didn't. Well, he vaguely recalled her talking about a paper she was working on. She'd sounded pretty excited about it. Maybe that had been it. He nodded.
"They've invited me to talk, despite the short notice." She smiled widely.
"That's great," he said, smiling back.
"It's going to be the next two days in Cleveland. Do you want to come?" She looked at him expectantly.
Rodney blanched, smile frozen on his face. He could think of few things he wanted to do less than attend a medical conference in Cleveland.
Her smile turned understanding. "It's okay. I know you'd be bored."
"It's not that," he lied. "I just... I'm going to visit Jeannie. I bought presents for Madison today."
She looked a bit surprised. "Oh. You did? You hadn't mentioned it."
"I know. I wasn't sure when to go, but Sheppard wants to visit his brother, and we needed presents for our nieces, and we can't be sure when we'll get the call to return, and Jeannie would be livid if she found out I was back here for over a month and didn't visit."
"Of course, you should visit her," Jennifer said, smiling softly. She leaned forward to kiss him. "I have to go pack. And, I guess, so do you."
"Yes, of course," he said, smiling awkwardly.
His smile faded the moment she left. Now he didn't have any more excuses not to call Jeannie. He braced himself and picked up the phone.
"Wow, that was quick," John said between bites of his sandwich.
"Maybe Rodney cannot wait to show Madison her presents," Teyla said.
"Now's as good a time as any," Rodney said evasively, concentrating on his dinner. Jeannie had only yelled a little at him for not calling sooner. And she was looking forward to seeing him. All things considered, it had gone well.
"Tell her I said hi," Ronon said.
Rodney looked at him. "Okay."
"Yes. Please, extend mine and Kanaan's greetings as well, to her and Madison and Kaleb," Teyla added.
"Anyone else?" he asked in John's direction.
Before John could answer, Jennifer rushed to their table, wearing street clothes. "Hey," she said to the table at large, sounding a bit out of breath. Then she turned to Rodney. "I actually found a flight going out tonight, so I'm leaving right now. Just wanted to say goodbye. Have a great time with your sister." Out of the corner of his eyes he could see the others looking at them. Sheppard was turning away, as Jennifer leaned forward to kiss Rodney. Then she turned around and was off again.
"You too," Rodney called after her. She turned at the door and gave him another smile and a little wave. Then she was gone. Rodney turned back to the table.
"Where is Jennifer going?" Teyla asked.
"She has a last-minute conference," he said.
"Too bad you couldn't go with her," Ronon said, grinning knowingly.
"Oh, shut up," Rodney said, but couldn't help a smile. He looked over to John who was watching him thoughtfully. Rodney waited for him to comment but in the end he didn't say anything.
After dinner, he walked with John while they continued to discuss the possibility of reverse engineering the puddlejumpers. They ended up in John's room and were still talking when Rodney remembered that he still hadn't packed.
"Shit, I have to go. My flight leaves tomorrow at eight. I don't see why they couldn't make exceptions when beaming us out of Atlantis."
"They have to make sure nobody sees it," John explained unnecessarily. "Or do you want them to drop you off in the middle of nowhere?"
"An empty restroom somewhere in Vancouver would be fine. Hell, they could beam me into their garage. They know about it, anyway."
"Madison doesn't," John pointed out.
"So? I'll walk out, ring the bell and say I took a taxi," Rodney said.
"I miss flying," John said.
Rodney managed not to roll his eyes. John really did look sad about it. "Even commercial flights? It's not really the same is it?"
"No, but it's better than nothing," John said.
"Then you should come," Rodney said, without really thinking about it.
"What?" John asked, frowning.
"To my sister's. You know all of them already, and Jeannie likes you. You must have a gazillion days of leave left." And now that he thought about it, another guest would be a good buffer between him and Jeannie. Plus, there was no danger of being bored out of his mind with John there too. It was really perfect.
"I can't just tag along when you visit your sister," John said awkwardly.
"Why not?" Rodney asked.
"You were going to take Jennifer," John said.
"Yes. She's going to a conference, however. What's your point?" Rodney was getting impatient.
"Wouldn't she..." John trailed off.
"Wouldn't she what?" Rodney asked.
John was quiet for a moment. Then he asked. "Are you sure this is okay? With Jeannie and Jennifer?"
"Why on Earth would it not be okay? I'll text Jeannie while we pack. She has a large bed in the guest room. We'd have to share, but honestly, we've done worse off-world. Or there's the couch."
John looked at him as if he wanted to say something but didn't know how. Since Rodney had no idea what was going on in his head at the moment, he couldn't help. "Okay," John eventually said. "But text her," he said emphatically. "Ask her if it's okay with her. Let me know when she answers."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "I'll just call her, okay?" He got out his cell phone and selected her number.
"Don't you dare cancel on me," Jeannie said by way of greeting. Rodney sighed inwardly. "There's no world-threatening disaster, is there?" Jeannie added.
"Not that I'm aware of," Rodney said. "I wanted to ask if I can bring someone along. Sheppard misses flying," John gave him a look, but Rodney just continued, grinning, "so I told him he could come. He's bored out of his mind here, anyway."
"Of course, he can come," Jeannie said.
"Of course, you can come," Rodney related to John, who still looked skeptical. "Will you tell the man what you just told me," Rodney told her, then handed the phone to John.
"Hey, Jeannie," John said awkwardly. "Rodney thought—"
Rodney couldn't hear what Jeannie said, but it made the tip of John's ears slightly redder. "Uhm, all right," John said. "See you tomorrow." He hung up.
"What did she say?" Rodney asked, taking the phone from John.
"She said I could come," John said, still looking a bit flustered.
Rodney raised an eyebrow.
"She said I was always welcome in her home," John said, ears turning even redder.
"There you go," Rodney said, smiling. He was slightly amused by John's reaction, and kind of touched by his sister's answer. And he was glad the matter was settled. "Now we just have to find a flight for you. Preferably the same one I have to take."
And they both still had to pack.
Everyone was very happy to see them. Jeannie hugged both him and John. John told Madison he was surprised at how much she had grown since he last saw her, which made her beam.
Rodney sighed. There really didn't seem to be females of any age that could resist the Sheppard charm.
John apologized about joining Rodney on such short notice.
"Well, he's the one who should apologize for not calling sooner," Jeannie said in Rodney's direction. "Having another person along doesn't really make a difference," she said, smiling at John.
"I wasn't sure if I'd have the time. Even now we could be recalled on a moment's notice," Rodney said.
"That's highly unlikely," John added at Jeannie's worried look.
"Well, yes, but not impossible."
"Thank you for having us," John said again.
"It's our pleasure," Jeannie said. Kaleb stepped close to her and put his arm around her. "I've set up the guest room. There's only one bed, so one of you can take the couch."
"We'll be fine," Rodney said, carrying his bag upstairs.
The guest room was all made up and Rodney dropped his bag.
When John came in after him, Rodney said, "Honestly, this bed is wider than two Atlantis beds combined, I think."
John smiled. "You might be right." He fished one of his black, long-sleeved shirts out of his bag and put it on. "Should I leave you and Jeannie alone? To talk?"
John laughed. "I don't think there's gonna be a way around that, McKay."
"Well, yes. I'd still like to delay it as much as possible. Plus, she might have plans. God knows what she's up to," Rodney said tensely. Being this close to his sister made him antsy.
"Hey," John said, putting his hand on Rodney's shoulder.
Rodney took a deep breath. "Clear blue skies, huh?"
John smiled. "There you go. Why don't we go downstairs and chat a bit, and after lunch we could offer to take Madison out for the rest of the day. In my experience, all parents appreciate free babysitting offers, and you wouldn't have to worry about whatever it is you think your sister will say to you. Or you to your sister."
Rodney huffed at the last, but he still nodded, appreciating John's consideration.
It turned out that John was right. Chatting as a group with Madison present kept conversation away from dangerous topics, and Jeannie and Kaleb were happily surprised by their offer to take Madison out. Jeannie didn't want to accept at first, but when John said it would be no problem, Madison said, "Can I, please?", and Kaleb gave her an encouraging nudge, she gave in.
She insisted on picking the perfect restaurant for them. "They have a great selection of salads for Maddy and also non-vegetarian food," she added when Rodney made a face.
Madison kept asking about what Rodney did and he felt bad about not being able to go into detail. He did talk about general approaches to science, though. Research, evaluation of theories, experimental proofs. She seemed to understand surprisingly much, and he was looking forward to giving her her present, sure now that the junior science kit was a good choice.
Rodney was deep in discussion with Madison while John ordered and only belatedly remembered to tell the waiter about his allergies. He was about to do so when he heard John say seriously, "No citrus on any of the dishes or drinks. Dr. McKay is extremely allergic, and the reaction could kill him."
"Yes, sir," the waiter said.
Rodney just looked at John until he turned to Rodney. "Thank you," he said sincerely.
John only smiled at him.
Rodney continued his discussion with Madison, and John joined in, trying to simplify things for her when Rodney got a bit beyond the level even a smart child like Madison could understand. Rodney had to admit that he might lack the insight into when to stop.
Eventually, the waiter brought their dishes, and Rodney had just taken his first bite when he spotted bits of oranges in Madison's salad. He spat out his own food.
"Rodney?" John said alarmed.
"Uncle Mer?" Madison asked with widening eyes.
John got up, hands going to his pockets. "Do you need a shot?"
"I'm..." Fine, Rodney was going to say, except that he really wasn't. His heart was beating like crazy and just looking at the innocent bit of fruit in the bowl next to his plate made him recall that feeling of gasping for air that wouldn't come. "Damn. That's the second time in two weeks someone's tried to kill me!"
The waiter approached. "Is there something wrong, sir?" he asked.
Rodney only pointed at the offending fruit.
"Uncle Mer?" Madison asked again, looking very unhappy.
John walked around the table and took her hand. "You remember about your uncle's allergies, right?"
She nodded vigorously and got out of the chair, away from the food.
"Which is more than I can say for you," Rodney told the waiter.
"I'm very sorry, sir. I made sure there was no citrus in your food. The young lady has had this salad before. I didn't think—"
"Exactly. You didn't think!" Rodney said angrily.
"Of course, we can bring a new salad," the waiter said pacifyingly.
"That won't be necessary. We'll be going," John said.
For a moment, Rodney could only stare at him. He had no words to express how grateful he was for not having to discuss this.
They left, and Rodney slowly felt his heart rate returning to normal. He didn't know why this had been even more upsetting than Jennifer's drink. He'd been mad then, but it hadn't felt as bad. It wasn't that he was never around people eating oranges. For that matter, John wasn't nearly as considerate when he had them for breakfast.
Rodney turned to John, who was making small talk with Madison to distract her. "You don't usually have a problem eating oranges yourself in my presence," Rodney said, glad to hear that it didn't come out too accusatory. He was still very grateful for how John had handled the situation.
John looked at him. "I'm pretty confident that I can keep from squirting anything on you, and it helps to know that there's an infirmary within reach. Have you ever seen me eat an orange off-world?"
Come to think of it, Rodney hadn't.
"What would have happened if I'd eaten it," Madison asked. "Would you have died?"
"No, Maddy. You can eat oranges. It's just..." Rodney didn't quite know how to continue. He wasn't sure about his reaction himself.
"It's that sometimes things can accidentally slip from a fork. And we asked them not to put it in any of the dishes. But they still put some on yours. So it makes it harder to be sure that they didn't put anything in your uncle's meal as well."
Rodney nodded. That had been it. "It's a matter of trust," he said. "At work, I trust the people to make really sure that there's no citrus in my food. And I trust John not to get any bits of citrus on me when he eats an orange in my presence. But since those people weren't careful with your food, it makes it hard to trust them. Do you understand?"
Madison nodded. "It's like Lissa Dean. She kept saying she'd bring her cat when she visits me, but she never did, so I stopped inviting her."
"Right. Because you had no reason to believe her," Rodney said. There probably was a story behind that, but he didn't think he wanted to know it.
"Can we still eat something?" Madison asked.
"Of course," John said. "I'm sure we can get some food somewhere else around here."
Ahead of them was a little diner. It had only three tables, one of them occupied. The food was pretty cheap, and he was almost certain that there was no chance that a salad for Madison would contain anything that wasn't green. And the burger would probably not contain anything at all that came from a vegetable, let alone fruit.
They ordered a big salad for Madison and fries and burgers for themselves. "It's not healthy," Madison pointed out.
"No, it isn't," Rodney conceded. "But grown-ups can decide to do unhealthy things for themselves."
"As long as they don't endanger others," John added.
"Don't you want to live to be a hundred years old?" she asked.
"Honestly? No," Rodney said.
John grinned at him, but Madison looked scandalized. "Why not?"
"What good will it do if you're a hundred, but have to spend the last twenty years of that as a doddery fool?" Rodney said truthfully.
"As opposed to a fit fool," John added.
Rodney gave him a look, and John grinned again.
They got their food and drinks, all citrus free, and sat down at the middle table, Madison and Rodney on one bench, John on the one opposite of them.
"These aren't half-bad," John said, after tasting the fries.
"Really?" Rodney said. He considered putting down the burger he had in his hands right now to taste the fries first.
"Yeah," John said, solving Rodney's dilemma by simply picking up one of his own fries and lifting it to Rodney's mouth.
Rodney took it, and John was right. It had just the right amount of crispy and squishy and actually tasted like it had come from a potato recently. "Maddy, what's up?" Rodney asked, noticing that she was playing with the straw dispenser.
"I want a red one. There are only blue ones here," she said.
"Maybe they only have blue ones," Rodney said.
"No", she said, turning on the seat.
Rodney turned and saw that one of the drinks of the two young guys at the next table had a red straw in it. Before he could ask, Madison was already half climbing over the bench to reach for the straw dispenser.
"Madison," Rodney said, watching her closely.
"I nearly got it," she said, but then pushed the thing over.
"All right," Rodney said, pulling her back into her place again.
He reached over to put the dispenser upright again. "Sorry," he said at the glaring young men. Then he picked up one straw for Madison, who took it happily.
"God, why do they allow faggots to have kids?"
Rodney froze. He looked at John, whose jaw was clenched, and, without really thinking about it, got up.
"Thank you very much," Rodney told the two young men acidly. "I've been proud that Canada is so much more progressive than this gentleman's country, but you just proved that homophobia is alive and well."
For a moment, Rodney feared they might become aggressive. Or that he'd be kicked out of the diner for starting something, but the guys just gave him an annoyed look. "Whatever. Just look after your kid," one of them said.
Rodney let it go and sat back down. He looked at John, who looked past him at the young men. Rodney knew he'd keep an eye on them until they left.
"What's a faggot?" Madison asked.
Rodney looked at John, who sighed. "It's a very bad word for a gay person," he said.
"Do you know what gay means?" John asked her.
"Yes," she said. "It's if a man loves a man like Mom and Dad love each other."
"Right," John said, smiling at her.
"Or a woman loves a woman," Rodney added. "Although you wouldn't call them faggots, I don't think. I mean as an insult, because you shouldn't anyway."
"I think she got it," John said, before Rodney could make it any worse.
They began to eat again. Madison drank greedily from her red straw, and Rodney didn't point out that her chocolate shake wasn't exactly healthy either.
"Do you love each other like Mom and Dad do?" she suddenly asked.
"What? Where did that come from?" Rodney asked, looking at John, whose eyes had widened a bit, but who seemed otherwise unperturbed, nursing his cola.
"You act like them," Madison said, eating her salad rather messily and speaking while she did so. "Dad sometimes feeds Mom too."
"Why don't you swallow your salad first and then talk," John suggested kindly.
She swallowed noisily. "And they also tease each other like you do," she added more clearly.
"Well, yes. Be that as it may, Sheppard and I do not love each other like your parents do," Rodney said.
"We tease each other because sometimes good friends do that too," John added with a smile. Then his eyes turned cold as he looked past Rodney's shoulder.
Rodney tensed and turned around too. The guy with his back to Rodney had turned to their table. "Why didn't you say that you're not a couple?" he asked, sounding annoyed.
"Because it doesn't matter!" Rodney told him. "It doesn't make what you said any less homophobic."
"All right, man. Calm down."
Rodney glared but backed down. He didn't think a lesson on homophobia would be welcome or particularly productive. He looked at John, who smiled at him supportively and looked past Rodney warily.
Thankfully, not long after, the two guys left the diner. Rodney felt like he could finally relax again, now that his greatest worry was Madison getting the salad dressing all over herself or him.
John, too, visibly relaxed. He ate and watched them, looking bemused every time Rodney eyed the overstuffed fork Madison was wielding. Rodney wanted to glare at him, but could only smile.
They still needed to walk back to the car and Madison walked between them.
"Do you have a boyfriend?" she asked, turning to John.
Rodney spluttered. "Maddy, you got that wrong. Those guys just jumped to conclusions because they're stupid morons. Just because two guys might look like a couple doesn't mean they are."
"Then how do you know if someone's gay?" she asked.
"Well, I suppose the only way to be sure is to ask, but—"
"Are you gay?" Madison asked, turning to John again.
"You usually wouldn't," Rodney finished, squirming. Who would have thought that a citrus attack would turn out to be the easy part of this evening. He was about to explain to Madison that you couldn't go and randomly ask people if they were gay, when John spoke up.
"It's okay. Yes, Madison, I'm gay."
"What?!" Rodney said, stopping.
John stopped as well, turning to him. He looked very calm. "I'm gay."
"But... Chaya and that Larrin person and..." Rodney stuttered.
"It's.... Okay. If you prefer, I'm bisexual. Do you know what bisexual is?" John asked, turning towards Madison.
"Yes, like Clarice's mom. She has a girlfriend now," Madison said.
"Exactly," John said, smiling at her.
Rodney still didn't quite grasp what John had just said. "I'm not.... I'm not telling you what you are, I was just wondering about these women," he said, hating how lame it sounded even to his own ears. He'd always thought of John as Kirk, charming every female within a mile.
"They came on to me," John pointed out. "And I just..."
Played along? Faked it? Rodney wasn't sure how many of the women he'd flirted with that John had actually slept with. And he certainly didn't seem to have had a serious relationship in the last five years, but to imagine that John was gay... Rodney tried to recall specific moments where John had seemed genuinely interested in a woman and not just flirted, but the closest he could think of was Chaya and everything about her had felt off, including John's interest. Wow. Could he have really been so wrong?
John was still looking at him, not exactly anxious—and Rodney was glad of that because it would be insulting if John was afraid of Rodney's reaction—but expectant.
Rodney swallowed his pride and admitted to himself that he seemed to have been completely wrong about that particular part of his friend's life. "So he's gay," he said easily to Madison, but turning to John with a small smile. After a moment, John smiled back.
"And you didn't know because you never asked," Madison said proudly.
"Yes, but that's still not something you should ask people. At least, I'm pretty sure that's what your mother would say. It's a personal thing. You'd only ask it if you know someone very, very well. Or actually, you'd probably wait until they tell you." Rodney looked at John, suddenly wondering why he'd never mentioned it before. He'd seemed unfazed by Madison's question, so it couldn't have been that he desperately wanted to hide it. John's look didn't give away anything.
Not for the first time, Rodney wished he could read people better, in particular the man in front of him, who'd become his unlikely best friend.
At home, Madison, of course, had to relay their little adventure. "Someone tried to kill Uncle Mer, and then we met morons who used a bad word for gays."
Rodney covered his eyes with one hand, feeling a headache coming, or at least a discussion with Jeannie.
"Madison's salad had oranges in it," John explained. "When we went to another place to eat, there were two young men who thought Rodney and I... were a couple, and that Madison was our daughter."
"I see," Jeannie said. "Do you have any questions about it, Maddy?"
"Nope. Uncle Mer explained to me what a fa— that bad word means. He also told me that the only way to tell if someone's gay is to ask them. But that you shouldn't ask people, even though if I hadn't asked, he never would have known that John is gay."
Rodney covered his whole face with both hands. Then he peeked through them to see if John was still taking it in stride that he was being outed. It seemed so. He only smiled awkwardly at Jeannie, whose eyes had widened at the revelation.
"Uhm. Maddy, it's time to get ready for bed," Jeannie said, tearing her eyes away from John.
"Aww, do I have to? It's not that late," Madison whined.
"It's late enough. If you hurry, maybe you can even have a bed time story."
Madison looked expectantly at Rodney, whose expression must have been clear enough to make her turn to John.
"Uh. Sure," he said.
Madison beamed. She took John's hand. "I'll show you my books. You can pick one while I get ready for bed."
"Don't forget to brush your teeth!" Jeannie called after them. Then she turned to Rodney.
"Kids just don't seem to have a proper grasp of discretion," he said awkwardly.
Jeannie looked at him for a long moment. She didn't seem to be mad, but he still got nervous. "You could have told me that you're with John now."
"What? No! We're not... I have a girlfriend!" he said defensively.
"You do?" she asked, sounding doubtful. "Who?"
"Jennifer," he said. When she didn't immediately react, he added, "Keller."
"I remember Jennifer," Jeannie said. "Why didn't you tell me you two were together?" she asked. There was a frown on her face. Rodney wasn't sure if it was still doubt or something else.
"It only just happened. Well, a few months ago, but you know how it is. Between nearly dying and saving Earth, it wasn't my highest priority to let you know."
Jeannie glared at him. Rodney glared back. Then Jeannie sighed and smiled at him. "Why didn't you bring her?"
"Uh. She's at a medical convention. It was a last-minute thing."
"More last minute than your visit?" Jeannie asked.
Rodney didn't know what to say.
"Well, you can bring her next time," Jeannie said. "She told me that she'd fallen for you when you... when I was on Atlantis the last time. The sweet you. I didn't think anything would come from that, but it seems that she likes the real you too, hard as that is to believe," she added teasingly. "I'm happy for you."
"Thanks," Rodney said tonelessly. He hadn't known... Jennifer had never told him that it had been that, that first made her take real notice of him.
"Are you all right?" Jeannie asked.
"Yeah, sure. A little tired. I'll head to bed early, I think."
"Of course. Thanks for taking Maddy out today. Kaleb and I had a great evening," she said with a grin.
"I don't want to know," he said, lifting his hands.
"I wasn't going to tell."
"Night," he said quickly, taking the opportunity to flee. Upstairs, he walked past Madison's bedroom where John was reading her a story. Rodney only watched them for a second, thoughts swirling in a jumbled mess through his head.
He walked on into the guest room and closed the door behind him.
She fell for the sweet you.
He'd never asked Jennifer when she'd fallen in love with him. He couldn't have answered if she'd asked him. It had happened over time that he'd started thinking about her as more than a friend. There wasn't a single moment he could single out in particular.
Rodney tried to imagine them in the infirmary, the kinder, gentler version of him, crippled by the parasite. He didn't want to believe that that had been the moment for Jennifer.
He knew that she didn't like his short temper, impatience and pessimism. But then, he'd never really had a girlfriend who'd liked that. She accepted it, however, and that had been what mattered to Rodney.
It was okay to be loved despite certain things, but now he couldn't help wondering if, without the parasite, without being stripped of his mind, she would ever have taken notice of him.
Suddenly, Rodney remembered the mission where they'd fallen into the old mining facility and how Jennifer had gently nudged him into buying her a drink. He gave a huge sigh of relief. That had been before the parasite. That had been even before Rodney had ever thought about her that way. He remembered how unexpected it had been.
Jennifer hadn't been in love with him back then. He was pretty sure about that. But she must have seen something that day or maybe even before. Something that was really him. The 'sweet him' without his mind might have made her consider it more seriously—maybe his admission that he loved her had even played a role in that—but it hadn't been the first time she'd seen the potential of more in him.
Feeling a lot better, Rodney went to the bathroom to get ready for bed.
He was in bed, his laptop on his lap, and was typing away on it when someone entered the room. Rodney looked up to find John watching him with a smile.
"Working?" he asked.
"Just wanted to get some notes down," Rodney said, which was partly true. The other part wanted to distract himself from thinking too much about Jennifer. "What did you read to Madison?"
"And Tango Makes Three," John said with a wry smile.
"The gay penguins adopting an egg?" Rodney asked.
John nodded. "She found me looking through it when she came out of the bathroom."
"Fitting choice for the evening," Rodney commented. With the discussion about Jennifer he'd almost forgotten about that.
"I didn't choose it. It just caught my eye when I went through her books. I'd heard of it before, but never read it."
"It's a children's book," Rodney pointed out. "You might have never finished War and Peace, but I think even you are beyond that level."
John gave him a look. Then he eyed the space on the bed left and right of where Rodney had settled down smack in the middle.
"Right, sorry," Rodney said, moving to the left side of the bed. When he was done he looked at John to find him watching Rodney intently. He didn't make a move to get in the bed, though. "What?" Rodney asked. "This is more space than you'd have in your bed on Atlantis."
"It's not that," John said. He didn't continue, however, looking hesitantly between Rodney and the empty space next to him. "Are you sure you don't want me to take the couch?"
"Why would I— Oh. The... What? No," Rodney said, frowning. It was kind of insulting to assume that Rodney would suddenly stop being okay with sharing a bed with John just because he was gay. "That would make me no worse than those guys at the restaurant."
"It's not quite the same. If I were a woman—" John began.
"Well, you're not. Besides we've slept together in much smaller spaces." Rodney flushed slightly at his choice of words. "I mean, shared a bed. Hell, that one night on Eskeder it was all four of us and a bed that was hardly larger than this one."
"I'm just saying. The couch is an option," John offered.
"I'm fine," Rodney insisted. "Unless you'd rather not," he added. Although he didn't see how this would suddenly be a problem for John.
"No, I'm fine too. I'll just go get ready for bed." John dug out the necessary things from his bag and left.
Rodney tried to get back to work, but now that John had reminded him, his mind stayed on that other revelation of the evening.
It shouldn't matter to him that John was gay. And it didn't. It wasn't a problem. He'd worked with gay people before and it hadn't made a difference to him. He didn't expect anything to change between them.
It was just... hard to grasp. He still couldn't quite believe it. He'd seen John flirt with women so often, that it had never occurred to him that he wasn't straight. He tried to imagine John with a guy, some muscled marine—no. Just no. Rodney shook his head, grimacing.
God, was he homophobic now? He really didn't think so. He wouldn't care if Zelenka told him about a boyfriend. And truthfully, he'd never been too fond of thinking about John with women either. He wasn't sure why. He suspected part of it was being protective of him, because God knew, John had terrible taste. Not that they weren't pretty. Sheppard's type seemed to be just like he, himself, was, in fact—tall, slim, attractive brunettes. But not nearly smart enough for him.
Not that they really were his type if John was gay. Or it was a non-sexual thing. Plus, it wasn't as if John ignored redheads or blondes.
It occurred to Rodney that he was spending way too much time thinking about John's nonexistent or at least irrelevant taste in women. What he should think about was his taste in men.
Rodney chastised himself. He really shouldn't be thinking about any of this, because it wasn't any of his damn business. He resolutely looked back at the screen and reread the last sentence he'd written until it made sense again.
He hadn't written a lot more when John came back in, wearing a t-shirt and long track pants.
Rodney suddenly felt underdressed in his t-shirt and boxers. "It's not that cold in here," he said. It really wasn't. And he hoped that John wasn't trying to protect his manly sensibilities or something.
John looked at him for a moment, then sighed, "Fine," and stepped out his track pants, revealing boxers with white and blue stripes.
They might have spent a few nights together on missions, but they usually left on most of their clothes on those occasions. In fact, now that he was staring at John's long legs, he wasn't sure he'd ever seen him this undressed.
John cleared his throat loudly, and Rodney's head snapped back up to his face. "Like what you see?" John asked, raising one eyebrow.
Rodney flushed. He hadn't meant to check him out. This was just new, so it was natural to look. "Oh, for God's— Just get in here," Rodney said, patting the empty place on the bed.
"Think you can share some of the cover?" John asked as he lay down next to Rodney.
Rodney lifted his laptop to allow John to pull the cover over until it covered them both equally.
"It really is larger than two Atlantis beds," John said, after he'd settled down with quite a bit of space between them.
"My sister thought we were a couple," Rodney said out of nowhere. He had no idea why he suddenly remembered, let alone brought it up.
John looked at him, his expression not giving away anything. "And you corrected her," he eventually said.
"Yes," Rodney confirmed. "I told her about Jennifer."
"You hadn't before?" John asked.
"No. You know how she can get."
"Happy for you?" John asked, one corner of his mouth quirking up.
Rodney gave him a look. "Well, yes, that's what she said."
"You don't believe her?"
"Yeah, I do. She was surprised. Jennifer had told her that she'd fallen for the 'nice' me. She didn't think she'd be interested in the real me."
John froze at the mention of what had happened when the parasite had infected him. He looked away, seemingly in deep thought, but didn't say anything.
"I know that Jennifer likes it when I'm nice, but I didn't think... I'd really like to know that, all things told, she prefers the real me to the crippled version," Rodney finished, finally able to put into words what bothered him about this revelation.
John gave him a long look. "Well, if she wanted nice, I'm pretty sure she wouldn't be with you."
Rodney didn't know if John wanted to tease him or be helpful. Maybe both. "I used to think that. I do think that," he corrected himself. "It's just that she keeps giving me looks when I'm behaving... like me. She doesn't say anything anymore, but I know that she's thinking it. And she's always smiling brightly when I'm being nice, like she's rewarding good behavior. I sometimes feel like a child being trained."
"I had no idea you felt that way," John said, frowning.
"Well, it's not that bad. It's not like she's nagging at me all the time. She's just trying to make me a better person."
"Better in whose eyes?" John asked.
Which was a good point. Though Rodney had to admit that Jennifer wasn't exactly setting impossible or random standards. Her views on his attitude were in line with those of most of his girlfriends, and many colleagues. "Those of just about anyone I ever met. I mean we couldn't even have a nice night out. I can see how she would prefer someone who was more relaxed about things like that."
"Things like being killed by negligence," John said.
Rodney realized that John was taking his side here, but he couldn't just accept it and thank him for it. He felt bad for even bringing this up. It wasn't as if Jennifer wasn't very understanding. None of his previous girlfriends had been as tolerant of his foibles. He'd either tried to be nice or things had ended very quickly. Jennifer wasn't like that. And he felt that he had to defend her now. "It's not like it was my drink. And nothing happened."
"But it could have happened," John insisted.
"Come on, don't tell me you can't understand at all that she'd be annoyed by my behavior at times. Can you honestly tell me you've never wanted me to act differently?"
"Hell, no. I want you to act differently all the time," John said emphatically.
"There you go," Rodney said.
"I've wished you'd stop whining on missions and insulting new people we meet. I wish you'd work out more often and do more training hand to hand and with weapons. I wish you weren't quite as aggravating and that you didn't always have to be right and that you weren't completely unconcerned with other people's—"
"I get it, you can stop!" Rodney groused. John didn't need to agree quite that much.
"But then I realize if you weren't those things, you wouldn't be you anymore, and I kind of like you the way you are, so no, I don't want you to act differently. Not one bit," John continued, gaze dropping.
"I, uhm. Wow. Seriously?" Rodney didn't know what to say.
"Yeah. Seriously," John said, adjusting the sheet.
"Not even the working out and stuff?" Rodney asked, because it seemed like a thing that John really wished he'd do differently.
John sighed. "You're fit enough for missions. You don't put us in danger. I'm not asking for more."
They were silent for a while.
"I sometimes feel like I'm faking it," Rodney said.
John looked at him.
"The things I do for her. The nice things. I'm not going to change who I am, but I still want to make her happy. So I do things I remember from previous relationships or that I hear women mention or that I read in women's magazines. I mean, I like making her happy, but it's not me. And sometimes it feels like what she's liking isn't me, but the women who came up with it in the first place."
"Women's magazines?" John asked, eyebrows raised.
"It's not like subscriptions work in another galaxy! Sometimes you have to take what you can get," Rodney said defensively.
John smirked and then turned serious. "Wanting to make her happy, remembering those things, that's coming from you," John said.
"I know. And she doesn't seem to care that it's not me. She knows. She's not stupid."
"Then what's the problem?"
"Nothing, it's just... Remember that holo-learning tool we experimented with before we noticed what a huge energy hog it was?"
"That was cool," John said, smiling.
"I know. And I knew you'd love it. The things that I do for you are me, and I sometimes wish it could be the same with her."
John didn't say anything for a moment. "Do you miss her?"
"Why would I miss her? She hasn't gone anywhere. Oh, you mean this weekend? It's only been a day. I could call her if I wanted to."
"You don't wish she was here right now?" John asked.
"Instead of you?" Rodney asked back.
"Would it make a difference?"
"I... actually, yes. I think if I was alone I might prefer to have her here. But I like that you came along. We don't get the chance to hang out together often enough like this."
John didn't say anything.
"Should I miss her?" Rodney asked.
"I can't tell you how you should feel about your girlfriend."
"You think she's not good enough for me."
"I wouldn't say that," John said.
Rodney glared at him. "Okay, you think we don't fit together."
"I don't know, Rodney," John said, frowning. "I didn't expect the things you told me. I thought she was all you wanted in the world."
"What would make you think that?"
"You said something to that effect when we landed in San Francisco."
"I... Yes, I did. I didn't know you'd heard," Rodney said, remembering that day.
"I didn't. Teyla told me," John said.
"Oh. I didn't... I don't want you to think that I meant you, that our friendship doesn't mean anything to me," Rodney said. He certainly hadn't meant that.
"I know. And it's okay. Take Teyla. She's given up so much for us, but in the end I would expect her to choose her family. Doesn't mean she doesn't... you know, love us."
"Did she ever tell you? I mean to your face? Did you squirm a lot?" Rodney couldn't help tease him.
John glared. Then it softened. "Are you happy with Jennifer?"
"Uhm. Yes, by and large—yes."
John didn't say anything to that. "Good night, Rodney."
The next morning, John left early to go out on a run. Rodney felt tempted to remind him that this was their vacation, but instead he turned over on the bed and slept a little longer.
Eventually, he got up and showered and dressed before heading downstairs.
Jeannie was waiting for him with some coffee. He gratefully poured himself a cup.
"Sleep well?" Jeannie asked.
Rodney finished his first long gulp. "Yes, thank you."
"The bed is big enough for the two of you?" Jeannie asked.
"Sure. You've seen the beds on Atlantis," Rodney said.
"Okay, then," she said.
Rodney frowned. He didn't know what she was getting at. Oh. He rolled his eyes. "Look, it's not like we haven't shared a bed before," he said.
Jeannie's eyebrows rose.
"Shared. Not... I don't know what even makes you think that Sheppard and I would... you know. And I did mention Jennifer, didn't I?"
"Yes, you did. Why didn't you bring her instead of John?" Jeannie asked.
"I told you she was at a conference."
"And out of the weeks that you're here, you have to choose the few days that she's at a conference."
"Okay. Yes, I didn't want to bring her," he finally admitted. "Because I knew you'd start talking about marriage and kids and God knows what."
"And why shouldn't I? You said you'd been with her for a few months and you've known each other for much longer. It's not like you're getting any younger."
Rodney's face fell. He thought about the incident at the club.
"And look at Jennifer," Jeannie continued. "She could easily find someone better—"
"Well, thanks a lot!" Rodney said sharply.
"I'm just stating the facts here, and you know it," Jeannie said.
Rodney crossed his arms in front of him. He did know that he was lucky to have Jennifer. "So what? I should go ahead and ask her to marry me, no matter if I have doubts or not, just so nobody else will snatch her away?"
Jeannie looked at him. "What doubts do you have?"
Rodney squirmed. He really didn't want to have this conversation with her too. It had been bad enough to discuss it with John. "It's nothing, really."
"Well, obviously not, or you wouldn't have mentioned it."
"She wants me to be nice, okay," he finally said.
"Well, who doesn't?" Jeannie answered without missing a beat.
"John," Rodney said, without really meaning to.
Jeannie's eyebrows shot up at that.
"I didn't mean it like that," Rodney immediately said. He didn't want Jennifer to be like John. That would imply that he wanted... And he didn't. He was happy with Jennifer, for the most part.
"How did you mean it?" Jeannie pressed on.
"It's just easier to be with John sometimes. He doesn't care if I'm..." he searched for the right word.
"You?" Jeannie supplied helpfully.
"Yes, me. With Jennifer it's sometimes... an effort," he finished.
"A relationship that takes an effort. Who would have thought," Jeannie said sarcastically.
"Yours looks pretty effortless to me," Rodney pointed out.
"I love Kaleb. But it's not effortless. All relationships take work. But if it's with the right person it's worth it."
Rodney sighed and nodded. He honestly wished it would be easy too. Like with John. But he knew better than to say that.
"Kaleb and I thought we could all go out together this afternoon after Madison comes home from school," Jeannie said, changing the subject.
Rodney was grateful. They talked about their plans until John entered, freshly showered. Rodney caught himself giving him a once over yet again. It had to be the civvies.
Jeannie offered John a coffee, but he declined.
"That would be great, thank you," John said.
Jeannie set up the water while Rodney and John sat down at the breakfast table.
"Can I ask you something?" Jeannie said to John when she joined them.
"Sure," John said.
Rodney frowned, buttering his bread. He wouldn't put it past Jeannie to ask John about Jennifer and him. But it wasn't that.
"What is Don't Ask, Don't Tell really like for you? I mean, you knew what you were getting into, but did you ever regret it?"
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell wasn't the law when I joined the Air Force," John pointed out.
"Right. But you know what I mean. Is it difficult? Not being able to have a relationship?" Jeannie continued.
Rodney wondered how long it would take until John would flee.
"We can have relationships. We're just not allowed to talk about them," John said, shifting in his seat uncomfortably.
"No, I'm not," John interrupted her before she could ask. "But that's not necessarily because of regulations," he said, giving Rodney a quick look. "I haven't... really been looking, after my divorce," he added more quietly and got a faraway look.
"You were married? To a woman?" Jeannie asked.
Rodney rolled his eyes, but he wanted to hear the answer to this. He hadn't even thought of John's ex-wife when he'd wondered about the women in John's past.
John snorted. "Couldn't really have married a man," he said. "Back then it wasn't even legal in Canada. And I was already in the Air Force."
"So, your ex-wife? A last-ditch effort to be straight?" Jeannie guessed.
Rodney felt almost embarrassed for her bluntness. But he was also curious about John's answer.
"I, uh, wouldn't say it like that," John said evasively. But it was true, in part. At least, that was what Rodney read between the lines. "Can I have some toast?"
If that wasn't a cry for a change of subject, Rodney didn't know what it was. Thankfully, the water was done, and Jeannie got up to make John some tea. Rodney pushed a slice of toast towards John.
John ignored it for the moment, looking over to Rodney instead. Rodney felt a little tongue-tied. He still didn't quite know what to make of the fact that John was gay.
"Here you go," Jeannie said, putting the cup in front of John. "Two minutes works best for this one."
John checked his watch. "Thank you," he said.
"I hope they'll repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Jeannie said seriously. "And maybe one day you'll be allowed to get married to the person you want. And if the US doesn't come around soon enough, just come over here." She smiled at John.
John smiled back. "I'll consider it if the time ever comes." He gave Rodney another quick look, before beginning to butter his toast.
Rodney tried to imagine John dating a guy and falling in love with him. He didn't like the thought. But maybe John being serious about it would make all the difference. Rodney did want him to be happy, after all.
After breakfast, they decided to show John around a bit. The last time he'd been in Vancouver his mind had been occupied with rescuing Jeannie and then Rodney.
John and Jeannie got along quite well. Almost too well. Rodney really could have done without the embarrassing stories about him that his sister was so fond of telling his friends. He retaliated with a few of his own and things got tense a few times, but with John as a buffer between them he and Jeannie didn't clash too badly.
In the afternoon they visited Science World. Rodney was delighted by the interest in science that Madison showed, but Jeannie kept telling him not to push her. While he argued with her that he was only trying to encourage and guide her natural curiosity, Kaleb and John went on with Madison, distracting her with an exhibit about the human digestive system or something equally frivolous.
"What about encouraging her natural curiosity?" Jeannie asked with a wide smile when Madison asked him about why things smell differently.
He didn't answer either of their questions. John was always willing to answer, though Rodney suspected his answers were not always scientifically sound. Madison seemed to have fun, though, and Rodney had to admit that he had a good time, even when John bodily dragged him away from an electricity exhibit, where a small crowd had formed around him as he explained how simplistic the explanations were.
Afterward they went to a park close to where the Millers lived. They stopped at a playground in the center. Half the equipment looked like deathtraps to Rodney, but Jeannie assured him that kids didn't break too easily.
"As you'll learn once you have your own," she added with a smile.
Rodney glared at her.
"Teyla has a young child, right?" Kaleb asked.
"Yes," John said. "A young boy named Torren John."
Rodney rolled his eyes at the emphasis. Though he did appreciate their willingness to diffuse a fight between Jeannie and him. They had managed not to get into a big argument so far, and Rodney really wanted to keep it that way for however long they'd stay.
They had a week off, though he hadn't been as specific to Jeannie, just to be on the safe side. He could always claim an emergency, but she'd either see through his lie or be worried. He figured they could manage another day without the huge fight that he always feared was just around the corner between them.
After dinner they stayed in, playing with Madison. Rodney wanted to get her to work with her Junior Scientist Kit, but she preferred to read something with John.
"I'm sure she'll play with the kit another time," John said in their room after they'd put Madison to bed.
"As if I care," Rodney said dismissively.
John gave him a look.
"Hey, I'm used to women of all ages fawning over you," Rodney said.
"Your sister is not fawning over me," John pointed out.
"My sister is happily married. And she still likes you. She's not as rude to people she doesn't like," Rodney explained to him.
"Is that it? So does that mean you really love most of the people you meet?" John asked with a grin.
"No, I'm just rude because I have no patience for fake pleasantries. It's not like I go out of my way to insult people."
John raised an eyebrow.
"Well, most people," Rodney amended.
"The rest is just your natural charm. Got it," John said with a smile.
"So I'm not a people person. There are worse things in the world," Rodney said, crossing his arms in front of him.
John lifted his hands. "I wasn't complaining."
Rodney thought about that for a moment. "No, you weren't," he said. Because John liked him as he was, rudeness and everything. He thought about Jennifer again and the conversation he and John had had the night before. Then he mentally shook his head. It was stupid to compare them.
John was his friend, and while friendships certainly weren't anything that Rodney took for granted, they were still in a different league than relationships. The demands of being a couple, of eventually sharing a life together were different than that of being friends. Jeannie had said so as well, even though her marriage looked pretty perfect to him.
It took effort, but he was willing to make that effort because Jennifer was worth it. When John left to change and get ready for bed, Rodney decided to give Jennifer a quick call.
"Hey Rodney," she answered, sounding happy to hear him.
"Hey," he said. "How's the conference going?"
"It's amazing. I'm having a lot of interesting conversations, and I've even met a few people that I'd like to recommend to the SGC. You would have hated it." She added the last with a laugh.
"Probably," he admitted. "But I'm glad you're having a good time."
"I'm having a great time."
"Not too great, I hope. If anyone's coming on to you, tell them you're taken," he said sternly.
She laughed. "They're professionals."
Rodney only harrumphed. When it came down to it, men were all the same.
"How are you doing?" Jennifer asked. "Enjoying your stay with your sister?"
"We haven't killed each other yet," he said.
"Rodney," Jennifer said, a little warning in her voice as if she wanted him to behave.
"Sheppard's presence is helping. His vast array of inane commentary can be very distracting," Rodney said, not willing to apologize for the way things were between his sister and him.
Jennifer didn't say anything for a moment.
"Are you still there? Are you at the hotel or still out, having interesting conversations?" he asked. It didn't sound too loud, but maybe Jennifer had just gone to find a quiet spot at the convention site.
"I'm back at the hotel. Wanted to go to bed early," she said, sounding a bit more subdued to Rodney.
"Yeah, so did we. Hanging out with a seven-year-old is almost as bad as going on missions."
"I'm sure you're having fun spoiling her," Jennifer said. He could imagine her smiling.
"Yes, I am," Rodney admitted. "Though in my defense, I don't think I'm as bad as Sheppard."
John chose that moment to come back into their room. He looked at Rodney quizzically before he saw the phone.
"I'm just telling Jennifer that you're spoiling Madison more than I do," Rodney explained.
"Torturing more like it," John mumbled.
"John's staying with you?" Jennifer asked.
"Yeah, Jeannie has a big guest room," Rodney said, looking at John.
John gave him a strange look, then turned to rummage in his bag.
"Well, say hi from me. To John and Jeannie and everyone."
"I will," Rodney said. "Have fun at the conference. But not too much fun."
She snorted. "Same to you," she said.
"Well, of course. It's not like I even have the opportunity for that kind of fun." He looked over to where John's boxer clad ass stood out as he bent, taking a book out of his bag. Rodney shook his head. "Bye."
"Bye Rodney. Love you," Jennifer said.
"Love you too," he said and hung up.
John stood there looking at the closed book in his hands, as if waiting to decide whether he wanted to get in bed or not.
Rodney stood up and put the phone away. "I'll go get ready for bed."
"Yep," John said, seemingly still indecisive.
"Did you want to go out? It's not too late yet," Rodney asked, not sure what John's problem was.
John finally looked up at him. "No, it's fine," he said, giving Rodney a quick smile. "That was Keller."
"Yeah," Rodney said. "She said to say hi."
"You told her that I'm staying here too?"
"Yes, she... I guess she didn't know." Rodney thought about it and remembered that she'd already been gone when he'd decided to take John along.
"You didn't ask her about it before we left?" John asked.
"She'd already taken her flight. It's not like it's a big deal," Rodney said.
"If she didn't say anything, I guess it isn't," John said vaguely, finally getting into bed.
"What did you think she would say?" Rodney asked. Talking to John was like pulling teeth sometimes.
"I don't know. I could just imagine some women wouldn't be too happy to find out that their boyfriend didn't take them to see the family, but took someone else."
"But you know Jeannie and Kaleb and Maddy. You saved Jeannie's life. And it's not like I want to... you know, have them meet you and welcome you to the family because you're my..." Rodney waved with his hands. Really, this should be obvious to Sheppard.
"Just wanted to make sure she was okay with it," John said, opening up his book.
"She didn't complain," Rodney informed him.
"Great," John said, starting to read.
Rodney only looked at him. He left to go to the bathroom, but couldn't quite shake the feeling that he'd just had a fight with John, which was ridiculous. Not to mention that he still didn't get why John thought Jennifer would make such a fuss about this. There was no reason for her—or anyone else, for that matter—to believe that John would somehow... take her place or whatever it was that John thought she might think.
Well, Jeannie might have thought along those lines, but that was after they'd found out that John was gay, which Jennifer didn't even know. And it didn't matter. They were friends. Rodney had never given Jennifer any reason to believe that she should be jealous of John. The idea was laughable.
When he came back into the guest room and laid down, Rodney watched John read for a moment, before he had to speak. "Why on Earth do you think Jennifer would be jealous of you?"
John kept his eyes on the book for a moment longer before turning to him. "I'm not saying she is. And I didn't mean me, specifically." He dropped his gaze though, so Rodney thought that maybe John did mean him, specifically, at least a bit. "It's the principle. When I was married... Nancy never liked it when I went somewhere without her. She felt that we already spent too much time apart. I never gave her a reason to think I'd cheat on her—and I never did—but it wasn't about that. It's about making them come first."
Rodney thought about that. Jennifer wasn't shy about pointing out when he missed one of their dates. And even if she didn't explicitly say some other things, he recognized that vibe of, 'But what about me?' John was right. Even if she hadn't said something, this was probably one of the things that she would have preferred he didn't do. He let his head fall on the pillow and sighed. "I don't know how people manage to be in long-term relationships."
"A lot of us don't," John pointed out.
"Well, that's a consolation," Rodney said sarcastically.
"Hey, she didn't say anything, did she? So maybe she really doesn't mind," John said, sounding encouraging.
It was kind of sweet of him to want to make Rodney feel better. "You have to read between the lines," Rodney said. "And it's harder via phone. But there's nothing I can do now anyway."
"Bring her flowers when you go back," John suggested.
"That's like admitting I did something wrong, which, strictly speaking, I didn't."
"You're worse at this than I am, aren't you?" John only said.
Rodney gave him an annoyed look.
"It's not about who's right," John added.
"Yeah, yeah, I got that. I'll see if I can find some flowers."
"You're such a romantic," John said.
Rodney creamed him with a pillow.
Rodney got up early—for vacation anyway—the next morning so that they could have breakfast with Kaleb and Madison before they went to their respective schools. After that the three of them talked. The conversation turned to the research Jeannie had been doing lately, and Rodney found himself annoyed that she was still wasting her time in Vancouver, even if he was proud of what she did in the less than ideal working environment.
It was a spirited discussion, and it was only when it petered out that Rodney realized that John had left them alone at some point. Rodney was struck by a sudden panic and silently cursed John.
Before Jeannie could ask about Jennifer again, Rodney started talking about Atlantis and Teyla and Ronon. She was genuinely interested in hearing about them, so he managed to keep to safe topics until it was time for her to prepare lunch and he fled upstairs.
"Traitor," he told John when he found him reading in their room.
"Tell me honestly. How long did it take for you to even notice I was gone?" John asked.
"That's not the point," Rodney said. "I did notice. You left me alone with my sister."
"I did," John said, "and apparently you survived it."
Rodney glared at him. "Only because I managed to distract her."
"You're smart, I'm sure you'll do it again," John said dryly.
"Well, yes, but you might have noticed that my sister isn't exactly an idiot either. I've managed to get away from a conversation about Jennifer twice. I might not be so lucky the next time."
"You're really afraid she might ask that," John said, frowning.
"Afraid is not the word I'd use," Rodney said petulantly.
"What is the word you'd use?" John asked.
"Having foresight? I know my sister. I don't always understand her, but I know her. And she has this very specific idea of what my life should be like: Like hers, except without getting knocked up. Although she'll probably start talking about kids the moment I get engaged. Oh God, this will never stop. Maybe if I have two kids and she has only one. Although she'll always be ahead of me in terms of age. There's no—"
Rodney looked up. "Right," he said, pulling himself together. "But you get my point."
John just gave him a long look and nodded almost imperceptibly. "I'm going to call my brother," he said.
"When?" Rodney asked.
"After lunch. There's an overnight flight I could take today," John said.
Rodney felt slightly betrayed. He knew it was stupid. He couldn't ask John just to stay as a buffer between him and his sister. But he still couldn't help one corner of his mouth turning downward.
"It's not that I don't like your sister's family," John continued. "I think Jeannie's great in her own slightly peculiar McKay way, Kaleb's okay, and I love hanging out with Maddy, but I have seen my nieces only once, and it just feels wrong to spend more time here than with them."
"I know," Rodney said. "I shouldn't have asked you to come here."
"No, I'm glad you did. The other time I was here wasn't exactly relaxing. And I'll be honest, I think I needed this as an extra kick to call my brother."
"All right. I guess I'll just return to Atlantis," Rodney said.
John looked surprised. "You're not going to stay?"
"The last two days have been almost perfect. Anything more would be tempting fate."
John snorted. Then his expression turned thoughtful. "You could come with me, if you want?"
"To your brother's?" Rodney asked.
"If you wanted to. Not that you'd have a reason. Forget that I—"
"No! I want to." He did. Going back to Atlantis for the rest of his leave would only end up with him working, and he had to admit that he was curious about John's family. "I have to see the mansion."
John glared at him. "It's not a mansion. It's an admittedly large house."
"Large as a mansion," Rodney said.
"If you keep this up, I'm not taking you," John threatened.
Rodney pouted. "I can't promise anything," he said, crossing his arms in front of him.
John only shook his head and picked up the phone.
They managed to book a flight later that night.
John refused to lie to Jeannie about where they were going, but eventually Rodney persuaded him not to say anything when Rodney did. Though, technically, he only said, "We have to go back." Going back could mean— Okay, so he'd lied, but it was only for everyone's best.
Rodney only just managed to convince Kaleb not to drive them. It would have been difficult to explain why they flew to San Francisco via Baltimore.
At the airport, Rodney went looking for snacks.
"For Jennifer?" John asked when he joined him in front of a selection of chocolates.
"Uhm, actually, I wanted to get something for the flight. But I guess you're right. I could get Jennifer some Canadian chocolate. It's not the same as actually bringing her here, but it should be a nice gesture, right?"
"I think she'd appreciate it," John said neutrally.
"And that would be good," Rodney said, though it felt a bit like a question.
Instead of answering, John turned to check out the M&M figurines.
"John?" Rodney asked.
"Hey, they have a pilot. How cool is that?" John asked with a grin, though Rodney could see that there was something else.
"Wasn't this your suggestion? Flowers and chocolate?"
"I only said flowers," John said. "The chocolate is all yours." He gave Rodney a quick smile before turning serious again. "You were asking how people stay in long-term relationships. I answered."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Rodney asked, because he honestly didn't know what John was really trying to say.
"If you want to be in a relationship with her, then that's what you should do," John said, his gaze turning towards the shelves.
"If I want to..." Rodney repeated before he got it. "You mean, if I want to. You think I shouldn't."
"I didn't say that," John said.
"Then what are you saying?" Rodney asked, growing impatient.
"Look, I'm obviously no expert at relationships," John said.
"But you're my friend. Who else should I talk to about this if not my friend?" Rodney asked. John squirmed. "I just want to know what you think. Doesn't mean I'll do whatever you say."
John snorted. "That would be new." Then he sobered. "What I think is that you sounded as if you and Jennifer... had a few problems, and I'm not sure they're the kind of problems that get better or worse with time."
"I wouldn't call them problems," Rodney said defensively. It made it sound like he and Jennifer were fighting all the time, which they really weren't. He knew. He'd seen what that looked like more than he'd cared to when he was a kid. "We sometimes have a few differences in how we... approach life. I think that's perfectly normal. Even Jeannie said that relationships take work."
"Well, then there's nothing to worry about," John said.
But it was obvious that he did worry. "It's not like that, really," Rodney continued. "I must have made it sound like she criticizes everything I do, which she doesn't. I mean, you know Jennifer. She's not like that. And that she likes when I'm being nice... My own sister thinks the same. Let's be honest. I can be an asshole, and who likes that?"
"Wow, McKay, you're showing astounding levels of insight," John said.
Rodney gave him a look. "She might not be perfect, but neither am I. The question is, should we give up on each other or try? And I want to try because I think it'll be worth it. Giving up and waiting for... I don't even know what. There's no such thing as a perfect relationship."
"No, I guess there isn't," John said.
They were picked up at the airport by Dave's assistant. Rodney only gave John a pointed look and whispered, "Mansion," just to annoy him.
John was subdued on the way to his family. Maybe he hadn't slept well on the flight. Rodney himself had slept okay. Though he could do with a second breakfast.
They were dropped off at the main entrance of the mansion. Really, John could protest as much as he wanted. Rodney didn't even think he could fully see how large the building, or buildings, were.
John hesitated before he rang the bell. "I should probably warn you... Well, I didn't exactly tell my brother who you were. He might... At my father's funeral, he thought Ronon was my boyfriend."
Something inside Rodney twisted. He'd felt bad about not being able to go with John. He'd been happy that John wouldn't have to go alone, but he'd always felt a bit envious that Ronon had gotten to see John's brother and home and ex-wife. But now not only had Ronon gotten to see that, John's family thought that he was...
A thought suddenly occurred to Rodney. "Oh my God. You're not... With Ronon?!"
John frowned. Then he looked towards the door and back at Rodney before taking his arm and dragging him a bit further away. "He has a girlfriend!"
"Really? I didn't know that he and Amelia had gotten that far. So you're not... Do you want to be?" Rodney asked, muscles in his stomach clenching. Not that he could blame John. Ronon was hot, loyal, smarter than he looked...
John stared at him. "It's none of your business."
"Oh, wow," Rodney said. He didn't know why exactly, but it was like all the air had been knocked out of him. He should probably feel sorry for John. He wondered if he'd ever made a move on Ronon or if he'd kept quiet.
"I didn't say yes," John said, sounding annoyed.
"Well, you didn't say no, either. None of your business usually means—"
"That it's none of your damn business. I am not interested in Ronon that way. But this is the last time I'll ever answer that question. Not because the answer is yes, but because it's none of your business. Have I made myself clear?"
"Crystal," Rodney said, feeling unaccountably relieved. "So your brother thought that Ronon was your boyfriend because..." he prompted.
"It was my father's funeral. And he didn't believe that Ronon was a government contractor. Put two and two together," John said.
"Wouldn't you have simply said he was your boyfriend?" Rodney asked.
John dropped his gaze. "Not necessarily. Look, when I visited my brother after the whole Replicator thing, I told them that Ronon was just a friend. And I told him about you."
"Oh," Rodney said, flushing happily.
"And Teyla," John added.
"Well, of course."
"I wanted him to know that I have... people who care about me. We didn't... Things aren't easy between me and my brother. We've hardly really talked to each other, and I wouldn't be surprised if he thinks that you're more than a friend. I just wanted to warn you. Don't worry, I'll explain it to him."
"It's okay," Rodney said easily. Strangely, he didn't have a problem with Dave thinking he and John were a couple. "Let's go in. I have to use the bathroom."
John rolled his eyes, then followed Rodney back to the door and rang the bell.
A man answered after a short moment. "John."
It had to be Dave, though he really didn't look anything like his brother. Ronon hadn't mentioned that. He'd only said that John's brother seemed to be an asshole, though so far he seemed okay.
"Dave," John said with a tight smile.
Rodney looked from one to the other for a moment. It felt kind of good to know that he and Jeannie weren't the only siblings slightly at odds with each other. Though this was different than the two of them.
Dave turned to Rodney.
"Dr. Rodney McKay," Rodney said, lifting his hand. "I'm not his boyfriend. I'm just here to see the house."
Dave looked surprised, then laughed and took Rodney's hand.
John only shook his head and smiled.
After using the bathroom, Rodney went back to join Dave and John, who still looked a little awkward around each other.
"What would you like for breakfast?" Dave asked him.
"Uhm, anything as long as it doesn't contain citrus. I'm deathly—"
"Allergic to citrus. John mentioned it. I've already informed Sybille. So nothing in particular? I can have her make a bit of everything."
As Dave left to do just that, Rodney turned to John. "A bit of everything?"
John shrugged. "She's been with them for a long time. She likes to spoil everyone."
Rodney was about to tell him that that was hardly the point, which was that they appeared to have an in-house catering service, when Dave's wife came downstairs, a little girl in tow.
"John, it's good to see you," she said, looking genuinely happy.
She didn't look like Rodney had imagined. From Ronon's description, John's ex-wife seemed to be the picture perfect image of a high society wife: Tall, thin, good-looking, long hair. He'd expected Dave's wife to be similar, but she was on the small side, with an average figure and a pixie haircut. She had a very pretty, slightly mischievous smile, though.
John let her hug him, and she turned to Rodney. "I'm Charlie, Dave's wife. You must be John's friend, Rodney."
Maybe it was just his imagination, but she seemed to put an emphasis on friend. So, for good measure, he repeated, "Dr. Rodney McKay, and I'm not his boyfriend."
She looked startled then laughed. "Well, you're still welcome here. The shy one here is Claire," she said, looking down to the little girl that was clinging to her legs. "Claire, do you want to say hi to your Uncle John?"
Claire looked skeptical. John crouched to be at eye level with her. "Hi, Claire. I'm not sure if you remember me. I've visited before, last year. I'm your dad's brother John."
"Hi, John," she said hesitantly.
Charlie smiled and ruffled her hair. Claire fidgeted, and John grinned and said, "Hi, Claire. If you give me a minute, I think I have a present for you. Would you like that?"
Claire seemed to think about it. "Okay," she eventually said.
"Where is your luggage?" Charlie asked. "Did Dave—"
"It's still in the hall," John quickly told her.
Claire looked up at Rodney with big eyes.
"Uhm, hi," Rodney said.
Claire moved a bit further away, hiding behind her mother.
"Claire, this is Rodney, a friend of your uncle's," Charlie said, stroking her head.
Claire didn't say anything, but kept her gaze on Rodney.
"It's all taken care of," Dave said, coming back.
"The luggage?" Charlie asked.
"No, breakfast for Rodney," Dave said. "Where is Susan?"
"She said she would come in a moment. Susan?" Charlie shouted loudly.
Rodney looked at John, and they exchanged a grin. Fancy as the Sheppard home was, it was good to know that you could shout here. Though it made Rodney wonder if it wasn't as large as it seemed.
"I'm coming!" came the answer from above. A girl who was a bit older than Madison, but not yet a teenager appeared at the top of the stairs. She looked down at them, waiting for a few seconds before rushing down the stairs.
"Hi, Uncle John," she said, smiling widely.
"Hi, Susan," John said, smiling back.
"And I'm Rodney and not his boyfriend," Rodney said, which hopefully was the end of that. The servants could learn from Dave or Charlie or were on their own.
Susan looked him up and down. He got the distinct feeling that she came to the conclusion that he wasn't fit to be her uncle's boyfriend, anyway. "Okay. Hi, Rodney," she said airily.
Rodney only harrumphed.
"How about we take a quick tour of the house?" Charlie asked.
John could say what he wanted. It was a mansion. When they came to the third guest room, Dave asked Rodney, "This is the nicest one. Would you like to stay here?"
It looked like the hotel room of a five star hotel. "Yes," Rodney said without hesitation.
"Uhm," John said.
"You can stay in your room," Dave told him. "Unless you didn't want to stay here," he added.
"No, it's fine."
Rodney entered his room. He heard Dave saying he'd have their luggage taken to their rooms. As he stepped to the window, he realized there was a huge pool in the garden. "Is this for real?" he couldn't help asking.
Susan joined him. "It's our pool. Don't they have pools where you come from?"
He was tempted to tell her that he lived in a floating city. "So, do you have a bowling alley somewhere too?"
"Bowling is boring. We have horses in the stables. And a golf course," she informed him.
The sound of a bell came from downstairs.
"Your breakfast is ready," Dave said. "We can continue the tour later."
"How much more is there?" Rodney asked.
"Quite a bit," Charlie said, smiling ruefully.
"I'll take Rodney to the dining room, and then I think we'll unpack," John said.
"All right. I'll be in my office," Dave said.
"And I'll be in Claire's room or the living room. Just shout," Charlie added with a grin.
"I'll go swimming," Susan announced and skipped out of the room.
John gestured towards the door. "After you," he told Rodney.
Breakfast was a buffet. Only a little one, but considering that it was supposed to be only for Rodney, he couldn't help but stare. John watched him in amusement, picking up some grapes.
Rodney loaded up food on a plate, telling John, "You really are filthy rich."
"It's Dave's money, not mine," John protested.
"None of it?" Rodney asked. Ronon had mentioned that there had to have been some kind of falling out between them, but he hadn't gone into detail.
"I own a small part of the company, but everything else went to Dave," John said.
"Because he runs the company?" Rodney asked, unable to hide his curiosity.
John hesitated for a moment. "You know how well I do with authority figures. Let's just say my father liked to control everything, including his sons."
Rodney nodded. "I can imagine how well that went."
John snorted. Then his smile faded. "I never could do anything right in his eyes," he said, a far away look on his face. "Except my marriage," he added more lightly. "He loved Nancy."
Rodney looked at him. "I would have thought that would be a reason not to marry her."
John gave him a quick laugh. "I wasn't that rebellious. Actually, I hardly ever did what I did to piss him off. It just always ended up that way. Except with Nancy," he said wistfully.
"You didn't marry her because of that, though?" Rodney asked. He still wasn't quite sure how to reconcile John's marriage with his identifying as gay.
"I..." John dropped his gaze for a moment. "It was a lot of things. I had had a pretty... uh... ugly break-up with a guy, and Nancy was an old friend and supportive. She was... she is a great woman. We became very good friends, and at the time it seemed natural to take it to the next level. It would have been perfect." John sighed and shook his head.
"Except for the part where you're gay," Rodney pointed out.
"Hindsight is 20/20. You nearly married Katie Brown. How do you think that would have worked out?" John asked.
Rodney shifted uncomfortably. He didn't like to dwell on that. "I don't know." The truth was, he could imagine himself being married to Katie, trying to be the nice guy that she'd thought he was—and failing at it eventually. "Well, I have Jennifer now, which works out a lot better."
John only looked thoughtfully at him, then got himself some apple slices.
Rodney didn't press it. He had a feeling that John didn't think better was good enough in this case.
After breakfast, they continued the tour of the grounds. It was almost lunch time by the time they finished. Claire wasn't quite as shy anymore, allowing John to hold her hand, though she still didn't talk to Rodney.
When they came back to the house, Claire tugged on John's sleeve and led him to the doll house in the living room. Susan got out the PS3 and challenged Rodney to a game.
She seemed to be very fond of annoying Rodney. He didn't know what he'd done to her. It wasn't his fault that he couldn't tell a stallion from a mare. He just hadn't looked that closely!
After lunch, John insisted on a round of golf. Rodney hated it and really sucked at it, much to John's amusement. Instead of a second round, Rodney took up Susan's offer to go for a swim in the pool.
He only swam back and forth once, though, setting up his laptop in a deck chair after that. They even had sun umbrellas to hide under.
John did swim longer than that. He was fitter than Rodney, of course. Rodney glanced at him every now and then, looking up from the screen. Eventually John got out, following Susan, who demanded that he watch her jump from the diving board.
She wasn't half bad at it, though Rodney's eyes were mostly on John. He couldn't remember ever seeing John in just his swim trunks. Looking at him, water dripping down his body, trunks hanging precariously on his narrow hips, it was very easy for Rodney to see what others would see in him: The women, that didn't have a real chance, and the men, that... Again, Rodney had a hard time imagining John in a relationship with a guy. Although he could see men wanting it.
In fact it was hard to imagine a guy not wanting it. If he was into men.
Dinner was as fabulous as lunch. Rodney was tempted to ask if they could bring Sybille back to Atlantis.
John snorted. "I don't think they'd let her go. Not to mention that she wouldn't have access to the kind of ingredients she gets here."
"I'm sure she could work wonders on the Pegasus stuff," Rodney said.
They were in what appeared to be John's old room. On the nightstand there was a photo of John and Dave as kids, grinning into the camera.
"So this is where you grew up?" Rodney asked from the bed where he sat.
John shifted. He was standing by the desk, where his bag was still half unpacked. "When I was young, yes," he said, looking away.
Rodney could see that there was more behind this. It occurred to him that John might not have wanted to stay here. "Would you have preferred staying in a hotel?" he asked.
"Uhm," John said. "It's all right. It would have been stupid with this many guest rooms."
Which probably meant yes. "I'm sorry that I just said yes when he offered. I should have—"
"Rodney," John stopped him. "It's okay."
"Bad memories?" Rodney asked, looking around the room.
"I wouldn't say that," John said. "This is... I stayed here until my mom died."
Rodney didn't know what to say to that.
"My dad wanted to send us to boarding school when she got sick. Dave went, but I refused."
"How old were you?" Rodney asked.
"Fourteen," John said.
Rodney tried to imagine that. John's brother gone, his mother dying, and his father wanting him out of the way. It almost made his own childhood look good. "I'm sorry," he said.
John only nodded.
Rodney tried to think of something that would lighten the mood. "Do you think Sybille still has some of that cake?"
It turned out she did. They both went into the kitchen to have another piece.
"God, this is so good," Rodney moaned.
John grinned. "You can ask her to make anything you'd like. She can order stuff in if she needs to."
"Filthy rich," Rodney re-iterated around another bite.
"Not me," John repeated.
"But you could be," Rodney insisted. "If you sold your part of the company."
"Well, yeah, I suppose so," John conceded.
"It's so strange," Rodney said. "In a normal world, you'd be the most eligible bachelor ever." John snorted. "You've saved the world, you're indecently wealthy, you're smart and you look like," Rodney gestured vaguely at him.
"Like?" John challenged, one eyebrow raised.
"Well, attractive," Rodney said, feeling his cheeks flush a bit. "If you're into that sort of thing," he added.
"Which you're not," John said neutrally.
Rodney fidgeted a bit in his seat. It would be easy to say no, except that he had a flash of John, dripping wet, in his swim trunks.
"Because you're not into guys," John pressed on.
"Are you asking me a question?"
"I just... I've been wondering. You mentioned that Jeannie thought we were a couple. Madison told her I'm gay, but why would she believe that you'd be with a guy."
"I did mention smart," Rodney said to himself. "I had... I guess you could call it a relationship, with a guy in college. But it was really... I consider it experimentation. I mean the sex was great and I'd be lying if I said I haven't had sex with a guy again, but that was just... well, a helping hand in Siberia doesn't really mean that you..."
"I get it. It's just sex," John said.
Rodney nodded. Despite the sex with guys, he'd considered himself straight after university. "Like you with women, I guess."
John nodded. "So, are you marrying Keller?"
"What? Where did that come from?" Rodney asked.
John shrugged. "We're talking about relationships, or rather what's not a relationship."
Rodney raised an eyebrow, but let it go. He thought about it for a moment. "Uhm. Probably, yes."
"Before we head back to the Pegasus galaxy?" John asked.
"God, no! I mean, there's no need to rush. Jeannie told me I'm not getting any younger, but I think I have that much time."
"She actually told you that?" John asked.
"Yes," Rodney said with a sigh. "It's not nice, but also not exactly untrue either."
"What are you waiting for?" John asked.
"What do you mean?" Rodney asked.
"You said there's no rush. So what are you waiting for?"
"Uhm. Well, you know what we talked about. I do think that the 'problems'," Rodney made air quotes, "we have are something we can work around. But when I first heard from Jeannie that Jennifer told her that she'd fallen for me when I had that stupid parasite eating my brain, I did have my doubts. I mean I don't honestly think— I know that's not what Jennifer wants, but even so I think it's understandable that I don't want to jump into this."
"You'll just wait and see," John said.
"Yes. When did you decide to propose?" Rodney asked.
"I didn't. She suggested it. I agreed," John said matter-of-factly. Then he added more softly, "My dad proposed to my mom three months after they met."
"He said he knew she was it." John smiled fondly.
So he did have some good memories of his parents. "And you want the same?" Rodney asked. He still wasn't sure if John's lack of relationship was due to Don't Ask, Don't Tell or if John just wasn't into relationships.
"Me? I don't know. I tried marriage once and... Well, it's not like it's even a possibility for me now."
"Okay, but let's pretend the US military gets their head out of their asses and you could travel to a state where you could get married. Say you met a handsome, charming Canadian," Rodney said, unable to get in a little dig to John's home country versus his own much more enlightened one.
John gave him a look.
"I didn't mean me!" Rodney back-pedaled when he realized how that might have sounded. "Just... I meant, if you could get married, would you want to?"
"I think it really depends on the guy. But if I feel... If I feel like my dad did, why not?"
If he knew that the guy was it after just three months. Unlike Rodney did with Jennifer. "You think I shouldn't marry her," Rodney said.
"I didn't say that. It's none of my business," John said, not meeting his gaze.
"Okay, but it's your opinion. You think that if I don't feel it, I shouldn't compromise," Rodney insisted.
"It's not my decision to make," John said.
"But you wouldn't. Compromise."
"I don't know. I tried and it didn't work. Though look at where I am now in terms of relationships. I'm not sure I'm a good person to ask," John said.
Rodney didn't like the idea that it was a choice between compromise and loneliness. "So, it's a lose-lose situation. Why do I feel like I'm on a mission suddenly?"
John snorted. Then he sobered. "I just want you to be happy."
"Well, that makes two of us. Even three, because I'm fairly certain Jennifer wants it too. And Jeannie. If only that was all that it takes."
John nodded. "Let's go to bed. We can take a ride to the cabin in the woods tomorrow."
"Okay, now you're just toying with me."
"Don't worry, it's all part of the property," John said, smirking.
"Filthy rich," Rodney muttered.
They rode out the next day after breakfast. At first, Rodney refused to get on a horse, but after about twenty minutes of John trying to talk him into it, Rodney agreed under the condition that it would be just the two of them.
Susan looked very disappointed. She'd been gleeful at the prospect of watching Rodney suffer.
They went very slowly. The mare that Rodney sat on was very well-trained, and as they neared the woods behind the golf course, Rodney began to relax and actually look at his surroundings.
"I can't believe all of this belongs to you—your brother, I mean," Rodney corrected himself before John could. "If there was a Filthy Rich Weekly, this would be cover material."
John laughed. "You just can't get over it, can you?"
"I'm not exactly poor, but this kind of money is something I can only dream of," Rodney said.
"Do you?" John asked.
"Dream of being rich? It's not my every waking thought, but would I like to be richer? Of course! Who wouldn't?"
"I don't," John said with a shrug. He looked completely natural on the back of a horse, casual elegance personified. "It's just money."
"'Just money' is like 'just sex'. It's easy to shrug it off if you have as much as you want. And let's be honest. Most people can never have enough of either."
"I can. Of both," John said.
Rodney looked over to John. He could see that money didn't matter to him as long as he could afford his golf equipment, a portable MP3 player with as much music of questionable taste you could load onto it, and an endless supply of black clothes. As for the sex: If he really wanted to, John could certainly find as many willing partners as he could get it up for. He just didn't seem to want to.
"Yes, I suppose there can be enough," Rodney conceded. He had no reason to complain. He felt perfectly fine with the mix of having sex with Jennifer and some good old jerking off that was his sex life. "But with money... it's just very useful for almost everything."
"Like what?" John asked.
"Going places, living like this, getting women..."
"You'd want those?" John asked. At Rodney's look, he clarified, "Women who only want you for your money."
"I have a girlfriend. But generally speaking... I'm not saying I'd want a woman who's after my money, but having money opens certain doors. It might make them take notice when they otherwise wouldn't. It's not just money that does that. Looks do that too. Doesn't mean that everyone who notices someone because they're attractive only likes them because of that." Though for Rodney's consolation, he liked to think that it was often the case.
John's face screwed up. "Maybe. Doesn't mean I have to like it."
Rodney's eyebrow rose. John seemed to take that personally. "Nancy?" he asked. He didn't think it likely from the way he'd talked about her, but it was the only relationship of John's that he knew of. No, that wasn't true. "Or that guy with the bad break-up?"
John gave him a quick look, frowning. "Neither," he said.
"But someone," Rodney continued. "A guy?" he guessed, because he could only guess that a woman wouldn't matter as much to John.
John only gave him an annoyed look.
"Well, in any case, if he only wanted you for your looks, that's his loss really," Rodney said.
John snorted. "Is that what you tell yourself when a woman breaks up with you?"
"I try not to think about it if at all possible. And that guy broke up with you? I'm trying to wrap my mind about someone dating you because of your looks and then dumping you."
"It wasn't really... He found a new Freshman to screw every year. I was just a notch in his bedpost. Of course, I didn't know that at that time," John said.
"Wow, seriously?" Rodney asked. There was being bad at relationships and being commitment shy, and then there was being an asshole.
"Yeah," John only said, faraway look on his face.
"Did he... uh, break your heart?" Rodney asked carefully.
John gave him a quick look. He turned away again and for a moment Rodney wasn't sure if he was going to answer, but then he spoke again. "I certainly wasn't happy at the time. He was the first relationship I had. I actually moved in with him. He had a nice little loft. Freshman bait." He shook his head. "I was more angry than heartbroken though after he kicked me out. I think even then I knew I didn't really, you know, love him. I think it was just being able to be with a guy for the first time. That was the only thing that made him special at all."
Rodney could relate. His first roommates at university had seemed like heaven compared to home, even though they'd been untidy, lazy idiots. He wondered if John had had a real relationship with a guy, with someone who hadn't just used him. "Was that the bad breakup?" he asked.
"No," John said. "That I really don't want to talk about."
Which was fair enough, Rodney supposed. He was surprised to get this much out of John. Though maybe it was just a matter of asking. They'd never really talked much about personal things. "For what it's worth, he must have been an idiot," Rodney said. He couldn't imagine letting John go.
John laughed. "I like to think so," he said. "Though I'm not entirely sure you wouldn't have done the same thing."
"What? What did he do? And why do you think I'd do the same?" Rodney asked, upset that John would think he was capable of something that he clearly had bad memories about.
"Hey, we could play another round of golf on our way back," John said cheerfully, ending that conversation. "I think you got the hang of it towards the end." After a moment he added. "Rod liked it."
"Rod? I bet he did," Rodney said distastefully. Rod had liked everything.
John gave him a look, one eyebrow arched.
"I meant... that he was always friendly. Not that he... God! He didn't come on to you, did he?" Rodney asked.
John froze for a second. "Uhm, actually I'm not sure. He didn't continue after I told him I wasn't interested."
"Oh my God. He came on to you?!" Rodney screeched.
"As I said, I'm not sure. He got pretty friendly at some point, and I just told him I wasn't interested and that was that."
"What about his own Sheppard? Why didn't he come on to him instead of—" Mine! "You?"
"Maybe he did, and he wasn't interested either," John suggested.
"So he'd take the next best chance in another universe?" Rodney scoffed. Actually, it didn't sound entirely impossible.
"Maybe I just misunderstood him. After all, he would have been straight, right? Being you and all," John said overly casual.
"Who knows," Rodney said. "Maybe since he was nicer, his relationship with Gerald went better."
"Gerald is the guy that you had..." John prompted.
"A sort-of relationship with at university," Rodney confirmed.
"And you think if that relationship had gone better, you would be bisexual now?" John said, clearly disbelieving.
"I didn't say that."
"Because that sounded like what you were saying. And it sounds like you think sexual orientation is a choice," John continued sharply.
"I never said it was. Look I don't know if Rod is straight, or bisexual, or gay, or whatever. And it's a different universe. He was nice for God's sake. Ask anyone, and they'll tell you that that's far more unbelievable than a different sexual orientation," Rodney said. He looked over to John, expecting his serious expression to give way to a little smile. Or at least an eyeroll.
But John still looked kind of angry. "Or maybe he just wanted a meaningless fuck, since he's 'straight'."
"What...? You think I'm not straight," Rodney said. "You think I have sex with guys, but pretend to be straight because that's easier."
"I know that you have sex with guys because you told me. You also told me you consider yourself straight. That's all I know," John said, as if that proved all he needed to prove.
"I had sex with guys. On occasion, when sex with women was impossible or impractical."
"In college?!" John asked.
"What do you want me to say? That I'm bisexual because I've slept with guys?" Rodney asked. "Then you'd have to be bisexual too, instead of gay."
John swallowed and lowered his head. "No, you're right. It's not up to me to decide."
Rodney suppressed a sarcastic, 'Well, thank you.' Instead he said, "Why is this so important to you, anyway? I'm not any less okay with you being gay when I'm straight. We can still commiserate."
"It's not that," John said. "I just don't want you to... The whole flowers and being nice thing is usually not such a problem with guys."
Rodney had to run that through his mind a few times to get what John meant. He thought with a guy Rodney wouldn't have to fake the way he did with Jennifer and other women. "I wouldn't be so sure about that," Rodney said. "Gerald was pretty needy."
"Okay. I didn't mean to say that it's just a problem with women. Just... I think it would be good for you if you had someone who didn't make you feel like you had to fake it," John said. When Rodney opened his mouth to protest that Jennifer wasn't like that, John stopped him and added, "Ever. Not even for little things."
"So would I, but frankly, I don't see how being bisexual would make that easier. It's not that guys have a whole lot more patience in general when it comes to me," Rodney said. This wasn't about not being able to find the right woman. It was simply that no one seemed to be right in that regard, except John.
"Maybe not," John said, interrupting Rodney's thoughts. "But one guy would be enough." Before Rodney could tell him he was as unlikely to find that one guy as he was to find that one woman, John continued. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't keep questioning your relationship with Keller."
"You want me to be happy. That's a pretty good reason in my book," Rodney said.
John snorted. "But I've said what I needed to say, and you told me I was wrong, and I should respect that."
"It's okay," Rodney said. "If I really am right, it shouldn't matter. Hell, if you can talk me out of it, it really wasn't meant to be."
"Still. People can ruin things just by talking," John said.
Rodney's eyes narrowed. He wasn't necessarily the best at reading people, but he knew that they weren't just talking about John anymore. "You're not like your father," he said. John's look told him that his suspicion had been right. "You're not telling me to give up my evil heterosexual ways to embrace the gay love. You're just asking questions. Questions that I've been asking myself or maybe should have asked myself sooner. So thank you. For opening up like that. No matter who's right."
John only nodded, giving him a quick serious smile.
His back hurt slightly after the ride on the horse, so Rodney decided to try out the tub in the bathroom that belonged to his guest room. There were several buttons on it, and if this were a mission he'd feel more than a bit suspicious. However, here in the Sheppard mansion he felt safe enough to give them a try.
The reward was heavenly. It felt like dozens of soft hands touching him in just the right places. Just when he thought this house and the grounds couldn't be any more perfect, he was proven wrong.
After the relaxing bath, Rodney found a black suit on his bed with a note that said, "We're going to a fancy restaurant. Figured you don't have appropriate clothes with you. These should fit. John."
Rodney was slightly annoyed by John's assumption, even though he wasn't wrong. He put on a gray shirt and the suit, which fit surprisingly well. He had an emergency tie somewhere in his luggage, but figured this should be enough. He left his room and knocked on John's door.
After a moment, John opened the door. His hair was still damp, and his shirt not fully buttoned. Rodney's gaze traveled down the chest hair that was peeking through, until John turned around to fetch his black jacket. He was also wearing a black suit, but his shirt was white, making him look slightly more elegant.
He also looked as if he belonged on a magazine cover with the subtitle "Most eligible bachelor". Rodney wondered, not for the first time, how it could be that this man was single. His thoughts were interrupted by Susan shouting, "They're in Uncle John's room," from the door.
They took Dave's SUV. Claire was already in bed. Dave drove, Charlie sitting next to him. John, Rodney and Susan sat in the back. Susan insisted on taking the seat in the middle, so that she could see better. Rodney didn't quite understand the logic, unless you were incapable of turning your head.
Though far more distracting was the bright red dress that Susan wore for the occasion. Rodney swore it had sparkles. Also... "Are you wearing make-up?" he asked, leaning closer to her.
"We're going out," she said.
"But you're just a kid," Rodney said.
"What?" Susan cried. "I'm not a kid!"
"You're what? Eight years old?" he asked.
Susan's mouth opened as wide as her eyes. Before she could start with her tirade, John stepped in.
"Hey you two, no killing each other in the car. If it's absolutely necessary, you can have a duel at dawn."
"Do I get a gun?" Rodney asked. He couldn't help himself. He had the feeling that everyone else let Susan get away with everything.
John glared at him.
"You can't shoot me," Susan informed him arrogantly.
"Oh, really?" Rodney said.
"You can't shoot a girl," she said.
"It would be sexist of me not to shoot you just because you're a girl," Rodney said.
"Not because I'm female," Susan said, irritation clear in her voice. "I'm just a kid. You can't shoot kids."
"So now you're a kid?" Rodney asked.
Susan only harrumphed. "Besides, I bet you couldn't hit the broad side of a barn."
"Well, you'd be wrong. I might not be the best shot in the world, but I was good enough to save your uncle's life."
Susan's eyes widened, and she turned to John. "Is that true?"
John lifted his eyebrows and nodded.
Susan looked from John to Rodney, then back to John before settling on Rodney. "Thank you," she said quietly, before turning her attention out the front window.
The restaurant was very high-class indeed. To Rodney's surprise, the menus were quite thin and had no prices anywhere. John leaned over to him. "Everything on that menu is citrus-free," he explained quietly. "We thought you'd enjoy eating out without anyone trying to kill you." A small smile played on his lips.
Rodney quickly scanned the menu and indeed there was nothing that contained citrus. Something in him unclenched, and he only now realized how tense he'd been since they'd entered. He looked at John, who was still leaning close, looking... affectionately at Rodney.
Rodney gulped. He hadn't expected this. He looked over to Dave and Charlie who were also smiling at him. He felt his chest tighten, and quickly turned to Susan who was sure to mock him, but she, too, was smiling. Rodney cleared his throat and scanned the menu.
Thankfully, Susan began talking once they'd ordered. "Can I ask you something?"
"You just have," Rodney pointed out.
She gave him a look, but continued. "How do you know that citrus will kill you?"
"When I was a kid, I ate lemon pie and my throat swelled up quicker than I could swallow," Rodney said, shuddering at the memory.
"But you didn't die," Susan said.
"Only because I was lucky. My mother was allergic too, and when she realized what happened, she hit me with epinephrine until the paramedics arrived."
"So you only have to carry some epi-stuff with you and you'll be okay?" Susan asked.
"First of all, I wouldn't call near death experiences 'okay', secondly, depending on circumstances, one dose might not be enough to save you, thirdly, if you're lying on the ground, unable to breathe, giving yourself an injection is not as easy as it sounds."
Susan didn't answer for once, actually looking a bit afraid.
"It's okay," John said reassuringly, though he'd looked a bit tense too as Rodney talked. "We've taken care of the food and drinks. And even if there were anything with citrus in it, which there won't be, I have an epipen and I know how to use it." To illustrate, he got it out of his jacket.
"You always have it with you?" Charlie asked.
"Since I met Rodney," John said, giving Susan, who still looked a little pale, a smile.
Rodney looked at him. He knew that John carried an epipen with him on missions—as did the others—but he hadn't known this. "Since we met?" he asked.
"Well, not quite," John said, putting the epipen away again. "First it was just on missions, but when we began to hang out... I thought it would be best to always have one with me."
Rodney didn't know what to say. He always had an epipen with him, so it wasn't strictly necessary for John to carry one at all times, but the fact that he did meant a lot. Like agreeing to leave the restaurant in Vancouver, or arranging a fully citrus free menu for all of them tonight. John didn't have to do any of that, but he did it for Rodney.
John was giving him a shy smile, and Rodney wanted to say, "Thank you," but it seemed inadequate somehow.
Thankfully, the first of their food was served, and Rodney didn't have to think of an answer.
The food was great. After the allergy discussion, conversation was kept to light topics. Susan loved to hear herself talk, and neither her parents nor her uncle seemed inclined to stop her. John kept smirking whenever Rodney argued with Susan, and Dave and Charlie seemed to be more occupied with each other.
"Susan," Charlie did say warningly now and then. This time she didn't even look at her daughter, but exchanged a private smile with her husband.
Dave hadn't talked all that much to Rodney during their visit. He worked a lot and didn't seem like the kind of person who struck up friendships quickly, though just like John, he could plaster on a fake smile and make nice. They'd met a business partner of Dave when they'd entered the restaurant, and when Rodney had seen Dave's transformation, it had been the first time Dave had reminded him of John.
One thing that was obvious about Dave Sheppard, though, was his love for his family. When he was playing with his daughters or flirting with his wife, he seemed like a different man.
"How did you two meet?" Rodney asked, curious.
Dave and Charlie smiled at each other. "Dave participated in one of my management seminars. After the third time he signed up in a very short time, I figured I was doing something wrong."
"When she confronted me about it, I finally asked her out," Dave said, smiling at his wife.
"Ah," Rodney said, nodding understandingly. "And the rest was history, as they say."
"Not quite," Dave said, his smile turning more serious.
"I didn't want to date another manager," Charlie explained. "I'd had bad experiences with people who live for their job. And Dave was definitely one of those people."
John shifted uncomfortably next to Rodney. Rodney only gave him a quick look and turned back to Charlie and Dave. "But you figured it out," he said.
"I told Dave honestly what my reservations were," Charlie explained. "He protested at first, but eventually realized that I was right. I thought that would be the end of it, but..."
"I knew that she was right, but I wasn't willing to just give up," Dave said. "She felt there was no place in my life for her, so I made that place. I knew if I let her get away it would be the worst mistake I'd ever make in my life."
Charlie reached over and put her hand in his.
Rodney watched them. He thought about Dave's willingness to change his life for the woman he loved. Because he knew she was the one for him. At least that was how it sounded to Rodney. He wondered what John thought about that, with his opinion that Rodney shouldn't have to change for Jennifer. "That's quite romantic. To change your whole life for someone," he commented, giving John a quick glance, who raised an eyebrow.
"It wasn't really that though," Dave said. "Charlie might have given me the impulse to do it, but in the end I knew that I needed to change for myself. I needed a different balance in my life. Work alone wouldn't make me happy." He looked over at John for a moment, then Rodney.
Rodney didn't look at John. He'd hoped Dave would tell him—and John—that if you found the right person, it was natural to want to change for them. He thought about the times that Jennifer had told him that he'd feel better if he weren't so negative. The things that she wanted to change about him were for his own benefit, weren't they? He was just too stubborn to see it.
He looked over to John. He couldn't read John's expression. It wasn't smug, though. Rodney looked away again and gave Charlie and Dave a smile, silently thanking them for sharing their story.
"He makes it sound easy," Charlie joked. "But I can tell you, sometimes it's still a struggle."
"It's not like you don't work too, sometimes," Susan piped up.
"Yes, surprisingly, sometimes I like to get out of the house, alone," Charlie said, a twinkle in her eyes.
Susan pouted. "That's why I'll never have kids," she declared.
"We'll see about that," Charlie said. "If it's what you want, then that's fine." She looked from her daughter to John, giving him a quick smile.
Rodney looked over at him, wondering if John wanted children. He vaguely recalled him worrying about their radiation exposure. But John looked at Susan, grinning, "Maybe once you have one, you'll want half a dozen."
"Never," Susan exclaimed. "And I'm not getting married, either. You haven't gotten married again."
Rodney only thought that it wasn't as if John could even if he wanted to. Which was a sad thought. He didn't say anything though.
"But I might," John told her, evidently not wanting to discuss the technical problems with that.
Susan seemed almost disappointed that she didn't have an ally in him. She turned to Rodney and gave him a speculative look. "You're not married," she said.
"No," he confirmed. "But I do have a girlfriend, so it could happen." He didn't want to speculate on how soon.
Susan looked surprised. "You have a girlfriend?" she asked, sounding incredulous.
"Yes, I do," Rodney said. "She's very smart and pretty and young." His mind flashed back to their last night out, and he regretted mentioning the last thing.
"Then why is she dating you?" Susan asked.
"Susan!" her father chided her.
In the back of his mind, Rodney briefly wondered about Susan's question, but then he opened his mouth and said, "Because I'm smart and funny and good-looking." Which was true.
"Don't forget modest," John joked.
Rodney gave him a look, then turned back to Susan, who didn't look convinced. "She loves me," Rodney said, wishing he could add 'just the way I am', but he couldn't bring those words to his lips. John looked at him as if he could read his thoughts, which was a little disconcerting.
"If you ignore most of what he says, Rodney is an okay guy," John told Susan, giving Rodney a teasing smile.
"Pah, you like talking to Rodney," Susan accused him.
John grinned, giving Rodney a quick look. "Yeah, I do," he said, his grin softening into a smile.
"So do I," Rodney had to answer, smiling back.
The next day they decided to take the kids to the museum. John wasn't sure if Claire would be okay without either of her parents, but Charlie assured him that she'd taken a liking to John and that Susan would be with them in any case.
Rodney wondered how that would make a difference. He had gotten the impression that Susan only paid attention to Claire as an audience.
They still made their way to the town center, chauffeured once again by Dave's assistant. Rodney sat in the front seat, while John sat in the back between his nieces.
"Why does Rodney get to sit in the front?" Susan asked.
"Because it would get pretty cramped in the back with a car seat and two adults," Rodney said.
"So?" Susan asked.
Rodney looked from her to John. John only smirked and turned to Claire, asking her if she was okay. She nodded solemnly, clutching her little toy bunny, and John gave the go ahead.
The drive took about twenty minutes, and John spent most of it talking to Claire, preparing her for the museum. Susan filled the lack of attention on her by letting Rodney know what she was going to take a look at. She also informed him that he was going to take photos of her.
"Why me?" Rodney asked.
"Well, obviously Uncle John will have to take care of Claire," Susan answered, the 'duh' heavily implied.
Rodney looked at John again, but he didn't even try to suppress the smile.
"Why couldn't I take care of Claire while your uncle takes a photo of you?" Rodney asked. Just because Claire hadn't spoken a single word to him since their arrival didn't mean he wouldn't be able to keep her from bodily harm for a few seconds.
"Ha!" Susan only said.
"What is that supposed to—" Rodney gave John a pointed look. Shouldn't he as the uncle make sure that she was a bit more polite to a guest?
"She has a point," John said.
Rodney harrumphed. "Claire and I would be fine for a few seconds."
Claire gave John a bewildered look, which Rodney tried not to interpret as panic at the prospect of being left alone with that strange guy. Susan however protested more loudly. "A few seconds?! I want a good picture, not some stupid blurry snapshot."
"Well, I'm sorry we forgot to hire a professional photographer," Rodney said sarcastically.
"You just don't like me," Susan accused him.
Before Rodney could answer—and he honestly wasn't sure what he would have said—John stepped in. "Hey, hey. Be nice. Both of you. We're having a nice day out. I'm sure we'll able to work this out. Rodney can take some pictures, and I can take ones of you and Claire."
Both Rodney and Susan huffed, crossing their arms. Rodney quickly uncrossed his when he saw Susan had crossed hers too. God, she was such an annoying little diva.
They entered the museum, and before they started walking around, John set up a meeting place in case they got lost. That nearly made Claire tear up, until John assured her it wouldn't happen. Susan was anxious to go to the first exhibit of her choice, running off as soon as John was done.
"Hey! Not so fast," he called after her. "We're all staying together."
Rodney was suddenly reminded of his own family trips in the past and how eager he'd been to run off instead of waiting for his little sister. God help him, but he actually felt sympathy for Susan for a moment.
Susan slowed down a bit, and Rodney sped up, giving John a little nod.
Rodney took the first picture of Susan, next to an old Asian statue. He took his time if only to head off any complaint that he'd been too fast. He also realized that it was fun to order Susan around, telling her how to stand. Instead of being annoyed by it though, she followed every order.
She also immediately inspected the photo Rodney had taken on the display of the camera. After zooming around in it she said, "It's acceptable," before walking on.
John only raised his eyebrows and gave Rodney a meaningful look.
"What?" Rodney asked. "It's not like we're becoming best buds or anything."
John snorted. Even Claire smiled, from her position next to John, hand clutched firmly in his.
Susan was actually interested in some of the things. Rodney was surprised to find her reading the inscriptions of some exhibits and contemplating them. He took a photo of her like that. She gave him a skeptical look, but then turned back to the exhibit.
Once he discovered that he liked taking photos, he took the opportunity to take a few of John and Claire as well. He was really happy to get a shot of John holding Claire in his arms and letting her rub the tummy of a Buddha statue. They were quite adorable together.
Oblivious as Rodney often was to his surroundings, he noticed people watching them. He wasn't surprised that people looked at John. Armed with a cute little girl he was a chick magnet if there ever was one.
But he also noticed people giving them looks when he pointed something out to Claire or John joked about something. Then it suddenly clicked.
"They think we're a couple," he told John after a young couple walked by, giving them an indulgent smile.
John blinked, looking after the couple. Then he shrugged. "Maybe. Though there are enough divorced fathers who take out their kids to places like this." After a moment, he added. "Don't worry."
"I'm not," Rodney immediately said.
John raised an eyebrow. "Do you want them to think we're a couple?" He grinned and put an arm around Rodney, resting his hand on his waist. He stood very close, smiling, eyes sparkling with humor.
For a second, Rodney wondered what it would be like if they kissed.
"Hey, what are you waiting for?" Susan called them.
John still looked at him, expression turning from amused to questioning. "Rodney?"
"We should probably go on," Rodney said. His mouth felt a bit dry.
"Okay," John said. He pulled his hand away, squeezing Rodney's waist for a moment. Or maybe that was just Rodney's imagination.
They followed Susan, and Rodney tried to dismiss the thought of kissing John. He wasn't going to go there. The last days had presented it as a possibility—one that he'd never before considered—but he didn't want to take those thoughts any further. Looking back on his relationships, he'd done that too often. He'd taken a possibility and run with it, hoping it would turn into something lasting. But it had always ended in compromise and eventual failure.
He could feel more for John than friendship if he wanted to. He was pretty sure of that at this point. But he could also not. And that alone was reason enough not to pursue it.
Rodney thought about what John had told him about his parents, that his father had known John's mother was the one for him after just three months. Rodney had known John for five years and it hadn't happened. There had to be a reason for that.
Rodney's relationship with Jennifer might not be perfect, and in fact, it was possible that it suffered from the same thing that all of his relationships had suffered from: taking an opportunity when it presented itself, rather than that magical, undeniable, uncontrollable love. But since he'd never experienced the latter—and was skeptical that it existed at all, at least for him—he was going to make the best of it. And the best was undoubtedly to try to make his relationship with Jennifer work—and not risk his friendship with John.
They had lunch at the horribly overpriced cafeteria at the museum, and then stayed until Claire couldn't walk anymore, and John couldn't carry her any longer. The ride back was quiet. Susan was chatting throughout, but Rodney had learned to just ignore her.
Back at the Sheppard mansion, as Rodney called it in his head, Rodney went to copy the photos he'd taken on his laptop. Then he went downstairs to chat with Charlie for a bit. John had carried Claire to her room so that she could take a nap. When he came back down, he sat on the couch next to Rodney.
"Tired?" Charlie asked, a smile tugging on her lips.
"Let's just say I'm glad that I've been going on missions regularly," John said.
She laughed. "Do you have any plans for the evening?"
"I thought maybe a nice quiet evening with a book," John said.
"I'll tell Susan to leave you in peace," Charlie assured him.
Rodney looked at John. "You can have nice quiet evenings on At— our base."
John raised an eyebrow. "Sometimes," he said.
Rodney had to think about how he and Ronon and Teyla spent their time with their respective partners. He had a hard time imagining that John never had time to read. It wasn't that he was neglected, but over the last year, priorities for his friends had shifted.
Maybe John really wanted to be left alone, but Rodney couldn't believe that John wanted to be alone. And even if he couldn't openly be in a relationship, he deserved to have some fun at least on their vacation.
"We're going out!" Rodney declared.
"We are?" John asked, frowning.
"Yes," Rodney confirmed.
"And where to?" John asked.
"Uhm, how about a gay club?" Rodney asked. He still felt slightly uncomfortable at the idea of John with another guy—not about the guy thing in particular, but John with someone else—but he needed to get over himself in that regard. This would be a good opportunity.
John's eyes widened. "No," he said.
"Why not?" Rodney asked.
"I think I'll leave you two to discuss that," Charlie said, making her way upstairs.
"You're even scaring her away," John pointed out.
"You're just being stubborn. Can you honestly tell me that there's nothing you'd rather do on your vacation than read a book?" Rodney asked.
John hesitated for a moment.
"See!" Rodney said, pointing at him.
"I can't go to a gay club," John said, giving him a look.
"Why not? Straight people can go there to drink. I'll go with you," Rodney said.
"So you don't mind being seen going to a gay club with a guy?" John asked.
"A friend, not a guy," Rodney said. At John's arched eyebrow he added, "Not that you're not a guy. The point is, why can't two people just go into a club that happens to also be frequented by gay people?"
"You don't even like clubs," John pointed out.
"Okay, bar, restaurant, anything. There's got to be something over in Baltimore."
"You're not trying to play matchmaker, are you? Because that's pretty creepy," John said.
"I just want you to have a good time," Rodney said.
"I don't need to get laid," John said.
"Who said anything about getting laid?" Rodney asked. Though of course, he'd thought about that. He wondered when John last had sex with a guy, then realized that he really didn't want to know. "With these tubs, who needs it anyway," he added dreamily, thinking about the tubs with their water jets.
John snorted. "So let's see if we can find a gay-friendly restaurant with a bar. Would that be sufficient to satisfy your curiosity?" he asked with a smirk.
Rodney had a denial on his lips, but then he had to admit that he was a bit curious about seeing John interact with potential partners. He was so used to seeing him flirting with women, it was still hard to grasp that John was gay. Maybe observing him flirt with a guy would make it easier. Rodney was suddenly horrified by how much his thoughts sounded like a social or biological experiment. "I just want you to have fun," he said, to reassure both John and himself.
"Then let's go," John said, standing up.
What they found was, in fact, a club. A rainbow flag sticker was placed prominently beneath the opening times, and the decoration highlights were some art featuring the male body, mostly nude. And then there were guys dancing together closely. Not just guys though.
"See, there are straight couples here too," Rodney said.
They made their way to an empty table a bit further away from the dance floor, closer to the bar. They ordered their drinks, and Rodney's gaze went from the people around them to John, who was watching him with an amused expression.
"Are you happy now?" he asked.
Rodney fidgeted on his seat. "I only thought it would be interesting to check out a gay-friendly place." He looked over to the bar, specifically the guys sitting alone. "So, uhm, do you have a type?" he asked John.
John gave him a look. "What did I say about matchmaking?"
"Hey, I'm not saying you should run off with someone. It doesn't hurt to look, though, does it?" Rodney said.
"I'm not stopping you from looking," John said, smirking.
Rodney glared at him. The he recalled his earlier thoughts. "I think you might have been right."
"About what?" John asked.
"That I'm bisexual rather than straight," Rodney said. Because of John, even if he wasn't going to pursue that. Though actually not just John, now that Rodney thought about it.
John didn't say anything, just watched Rodney with an unreadable expression. "Why do you think that?" he eventually asked, sounding almost careful.
"I always considered myself straight because I never had a real relationship with a guy," Rodney said.
"But you had one," John reminded him.
"Yes, I did," Rodney conceded. "But it's not because of Gerald that I, uh, reconsidered this. I might have mentioned a guy in Siberia?" Rodney asked. He wasn't going to tell John about all of his thoughts, but he could still try to explain it.
"You implied something," John said, nodding.
"Well, his name was Andrej, and I think if he had wanted more than just..." Rodney made a vague gesture with his hand.
"Sex?" John asked.
"Yes, I think if he would have wanted a relationship..." Rodney said.
"You would have been okay with that," John finished for him.
"Maybe, yes. It's not like I see a woman—person—and then start to woo them. That's not how it works for me," Rodney said.
John snorted. "Which is good for you, I suppose," he said, grinning. "You're not really the wooing type."
"Hey! Sometimes it did work out. Well, sex at least, though I wouldn't call those occasions wooing so much as picking them up in a bar. Okay, so I'm not the wooing type. There's nothing wrong with that!"
"Never said there was," John said without a beat.
"In any case, for the women that I had actual relationships with, they were always the ones that made the first step, even if it was just a hint."
John watched him for a moment. "So you're saying you would have been with a guy if only one had ever approached you?"
"I don't know. But there's the possibility. And I have to admit it might even be that I have gotten hints, but just didn't see them, because it was the kind of thing I only looked for from women."
"And even there you're not very good at noticing it," John said, a small smile tugging on a corner of his mouth.
"Hey," Rodney protested, but didn't continue, because John might have a point.
"I think it's good that you... came to this conclusion," John said seriously. "Not that it will make a difference as long as you're with Keller."
"Yes," Rodney agreed. "I don't expect to ever put it to use, but... I still appreciate learning this about myself."
John gave him a small smile, which Rodney answered in kind. There was a comfortable moment of silence between them, until the server brought their drinks.
Rodney sipped on his drink—thankfully lemon free—and looked around again. There were some pretty good-looking guys around. As a bisexual guy he was allowed to notice that. Even if he wouldn't act on it, of course. John however... "So, do you have a type or not?" Rodney asked.
John choked on his drink and coughed, giving Rodney a glare. "Do you want a list? Height, hair color, shoe size?"
"Only if it matters to you," Rodney said.
"Matters for what? We're here on vacation and hopefully soon, we'll be back in... far away."
"I'm not saying you should find someone to marry," Rodney said.
"I don't need to get laid either," John said. "Which I've already told you."
"You could just talk to some guy and see what happens," Rodney suggested.
"I am talking to a guy," John pointed out. "And if nothing happens, that's fine with me."
Rodney was in turn pleased to be the guy John talked to and then irrationally disappointed that John was so dismissive of the idea of anything happening. Not that anything would happen between them. It was the principle of the matter! At least, Rodney thought so. He remembered the moment earlier at the museum, when he'd wondered about kissing John.
It would never happen. Because he had Jennifer, because they were friends and nothing more, because John didn't want a relationship. It simply wasn't meant to be, even though in light of his recent realization, maybe there would have been a time, if John had wanted it, maybe back when they'd been cut off from Earth.
Rodney stopped himself from thinking any further. It was pointless to indulge in what-ifs that had no impact on the present or his future.
"All right, let's just spend a nice evening together," Rodney said.
"I'm not sure if this is right for a nice evening. We could go back to my brother's house. Or take a walk," John said.
Rodney felt something weird in his stomach at the thought of a romantic walk in the moonlight with John. No, the relative noise of this club was much better in comparison. Safer. "It's not so bad here," he said.
John's eyebrows rose. "Why, Rodney, who would have thought," he said with a grin. "So you wanna hit the dance floor too?"
Rodney's eyes widened. Some of the couples he'd seen had danced very closely together, no matter how fast the music was. He couldn't dance like that with John. It was practically foreplay. Although of course John probably didn't want to dance like that. If he wanted to dance at all. Maybe he was just teasing Rodney.
Before Rodney could answer, his cell phone rang. He let out a relieved breath and checked the number. Jennifer. "Hey, Jennifer," he said, hoping that he didn't sound guilty. Not that he was. Though he should have called her sooner. He had wanted to call her to let her know he was heading to Maryland before they left Vancouver, but after his conversation with John he hadn't and once here, they'd been so busy.
"Hey, Rodney, I just returned to Atlantis. How are things going with your sister?" Jennifer asked.
"Uhm, we're fine. So the conference was great?" Rodney asked, somehow wishing there were a way around telling her that he'd gone to visit John's family. It would sound... like something that it wasn't.
"Yes, it was, but you don't have to pretend you're interested," she said kindly. "Is that music in the background? Are you at a nightclub?!"
"Uhm, kind of. Actually," Rodney hesitated. There really wasn't a way around telling her. "Actually, Sheppard and I flew to Maryland to visit his folks. Remember how Ronon talked about the mansion? Well, I wanted to see it for myself and no matter what Sheppard says, it is a mansion. They even have a cook and probably a gardener and who knows what else. Also, a huge swimming pool. Sheppard forced me to ride a horse," he said, babbling on and on, because if he stopped he'd hear her reaction. John was giving him a peculiar look as if he knew exactly what Rodney was doing. "Thankfully, I didn't break anything. Although I bet Susan would have had a good laugh about it. She's Sheppard's niece and hates me. His other niece, Claire, is all right. She doesn't talk to me. Not that she can really talk." Rodney could probably continue this for another half hour, but eventually Jennifer would say something, so he stopped there.
He listened, but she didn't say anything.
"Yes, I'm here. So you're in Maryland with John, visiting his family?" she asked.
Rodney cringed. She made it sound like... "Uhm, yes."
"And now you've gone to a night club with him," she said.
"He wanted to spend the evening reading. You know there's a problem when I think an evening activity isn't exciting enough. So I suggested we go out."
"So, you're having fun?" Jennifer asked. Rodney had a hard time getting a feeling for her mood. Doing it over the phone in a crowded club made it nearly impossible.
"It's okay." He would not tell her that John had just asked him to dance. She might have laughed about it, but she also might have gotten that completely wrong, and at this point he wasn't going to risk it.
"The reason I'm calling is that Woolsey said I could use the chance to take some time off and I was going to visit my dad again. I was wondering if you wanted to come," she said.
Visiting Chippewa Falls to meet Jennifer's father was not high on the list of things he wanted to do.
"If you'd rather stay with John—"
"No," he immediately said. Because if he didn't, he might as well break up with her. And he didn't want that. In-laws weren't exactly the best part about a relationship, but then maybe Mr. Keller would like him. Apart from Susan, John's family seemed to be okay with him. "When did you want to go?"
"As soon as possible. You really don't have to come if you don't—"
"I want to," he said. Because she wanted it. "I'm looking forward to seeing you again," he added, wanting to make sure that she knew it wasn't about her so much as about being nervous to meet his possible future father-in-law.
"Me, too," she said. "I missed you." There was a moment's pause, and Rodney felt he probably should say he'd missed her too. But the truth was he hadn't. It didn't mean that he'd lied when he said he was looking forward to seeing her again. He was. He just hadn't actively missed her in the last couple of days. Before he had to decide whether to lie and to come up with a distraction, she continued, "I'm heading to Wisconsin tomorrow morning. Just take the next flight you can find and let me know when you arrive, and I can pick you up at the airport."
"That sounds great. I'll do that as soon as we're back. Love you," he said.
"Love you too. Have fun with John," Jennifer said.
Rodney didn't really know how to respond to that, but then Jennifer hung up, and he didn't have to.
"You'll go back," John said, looking serious.
"Yes," Rodney said, taking a deep breath. "Actually, no. Not back. To Chippewa Falls."
"I see," John said, smiling, though the smile didn't quite reach his eyes. "Meeting the parents."
"Yes, I'm afraid so. Not that I don't want to meet him. From what Jennifer's told me, he must be a great guy. He raised her all by himself after her mother's death, and she's the apple of his eye," Rodney said.
"What could possibly go wrong?" John quipped.
Rodney glared at him.
John grinned impishly. "I'm sure he'll love you."
"He hates me." Rodney didn't even bother to say hello when John picked up.
"Didn't your flight arrive only twenty minutes ago? Did he pick you up?" John asked.
"No, Jennifer did. We just arrived. Apparently it took only five seconds for him to decide I wasn't good enough for his daughter."
"Look, not even you can piss someone off in five seconds. He probably thinks that nobody is good enough for her. It doesn't have to have anything to do with you," John said.
"Well, that's a great comfort. You know how good I am at making people like me in general, let alone when they are pre-disposed to hating me."
"Did you ever try to be liked by people who hate you?" John asked.
"Uhm," Rodney said. It wasn't that he didn't want people to like him, but John was right. He didn't usually try to make them like him. "Not outside of missions, no," he admitted.
"Then turn on your most charming side. It works for Keller, right?"
Rodney sighed. "I've got to go. I just carried up my bags. He's probably thinking I'm torturing kittens or something. Bye."
Rodney was not good at being charming. It came out as fake and awkward and only seemed to make Mr. Keller more suspicious every second they talked. Rodney was rescued when Mr. Keller excused himself to make dinner.
"Uhm, I'm sure Jennifer mentioned it, but to be safe: I'm deathly allergic to citrus, so..." Rodney trailed off.
Mr. Keller glared at him as if he was trying to be difficult. Rodney gulped.
They left Jennifer's father to cook and made their way upstairs. Jennifer led him to her room. He was staying in the guest room—as her father had noted very pointedly when Rodney had asked where to put his bags.
"How was your vacation?" Jennifer asked, taking his hand and leading him to sit down on the narrow bed next to her.
Rodney tried not to let himself be distracted by her room, which looked like Jennifer had only left last week. What had she asked again? Right, his vacation. Visiting his sister seemed like it had happened a long time ago. "Well, it started with another murder attempt, but got better."
"Murder attempt?!" Jennifer asked.
"Oranges in the salad," he said. Her eyes widened in worry. To head off any questions, he added, "Madison's salad but still."
She gave him a look. "That's not exactly murder. You know what murder looks like."
"Doesn't make a whole lot of difference once you're dead," he pointed out.
"So, what did you do?" Jennifer asked.
"We left. John said we couldn't trust them," he said, a bit defiantly. He knew what she was thinking.
"He did, didn't he," she only said. Rodney wasn't quite sure what she wanted to say.
"Do you carry an epipen?" he suddenly asked.
"No, but I know where yours is," she said, cupping the pocket of his pants. "And I know how to save you," she added seriously. That she did, Rodney thought. In more ways than one. They both leaned forward to kiss. Just a quick chaste kiss. He couldn't imagine so much as using a bit of tongue while they were under the same roof as Mr. Keller. "Listen, I'm sorry. If it means so much to you, we can leave if it ever happens again," Jennifer said.
"It does. Thank you," he said. "We went to a small diner, where Madison got a live demonstration of homophobia." Before Jennifer could ask, he clarified. "Two guys saw John and me with Madison and came to their own wrong conclusions. They felt the need to use the f-word, which of course we had to explain as a bad word."
"In Canada, no less", she teased.
"Exactly. But I think we handled it well." Rodney thought about their conversation on the way home and John's revelation. He quickly went on, "Jeannie wasn't mad. We hardly fought at all."
Jennifer laughed. "Well, it looks like you had a great time. And John really made you ride a horse? Was it a bet or something?"
"Or something. We rode out so that he could show me their little cabin in the woods. I thought he was kidding. It's not even little at all. Of course, it was nothing compared to the mansion. Their cook takes orders. It's really indecent," he said.
She snorted. "Sorry to tear you away from there."
"No, no, not at all. This is..." he looked around the room that was hers alone. "Well, it's—"
"It's okay," she said understandingly and kissed him. "I'm glad you came."
Dinner turned out to be more of an interrogation than a meal.
At first, Rodney thought he'd be fine. Mr. Keller asked about his job, and if there was one thing Rodney could talk about it was his job. Even if he had to leave out anything classified it should be easy. Unfortunately, Mr. Keller had no interest in the huge responsibilities that Rodney had.
"So instead of saving lives like Jenny does, you're building toys and weapons? Is that it?" Mr. Keller asked.
"Not at all! I have saved countless lives, including your daughter's," Rodney protested.
Jennifer made an oooh-you-shouldn't-have-said-that face, but it was too late.
"When was your life in danger?" Mr. Keller said, turning to her.
"Dad, you know I can't talk about details. What's important is that Rodney saved me. More than once," she said, turning to Rodney with a smile.
Rodney returned the smile, thinking of their first kiss.
"More than once? I hope it wasn't the result of one of your experiments," Mr. Keller interrupted their moment.
"Of course not," Rodney said indignantly. "Though technically, the second time—" he stopped at Mr. Keller's widening angry eyes. "I saved her. Her and countless others." He was tempted to add that he'd saved the planet, but without being able to back that up, it would just look like bragging, even if Jennifer confirmed it.
"So those devices that you work on, are they weapons?" Mr. Keller asked.
"Not primarily, though since we are working for the military—"
"How many people have you killed?" Mr. Keller asked.
"Uhm. I'm not sure. It depends— Listen, I'm not a soldier but I work with them. My job is science. Killing is more the domain of Sheppard and Ronon. And they only do it if it's absolutely—"
"Sheppard!" Mr. Keller said. "Is that the one you were staying with while Jenny was at that conference? The one you took to visit your sister?"
"Uhm," he looked to Jennifer.
"Dad, maybe we should just eat. The pasta is really—"
"No, Jenny. I know these kind of guys. They're all flowers and pretty words, but once they're married they only hang out with their friends. You deserve better."
"Rodney isn't like that," Jennifer said.
"How do you know? I don't see you bringing some friend to visit your father. If he'd rather spend time with his friend than with you at a conference now, why should it be any different in the future?"
"It's not like we could have spent a lot of time together during the conference, Dad. And Rodney hasn't seen his sister in a long time," she said.
"And he had to go while you went to that conference? Couldn't you have visited your sister a week earlier or later?" Mr. Keller asked Rodney.
"Uhm," Rodney said. He looked to Jennifer, but she only looked at him, then dropped her gaze.
"That's what I thought," Mr. Keller said. "How old are you?" he continued the next line of questioning.
"I'm forty-one," Rodney answered.
"And why aren't you married at that age? Twenty years is plenty of time to find the right woman, unless there's something wrong with you."
"Dad!" Jennifer said. "I really think we should eat now. And then I'll take Rodney to see the town center." It sounded like an order.
Mr. Keller and Jennifer stared at each other for a moment, then Mr. Keller sighed and dug into his meal.
Rodney started eating too, though he wasn't especially hungry anymore.
"I'm sorry," Jennifer said, once they were out the door. "He's just... You know that my mom died when I was young, and he's very protective of me. This isn't about you. Nobody's good enough for me."
"So he was like that with all of your boyfriends?" Rodney asked.
"Well," Jennifer said. "There weren't all that many that I brought home," she said, looking away from him, along the street they were walking. "And yes, he was always... protective, as I said. He's doing it because he loves me."
Rodney didn't doubt that. He also didn't doubt that her father hadn't hated the others like this. He wasn't sure if he appreciated that Jennifer was trying to spare his feelings.
"Enough about him for now," Jennifer said and took Rodney's hand. "Let me show you where I grew up."
They walked towards the town center. Jennifer pointed out spots where she'd played as a kid or her school or neighbors that had looked after her every now and then.
It was interesting to get these glimpses into her life, though more than what she said, it was the way her eyes lit up as she recalled fond memories.
As they neared the town center, Jennifer stopped telling stories and they just walked together, still holding hands. It was nice. Walking hand in hand with his girlfriend, not having to worry about getting shot at or Wraith attacking or the IOA breathing down their necks for something or other. He could get used to that.
Though he would miss John and Ronon and Teyla if he stayed on Earth. Maybe even Zelenka. Not to mention the challenges of Atlantis and the Pegasus galaxy. If they were ever allowed to return. He didn't want to think about that. He didn't want to imagine everything breaking apart. Teyla sent back to Pegasus, John and Ronon joining a team at the SGC. Him back to Area 51.
He looked over to Jennifer, and couldn't help thinking that she would take it in stride. She might even be happy to be closer to her father.
"Oh, hey, that's someone I went to high school with," Jennifer said.
They crossed the street and Rodney shook hands with a Clarissa Weber—now Smith—and smiled politely and then began wondering how long he'd have to listen to them talk about things that made no sense to him because he hadn't been there. He walked off a bit, taking a look at the displays. Wow, he could get better stuff than this on Atlantis.
Jennifer was talking animatedly. Rodney wondered what John was doing right now. Watching Jennifer for another minute, he decided to just give him a quick call, while she talked.
John picked up saying, "Rodney," in that particular way of his that made the first syllable at least twice as long.
"What are you doing?" Rodney asked.
"Why do you want to know?" John asked.
"I'm bored. Jennifer is talking to an old friend. We've taken a walk."
"So, how is Chippewa Falls?" John asked.
"It's... like any small town in Wisconsin I suppose."
"How did it go with Mr. Keller?" John asked.
Rodney looked over to Jennifer, who saw him and smiled, signaling she was going to wrap it up now. "I can tell you later. I'll give you another call. Bye."
"Bye," John said, and Rodney hung up.
"Who was it?" Jennifer asked when she joined him again.
"Just took the chance to harass Sheppard. So was that a good friend of yours?" Rodney asked.
Jennifer gave him a peculiar look, then shrugged. "I wouldn't say good friend. We shared a few classes and graduated together. I just wanted to say hello."
Rodney nodded. "Where to next?" he asked.
"Let's check out Spring Street Bridge," she said, taking his arm in hers.
Chippewa Falls was a nice, boring town and in the two and a half hours that they walked around they must have seen everything even remotely of interest. Rodney suspected Jennifer simply didn't know of a better way to keep her father from attacking Rodney again.
Not that he was looking forward to another "talk". When they returned, Rodney looked longingly at the stairs to the guest room.
"You're probably tired from the flight and everything," Jennifer said. God, he'd never loved her more.
"Yes," he said, nodding and ignoring the suspicious look on Mr. Keller's face. "I think I'll head to bed early. Good night," he said, quickly kissing Jennifer, before forcing himself to walk and not run away.
On his way out, he heard Jennifer say, "I met Clarissa Weber. Did you know that she married Peter Smith?"
Rodney sighed in relief and could only hope that maybe Jennifer could keep the conversation on topics that weren't him. He had a feeling that no matter what she said, it would only make things worse.
He quickly got ready for bed, then opened the door to check if they were still downstairs talking, before dialing John's number. It took forever until he picked up.
"What took you so long?" Rodney asked impatiently, before John could even say anything.
"No, Rodney, you're not disturbing me at all. Don't worry," John said overly polite.
"Come on. How hard can it be to get out of bed, put down your book and pick up the phone? If you have the phone with you, you don't even have to get out of bed."
There was a moment of silence. "I could have not been lying in bed and reading," John sulked.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "So did you read all day, or did someone drag you out into the real world?"
"I went riding with Susan and then we spent the afternoon playing in the pool. Claire is learning to swim."
"It's only called swimming if they do it by themselves," Rodney pointed out, imagining how John would drag her through the water.
"I said learning," John answered. "In any case, we all had a lot of fun."
"I can imagine," Rodney said. Sybille had brought out little drinks with umbrellas to the pool once. He sighed.
"Dave and Charlie say you can come back anytime," John said as if he knew what Rodney was thinking. Then he added, "Sybille has asked after you. She said she bought the things you asked about."
"Aww. Now you're just torturing me," Rodney said dismayed, thinking about home-made Pashka waiting for him in Maryland.
"She didn't make whatever you asked for yet. I could take it back to Atlantis."
"Oh, that would be wonderful," Rodney said.
"What is it anyway?" John asked.
"A Russian dessert. The highlight of my time in Siberia."
"Ah. I hope it won't disappoint. Sybille was a bit worried that it wouldn't be perfect."
"I really doubt that she could make anything I didn't like. Unless it contained citrus. And even that would probably be a heavenly death," Rodney said.
"Don't even joke about that," John said.
Rodney didn't quite know what to say. "I'm glad you're still having fun without me," he eventually said.
"Of course. You're the one who's bored without me," John said.
"Who's the one who keeps calling?" John asked.
"It's not you I miss, it's the tub," Rodney said defiantly.
"Isn't your girlfriend better?" John asked.
"As if we could have sex! Her father would get out a shotgun. Not that I think he owns one. I'd never be found. Her room is preserved like a museum. There are posters of Vin Diesel on the wall. She was still at university five years ago. I feel so old." Rodney forced himself to stop. It really wasn't as bad as he made it sound. Though it certainly felt good to let it out.
"Hey, come on. Meeting the parents is always a downer," John said, obviously trying to cheer him up. Then he added, "Well, mostly. My Dad loved Nancy."
Rodney remembered Ronon mentioning something to that effect and his conversation with John. "What about your in-laws? Did they hate you?"
John hesitated before answering. "They weren't sure I was right for her. And they turned out to be right."
Rodney didn't blame them. And even so, it still sounded as if they'd treated John a whole lot nicer than Mr. Keller had treated him. "Did they ask you what was wrong with you for not being married already?"
"He didn't," John said incredulously.
"Oh, but he did," Rodney said.
"Wow, that's... You weren't kidding about him hating you, huh?" John said.
"I think it was an understatement."
"I'm sorry. You know it's okay not to be married at our age. Better so than divorced. And there's nothing wrong with you. You were busy and just didn't meet the right woman until now."
Rodney thought of Jennifer, of walking down the street holding hands with her, of her smile, and of how he couldn't find a way to convince her father that he was good enough for her. It wasn't really Mr. Keller though, Rodney feared. He thought that if he himself was one hundred percent certain that they were meant to be, he'd find a way or at least he'd be able to ignore it, because he'd know that Mr. Keller would be wrong. As it was, a small voice in Rodney wondered if Mr. Keller wasn't right. Maybe Rodney wasn't the right one for her and she for him. Maybe he'd have to continue looking for the right woman.
"Or the right man," John added.
Yes, there was that. "Tell me more about your day," Rodney said.
Rodney took his time getting down to breakfast the next morning. Unfortunately, except for escaping through a window, he couldn't think of a way to avoid seeing Mr. Keller again. He'd taken the whole week off for Jennifer.
Rodney made his way to the kitchen and prepared himself for more accusations. Probably along the lines of why he was sleeping so long. Rodney really didn't think there was a way he could do anything right in Mr. Keller's eyes. He could only try not to let it get to him.
"Good morning," Rodney said cheerfully as he entered the kitchen. He sat down next to Jennifer and kissed her.
"Good morning," Mr. Keller said coldly.
Rodney ignored him, poured himself a coffee, and smiled at Jennifer. He just needed to stay cool.
"Who did you talk to all night?" Mr. Keller asked.
Rodney's head whipped up. "Did you spy on me?" he asked, getting angry.
"This is my house," Mr. Keller almost shouted.
"Dad," Jennifer said, trying to be pacifying, but they both ignored her.
"I was just calling a friend," Rodney said. He was really reaching his limit here.
"The friend that you took home to your family?" Mr. Keller asked, his eyes narrowed.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Rodney asked.
"You know damn well what I mean!" Mr. Keller said.
Rodney opened his mouth and closed it again. He couldn't mean... "You make it sound like I had phone sex with him!" he shouted angrily. Mr. Keller gave him a pointed look. "Well, I didn't!"
"Dad, come on. You know that it's not like that," Jennifer said.
"Even so. Your boyfriend's been here for a day and spent as much time on the phone with his friend as he has with you."
"That is not true," Rodney said. "Jennifer picked me up, we talked in her room, we talked over dinner, and we took an endless walk through Chippewa Falls. And yes, I called John yesterday, several times in fact, but only because I felt about as welcome here as an infectious disease."
Mr. Keller stared at him, turning red in the face.
Before he could say something though, Rodney continued. "I respect that you love your daughter. I love her too. But if that means that I can't call a friend under your roof, I can't stay here." Not waiting for a reaction, he got up and left.
Jennifer followed him upstairs. "Look, he's overprotective. I've told him to stop, that I'm grown-up and can make my own decisions, but it's really hard for him to let go."
"I didn't do anything wrong," Rodney said, crossing his arms.
Jennifer sat down on the bed. "I know," she said, sighing and looking at the ground. "He just doesn't understand why you'd talk to some guy for an hour."
"Do you have a problem with it?" Rodney asked. At this point, he couldn't care less about what Mr. Keller thought. He'd never approve of Rodney, and in the end what mattered was that Jennifer wanted him.
Jennifer hesitated for a moment before saying, "No."
"Which means, 'yes,' but you don't want to say so," Rodney concluded.
"I'm sorry about my Dad," Jennifer said, not refuting Rodney's interpretation. "But you're not with him. You're with me, right?" She smiled up at him and lifted her hands.
He stepped forward and took them in his, pulling her up into his arms. Then they kissed.
"I'll talk to him," she said after the kiss ended.
Rodney only nodded. He didn't think she'd get through to her father, but he was willing to let her try.
While Jennifer was downstairs, Rodney felt tempted to call John again. He'd probably at least get a chuckle out of Mr. Keller thinking they were having phone sex. But then again, maybe not. Sometimes John took things more seriously than Rodney expected, especially when it came to people treating Rodney badly. It was really hit and miss with John. Sometimes he mocked Rodney, and sometimes he defended him.
Though Rodney had to admit, it was hardly ever the former when Rodney really needed the latter. He just wasn't sure what he needed right now. Someone to lighten the mood or to defend him. He'd really tried his best not to alienate Mr. Keller, but he'd never given Rodney a chance right from the beginning.
If Mr. Keller had been an agreeable, interesting person, Rodney probably would never have thought about John even once. So what if he'd called John three times in the span of seven hours. Two of those had been really short calls. Jennifer didn't have a problem with it.
Except that she did. And if she didn't have a problem with it, then at least she wasn't pleased about it. He wondered what else she wasn't happy about. Taking John to Jeannie's came to mind. Sure, she hadn't said anything, but he vaguely remembered that she'd sounded surprised and that John thought she'd have a problem with it.
He didn't know what to do about this, though. He wasn't going to stop calling John if he wanted to talk to him. And he wasn't going to ask Jennifer for permission every time he wanted to spend time with John. Maybe this was one of those things that you had to compromise on. He wouldn't spend all his time with John—as Mr. Keller suggested he did, which was absolutely not true—and she would pretend that it didn't matter to her when he did spend time with him.
Though truthfully Rodney didn't know why this had to be a compromise. He didn't want her to compromise on this. He wanted her to be okay with his friendship with John, just like he was okay with her friendships.
He just didn't know why it wasn't the same for her.
After talking to Jennifer, Mr. Keller apologized to Rodney and admitted that he'd overstepped a line. Rodney managed not to point out that it wasn't so much overstepped as crashed through and then drove on for another mile. He grudgingly accepted the apology and stayed.
It didn't really change things between them though. The atmosphere was stilted at best, and when Jennifer suggested Rodney take her out to dinner, he gladly accepted. Even Mr. Keller didn't seem to mind.
Despite Mr. Keller staying at home and good food at a nice restaurant, the mood over dinner wasn't exactly cheerful.
"You're not what he expected," Jennifer tried to explain.
Rodney wasn't sure if that made him feel better. He would have thought a father would be happy if his daughter dated a smart man who loved her. What had Mr. Keller expected? Rodney didn't ask it out loud, though. Jennifer was only trying to make him feel better. This wasn't her fault.
"He'll get to like you," she continued. He gave her a look. "Well, accept you. He'll do it for me."
Rodney could almost believe that. But he still hated how it made him feel. That he wasn't good enough. That something was wrong with him. He wasn't the most popular kind of guy, but not everyone hated him on sight. He thought of how John's family had reacted to him.
"We don't have to stay," Jennifer went on.
"You haven't seen him in a long time," Rodney said, knowing how much her father meant to her, and how difficult it was for her that she could only see him so infrequently. He didn't want her to give this up because of him. She deserved her time with her father. "I'm not making it better," he added ruefully.
"You want to leave?" she asked.
Rodney hesitated. There was nothing that he wanted more. And he thought, at this point, Jennifer probably knew it too. "Maybe it'll be better next time," he said.
"Maybe," she conceded. "So you're heading back to San Francisco?"
"I'm not sure yet," he said.
But it was a lie. He knew where he wanted to go. As soon as they were back, he was going to call John.
Returning to the Sheppard mansion felt much more like coming home than it should have.
"Hey, Rodney," John greeted him with a wide smile and a little girl hiding behind his legs.
"Hey, Rodney," Susan piped up too, overly cheerfully. It made Rodney suspicious.
"Hey, Wodney," Claire said, looking past John's knees.
"Wow, you really missed me, huh?" Rodney asked, looking at the three of them.
"Sybille made your Pashka thing for your return," John said.
"It's a dish for Easter," Susan said pointedly. "Did you know that?"
"Yes, I did. And even though it's traditionally dessert for Easter that doesn't mean we can't have it now. You don't have to eat it if you don't want to."
Susan rolled her eyes. "You just want it all to yourself. I'm trying it at least."
Rodney didn't deny it.
"The recipe also said it had lemon extract," Susan went on.
"And I trust Sybille to leave it out for me," Rodney said, not giving her the satisfaction of showing fear.
"Well, if you do," Susan only said, walking inside.
John grinned, leaning closer to Rodney. "Don't worry. It's citrus-free. Susan even reminded Sybille of your allergy to make sure you're safe."
Rodney raised an eyebrow at that, but didn't say anything and followed the others inside.
Sybille's Pashka was maybe not authentically Russian, but it was still very good. The sentiment wasn't shared by the Sheppards. Claire made a face when she tried it, and John only swallowed one bite and said that it wasn't his thing. Susan actually spat out her bite. "Oh my God, that's disgusting."
"You are disgusting," Rodney said, looking at what she'd spat out.
Susan stuck out her tongue at him. Rodney did the same with his creamy tongue. Susan visibly shuddered, but couldn't suppress a grin.
Claire took another bite only to stick out her tongue with the bit of Pashka on top of it.
"Eww, Claire!" Susan whined.
Claire let the cheesy bite drop out of her mouth and smiled widely.
"You won't stop me from enjoying it," Rodney said, pushing another forkful in his mouth.
John started chuckling, and soon the others joined in.
Rodney felt slightly guilty that he'd abandoned Jennifer, but it really was the best for all involved. Mr. Keller certainly hadn't been unhappy to see him go. He'd even said, "It was good meeting you." Of course, "good" in this case could mean, "it's good that I finally know what a huge mistake my daughter is about to make."
He called Jennifer when his plane arrived in Baltimore and again that evening.
"So you're having fun with John?" Jennifer asked. It sounded casual enough, but Rodney could hear the slight edge in her question.
"We spent the day with the kids. John's brother had to work and his wife was preparing for a meeting or event, I'm not sure."
"So you babysat voluntarily," Jennifer said.
"Well, it was mostly John. I worked a bit, actually, but John apparently told Claire that I'm good at fixing things, so she started bringing me her broken toys to repair."
"Aww, that's sweet. Didn't she not even talk to you before?" Jennifer asked.
"She's still not saying much. And I wouldn't necessarily call it sweet. She started bringing toys I'd just repaired. So I told her if she just breaks it again, I'm not going to fix it. We'll see how that goes."
Jennifer chuckled. "You're better with kids than you think."
"Well, I think I'm happy if no bodily harm comes to them, so that's not that hard to achieve."
Thankfully, it wasn't Rodney's fault when Claire started screaming the next day. John was teaching her to swim while Rodney was working in a lounge chair. He looked up to see what had happened, but only saw John carrying her out of the shallow end of the pool.
She let out one heart-rending wail after another, and Rodney simultaneously felt heartbroken for her and just wanted her to shut up already. He couldn't bear to hear children cry. Or actually, he didn't like anyone crying, but with grown-ups there was a reasonable chance that they could tell you what was wrong. With kids that wasn't always a given. As John carried her over, Rodney tried to see if there were any injuries, but she didn't seem to be physically hurt.
John sat down on the lounge chair next to Rodney's, holding her and soothing her. "It's okay. It was just a bit of water."
Ah. Swallowing water was no fun. Rodney wasn't sure it justified screaming as if the world would end, but at least they knew what was wrong and that it wasn't bad.
"Shhh. Shhh," John whispered into her head, holding her tightly as her cries ebbed down and turned into sniffles.
Rodney watched the two of them and couldn't help feeling the rightness of it. John was good with kids. In a matter of days, he'd made Claire open up to him to a point where she felt perfectly comfortable to spend a whole afternoon or morning with him, her mother out of sight. He'd be a great father.
Not that he would be. Well, he could adopt or find a surrogate mother, Rodney supposed. Or maybe he didn't want kids. Rodney wasn't sure how he felt about having kids. And just because John was better with them, didn't necessarily mean that he was more inclined to have them.
"Feeling better?" John asked Claire. "It was just a bit of water that went the wrong way."
John kissed the top of her head. "It's gonna be okay. These things happen sometimes. But you're okay. Look how worried Rodney looks. Wanna try to smile for him, to let him know you're okay?"
Rodney was surprised. He didn't say anything as Claire carefully moved her wet, red face away from John's chest to look at Rodney.
John stroked a stray hair out of her face. "Are you good again?"
She moved her big eyes from Rodney to John and then back. Then she reached out to Rodney's mouth and made a stretching motion on his lips. John quietly laughed, and Rodney smiled obediently.
"'m okay," Claire finally said.
"That's good," John said, nuzzling her temple for a moment. She squirmed and grinned.
Rodney's smile widened and it had nothing to do with being told to smile.
Later that evening, after the kids had gone to bed, Rodney sat with John, Dave and Charlie in the living room, and they talked a bit about John and Dave's childhood. John, of course, had to bring up some of the embarrassing stories about Rodney that he'd heard from Jeannie, and Rodney realized that he'd spent more time with John's family than his own.
When he mentioned it to John as they walked upstairs to their rooms, John said, "Why don't you visit her again this weekend before we head back?"
Rodney nodded. "I should do that."
After hesitating for a moment, John added, "You could take Jennifer."
Rodney only looked at him. He knew that John still had his doubts about them. They'd only briefly talked about Mr. Keller after Rodney's return to the Sheppards. John had said, "What matters is what the two of you feel, not what her father feels."
It had sounded supportive enough. It was supportive. But Rodney still read between the lines that John wasn't certain if those feelings were enough, though, so John was right when he suggested that Rodney take Jennifer. She was his girlfriend, the woman he loved. He should have taken her to visit his sister in the first place. He couldn't change what he had done, but he could try to make up for it now.
He knew that it would make her happy. And he wanted to make her happy.
That he'd felt pretty happy during the whole time that he'd spent with John's family was beside the point. Or at least, that was what he told himself.
The kids came along to say goodbye at the airport. Rodney felt weird looking at the three of them. John was carrying Claire and Susan stood next to him. She actually looked sad to see him go.
Rodney caught himself feeling a bit choked up. He cleared his throat. "That's my flight. Don't want to miss it."
"Bye Rodney," Susan said. She looked expectantly at him. After a moment, he awkwardly leaned forward and let her hug him.
"Bye Wodney," Claire said. He moved close to her, and John lifted her so that she could give him a wet kiss on the cheek. Rodney smiled, fishing a handkerchief out of his pocket to clean up the spit. Claire giggled. John laughed.
"Goodbye, Rodney. Say hello to everyone. Give Madison a hug from me, will you?" he said.
Rodney looked at him, thinking that it would be hard to give a hug that he hadn't received. It felt unnatural not to hug John after the last few days that they'd spent together, feeling so much like a family. But then, hugging was something that they didn't do.
"I will," Rodney said and smiled at everyone once again, before picking up his carry-on and leaving.
"See you on Monday," John called after him.
Rodney turned around once more and nodded.
He didn't mention the disaster with Mr. Keller to his sister. He knew that Jeannie would blame him for what had happened, so he opened up Madison's science kit and got busy with it, hoping both to spur Madison's interest and to deflect any talk about how his last few days had been.
Of course, Jennifer told Jeannie about Rodney's visit soon after they'd picked her up from the airport.
"Rodney never mentioned that he visited your father," Jeannie told Jennifer while giving Rodney a look.
"Well, my father can be a bit... overprotective," Jennifer said awkwardly.
"There's nothing wrong with that. So, what did my brother do?" Jeannie asked.
"I didn't do anything," Rodney said.
"It really wasn't Rodney's fault," Jennifer came to his defense.
Rodney looked at Jeannie in a "There!" way. But Jeannie looked at him with narrowed eyes. "I find that hard to believe. If it went so well, why didn't you stay?"
"I didn't say it went well. I just said, it wasn't my fault," Rodney told her, arms crossed.
"There must have been some reason that he didn't like you. Or does he hate Canadians on principle? Or scientists?" Jeannie asked.
Jennifer shifted. "My dad had a hard time understanding that Rodney spent so much time with John. I tried to explain it to him but..." she trailed off.
She didn't understand it herself, Rodney thought. He looked at Jeannie, expecting her to be reproachful, but she only looked thoughtful. For a moment her eyes turned to Rodney, and he had no idea what she was thinking, then she turned to Jennifer and smiled. "It's good to finally have you here."
Rodney took Jennifer into town to show her a bit of Vancouver. They spent a lovely afternoon together, only returning for dinner. Jeannie asked about Jennifer's father and her work. Rodney got bored and began stealing things from Madison's plate, making her steal things in return.
Eventually, it occurred to him that Jeannie seemed to be more polite to Jennifer than she'd been to John. Or at least less forward in her questions. Then again, in this case, Jeannie didn't have to ask about Jennifer's love life.
They played a bit with Madison after dinner. Rodney expected his sister to make a comment that once they were married they could think about their own kids, but she didn't. When Rodney went to the kitchen to see if there was some of the dessert left, he found Jeannie working.
He sat down next to her, digging into the pudding, which was surprisingly good-tasting even though he was sure it was healthy. Jeannie looked up from her laptop and smiled at him.
"How was it with John's family?" she asked.
Rodney swallowed the bit of pudding in his mouth. "It was nice," he said carefully, well aware that he hadn't mentioned his visit to the Sheppards.
"You could have told us that you were going to visit them," Jeannie pointed out.
Rodney didn't know what to say. He didn't think Jeannie would react well if he admitted that he'd wanted to flee. "I was curious about his home. I didn't get to see it when he went to his father's funeral," he said instead. It was a partial truth at least.
"It's okay if you wanted to meet his family. John came to visit us, didn't he? And I'm glad it went better than visiting Jennifer's dad."
Rodney squirmed. He wasn't sure if the accusations were going to start again, but Jeannie didn't say anything more. "They seem to like me," he said. He thought about all of them. Dave and Claire, who despite being more reserved had taken a liking to Rodney. Even Susan, though she always argued with Rodney, seemed to have been genuinely sad when he said he'd be leaving.
"They must be following John's example then," Jeannie said with a slightly teasing smile.
Rodney wondered if that was true. And then he couldn't help wonder what it said about Mr. Keller's reaction to him. He dismissed the thought. It certainly wasn't lack of trying on Jennifer's part that had caused that disaster. It had just been bad luck. It could have easily gone the other way round, with Mr. Keller liking him and the Sheppards hating him on sight.
Imagining it for a moment, Rodney realized that he preferred things the way they were. He'd come to terms with Mr. Keller's dislike, but he didn't want John's family to hate him.
"Maybe they're just as weird as Sheppard," he said with a smile.
"I don't think anyone's as weird as Sheppard when it comes to you," she said thoughtfully.
Rodney couldn't argue with that.
He and Jennifer went to bed early that day, kissing and fooling around a bit. When Jennifer moved her hands to open his pants, Rodney hesitated.
"No?" Jennifer asked.
It wasn't that Rodney didn't miss the sex. The only time he'd gotten off in the last week had been in the wonder tub. But it felt weird doing it here. "It's just... It's my sister's house. They're only a few rooms away," he said.
"Okay," Jennifer said, snuggling up to him. "This is nice too."
"Hmm," he agreed, putting his arms around her.
It was nice. But at the back of his mind was that it wasn't just being close to the Millers that made him feel awkward about having sex with Jennifer here. He remembered lying in the same bed with John just a week ago. It felt wrong to have sex with Jennifer here.
Rodney knew that it made no sense at all, that it wasn't as if he owed John anything, let alone fidelity. But he couldn't help how he felt. He could only choose not to dwell on his feelings, instead enjoying that he had the woman he loved in his arms.
After yet another flight—he couldn't remember ever flying this much in a week unless you counted the Daedalus—Rodney finally returned to Atlantis. He and Jennifer had beamed in from the warehouse in San Francisco and were on their way towards the living quarters when they ran into John.
"Oh hey, here you are. Did you just arrive?" John greeted them.
"Obviously," Rodney said, lifting his bags. "What did you want?"
"Uh, nothing important," John said, giving Jennifer a quick look. "It's just a little 'gift' from Susan and Claire." He handed Rodney a piece of paper. On it, there were two men holding hands with what he assumed was a crudely drawn little girl between them. Next to the little group was a girl on a horse. Both horse and rider were disproportionately large.
"I see Susan drew size according to importance," Rodney said wryly, but the picture still made him smile. It also reminded him of something that Madison had done for John.
He bent down to get it from his bag, then remembered the drawing in his hand and looking for someone to take it, found the hand that Jennifer offered. He got out Madison's little piece of art that featured John and Rodney in a plane with her waving at them from the ground.
"That's a pretty good rendition of a biplane," John said impressed. He looked up at Rodney and smiled.
Rodney returned the smile, thinking about the time that they'd spent with their respective nieces. Even if it might not have been the appropriate thing to do, he was glad that he'd taken John to visit his sister, and he was glad that John had taken him to meet his family.
Rodney realized that the look went on for quite a long time when John cleared his throat and said, "I'll leave you to unpack. Doc," he said, nodding at Jennifer as he disappeared down the hall.
Rodney turned to watch him, then his gaze fell on Jennifer who was still holding Susan and Claire's drawing. Her eyes were narrowed ever so slightly, and even if he didn't see outright disapproval in them, he still felt as if he'd done something wrong. "Thank you," he said awkwardly, taking the drawing from her.
She gave him a quick smile. "See you at lunch." Then she was gone.
They still had no orders to return to the Pegasus galaxy. But there was a buzz going around and new recruits were coming in. Everyone saw that as a good sign that they were finally moving forward.
Teyla and Ronon certainly were more cheerful. Rodney was glad to see them again, even though Ronon immediately had to tease him about riding.
With the new recruits of course came new idiots who had to be broken in. After another round of questions that displayed a complete lack of even the most basic understanding of Ancient technology, Rodney gave up for the day and headed out to find John. He was actually in his office, going through some proposals that Sam had sent them during their vacation.
"I feel like I'm back in kindergarten," Rodney said, dropping down in the chair in front of John's desk.
"Having fun with the new scientists?" John asked with grin.
"If you want to call them that. Radek swore that they had some basic training at Area 51. I can assume that he meant things like quantum mechanics because it sure as hell wasn't Ancient technology."
"I'm sure they'll get the hang of it," John said easily.
Rodney glared at him. "You could say the same of a kid with a P-90. Doesn't mean it's a good idea."
"Pair them up with more experienced people. Lessens the chance of damage."
"I know, I know. It's just that I can't believe we have to waste our time with this. These are supposed to be the best and the brightest. I should have never trusted Carter. Whatever it is she proposed, don't believe her!"
John snorted. "I'll do what I always do in these situations. Carefully evaluate each suggestion on its own merits," John said solemnly.
Then they both started laughing. "No, seriously. What does she want?"
"Ah, nothing big. Just a few suggestions for programs that they implemented successfully at the SGC and think would be good for Atlantis too. Well, there's one thing that's... There have been talks at the IOA, that with us being an international expedition, we might want to adopt more international policies in certain areas."
Rodney had no idea what John was saying. "Huh?"
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell. They've asked me if I see any significant problems with no longer enacting it on Atlantis."
"That's great," Rodney said. It was great. Not nearly enough, naturally, but it was a start. Even though he still didn't feel quite comfortable with the idea of John with another guy. But he wasn't thinking about that.
"Yes. Well, it's not one hundred percent certain yet, but it sounds like a real possibility," John said. It sounded a bit like he couldn't quite believe it yet himself.
"So, how are your new recruits? They can't possibly be worse than mine, but I never underestimate the SGC's ability to provide us with stupid grunts."
"You're calling everyone a stupid grunt," John pointed out.
"That is not true. I didn't call Ronon that," Rodney said defensively.
"You thought Ronon was going to kill you."
"Well, yes. I didn't call you a stupid grunt either. I'm not calling Lorne one."
"They're doing fine," John said easily, before Rodney was tempted to go on with his list. "Ronon and Teyla are taking care of them," John added with a grin.
Rodney snorted. "Well, that's one way to deal with them."
Later, he picked up Jennifer for dinner.
"How are your new personnel doing? On a scale of one—cannot walk straight—to ten—is miraculously actually competent?" he asked her as she wrapped up what she was doing.
"Rodney," she said, giving him an admonishing look. "With that kind of attitude it's no wonder you intimidate people."
"Well, I sure hope they're intimidated. They should be!"
"They're the most qualified on people on Earth," she said.
"Unfortunately, I didn't really see much of that so far," he told her.
"What they don't know they will learn," she countered. Then she dropped her head. "Sometimes, I still feel like I'm not qualified for what's facing us."
He stepped closer and cupped her face. "You are," he said and kissed her.
They walked to the mess together, hands brushing every now and then, and sharing a smile. Ronon, Teyla and John were already there, and Rodney and Jennifer joined them.
"Sheppard says you have new scientists who need some training," Ronon said, smiling slightly evilly.
"They'll certainly need to learn some essentials on weapons and defense," Rodney said. He could imagine how some of the new recruits would handle it. "The sooner we weed them out the better," he added emphatically.
"Rodney!" Jennifer chided him.
"What?! If they're completely incapable of surviving in the field, we don't even need to take them back to Pegasus."
Teyla sat up a little straighter at that. "Did you get any word?"
"Uhm, no," Rodney said. "But it looks like they're wrapping up the new personnel that they want to add. People are returning from their leave. I think it won't be long now."
"One can only hope so," she said with a sigh.
"You really miss it, huh?" Rodney asked.
Teyla took a deep breath. "As interesting as it is to learn more about your culture and to experience it first hand, I very much would like to return to what is home to me."
"That's a yes," Ronon said.
Teyla glared at him, while John and Rodney chuckled.
"It must be hard to be away from your people for so long. How is Kanaan doing?" Jennifer asked.
"He is... fine," Teyla said, and even Rodney knew that in this case 'fine' meant 'not fine at all and really sick and tired of being holed up on a floating city on an alien planet in a different galaxy'. "But he, too, will be very happy when we return."
"It won't be long now," John said. "We're getting orders that are in preparation for us moving elsewhere. Nothing concrete yet, but some policy changes that would make no sense if we continue to be stuck here."
This reminded him of the change regarding Don't Ask, Don't Tell. "Hey, do you think it would help if we weighed in on it too?" he asked John.
The others looked at him, confused, but John only thought about it for a moment and said. "Why not? You don't have to. She didn't even ask you, did she? But if you want to give her a statement, it won't hurt. They are planning not to enforce Don't Ask, Don't Tell any longer for the expedition, since it's an international base," he added in clarification for the others.
"Oh, that is good news," Teyla said.
Jennifer gave Rodney a strange look. "I didn't know you were so invested in that," she said, frowning a bit.
"Equality was always of interest to me," he said a bit more sharply than intended. "I'm sorry."
"No, it's okay. You're absolutely right. Maybe we should all add statements."
The next few days were a waiting game. With every order from the SGC came the hope that they would finally be sent on their way back. Instead, all heads of department were asked to give a little tour of Atlantis to some higher ups at the IOA.
"I can't believe this," Rodney told Jennifer, when he found out. "Do I look like a tour guide? We're actually here to do some work, not make some bureaucrats go ooh and aah over our city."
"Rodney, this is important," she said. "It's good for our reputation and you know that it's never bad to have friends at the IOA. They also happen to be the ones that decide on our funding, and I don't have to tell you what that means."
He couldn't refute her point, but still. "This is the kind of thing that we have Woolsey for."
"Try to see the good in it. You can show them what we do here. Maybe they can even learn a thing or two."
"Right," Rodney said sarcastically.
He managed to let others take the first spots on the tour, but still had no good strategy to completely avoid it when he ran into the IOA contingent being led around by Lorne.
"Why is Lorne playing tour guide for you?" Rodney asked, once he'd found John in Rodney's own lab.
"It's called delegating," John said, looking up from the screen which was currently occupied by a cave full of monsters.
Rodney was about to point out that it was pretty obvious that the SGC had asked them to do this personally, but now that he thought about it, it didn't explicitly say so in their orders. "You know what? You have a point," he said and turned to let Zelenka know of his new responsibility.
John, the bastard, beat him in every game they played that afternoon, but Rodney didn't regret it. They even managed to go over some administrative things as they played, so he didn't feel guilty when he left the lab that evening.
On his way to his room, he decided to check in on Jennifer. She was still in the infirmary.
"Hey, still working?" he asked from the door to her office.
She looked up at him, then down again. "Yes," she said stiffly.
"What's up?" he asked, coming closer. "Did the tour go wrong? I'm sure they loved you," he said.
"No, the tour went fine. They were very interested and nice. Not that you'd know anything about it," she added.
So that was it. "I delegated. I'm sure Radek did a better job anyway. He has a much higher pain threshold for ignorance and he's more polite."
"It's not about that. You didn't want to do it, so you found a way around it. That's not delegating, that's shirking your responsibilities."
"I'm responsible when it matters!" Rodney said. "This didn't."
"It's the little things," Jennifer said.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I'm just saying, sometimes it's not the big things, but the sum of all the little things that matter," she said pointedly.
"Are we still talking about the stupid tour?" Rodney asked. Because he had the distinct feeling that they weren't.
"I meant in general," Jennifer said.
"Oh really? Because it sounded like you wanted to criticize me. Again."
"When do I ever criticize you?" Jennifer asked.
Rodney snorted. "Oh, only always."
"What? I don't ever say anything about what you do," she said.
"You mean all this time, this was you holding back?" he asked. It was a frightening thought. "Come on, tell me what's wrong with me," he said, lifting his chin.
She took a deep breath. "Let's not fight about this. You 'delegated' and it's fine."
"No, I..." he hesitated. He didn't want to fight with her. But at the same time he knew that he couldn't let this go. Compromise was okay, but he needed to know how much Jennifer was really compromising. "I want to know."
"It's nothing really. Just little things. You hog the covers. You steal food from my plate and I hate that. You're never on time. You complain about everything. And it's not that I mind, but I really think you'd feel better about your life if you just approached it more positively. Attitude is important, you know."
"Nice doesn't work for me," he said stiffly.
"Have you ever really tried it? I mean, I notice that you make an effort when you're with me, at least a little. Doesn't that make you feel better?" she asked, sounding hopeful.
"It makes me feel like I'm faking being someone you'd rather want instead of me." There, he'd finally said it.
Jennifer seemed shocked by that. "That's not... Rodney, I do want you."
"Which me? The me that makes an effort? The me that remembers the little things like bringing you flowers and chocolate?" He paused. "The me I was with the parasite in my head?"
"That is not true! I wanted you back like everyone else. I fought for you. I didn't want to give up."
"I know," he said quietly.
"How can you believe it's not you I want?" she asked.
"It's how you make me feel sometimes," he admitted.
"Then I need to change that," she said. "You don't have to be anyone else. Ever." She cupped his face. "I love you. You."
As their lips met in a kiss, Rodney thought to himself that he really hoped so.
Rodney didn't feel as relieved as he probably should have after their discussion. On the one hand it was good that Jennifer knew how she made him feel sometimes and that she wanted to make it better for him—for them. But he couldn't help wonder about the compromises they were making. The things that she'd mentioned were there. And he didn't think Jennifer could just switch them off like that. Not saying certain things wouldn't make them go away.
He decided to talk to John since he already knew of Rodney's doubts. Instead of telling him directly about his discussion with Jennifer though, Rodney decided to ask John about the things that he had listed when they'd first talked about this at his sister's house.
"You remember the things that annoy you about me?"
"As if I could forget them," John said, smirking, but then he seemed to realize that Rodney was serious. "Why?"
"Do they still annoy you? Have you just stopped saying something or don't you see them anymore?" It was Rodney's vague hope that maybe if Jennifer stopped complaining about certain things, she would really stop caring about them and just let him be.
"If I see it, I say it," John said. "You're not that delicate." That was a relief. Rodney didn't want to imagine that John was harboring resentments toward him. "Mostly, they've become part of you," John continued. "It's just how it is."
"I talked to Jennifer," Rodney told him. "She'll try to let me be who I am."
"That's... great," John said.
"Yeah," Rodney said, even though he was as unsure as John sounded. He didn't want her to harbor resentments toward him either. What he really wished for was that it wasn't an either-or thing. As practical as compromises were, there was a limit.
They finally got the order to return. While everyone gave a huge sigh of relief, having an actual date also meant that the pre-flight preparations needed to be done. There were a ton of things that needed to be done on the city, and on top of that Rodney still had to fight with an unprecedented amount of new recruits.
He was reaching a point where he was going to do something drastic the next time he was asked an inane question, so he decided to let off some steam. He was on his way to John's office when he remembered that Jennifer wanted to be more accepting of his flaws. Things had changed a bit. The last time he hadn't made a lunch date on time, she hadn't said anything. It was a small thing, but it made him feel better even if he could see that she was a bit annoyed by it.
He, in turn, made an effort not to do the things she'd mentioned. Compromises, after all, went both ways. But he hadn't yet really tested his "attitude" problem, and right now he absolutely needed to let his frustration out, or some unlucky new recruit would end up scarred for life.
He didn't even bother to say hello, just immediately started. Getting right to it until the first wave of insults were out was the best way to head off the worst of it. It was usually enough to make him feel better. John didn't even need to say anything. He just needed to be there to listen.
Jennifer listened too. She watched Rodney and let him talk and rant, her eyes widening as he went on and on and on.
Then he stopped and took a deep breath. God, he'd really needed that. He carefully looked at Jennifer, who simply stared at him.
"Are you okay?" he asked when she still hadn't said anything after quite a while.
"I don't really know what you expect me to say that," she admitted.
"You could smile and tease me. It's what Sheppard does."
"I'm not Sheppard," she said stiffly.
"I know. I didn't—"
"And I'll never be him," she said sharply. "If that's what I have to compete with—"
"What? No!" Rodney had no idea where she'd get this idea from. She was his girlfriend. "You don't have to compete with anyone!"
Jennifer looked at him seriously for a moment. "What do you want, Rodney?"
"What do you mean?" he asked, but he had a sinking feeling in his stomach. He'd gone through enough break-ups. And things weren't the best between them right now to begin with.
"Or should I ask, who do you want?" Jennifer said, giving him a quick, sad smile.
Rodney stared at her. "There isn't another woman. I don't even look at anyone else. Okay, possibly one of the new biologists, because she's really built, but I never look, look."
"I didn't mean another woman," Jennifer said.
Rodney blinked. "Wha... Sheppard?! I..." He didn't know what to say. He'd thought about the possibility, very briefly, and then dismissed it. And Jennifer couldn't know that. And he had never done anything to make her believe that he wanted Sheppard instead of her. He couldn't have done it, because he didn't want Sheppard. "I can't believe you think we'd..." He couldn't even put it into words.
"I don't. Not really. Nothing sexual at least. But relationships aren't just about sex and I always... God, Rodney, when you were so gone that you couldn't remember my name you still shouted for him. And maybe it's paranoid of me, but some part of me has always felt I had to compete with him."
"I don't think of Sheppard that way." He could if he wanted to, but he didn't. He wasn't going to. He'd made his choice and it was her.
"I know. As I said, it's irrational, just... don't compare me to Sheppard, okay? I can't... I can't take it. And I can't stop being me either. That's not going to work."
"I know. Relationships are about compromises from both sides. I'm not going to rant about my minions to you anymore. I'll do that with Shep— someone else."
"You can still mention his name," she said, adding ruefully, "It's not like we can pretend he doesn't exist."
"Do you want to?" Rodney asked. He wouldn't give up his friends for her. He was willing to compromise, but that one was non-negotiable.
"Sometimes I wish it'd be just us and nobody else. But I'm glad you have good friends," she said.
This he could understand. He supposed if it was just the two of them, with no minions to drive them nuts, no Wraith out to get them, their relationship would be easier. But it wouldn't be their life anymore. "Do you think we can figure this out? Make it work?" he asked. Because if she wasn't behind this, if she didn't want to make the effort it would take, they had no chance.
"I want to," she said without hesitation.
"Then we will," he answered in kind.
The last days before lift-off were a blur. Between keeping the new recruits from destroying things, doing last minute diagnostics and fix-ups, and the meetings that everyone on Earth seemed to want to squeeze in now that Atlantis was soon to be out of reach again, Rodney had practically no time for anything other than dropping into his own or Jennifer's bed at night.
He tried not to hog the covers, snuggling up to her instead. Since she didn't mind, it was a win-win situation and the only moments of peace he had. He did go to John if he needed to complain about how the SGC must have conspired to make their departure as difficult for them as humanly possible.
John took it in stride. He was looking forward to taking Atlantis back home. Since they were asked to conserve energy it was going to be a long ride, but John didn't seem to worry about long bouts of time in the chair, only interrupted by others taking over occasionally.
Rodney didn't look forward to the long ride. It wasn't all that different from a stationary Atlantis, but with a full contingent of people and no missions to go on, some people might get a bit stir-crazy. Not to mention that experience had shown that there was always the possibility of things going horribly, horribly wrong.
He gave his sister a quick call before they left, promising to visit her the next time he was back on Earth. He almost asked John if he'd already called his brother, and if not to extend Rodney's greetings to all of them, but he knew that John was extremely busy, giving last orders and securing everything.
Then the moment was finally there.
Watching Atlantis rise from the Pacific Ocean was a spectacle that you didn't see every day. He was standing on the balcony with Jennifer and the others, wishing only that John could see it too. But then, he knew that John was very happy that this time he was the one to take Atlantis on the trip to another galaxy.
The chair room was a lonely place. But they were taking turns keeping John company.
Rodney had a lot of things to do, like preparing his new scientists for their first test missions, but he still found the time to check with John for at least an hour or two every day, sometimes more if he had things to discuss with John.
Today it wasn't about the composition of new teams though. He'd had enough of work and was ready to call it a day. John only left the chair if Lorne or Carson forced him out of it, so he was sure to find John in the chair room.
Teyla, Kanaan and Torren were there when he arrived. Kanaan was visibly happier now that they were on their way back to the Pegasus galaxy. He'd spent quite some time in the chair room with Torren, keeping John company in his unassuming way. He'd played with Torren and talked a bit about the Athosians. He usually left them alone shortly after Rodney arrived, and even though John didn't say anything, Rodney knew that he was happy about his presence while the others performed their various duties on Atlantis.
This time though, Teyla was with them too, and Kanaan didn't even seem to notice that Rodney had walked in. Torren was playing with a little wooden train while Teyla and Kanaan sat a bit further away, leaning against the wall and talking quietly.
Rodney walked over to John, looked at Teyla and Kanaan and then gave John a questioning look. John only smiled at him.
For a while they just watched Teyla and Kanaan, seemingly lost in their own little world. It occurred to Rodney that he hardly ever saw them together. Kanaan spent much of his time with the Athosians, taking Torren with him when he could. He usually didn't eat in the mess with the others and unlike Teyla he hadn't become a citizen of Atlantis during the time that he'd stayed here.
Rodney didn't think that Teyla wanted it any other way. He knew how important their people were to both of them. The prolonged stay on Earth must have been really difficult for him. He was very relaxed now though, whispering something in Teyla's ear. She gave him a cocky smile, and Rodney got the distinct impression that the two of them were flirting.
Kanaan told her something, and Teyla laughed, one of her beautiful open laughs that lit up a room. Kanaan continued talking, and Teyla kept chuckling, answering with just her eyes as he went on.
This was what a relationship should be like, Rodney thought.
They were completely at ease in each other's space. There was obvious fondness and attraction, but also familiarity and the deep friendship that they'd shared for decades before they'd become partners. They were a unit. Each their own person, but together still distinct from the rest of the world, as if there were an invisible shield around them, them and Torren, protecting them from the world, just like the shield around Atlantis protected them as they flew through space.
He looked over to John, and for a moment Rodney thought he saw a sense of longing on his face.
Rodney felt it too. He had Jennifer, and since their last talk things were going well between them, even if there was still a sense of staking out the edges of their compromises. But even if they could leave that behind them and come to a point where they knew exactly where their limits lay, Rodney still didn't think it would be like it was for Teyla and Kanaan.
He thought of his own sister and her husband, how Jeannie hadn't hesitated to give up her career to marry Kaleb and have a family with him. He thought about Dave and Charlie, who despite their rocky beginnings and despite the fact that Rodney hadn't known them for long, left no doubt in his mind that they belonged together.
Jennifer and he weren't like that. At least he didn't think so. He'd expected his sister to press the marriage issue, but surprisingly she hadn't. And then there was John, of course, who certainly didn't think he and Jennifer belonged together. He hadn't said anything else, and Rodney was almost certain that he wouldn't, unless asked, and maybe not even then. But Rodney didn't need him to say anything to know how he felt.
It would be easier to take if Rodney didn't still have his own doubts that simply refused to go away completely.
They made it back to their planet in a bit less than two weeks. The landing was beautiful. Rodney was so used to worrying about a crash landing that he almost didn't know what to do with himself when John set the city down like feather. Rodney stayed with him in the chair room and watched John as he channeled his full concentration into becoming one with Atlantis.
He'd set up monitors, showing images of three of the piers, but in the end his eyes were on John as they ended their flight and set down on the water.
Routine set in quickly after they landed. Of course, adjustments had to be made. The new people needed to be integrated and introduced to the Pegasus way of life, though Atlantis was as stocked with Earth things as it had ever been.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell was officially not enforced anymore. There were some questions about transferring back to Earth, where it was still the law of the land, but a memo from the SGC assured them that "Don't Ask" was still part of the rule and that included not asking about what had been going on in Atlantis. Additionally, a recommendation was issued that nothing pertaining to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" should be reported outside of Atlantis, and reports, if they did come, should be considered out of the scope of the SGC.
It was a kind of half-assed solution, and Rodney really hoped the US government would get their act together and finally repeal the whole thing. As it was, some people didn't feel safe enough to come out. At least, that was the impression he'd gotten, since, of course, those that decided to remain closeted didn't announce it.
There were quite a few people who'd been on Atlantis for a couple of years who came out, though. John wasn't one of them. Although Rodney wasn't entirely sure about it. He did seem more flirtatious with men now on their missions, though in all honestly Rodney thought that might have simply been that he now knew to look for it.
And often coming out was nothing more than mentioning a partner—present or past, that happened to be of the same sex. Since John didn't have a partner and wasn't prone to talking about his past, short of an announcement there would be no coming out for John.
Rodney had asked if he was going to start dating now that he could. John had reminded him that fraternization rules still applied. Then he'd shrugged as if it didn't really matter to him.
Maybe John really just wasn't looking.
They began to go on missions again. There were a record-setting number of Atlantis Reconnaissance Teams and Rodney was kept quite busy with examining the discoveries they made or the devices they brought home. The Wraith were still a nuisance, and there were the usual number of planets that didn't like the way Atlantis and its new occupants were handling themselves, but overall it was only the usual level of stress.
Jennifer went out on missions too, and it was during one such mission, scheduled to keep her away from Atlantis for a couple of days, that Rodney let John persuade him to play a round of golf. The real thing, not the video version.
Rodney was a bit annoyed that the application of the rather simple mechanics behind it wasn't as easy as it ought to be.
"Oh, really?" John asked, swirling his golf club around with one hand. It looked very impressive, and Rodney was preparing himself to wipe the smirk off John's face when the club slipped and hit John's head hard.
Rodney started laughing, but then he saw the blood trickling down between John's fingers and sobered up. "Shit, only you would manage to injure yourself with your own golf club."
"'m fine," John said, through gritted teeth.
"Oh yeah, because streaming blood is a sure sign of good health. Let's go and have Jennifer take a look at it."
John gave him an incredulous look.
"Come on. I know you're all stoic hero, but you need to have this looked at. She won't bite."
John kept staring at him, hand on his wound. Rodney was about to bodily drag him away when John said, "She's on P7X-933. For five days."
"Oh. You're right. It, uh, slipped my mind," Rodney admitted.
John simply kept staring at him.
"You still need to go to the infirmary," Rodney said, and John finally relented and let Rodney take him there.
That night in bed, Rodney wanted to masturbate, but he couldn't stop thinking about the look on John's face. As if the fact that he'd momentarily forgotten Jennifer's absence was some horrifying oversight.
Rodney wasn't like other people. He didn't think about his partner 24/7. He'd been glad to see Teyla and Ronon again after their vacation, but he hadn't actively missed them most of the time. There simply were times when he forgot everything and everyone. Even Jennifer. Even John. That was how he was. It didn't mean anything.
It certainly didn't mean that he wouldn't miss Jennifer if she left. It had only been two days so far. If it went on for longer, that would be different. If she left for good it would be... It would be bad for sure, but thinking about it Rodney had to admit that it wouldn't be the end of the world for him.
He loved her, yes, but she wasn't the one for him, that one person that he didn't think he could live without.
But it didn't mean that their relationship was a bad one, even though he knew that was what John thought. He and Jennifer were happy together. And the thought of them continuing like they were now for the rest of their lives was certainly not a disappointment. That he could imagine life without her didn't mean that it wasn't worth it.
Their life was comfortable and good. It might not be perfect, but it was so much better than nothing, and it wasn't wrong that he didn't want to be alone. John couldn't expect that of him.
Except that clearly he did. Or if not expect, he at least couldn't understand Rodney's point of view. And that grated on Rodney. He tossed and turned in bed until he couldn't take it anymore and went to talk to John.
"Compromises are okay. They can be necessary," Rodney said without preamble when he pushed himself past John into his room.
It took John on moment to get what Rodney was talking about, but then understanding lit up his face—soon to be followed by stubbornness.
"I know that you seem to have this fantasy view of a perfect relationship," Rodney continued, undeterred, "but that's just not how it works for everyone. Take my parents. Their marriage was anything but perfect but they stayed together till their death."
John made a face.
"Go on. Say what you want to say," Rodney told him, arms crossed in front of him.
John looked at him, but didn't speak.
"I want you to say it," Rodney insisted.
"It's not enough," John finally said.
"It is for some of us," Rodney responded without missing a beat.
"Well, okay then. Great."
"No, I..." Rodney deflated slightly. "You're saying I should break up with her and hope someone better comes along."
"I'm not telling you what to do," John said.
"You don't think I should stay with her. You think if I marry her, I'll regret it," Rodney went on. Because if John couldn't say what he meant, Rodney would.
"Maybe not. I could have stayed married. But it wouldn't have made me happy," John said.
"Are you happier now? Alone?" Rodney asked. Because it wasn't so much about the question if things could be better. It was also about how much worse they could be.
"No," John answered, looking straight at Rodney. "But she is."
Rodney couldn't say anything to that, so he only nodded at John and left.
For the next few days, he pondered John's words. This really wasn't just about him, but Jennifer knew what they were doing. They both made compromises to make their relationship work. They had both decided that for them it was worth it. For them it was enough.
He didn't think he needed to address this with her, but when they sat together on the bed after her return, she asked him if something was up. He could tell her that everything was all right, but maybe rather than just assuming it, he should actually ask her and let her confirm what he thought.
"You're considering marrying me, right? That's no proposal, by the way," he said.
She smiled and frowned at the same time. "It sounded like one," she pointed out.
"That seems to happen," Rodney said, thinking about his slip-up with Katie. "You introduced me to your dad, so I assume this is serious for you."
"Yes. You know that," she said.
He nodded. Then he took a deep breath. "But I'm not the one for you?"
She didn't immediately answer, and when she did, it wasn't really an answer to his question. "Do you believe in that?"
"I don't know. But some people do."
"Yes, some people. What are you trying to say?" she asked.
"You're okay with what we have?" he asked.
"You don't think I am?" she asked back.
"I think we're happy together, but maybe you believe someone else could make you happier."
She seemed to ponder that for a moment. Then she said, "I don't believe in absolutes. There's always something better or worse."
"Yes, I agree. But if you look at other couples. Take Teyla and Kanaan..."
"They've known each other all their lives, Rodney. We won't be able to compete with that," she said, and he knew that she was right. "Unless this isn't what you want, I'm okay with what we have. I'm happy."
"So am I," he said and kissed her.
It was only later, when they lay closely entwined, still sweaty from sex, that Rodney heard the echo of John's words in his head. "It's not enough."
Rodney hated surprise parties unless they only involved him in a supporting role that included eating and drinking and nothing else. What he didn't want was spending his birthday with people he either hardly knew or hardly cared about.
Rodney knew that Jennifer had only meant well, but he quickly decided that this wasn't going to be one of the things that he was going to put up with just to make her happy. He'd tell her how he felt after the party was over.
He wondered how long he'd have to stay when John showed up at his side with a six-pack in hand. "Oh thank God. Please take me away," Rodney said.
John grinned and did.
They went to the pier and had their beer. Rodney enjoyed the peace and quiet after having dozens of people congratulate him. This was more what he'd had in mind for the evening.
"I have something for you," John said. "Now, I have to warn you, it probably came out horribly, but I tried my best."
He walked over and picked up a box that Rodney hadn't noticed before. Then he walked back and set it down next to Rodney, picking up his beer again.
Rodney opened the box. He blinked. "You made..."
"I tried," John said. "I asked Sybille to send me the recipe."
"You don't even like Pashka," Rodney said, staring at John in wonder.
"It's your birthday," John said with a shrug.
Rodney took the fork that lay next to the dessert and took a bite. It wasn't as good as Sybille's, certainly not as good at the real Russian thing, but John had made it himself and it tasted just about as good as anything he'd ever eaten.
John watched him as he swallowed his first bite, visibly pleased when Rodney took a second one. A smile crept onto his face, and Rodney felt the urge to reach out and touch him. He lifted his hand and awkwardly put it on John's shoulder, but truthfully, he wanted to put it around John's neck to pull him close.
He wasn't even sure if he wanted to kiss him; maybe he just wanted him closer, but as he looked at John's smile in that moment, Rodney thought that he was a little bit in love with him.
He didn't eat all of the Pashka, keeping some for later. They spent another hour just sitting and talking and sometimes just enjoying the silence between them.
Then John asked if he wanted to return, and Rodney agreed that he probably should.
He tried not to think about his feelings for John. He'd always known that it could be more than friendship. And such a pleasant assault on his taste buds was as unfair as it was certainly unintended to arouse those feelings in Rodney. He knew that, which was why he chose to ignore them.
The party was pretty much over when he returned. Rodney felt slightly guilty and went looking for Jennifer who had already left. He found her in her room.
"Hey," he said, sitting down on the bed where she lay reading. "I'm sorry I left. I appreciate what you were trying to do, but I'm really not a fan of surprise parties. I still want to thank you."
He leaned forward to kiss her. She let him, but didn't really return the kiss.
"I thought you'd like the congratulations of all your 'underlings'," she said.
"Truthfully, I don't really want to have to talk with them outside of work."
"I'm glad you at least had a bit of fun," she said. And the way she said it, he could almost hear the "with John" attached. He didn't feel guilty about enjoying the time he spent with John. Thinking that he was in love with him, if only for a moment, was a different matter, but enjoying being with John was something that he would not compromise on.
"He made dessert for me," Rodney said, because he didn't really know what else to say to that.
Jennifer nodded. Then, inexplicably, she smiled widely, bravely. "This isn't going to work," she said.
Rodney could pretend that he didn't know what she was talking about or he could protest that she wasn't right. But the truth was, she was right. They'd tried to make it work, did their best to hang on to their relationship, but in the end there was always a moment like this and that wouldn't stop. It didn't even have anything to do with John and the feelings that he might or might not have for him. This was only about them.
"No," he agreed. "At least not without these things happening again and again."
She nodded ruefully.
"And maybe we both deserve better," he continued, trying to be positive for once. "We can't know for sure, but we could give it a shot. Maybe there's someone out there for us where no compromise is necessary."
"And if it doesn't work out, we could still give it another go," she agreed.
"So we'll be okay?" Rodney asked. He felt weird. He felt as if he should feel worse than he did. He wasn't happy. But he also wasn't unhappy.
"Definitely," Jennifer said.
"We can still have lunch together or catch a movie night every now and then." He didn't want to lose her completely. Not if he could avoid it.
"I wouldn't have it any other way," she said, smiling at him.
He smiled back.
"Come here," she said, opening her arms.
He pulled her into his arms and held her close for a moment. "I love you," he said, because despite everything he did.
"I love you too," she said and kissed his forehead.
Rodney knew it had been the right decision. He wasn't as certain about what to do with John, though. He was still hesitant to jump headfirst into this. He had no idea how John felt about him. And for all the moments he'd been thinking about John as more than a friend, he wasn't sure how he really felt about him either.
He didn't want to do what he'd always done, what had always failed. He wasn't going to tell himself that he could fall in love with John. He knew that. But he wanted more. And he knew that John wanted more too if he wanted Rodney, which was a pretty big if.
He'd taken the news of Rodney's breakup well, but he hadn't seemed particularly happy about it, or hopeful. In other words, he hadn't given Rodney a sign that he felt anything beyond friendship. Not that it should have made a difference for Rodney. He was determined not to make the same mistake again. Certainly not with John. Because as civil as his breakup with Jennifer had been, Rodney knew that it was the exception rather than the rule, and under no circumstances did he want to risk his friendship with John.
So they went on with their lives. Rodney tried to be open-minded about finding someone who might be the right one for him, whether they were a woman or a man. But of course, that elusive perfect someone for him wasn't found around the corner. Truthfully, he didn't mind all that much.
He could spend more time on some of his side projects and with his friends. He could spend more time with John. And he did. They hung out almost daily and even though Rodney still refused to actively think about a romantic relationship with John, those little moments wouldn't go away.
It was in a little smile he gave Rodney, or a smug look when he beat him at chess. It was in the instances when John proved that he was as smart as he was good-looking and it was in a casual brush of his shoulder when they sat together.
Rodney let the moments come and go, but it became increasingly pointless to not encourage something that didn't need encouragement.
It was a few months after his breakup with Jennifer that they sat together in John's room. They had been talking idly about a new spaceship when John insisted on putting down some of the ideas.
"They're not ideas," Rodney said. "They're crazy talk."
"Right, and then you go ahead and make them a reality. It's what you do. Don't deny it," John said.
Rodney felt himself flush as John got up to get his personal laptop. There was something in the way John looked at him as he said it that made Rodney feel warm all over.
John sat back down next to him and booted up his machine, giving Rodney a grin. "This is going to be so cool."
"It's impossible," Rodney said, but his heart wasn't in it, and he smiled. If it was in his power he'd never deny John anything in the world.
John logged in, and Rodney recognized the background of his desktop as a scan of Madison's drawing of the three of them. He stared at it.
"Something wrong?" John asked.
No, Rodney wanted to say. Nothing was wrong. Or everything. He wasn't sure which. He couldn't think anymore. He could only feel in his heart what he'd felt again and again in the last months and maybe before that without realizing it. "Do you... Do you want to go out with me?" Rodney asked him.
John frowned. "You... You're not asking about us sitting together like now?" he asked.
"No," Rodney said, his mouth feeling suddenly dry. "I'd like to go on a date with you."
John looked at him then dropped his gaze. "Listen, I'm sorry—"
"That's okay," Rodney heard himself say, even as something in his heart cracked.
"I just don't think—"
"Hey, no need to explain. It was just an idea," Rodney lied. He felt slightly out of breath.
"Are you sure?" John asked.
Rodney nodded. He didn't think he could speak anymore. But he needed to get out of here. "Uhm, I think I still need to check this simulation that I started earlier. Can we finish this another time?" he managed to say.
"Sure," John said.
Rodney gave him a smile and got up.
"Rodney?" John asked, before he could leave. "Are you—"
"Fine, fine," Rodney said smiling. "Just the simulation. You can start putting down ideas."
John nodded, and Rodney turned around and left.
He didn't remember how he made it to his room. Only that once there he leaned against his door and started taking deep breaths. He felt as if there was no air left in his lungs. One deep breath after another and as he calmed down, the feeling of suffocation gave way to an acute pain right in his chest.
At least, that was what it felt like. "Fuck," he cursed. He'd been doing so well and now—God, he couldn't believe how much this hurt. Never had a breakup felt like this for Rodney, and they hadn't even been together.
He tried to tell himself that he wasn't in love with John. That it had just been a spur of the moment thing, but the magnitude of the loss that he felt in this moment was undeniable.
God, this was terrible. If this was what true love was like, he couldn't understand why anyone would want to put up with it. And he still wasn't convinced. He just— He couldn't deal with this right now.
He went to the bathroom, splashed some water in his face, then went into the lab to start the simulation that he'd lied about to John.
It wasn't as bad the next day, but it still hurt. Rodney avoided John—and everyone else, for that matter—for the next couple of days. When he realized that he missed John, he decided to come out of hiding and risk facing him again.
It was acceptable. He still felt a dull pain, but as they talked about a mission that Lorne's team had gone on, Rodney felt himself relax and enjoy John's way of seeing things, his wry humor and teasing.
This was okay. It was going to be okay. It had to be.
He hung out again with John. They never talked about Rodney's suggestion. Maybe John believed Rodney that it had just been an idea, an idle thought that had no deeper meaning. Or maybe he knew how Rodney felt, but didn't want to make it any harder on him.
Either way, Rodney was quite happy with the way they'd handled it. Well, not happy, but... it was acceptable. And certainly better than not spending any time together at all anymore.
They were sitting in the lab when someone knocked on the door. They turned around to see Teyla standing there. In her arms she carried Torren—and a bag with his things.
She smiled widely at them and stepped closer. "I am sure I told you that Kanaan went on a longer trading mission this last week."
John and Rodney exchanged a look.
"I think you mentioned it, yes," John said.
"He is back now," she said.
Rodney was about to say, "O-kay," when John said, "Oh," in an understanding voice. Rodney hated it when John got something sooner than he did. "Would you like us to look after Torren for a while?" John asked.
"Yes!" Teyla said emphatically. "All his things are here. I have already fed him, but there is a bottle of tea and a snack if he gets hungry."
"Okay," John said and got up, taking Torren from her.
Rodney also got up and took the bag from her.
"Train," Torren said.
"I am sure John and Rodney will play with you and the train," Teyla said. Then she looked to John and Rodney and said, "Thank you. I expect to pick him up after dinner."
"No problem," John said. "You and Kanaan, take your time."
"We will," Teyla said eagerly. Then she turned and left.
"Wow, she's horny," Rodney commented.
"What's horny?" Torren asked.
"Uhm, why don't we go to my room," John suggested. "I think Rodney here wouldn't be too happy if we muck around with his equipment. Wanna play train?"
"Yes!" Torren said.
"Then let's go."
They made their way to John's room. Rodney took along his laptop. Since they weren't going to waste their evening fighting virtual monsters and he wasn't too keen on playing with the train, he might as well get some work done.
John and Torren played with the train, then moved on to a game that Teyla had packed in the bag.
"Rodney? Do you know how this works?" John asked him from beside the bed, where he was sitting on the ground with Torren.
Rodney walked over from the desk and lay down on the bed close to John. "What is it?" he asked.
"If I knew it, I wouldn't ask," John said, giving Rodney a look and one of the cards that were apparently part of the game.
Rodney took a look at the inscription, but it only looked like a bear to him. And he thought that John could probably recognize a bear as well. "What else do we have?"
John fished out a few cards and gave them to Rodney. Rodney took them and spread them out in front of him, trying to sort them. John moved up and leaned to the side, so that he could see what Rodney saw, crowding his personal space as he did.
Rodney wanted to be annoyed by him, but couldn't help smiling.
"You know, colors aren't the same in the Pegasus galaxy," John told him.
Rodney was about to protest, but looking at the cards he realized that this was exactly what he'd been trying to do, and John was right. Rodney looked at him.
John seemed even closer now, half leaning on the bed. He gave Rodney a smile and leaned closer, putting the cards in a different order. Rodney didn't even see what he was doing. He only felt John's arm and shoulder against his, and when he turned, their faces were only inches from each other.
One corner of John's mouth was turned up in a half smile, and Rodney could see the spark in his eyes.
"Hey," John said, bumping his shoulder into Rodney's.
Rodney couldn't speak. He couldn't... This was it. All his life he'd told himself when and with whom to fall in love. He'd made it happen, he'd built relationships on it that were doomed to fail because at the end of the day he'd never felt what he felt now.
He was in love with John. John was the person that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. John was the person he wanted to have a family with. He was the one whom he wanted to grow old with.
John was the one for him.
And the fact that John didn't return his feelings didn't change them one bit. He needed to get out of here. He didn't know how he would handle this situation, but he knew that if he stayed any longer, he would do something stupid like kiss John out of sheer desperation, and he needed to think about their friendship even if it would never be the same.
"Rodney?" John asked, smile giving way to worry.
"I'm okay," Rodney said, sitting up straight, away from John.
"What's going on?" John asked.
He really couldn't explain, so he simply said, "I'm fine," and got up.
"Of course, you're fine. Why wouldn't you be fine?" John asked confused, standing up as well.
"I have to go," Rodney said. He certainly couldn't stay. John had made his feelings—or rather the lack thereof—clear. He couldn't force something that wasn't there.
"But what's wrong?" John asked, clearly concerned.
"Don't worry," Rodney said, looking at John, really looking at him. God, it was unbelievable how much he loved this man. He had no idea how he could have not seen this before. "I'll get over it," he said, though he knew he wouldn't. Not for a long time, maybe not ever.
"Over what?" John asked, puzzled.
Rodney hesitated for a moment. It wasn't as if he hadn't made his move. Even if it hadn't been completely obvious, John would figure it out eventually. There was no reason not to tell him now. "You," Rodney said, and turned to leave.
"What?!" John said.
Rodney turned back, seeing out of the corner of his eye that Torren had stopped playing and was staring at them now. "I'll get over you. You don't need to feel guilty. It isn't your fault that you don't feel the same." Because he could see John tearing himself up over this.
"Feel the same," John repeated, staring at Rodney.
Rodney nodded. He was about to turn away again, when John took a step forward and grabbed Rodney's arm. "Feel what?" he asked.
Rodney felt that John should be smarter than this, but considering that Rodney hadn't known for all that long, maybe John could be forgiven. "I love you," Rodney said.
John looked shell-shocked. "But... You said it was just an idea when you asked me out. You said..." John trailed off.
"I lied," Rodney admitted.
John stared at him. Rodney had no idea what was going on in his head. They both stood like that for a long time, until John opened his mouth. "I..." he began, swallowing audibly. "I don't want you to get over me," he eventually managed to say.
Rodney wasn't sure what John was saying, but his heart rate sped up. John didn't want Rodney to stop loving him. And the most obvious reason for that would be if he... But that couldn't be. "You turned me down," Rodney said.
"Yes, you did. You said you were sorry. Nobody says they're sorry if they say yes. Unless maybe they think it really is a bad idea, but want to go ahead anyway. And you didn't stop me when I dropped it," Rodney babbled.
"I know," John said. "I meant I didn't think you were serious. I thought after Keller you just wanted... You know that I'm gay and since you're bisexual..."
"There are hundreds of guys on Atlantis, some of them even openly gay and some of those are single. But I only asked you," Rodney said.
"You've never... When I told you I was gay... Even when you realized you were bisexual," John said, unable to finish any of his sentences.
"I was with Jennifer," Rodney said, though it hadn't been just that. "And I wasn't sure how I felt about you. I knew there was something, but I didn't know that it was..." He stopped, unable to put into words what he was feeling for John.
"What?" John of course had to ask.
"This," Rodney said, taking John's hand and pressing it to his chest over his wildly beating heart because he didn't know how to explain. "I've never felt like this about anyone in my life."
John looked at him as if he still couldn't believe him. He also looked as if he wanted desperately to believe him. And that filled Rodney's heart with hope so powerful that it was almost painful. "Me neither," John eventually said.
Rodney's heart skipped a beat. John must have felt it. Felt it in Rodney's heart and his own. Because that had to be what John was saying. It had to mean what Rodney wanted it to mean, what Rodney had hoped for all his life, even if he hadn't known it. His whole body wanted to move, closer to John, to be connected to him not just where his hand still lay on his chest, but everywhere, as close as humanly possible. But he was still frozen to the spot.
"I don't want you to get over me," John repeated. "Ever," he added, and that was it.
They both moved as one, Rodney's hand on John's neck, John's moving to his cheeks and then around him, pulling each other close into a hard kiss. Their noses were clashing at first, but then they adjusted and suddenly it was perfect.
Rodney put his arms around John, pulling his body close as well, needing to feel John, all of him.
"Kissy," Rodney suddenly heard a small voice.
They pulled apart reluctantly, still holding on to each other, a bit breathless.
Torren looked up at them with big eyes, lifting his arms. John smiled and slowly moved his hands from Rodney, stroking him as he did, to pick up Torren. Then he kissed the little guy on the cheek.
"How long until Teyla will pick him up?" Rodney said anxiously, looking forward to getting his own kisses again—without interruptions.
John laughed an open, happy laugh. Then he leaned over to kiss Rodney again, more softly. Rodney sighed as his body melted into John's. "We have time," John said. "After dinner." It sounded like a promise. He set down Torren. "Wanna play train again?"
"Pu'llejumper," Torren said.
John nodded and smiled at him. Before he sat down again, though, he leaned close to Rodney. "After dinner," he repeated seriously. "We'll have all the time in the world. I don't plan on ever getting over you either."
Rodney reached out to cup his face, because he could, because John was there and loved him, because for the first time in his life he didn't wonder if a new relationship would work out.
No matter what life chose to throw at them—and Rodney still wasn't an optimist and didn't think that would ever change—he and John would be all right as long as they were together. And they'd be together as long as they lived.
He wasn't sure about the how and why, and it didn't matter. It wasn't something he could explain. But he didn't have to.
He just knew.