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The Neighborly Detective And The Tragic Woobie Widower

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John was wearing a dress the first time he saw Timothy McKay. It was a lovely, slinky, black dress, and John felt absurd in it, even more so as he swung his long legs out of his car and looked into the boy's inquisitive face, dominated by serious blue eyes. "Umm...hi."

"Hello," the child said gravely. "Are you the new neighbor?"

"Yes. I'm...ah...John Sheppard." John rather wished he hadn't dumped the wig on the car seat. Maybe then he could pretend he was a woman and hope that the child wouldn't notice his height or awkwardness in the high heels in the dusk. Joyce Sheppard, his visiting sister who would then disappear and never reappear.

"I'm Timothy McKay. I live there." He pointed next door to the large two-story house with the best yard on the block. Perfect green grass, neatly manicured bushes, patches of beautiful flowers, all so gorgeous, especially in comparison to John's trashed-out yard. John reminded himself that bad upkeep was the main reason he'd been able to afford moving into this neighborhood. "With my dad. My mom had a dress like that. She used to wear it for parties. Have you been to a party?"

"No. I don't usually wear dresses. This was for work."

"It's really pretty."

"Yeah, I guess." John stepped out of the car, glancing down at his legs, looking so weird shaved bare, the black dress dropping almost to his bony knees. "I don't normally wear this kind of thing."

"Timothy!"

The boy glanced over at his house. "It's dinner time. You should come eat with us some time. My dad's the best cook in the world."

He was cute, this kid, like a little adult with his formal manner. "That would be nice, if your dad wants me to."

"Timothy!"

"You could wear the dress. It would be like a party," Timothy said wistfully, and John wondered if his mother saw him much. That would be a shame if she were one of those non-custodial parents who simply disappeared on their children, making a big fuss when they breezed in on holidays.

"I really don't wear this kind of thing normally." Or ever again. He'd coped with the 'stick it to the new guy' mild hazing ritual, accepting the resulting joshing from the guys at the station with grace and no whining, but once was enough.

"Timothy! Where are you?" Timothy's dad's bellow was getting louder, proving that the fellow had an impressive set of his lungs.

"You should run." And then John could get in the house and change before any more neighbors saw him.

"It was nice to meet you, Mr. Sheppard. Good night."

"Night," John responded, wobbling into his house as Timothy ran off. Despite the awkwardness of meeting the child while wearing a dress, it seemed like a good start to learning about his neighbors. Sweet kid, well-behaved, parent who served dinner at a reasonable hour. Living in suburbia had never been part of John's game plan for his life, but circumstances changed, and he thought he could become accustomed to this new environment.

~~~

"Hello. I'm Dr. Rodney McKay."

It seemed to be John's day for meeting blue-eyed strangers. He stuck his fork into the bowl of ramen, and held out his hand. "John Sheppard." He decided to leave off 'Detective.'

"Are you eating ramen?" Timothy's father sounded horrified, his gaze on John's bowl rather than John, even as they shook hands. "Do you know how much sodium is in a single packet?"

"I just moved in," John answered defensively. The house still looked like hell, his boxes piled everywhere and his limited furniture scattered in odd places, the walls covered by faded paint or appalling wallpaper from several decades ago, the carpeting ratty and worn. Cooking hadn't been high on the list of priorities.

"Moving is no excuse for bad nutrition."

"Did you need something, Dr. McKay?"

"Oh yes." McKay cleared his throat a little bit. "I wanted to let you know that Timothy and I had a long discussion after dinner. I've explained about the transvestitism, and he understands, as much as a child of his age can, which is actually quite a lot. He's highly intelligent, which is to be expected, given his parentage. I'm trying to raise him to be open-minded about other people's...proclivities. Well, not when their proclivities are abhorrent, like racism or discrimination or sheer stupidity, but certainly when they're perfectly natural if somewhat unusual activities. However, I did wish to check with you, to see if there was anything else that I should explain to him before he discovers it for himself."

McKay took a breath about the time that John was wondering if he needed to, and stared expectantly. He was rather cute, with his deep blue eyes, brown hair, a nose that had the slightest touch of a ski jump-look, and a mouth that slanted down on the left. Undoubtedly straight, since he had a son and ex-wife, but maybe he'd be bi-curious. John could never tell about these things. It was a good thing that men frequently made passes at him, because his gaydar was beyond crap. And then McKay's spiel sunk in. "Transvestitism?" he yelped. "Who said I was a transvestite?"

McKay's back stiffened and his jaw stuck out in irritation. "I realize you may in denial, Mr. Sheppard, but it's difficult enough to raise a child as a single parent without neighbors being dishonest. I would appreciate if you would have some consideration and face the truth in this instance, particularly if you're going to display it where children can see."

"I'm not dishonest and I'm not a transvestite!"

"Did you or did you not come home tonight in a slinky black dress?"

"That was for work!"

McKay's eyes were still very pretty when they rolled in disgust. "Fine, work." He mimed little quotes in the air. "Will you be participating in any other activities for work that my son is likely to see?" He repeated the mimed quotes when he said 'work' the second time.

"I'm a police detective. That was for the vice squad."

"Fine, if you're going to be that way, I'll just deal with your issues as they arise," McKay snapped, and stalked off, down the walkway and driveway, along the little strip of sidewalk and back up his own driveway to his own house. He had a very fine ass, almost as fine as those eyes, and strong arms, evidenced by how loudly his door slammed behind him.

John leaned on the doorframe and took a bite of his ramen. Less than a week in his first home and already his neighbor thought he was a lying cross-dresser. At least his new life wasn't going to be boring.

~~~

Ah, vindication was sweet, John decided, reading the front page of the Metro section. Folding the newspaper back together, he tucked it under his arm, beginning an easy jog back to his house, taking a different route from the newsstand to home, so that he loped up to the McKay house first. Timothy was outside, trimming the rose bushes that ran along the driveway, separating their houses. John did a double take, not sure that he'd ever seen a kid trimming roses. Mowing, sure, but not making careful precision cuts, biting his lip in concentration. "Hey, Timothy."

Timothy gave a little wave. "Good morning, Mr. Sheppard."

He was used to titles, major for many years and now detective, but Mr. Sheppard disconcerted him. "You can call me John."

Timothy shook his head. "Dad says it's not polite to call adults by their first name, even when they're ignoramuses."

Which certainly sounded like something the older McKay would say. John remembered when he used to quote his father's sayings. That seemed like a long time ago now. He smiled, not pushing the issue. He'd bring it up again when Timothy knew him better. "Hey, could you do me a favor? Could you give this to your dad?"

Timothy looked rather like John was trying to hand him a snake. "Dad says the local paper is rubbish. He reads the 'Physical Review Letters' and 'Foreign Affairs.'"

"Just this section, okay? Tell him I said there was an article he should see. He'll know which one."

That seemed to reassure Timothy, and he accepted the paper. "I have to finish the Mr. Lincoln first."

John wasn't sure what a dead president - "The roses have names?" And Timothy was a seriously overly polite kid, but he definitely was his dad's son, as testified by the momentary 'can you be that stupid?' eye roll.

"They have popular names, mostly for celebrities. This is Mr. Lincoln. It's the prettiest of the red roses. Mom loved Mr. Lincolns. We take them to her grave on her birthday every year."

Oh...shit. Not an irresponsible ex-wife then, but a permanently absent one. "I'm sorry," John said softly. "I didn't realize your mother had passed away."

"It's not your fault," he said. "I have to finish this soon. Dad's making pancakes."

John's stomach growled at the thought, and he wished there was a restaurant close enough to run to in the morning. That would make a nice routine for his weekends. "Sure. Have fun." He jogged up to and into his house, dropping the rest of the paper on one of the moving boxes, wondering what kind of response the article would generate. Then he banished the McKays from his mind and got some cereal while contemplating what to tackle first. Pulling carpet? Painting walls? Unpacking? Digging out weeds? Repairing the damage done to his new home by bad style choices and a decade or two of neglect was going to be fun.

~~~

Having McKay on his doorstep was becoming a common occurrence. John would have to invite some people over for variety. "Hi."

McKay's focus was on the large pile of carpeting on the driveway. "Are you going to leave that there? Of course, this is an older neighborhood, the CC&Rs aren't positively psychotic, and you are allowed to have garbage strewn on your driveway without a committee of neighbors descending on you, but still, people are very conscious of property values around here."

"And good afternoon to you too, McKay." John folded his arms over his chest and leaned against the doorway. "Did you need something?"

"Oh - " McKay looked at him, and John couldn't decipher his expression. Not quite disgust, but some sort of fascination. He looked down at himself, still wearing the white t-shirt, red shorts, and white sneakers he'd jogged in, now covered with dried sweat and bits of carpet fluff. *Orange shag* carpet fluff, with a few mottled green padding pieces mixed in, which really wasn't an attractive style for anyone. His leg hair had barely begun to grow back, the lack of his normal fluffy black covering making his legs appear even slimmer, more stick-like to John's dismay. "Um, yes. I wanted to offer my apologies." He thrust a casserole dish covered with foil at John. "I read the article and called your station and realized that you were quite correct, you're not a transvestite, and I shouldn't have been so quick to label you. Timothy and I have had a talk about that too."

John took the casserole dish as gingerly as Timothy had accepted the local newspaper earlier. "You called my station?"

"You didn't think I was going to accept a potential coincidence, did you? I'm sure prostitution rings get broken up regularly. I'm a scientist. I believe in verifying facts."

"Okay." He hadn't needed much verification that John was a transvestite, but guys in slinky black dresses were probably unusual enough in this neighborhood that John decided to let it slide. "And this is?"

"A much more nutritious meal than ramen, since you don't have time to cook. Still don't, I presume," he added, his gaze straying back to the enormous pile on the driveway. A living room, three bedrooms, and a hallway of orange shag made a big stack. "It's baked. Just microwave a serving. You're not allergic to anything, are you? I'm allergic to citrus. I don't cook with it."

"No, I'm good. No allergies. And I will be getting rid of the carpet. Probably not until Monday though. I need to see if I can borrow a pick-up truck from one of the guys at the station."

"You can borrow my wife's. It's parked in the garage." McKay consulted his watch. "Not until tomorrow though. The dump closes in half an hour. You couldn't make it there in time."

"Tomorrow then. Thanks. And thanks for this." He gestured a little with the casserole, mentally trying to picture this over talkative, uptight man with a woman who drove a pick-up truck.

"Good. Well...ah..." McKay seemed to have run out of steam, staring again at the orange shag, his eyes gone a little distant, like Timothy's when he talked about bringing roses to his mother's grave. He shook himself, visually collecting himself, and focused on John. "Again, I'm sorry. I'm not accustomed to making mistakes, but Marie and I always agreed that Timothy needs to learn to apologize when he's been wrong. Not that he is very often, as he's a fabulous kid. The best kid in this neighborhood. But his parents need to set the example," which was a sentiment John agreed with, so he bobbed his head in agreement. McKay paused, perhaps expecting John to say more, and then added, "Well, I'll see you tomorrow."

"Tomorrow," John responded, stepping back into the house as McKay walked off. Half an hour later, having showered, changed, grabbed a beer, and settled down with a large hot serving of McKay's casserole, he decided he needed to get insulted more often, because McKay made the best apology he'd ever tasted.

~~~

John's estimation of the late Mrs. McKay as a hard-drinking, truck-driving woman who married her rather anal husband for reasons he couldn't even begin to comprehend began to revise as soon as he saw the pristine, petite, white vehicle parked in McKay's garage. John hadn't realized trucks ever came that small. It wasn't a truck for a grown woman, much less a grown man. Barbie might look good behind the wheel.

"What's wrong?" McKay asked.

"Nothing. It's a great truck. It'll be good to get that stuff hauled away." Hopefully it would all fit in one load. The dump wasn't a place he enjoyed visiting twice in a day.

"Oh." McKay seemed mollified by John's reassurance. "It hasn't been driven much. Timothy and I take it to out to breakfast occasionally though, so it should run fine."

"Didn't Mrs. McKay drive it?"

"She never got the chance." McKay looked distracted as he tended to do when discussing his wife, and John wondered what it must be like, to have lost a spouse to death. His relationships tended to dissolve due to his own stupidity, not that he'd ever fought all that hard when cracks started to appear. "She planned on opening a landscape design business. She wanted to help people have nice gardens. No big projects. She was going to start as soon as Timothy was in school full time, but then the cancer was diagnosed. I ran out after one of her treatments and bought it for her. It was stupid but I had to do something. She kept saying she'd drive it when she was better, even though we both knew that was unlikely."

"I'm sorry." John rested his hand lightly on McKay's shoulder and squeezed. No wonder it was such a cute trunk, purchased by a distraught man who probably didn't have a clue what his wife would really need or want.

"It wasn't your fault," McKay parroted his son. "Anyway, I thought about selling it after she passed, but it seemed wrong and of course, it lost value as soon as I drove it off the lot and it wasn't worth the effort. It'll be good to have more use. Borrow it any time you'd like. I'm sure you'll need to haul more things with all the repairs you're going to have on your house."

"Yeah, 'fixer-upper' was almost an understatement."

"I don't understand why people put up with relatives who take advantage of them just because they're family." Rodney snorted. "Mrs. Neller was frail for many years. She kept believing her son when he said he'd repair things for her. He never did, though he was certainly quick to sell her house as soon as she passed."

"Maybe he felt guilty that he'd neglected his mother and wanted to get rid of the reminder."

For the first time since he'd opened up the garage to reveal his wife's truck, McKay's eyes met John's. "I don't realize absurd optimism in human nature was a common trait in police officers."

"I haven't been a police officer that long." Not that his previous profession was all that guaranteed to generate optimism in human nature either, but for all the bad he'd seen, the war and the death it caused, John had seen the good too. The people who reached out, who cared, who sacrificed, just because it was necessary and right. Those people helped him keep his faith.

"Really? What were you before?" McKay's eyes drifted past John, to the huge pile of orange shag on the driveway, and back to the truck. "It's not going to all fit, is it? The truck's too small. I always did the wrong thing for Marie."

"Hey." John squeezed his shoulder again, reassuringly. "It's a nice truck. I'm sure she appreciated the thought."

"Appreciated the thought, right. I'm a genius, did you know that? I have two Ph.Ds. But I could never figure out what she needed. I didn't know what to do when she got sick. She was dying and I bought her a truck. A truck."

John wasn't sure what to say but he could tell when a potential emotional breakdown needed to be averted. Keeping his voice chatty, he said, "I think women like guys like that. Kinda clueless. You ever move in college? It's like when a group of friends show up to help you and someone's girlfriend's always got a roll of that paper they have to put on the kitchen shelves. Like your crappy thrift store dishes really need paper under them. But the girl always wants to lay the paper. Women like to fix things, especially guys." And man, hadn't that been painful, when he'd tried to fake it as a heterosexual and got involved with women. They more they'd tried to fix him, the more he'd gotten passive and laidback, and the more they didn't understand why he wasn't improving. Maybe it was different when you were in love. Maybe Marie had been able to fix McKay. Not that John thought Rodney needed fixing, but he was kinda uptight.

"Oh...crap." McKay looked even more stricken, if that was possible. "I never laid down paper in the kitchen."

Though he should have more restraint, John couldn't help it. His mouth twitched at the image of McKay buying white paper with pretty blue flowers and laying it ever so precisely on the kitchen shelves, using an exacto blade and a ruler, with Timothy assisting him.

For a moment, McKay appeared indignant, and then he suddenly laughed, shaking his head. "Marie would tell me I was being an idiot. Again."

John allowed a chuckle to escape, and then they were both laughing. Rodney's hand rested on the side of John's torso, steadying himself as the tension visibly drained from his body with every giggle. John wondered if he'd ever felt too much guilt and grief to laugh about anything dealing with Marie.

"Dad? We're going to be late." Timothy's face was scrunched with curiosity as he watched his dad laugh with the neighbor. He was dressed in dark blue slacks and a white button-down shirt with a dark blue tie, his light brown hair ruthlessly brushed back.

McKay sobered up, a serious expression on his face again. John missed the laughter. "Right. Church. We mustn't be late. Well, thanks for the talk." McKay pressed keys into John's hand. "Use it any time you like. The remote's in the cab."

"Sure, thanks." John watched them get in their car and drive off, wondering why McKay was attending church when he obviously wasn't fond of the place, remembering how good his solid body had looked in the gray suit, how beautiful his blue eyes could be when they flashed from sad to merry, and the attractiveness of his lopsided grin when he laughed.

~~~

Tomorrow, at least, there would be other people at his house, and someone besides McKay would stand on his porch. "Hey, McKay," John said cordially, noting that he was in the gray suit again.

"Sheppard, oh good. You're not doing anything tonight, are you? I mean, anything besides your normal obsession with repairs?"

"Since it's Friday night, I thought I might hit the clubs for an evening of wild dancing and partying." John sighed, because McKay appeared horrified and not at all like he appreciated the joke. "No, McKay, I'm just staying in and working on my house." He'd thought he'd only need a few weeks to get the house in shape but with learning a new job and the frequent overtime eating into his evenings, finishing renovations was going to take months, even with the help the guys had promised. At least the overtime was helping to build his plane fund, since he'd poured all his accumulated combat pay into buying the house.

"Oh good, can you watch Timothy then? You'd need to stay at my house. I don't want him exposed to the lead paint and whatever other toxins you must be uncovering. You are wearing a mask when you work, aren't you? I wouldn't ask, only I just got the message that Brittany can't come and I need to leave in..." he checked his watch, "15 minutes. Timothy suggested you. He likes you."

"You're asking me to babysit?"

"He's not a baby," McKay said with more irritation than someone asking for a favor ought to display, "and he's very responsible. But he's too young to leave alone. I need to know that someone else is in the house. You don't have to take care of him, just be there."

"Lunch for four, tomorrow."

McKay frowned. "What?"

"You need someone to watch Timmy, I need lunch for four tomorrow. Three of the guys are coming to work on the house. They'll be hungry."

It was fun to watch McKay sputter, though John realized visualizing how his talkative neighbor might look during more pleasurable moments could become a dangerous pastime. Straight, widowed, no obvious signs of being bi-curious...not that John would notice anyway. Was it wrong to hope that the signs were there and he was missing them again? "It's not like I need a buck fifty an hour," he added.

That drew a snort from McKay. "You're decades behind the times if you think babysitters only make a dollar fifty an hour. And what makes you think I can provide lunch or have the time to do so?"

"The fabulousness of that casserole and you'll make the time if you want my time tonight." John wasn't sure why he was playing hardball, other than a desire to have more interaction with McKay. Having an excuse not to work another night was almost a relief, and McKay's house was bound to be a more comfortable place to hang out than his own.

The compliment made McKay visibly preen. He really was an expressive man, in both his verbal and body language. "Fabulousness? Well, yes, I guess I could. Hearty food, I suppose? Yes, I think I could fit that in my schedule. So you'll look after Timothy?"

"I need to change into jeans and I'll be over. So...hot date?"

McKay glanced down at himself. "Oh...not really. Fund-raising dinner. I have to do these things, even though Marcia - she's our PR director - tells me not to talk to anyone. She seems to think I'm a liability."

"So why do you go?"

"Hello, director, can't really miss them can I?"

"Oh." John hadn't realized McKay was a director, and he still wasn't sure of what, but his work wasn't of highest importance in John's mind. "So you taking someone?"

"Just Katie." He checked his watch again. "You need to change so I can leave."

John wondered if Katie - whoever she was - knew how she was described as he gave a flippant salute and retreated into his house.

~~~

John wasn't sure what he had expected of McKay's house, but it wasn't what he saw. The living room was clean and neat and the light oak with beige fabric furniture matched perfectly, like someone had seen an ad for five coordinated pieces and bought them all. The walls were painted a few shades lighter than the beige carpet. Even though the front yard was immaculate, John had mentally debated whether the uptight McKay would be a neat freak inside or a clutter king, with more important ways to spend his time than cleaning. Neat freak apparently. "So, just you and me tonight," he said to Timmy.

"You want to see the house? Brittany wanted to see the house when she first came."

"Sure." 'Because Brittany had' seemed like a reasonable justification for John's own curiosity.

Timmy took his hand and dragged him down the hall. "This is dad's office."

"Scary," John said, and here was the clutter king, the man too busy and important for trivialities like straightening. Wall-to-wall with bookcases overflowing with books, most of them scientific, a big desk piled with paperwork and computer equipment, and a luxurious leather chair filled the room. The paperwork had migrated to cover a lot of the floor, along with bits and pieces of computers, and a few things that were either experiments or weapons of mass destruction, John wasn't sure which. Framed pictures were displayed on the few patches of wall not covered with bookcases.

"It's messier than the rest of the house because Dad doesn't let Angela come in here. Angela's our maid."

"You got a maid? That's cool." And explained the living room.

"And a gardener. We moved here and Dad hired them after grandma and granddad tried to take me. He even learned to cook because the social worker said too much ramen was bad for me. Come on, come see the kitchen."

Timmy dragged him into a living room and kitchen as John was still absorbing the import of Timmy's words. Timmy was disarmingly like his father, a real talker who was relentlessly honest without seeming to consider what he was saying. Clutter-wise, the kitchen wasn't as neat as the living room but decidedly much better than the office. Shades of white dominated this time - white walls, white appliances, white towels, white linoleum. "We have to stack the dishwasher but Angela runs it and puts everything away. And she washes all the pots because Dad doesn't want them in the dishwasher. She comes three times a week. We have to do the dishes on the weekend. We always eat there," Timmy announced, pointing to a small table in the breakfast nook. "We have a dining room but we only use it when grandma and granddad or people from Dad's work visit. Come on, come see my bedroom."

John let himself be dragged up the stairs, remembering kids in other countries who grabbed his hand, excited to show something important to them to the American serviceman. That was one of the best parts of being in the Air Force, when he'd been greeted as a savior. Almost better than flying. "So your grandma and granddad wanted you to live with them?"

"They said dad was irre-irresponsible. I had to talk to a social worker. She was nice but she asked a lot of weird questions and made me draw pictures. Dad had to talk to a bunch of people he said he shouldn't have to talk to and talked about moving back to Canada. This is my bedroom."

Timmy liked plants. Oh boy, did Timmy like plants. The rose trimming should have tipped him off. They were on the nightstand next to his bed, on his dresser and desk, on a shelf that extended from his window. White walls again, but all the green leaves blended well with the blue bedspread and curtains, and the ceiling was painted to resemble a night sky, showing McKay wasn't completely allergic to color. He had a bookcase too, not as full as the ones in the office, but with a healthy collection of kid's novels and books on plants and astronomy, as far as John could tell from a quick glance. "So you like plants?"

"I'm going to be a botanist and an astrophysicist, just like mom and dad. Dad says I'm a genius and I can be anything I want. Come on, this is Dad's room." He dragged John into the next bedroom, a larger room with its own bathroom. "Angela can clean in here but she can't touch the bookcases."

More white walls, beige carpet, and matching light oak furniture, like McKay had furnished everything at the same time. More bookcases crammed with science books. The big bed was unmade, a quilt and the white sheets draped in loose tangles. From the state of disorder, McKay was a restless sleeper. Not that John needed to be thinking about McKay's body, maybe wearing just his boxers or nothing at all, at this moment. There was only one picture in this room, a framed picture on the nightstand. John picked it up, admiring the portrait. Marie McKay had been pretty. Not gorgeous, but pretty, with hair that was light brown, almost blond, and blue eyes and a smile that must have been infectious. Movement from the bed caught his eye, and John glanced down to see that the thing he'd assumed was an odd orange pillow twitched and uncurled, revealing itself to be an enormous orange and white cat.

"This is Ginger." Timmy sat on the bed and stroked Ginger, who began purring loudly and tried to lick at Timmy's hand as he petted her. "She's really friendly."

"Ginger?" John stretched out a hand and tentatively stroked the cat.

"Dad wanted to name her Galileo but mom said Ginger was a better cat name."

"So your mom was a traditionalist."

"What's a traditionalist?"

John paused to consider that question, wondering about how much detail McKay would provide if he had to answer it. A ton, probably. "Well...someone who likes traditional things. Things that are the way people perceive are common, or the way they ought to be, even if they're not. Like orange cats are named Ginger or Garfield and dogs are called Spot. That pink is always the color for girls and blue for boys." Christ, he sucked at trying to explain concepts to kids. He'd rather explain the flight controls of an AH-64 Apache.

Timmy seemed to consider the definition, frowning slightly. "I think grandma and granddad are more traditional than mom was. She always had to get cleaned up when they visited. They didn't like her to be dirty."

"Your mom was...dirty?"

"She was always taking care of the garden. She worked out there all the time, like dad works in his office. She always did her nails before grandma and granddad came, because they thought women should have nice nails. They don't care when I'm dirty. Granddad says boys ought to play in the dirt. Is that traditional?"

"Yeah, your grandparents are definitely traditional." And must not have a high opinion of their son-in-law, if they'd tried to take his child from him. His parents would probably end up best buds with McKay's in-laws, if they ever met.

"Dad built a green house for me. You want to see it?"

"Sure."

Ginger purred forlornly, begging them to stay and adore her some more, but Timmy grabbed his hand again, and dragged him down the hallway and stairs, out the back door, talking all the time. "The other bedrooms are all storage and grandma and granddad's guest bedroom. They're boring. My green house is cool. Mom had a smaller one at the old house."

McKay kept a bedroom for his in-laws? That showed a surprising generosity. Many people wouldn't be talking to their in-laws after a custody battle that must have gotten pretty nasty. It was getting dark outside but the solar lights scattered around the backyard showed that the gardener must take care of it too. Solar lights also illuminated the path to a greenhouse at the side of the yard, and Timothy dragged him in and began talking...Latin, John supposed. Latin for the names of plants and then descriptions of how they flowered and where they grew best and wow...the kid could certainly recite a lot of knowledge for someone so young.

John didn't absorb much of the information. He nodded and smiled and asked short questions, encouraging Timmy to talk, not that the kid needed a whole lot of prodding to keep going. It wasn't that John had anything against plants. He just found fast things more interesting than ones that tended to be permanently stationary. Timmy's enthusiasm was amusing though. He was a real miniature McKay in the way his hands waved and his eyes sparkled as he talked.

When the green house tour seemed to be winding down, John inserted, "So what else do you like to do?"

They walked back to the house as Timmy answered. "Dad and I watch hockey sometimes and we go ice skating. We go to movies sometimes. Dad likes science fiction the best."

"Hockey?" That fit, John supposed, since McKay seemed to be Canadian. "And football, right?"

"We don't watch football. We play soccer in school, but Dad says that ought to be called football, that American football isn't really football."

"You don't watch football? At all?"

Timmy just shrugged, looking like he didn't understand why John sounded horrified. And the appalling thing was, apparently he genuinely didn't. Talk about someone who didn't understand tradition. "Come on back to my house. We need to get supplies." John grabbed Timmy's hand and pulled him to the front door. They needed to find John's videos in his boxes, because it was definitely a night for watching the Hail Mary game.

~~~

McKay had filled out and lost hair since his marriage. He'd been cute then too, with shaggy hair that appeared almost blond in the photo. His body was thin, the leanness of his face making his blue eyes look even bigger, accentuating the ski jump of his nose and the length of his jaw line. His tuxedo hung a bit loose, as if its elegance hadn't been properly tailored for his skin and bones. Rented, most likely. John preferred him now, a little more solid, a little more mature. A man, not a boy. Hearing a key in the lock, John put the picture back on the mantle. McKay slipped quietly into the front room. "Hi."

"Oh - hi."

"Good dinner?"

"Marcia seemed happy with the result, and no one asked any questions that were too abysmally stupid, so she didn't have to kick me under the table. It's her way of reminding me to be polite to the idiotic rich people."

McKay had been walking forward as he spoke, coming closer to John. The single lamp that John had been using for reading didn't provide much light, but it was enough to see the smear of lipstick on McKay's face. Unthinking, John reached out, smoothing his thumb over the smear, wiping it off. McKay frowned, though he didn't move away. "What are you doing? Do I have dirt on my face?"

"Lipstick." John held up his hand to show the red thumb.

The sight made McKay grimace. "Katie."

John raised his eyebrows. "Hot smooching, McKay? I thought I was babysitting for a fundraising dinner, not your love life."

"No! It wasn't my love life. I mean - there wasn't any hot smooching. Just a kiss. Katie kissed me when I dropped her off."

"You don't look real happy about it."

"Of course I am! She's a very lovely woman. She's just - " McKay's body a little shudder and he shrugged helplessly. "Oh...god, I'm just not much good with women, I suppose. I never was. I'm certainly not dating Katie."

Maybe you should be with a man, John thought, but he didn't say it. He barely knew McKay; he didn't need to freak him out with his own wish fulfillment. "So who is she, if she's not someone you'd date?"

"Katie? She was a friend of my wife's. They studied botany together. Katie was really helpful when Marie was ill. And after she died..." McKay gave another helpless shrug. "Katie offered to help with anything I needed, and it seemed logical to ask her to fundraising dinners when Marcia told me I had to bring someone."

Oh, poor Katie. John hoped that McKay had never been enough clueless enough to tell her that she'd been the 'logical' choice. John had never been particularly good with women, but he knew there were very few who'd appreciate that reason for being dated. Still, it was satisfying to know McKay wasn't enamored of her. "That's nice, she's around to help."

McKay sighed, and threw himself into his armchair, loosening his tie. "People are always nice when a spouse is dying. Have you ever lost anyone?" John shook his head no. He'd lost buddies in war, but no one as close as a spouse. "It's rather unnerving, actually, people who didn't seem to like me - well, probably because I'd insulted their intelligence, I'm afraid I do that a lot because there are so very many stupid people in this world - and all of a sudden, they're being sweet and sympathetic. Wanting to be helpful. Wanting to know how Marie's treatments were going, like I was going to discuss vomiting and hair loss in the grocery store. At least Katie had been a friend of Marie's. I don't think I ever told her she was stupid." McKay looked distracted, as if he had to comb through a lengthy set of memories to remember if he'd ever insulted his wife's friend.

John sat down on the couch, propping his feet on the coffee table. "It sounds like your in-laws weren't all that sweet and sympathetic afterwards. From what Timmy said, it sounded like they fought you for custody." John wasn't sure why he'd brought up that subject. He certainly hadn't intended to pop out with 'oh by the way, your son dragged out your dirty laundry.' But the evening was quiet and peaceful, a good time to talk with no disturbances, and he was strangely curious about McKay.

McKay grimaced, his face settling into sad lines as he loosened up the top few buttons on his shirt. "They never did think I was good enough for Marie. And I was - well, it may surprise you to know, but I was geeky then. Not very good at socializing. Brilliant genius wasn't high on their list of desirable qualities for a son-in-law. We never did get along. And after she died - they didn't think I was good enough to raise their only grandson."

John had raised the subject, but he wasn't sure how to respond articulately. McKay was so very honest and upfront, even with someone he barely knew. "That must have been the pits," he said. He had to wonder if McKay thought he was good at socializing now, just because he'd made it through a whole evening without his handler kicking him.

McKay waved away John's sympathy. "No, actually it all worked out for the best. I'd fallen into my old habits after her death. Timothy and I ate a lot of ramen and the house was a mess. When Patricia and Hank tried to take him..." McKay's jaw jutted out with determination in a gesture that John was already getting to know. "I'd become director of the institute by that time, so I bought a bigger house, better neighborhood, and hired a maid and a gardener. It's a better use of my time anyway, not to worry about cleaning and mowing the lawn. I did learn to cook. I like to cook. It's just chemistry, and Timothy and I usually go over his homework while I'm getting dinner ready."

McKay pointed his finger at John. "And don't think that my eating ramen in the past excuses your current consumption. It's incredibly high in sodium and low on nutritional value."

Trust McKay to turn it back onto him. "So everything's all buddy-buddy with Patricia and Hank now?"

McKay gave a little yawn. "We tolerate each other for Timothy. Marie wanted him to know them." He stared past John, looking at the pictures on the mantle but not really seeing them, seeming to have lost his desire to expand more on his life.

"Well, I'm looking forward to lunch tomorrow."

"Lunch? Oh yes." McKay yawned again. "Lunch for four. Well, see you tomorrow." He stood, stretching his arms.

"Tomorrow," John said, taking the hint and leaving, thinking about loss and learning from that experience.

~~~

John thought he'd been around a lot of noise in his life. He'd flown more types of planes and helicopters than most people could name. He'd been in battle, where the air was filled with the noise of guns and missiles firing while C-4 exploded.

Despite his background, John found the professional sander surprisingly hellish, the vibration of the powerful machine traveling up his arms and throughout his body, the noise barely muffled by industrial earmuffs, the dust spinning into the air, smothering his skin and coating every crevice of his body. He was sure he'd have to wash dust from between his toes, even though they were covered by his sneakers.

Ronon's hand landed on his shoulder, and he was grateful for the signal to change over. But Ronon flicked the off switch, the sander giving a last whine as it shut down, lowering itself and settling on the hardwood floor.

John pulled off the earmuffs. "What's up?"

"You smell something?"

"Yeah. Wood." The floor was definitely improving, the sander smoothing out the imperfections of neglect and the several decades of ground-in dirt that must have accumulated before the orange shag had been laid. Who had the bad taste to cover hardwood with carpet?

"No. Something else." Ronon headed toward the back of the house and John sighed, took off the goggles and gloves, leaving them on the sander, and followed him. Most of the time Ronon let him take the lead on cases, but he'd learned to follow when his partner suddenly headed in an unexpected direction. He could hear Nick and Aidan still running the steamer as he walked into the backyard, where Ronon was standing, staring over the fence. "That your neighbor?"

"Yeah, that's McKay." Rodney was at a barbecue, flipping something, the delicious aroma of cooking meat drifting toward them, though how the hell Ronon had smelt it through the sanding dust, John didn't know. But then, many things about his new partner were perplexing.

"Hey, McKay!"

Rodney jerked up, away from the barbecue, searching for whoever was yelling at him in his backyard, seeing Ronon and John looming over the fence. He waved. "Lunch is ready. I was just going to send Timothy over."

"This fence gonna come down?" Ronon asked.

"Well, yes, certainly. I tried to get it replaced last year, but Mrs. Neller's son wouldn't pay for his half, and Mrs. Neller wouldn't let me take care of the entire amount."

Even as Rodney was talking, Ronon was lifting one big foot, and kicking at a board with the bottom of his sneaker. The rotted board broke easily.

Rodney yelped, "Not on Timothy's plants!"

"Ronon! Not on the kid's plants," John seconded, even as Ronon kicked several more boards down.

"Sorry." Ronon scooped up the fallen boards. "Your crappy lawn okay?"

"Yeah, sure."

Ronon dumped the boards behind them, and kicked some more. John thought about joining him, but when a 6'4" behemoth wants to destroy things... well, John just stood by and watched as a good portion of the fence was rapidly demolished, the boards tossed into his yard.

Rodney was standing on the other side of the fence, watching as the gap widened, the expression on his face somewhere between astonished and pissy.

"I'm hungry," Ronon announced before Rodney could speak. "It smells good."

"Wash your hands. You can use the hose."

Ronon glanced down at himself, dressed in t-shirt and shorts, the fabric and all of his bronzed skin covered with sanding dust. Even his dreads were coated, making him look like a Rastafarian ghost.

"Yes, I know, you're absolutely filthy, but we don't come to the table without washing our hands." Rodney stalked across the lawn and back toward the patio table.

Ronon glanced at John, who shrugged. "His house, his rules." Ronon followed while John turned to get Nick and Aidan, who'd come out of the house and were watching Ronon's display with amusement. "Hey, guys. Lunch time."

"We gathered," Nick said dryly. Nick and Aidan were as disheveled as John and Ronon, though since they'd been running the steamer, their clothes and skin were plastered with bits of mismatched wallpaper, multi-colored stripes and overblown flowers. A few strands of Nick's always perfect hair hung down to his forehead. They tried to brush off the worst of the sand and paper, then stepped through the hole, walking carefully through Timothy's plants that bordered McKay's backyard, taking turns rinsing their hands at the hose. They settled at the patio table, Rodney slapping burgers on their plates, as Timmy brought more food from the house.

"Sodas are in the cooler. And Gatorade."

"You got a beer?"

"You still running equipment?" Rodney snapped back at Ronon.

Ronon gave him a heavy-lidded stare. Rodney stared back. John set a coke in front of Ronon and tried not to snicker as the big man popped the lid and swigged half of it in one long swallow. He didn't often see his partner concede defeat.

John did a quick, "Rodney, Timothy, Nick, Aidan, Ronon," introduction but conversation was desultory while they slathered condiments on their burgers and loaded up their plates with what appeared to be interesting variations of potato, fruit, and green salads. John thought this was kinda cool, to have a neighbor who cooked and could be bartered into providing food, much more convenient than going out for pizza. He took a bite of his burger, big, thick, juicy and perfectly cooked, and oh yeah, maybe Rodney would need more babysitting, because John was going to need several more work parties before his house was done.

Then a blunt finger traced along the top of his chest, over the scooped neckline of his t-shirt, where his hair was still growing back, making John curse the low neckline of that slink black dress every time he looked at his reflection in the mirror. John shivered at the sensation, his eyes meeting Rodney's. Rodney blinked and jerked his hand away. "I'm sorry. I thought - I thought you didn't have any body hair. You didn't have any body hair when you were pulling carpet," he accused.

John wondered if Rodney preferred him without the hair. "No, I have a lot. It's...uh...growing back."

"Growing back? You shaved your body?"

"When he was wearing the dress, Dad. The pretty black dress like Mom used to wear."

Nick and Aidan grinned, their amusement undeterred by John's glare.

"Oh yes. I didn't get to see you in the dress. I didn't realize you shaved."

Aidan laughed. "The major made a lovely prostitute. The finest."

"Yeah, well, you missed your chance because that's not happening again," John said, ending with a particularly pointed glare at Aidan. "And stop calling me major."

Shaking his head in denial, Aidan said, "Once an officer, always an officer. That's what my dad always said."

"Dad explained to me all about transvestitism," Timmy added helpfully. "It was really interesting. Except Mr. Sheppard said he wasn't a transvestite but Dad didn't believe him until the newspaper article."

Aidan was laughing so much he almost fell off the patio chair. Nick was sniggering, but quietly enough that he didn't stop eating. Ronon continued devouring his meal without batting an eye. "You should have explained about homosexuality," he grunted in Rodney's direction.

John froze a little, fork halfway to his mouth, cursing Ronon mentally as Rodney frowned. "Homosexuality? Are you - ?" He looked at John, and John's face must have told the truth. Rodney frowned more, his lips tightening, as Nick said quietly, "You got a problem with homosexuals?"

John felt like he might throw up, waiting for Rodney's answer. When he left the Air Force, he swore he'd never lie, never pretend again, sick of the years of appeasing the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy, but neither had he planned on telling Rodney in front of other people and his son. If Rodney reacted badly, he didn't want to see it in public. Still frowning, Rodney snapped, "Of course not," to Nick, then turned in his chair to face Timmy. "Have I - "

"Yes, Dad," Timmy said with patience. "When Mrs. Campion left Mr. Campion for Mrs. Larke. And again when Mr. Tomlin married Mr. Polaski at the church and the church ladies argued over whether they should wear matching or coordinated tuxedos. Besides, **I** already knew Mr. Sheppard was a homosexual." He said the last with a trace of pride, as if he didn't often know things before his father.

"You did? How did you know?"

Now John really felt like he might throw up, relieved only that Rodney's attention was still on his son, and he hadn't thrown any accusatory or horrified glances at John. How the hell had Timmy known he was a homosexual?

"Mrs. Nagano said he had to be, because he shaved his body hair, and I said no, he'd done that because he was a policeman and playing a prostitute, and then she said he had to be homosexual anyway because of the hair on his head."

Everyone looked at John's hair, which considering it was extra spiky from sweat and colored with tan streaks of sanding dust, John thought was in an unfair state for evaluation.

"And also because he was fixing up his house without a woman telling him to. She likes to watch you run anyway. Mrs. Horowitz does too. They always make sure that they're at their windows when you go by. They like that you always run at the same time in the morning. That makes it easier."

"They watch me run? Who are they?"

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Hello! Did you not notice the Neighborhood Watch signs? People in this neighborhood watch everything."

"That's supposed to be for criminals," John complained weakly.

"You have to watch everything in order to see the criminals," Nick inserted with deadpan seriousness, and John wanted to shake him for being a traitor. "Neighborhoods like this are great. It really cuts down on the crime rate when people are alert."

"You got another hamburger?" Ronon asked.

"Yes." Rodney sighed a little, as if put upon, but seemed quick to leap up and flip another burger off the barbecue for Ronon.

Searching desperately for some other topic than his sexuality and suburban women who watched him run, John glanced at the hole in the fence and said, "Hey, I was going to get a dog. Is that going to be okay? With the fence gone? It might take a while to get it replaced. I wanted to get the house more livable before I started on the yard."

"Just don't let it chase Ginger."

As if called by her name, Ginger meowed, waddling out of the house. "Man, that's one fat cat," Aidan commented. Ginger meowed pathetically, hungrily, sure that a hamburger had been reserved for her. "Maybe you should let the dog chase her a few times. She needs exercise. What kind of dog are you going to get?"

"Something that will run with me. A Lab maybe."

"A big dog, of course you would," Rodney leaned over to stroke Ginger. "Poor kitty. Did the bad man insult you?"

"Hey, that cat *is* fat," Aidan defended himself, as no one else seemed interested in offending their host.

Nick glanced around the backyard, his eyes covering the number of unusual plants and the greenhouse. "Don't get a dog that digs. The neighbor's terrier used to dig up Dave's plants. Drove him crazy."

"You got a dog, Ronon?" John asked, realizing how very little his partner ever said about his personal life.

"Chihuahua."

John choked on his soda. "Chihuahua?"

"Girlfriend left it." Ronon shrugged. "Sounds bigger when it barks. Noise is the best deterrent for burglars. Easy to clean up after. Not real good for running though."

The discussion on dogs continued, but John tuned out a little, watching everyone, the byplay between the guys from the station, the casual insults, how easily Rodney slotted in, the moments when Timmy told a story with his serious manner, the attentiveness accorded to him by the adults. It was nice. It would be better if he and Rodney were a couple, but getting things done on his house and being with people he enjoyed was pretty damned good. He was liking life in suburbia.

After lunch, the dishes and small amount of leftover food were quickly carted into the house and Rodney shooed them away, insisting he and Timmy could load the dishwasher. Conscious of the need to return the equipment to the rental shop that evening, John let them. They walked back to John's house, Nick and Aidan taking up the steamer again, John and Ronon heading back to the sander. Ronon pulled on his gloves and goggles. "You really like him."

"Yeah, I do." Fascinated that Ronon had picked up that fact so easily, John waited nervously to hear what the big man would say. 'He's straight and you're an idiot' was unfortunately what he expected, though a laconic 'he's gay, you didn't notice again?' would have been cool.

Ronon gave him an inscrutable look before flipping his earmuffs over his dreadlocks. "Get him to cook again next week. We'll retexture the walls." Then he started the sander, making John scramble for his own earmuffs and goggles.

Sometimes his partner really was too perplexing.

~~~

Running the next morning was weird. Getting into his regular stride was difficult, as John found himself glancing at the houses, trying to see where women were watching him. He had to keep reminding himself to think only of his breath, and keeping his eyes forward and his pace even. It was later than his normal finish time when he pounded up to Rodney's house, where the other man was standing on the driveway, using a handkerchief to polish a few spots off the front window of his car.

Instead of 'good morning,' Rodney noted, "You're late."

"I slept in. It's Sunday." Many people were still sleeping, but military service had accustomed John to rising early, a habit he hadn't broken. John tried to be subtle with a quick sweep of his eyes up and down Rodney's body. The dark blue suit fitted him as well as the gray, and was even better at bringing out the color of his eyes.

"When did you start wearing sweats? Self-conscious about being the neighborhood beefcake athlete?"

"It's getting too cold for shorts," John retorted defensively. "And I am not beefcake." Though he wouldn't have minded if Rodney had been the one ogling him.

"Just self-conscious?" Rodney smirked.

"Ha ha. Off to church, McKay?"

"As soon as Timothy gets out here. Timothy!" he yelled toward the house. His posture was less assertive as he turned toward John. "Oh - um - he told me that you'd watched a football game together on Friday night."

"Yeah. The Hail Mary game. The best game ever. Jesus, McKay, I can't believe you never watch football. He doesn't know anything about it."

"Football is an atrocious sport. It's slow and tedious. But Timothy seemed extremely excited to learn about it and..."

John frowned, disconcerted as Rodney fumbled for words, hands waving in a forward circular gesture like that would complete the sentence for him. "What?"

"I thought you might like to teach him more. Maybe throw a few balls together. They don't play it at his school. It's been deemed too risky. But I assume he'll have to play it sooner or later and it would be useful if he had some experience."

"You really need to work on how you ask for favors." Not that John had any problem granting almost any favor Rodney wanted. He liked seeing his neighbor happy.

"Excuse me for being honest about your travesty of a national sport. So will you?"

The thought delighted John, but some perverse streak wouldn't let him make it easy for Rodney. "Don't you know how to play football?"

"I know how to play hockey, which is an infinitely superior sport."

Timmy came out of the front door, shutting it behind him. "I'm ready, Dad. Hi Mr. Sheppard."

"Hey Timmy. Your dad and I were talking about throwing a football around this afternoon. You want to throw a few with us?"

"Really?" Timmy seemed surprised as his eyes flicked between Rodney and John. "Dad doesn't like football."

"Oh, he's just never learned to appreciate it. We're going to fix that."

"That would be cool," Timmy said happily, and John shot Rodney a pleased smile.

Rodney's mouth worked a few times, as if trying to find a way to escape participating. "We'll be late," he finally said.

John felt like bouncing, watching them drive off. It was almost like a date, throwing a football around with Rodney and his son. He trotted back into the house, thinking about the rest of the day. With his afternoon committed, he wouldn't be working on his house all day. Maybe he should celebrate by taking the day off completely and getting a dog? And he needed to swing by a sports store, because he was pretty sure Rodney didn't have any footballs tucked away. Maybe he'd get a baseball and bat too.

~~~

Rodney, John thought, had a truly exceptional ability to look horrified. "Puddles? You got a dog named Puddles? You have hardwood floors. Newly sanded hardwood floors."

John sent the Frisbee sailing down the length of their backyards. His new dog raced after it, darting through the bushes that ringed the McKay's yard, long golden-brown fur ruffling from his speed and the slight breeze. "Hey, they said he didn't have any problems. He probably got named when he was a pup or he likes playing in water. I think he's got some Lab in him. I've given him a new name anyway."

"That dog has everything in him. What brilliant name have you come up with as a substitute for Puddles?"

"I was thinking Jumper at first, because he really likes to jump." Not-Jumper proved John's words, leaping several feet in the air, catching the Frisbee in his mouth with a satisfying 'clump' noise. "But I decided on Einstein."

Rodney beamed at him. "Einstein is a fabulous name. Much better than I expected of you."

Einstein was running back, this time leaping over one of the smaller bushes, making Timmy giggle at his antics. The kid was definitely enjoying watching the dog play. Cats were cute, but they weren't as fun as dogs. Cats meowed and purred, but dogs fetched. "Yeah, but after the dog, not Albert. I think he looks like him."

"The dog? What dog?"

"You know... Doc Brown's dog. From the movie. Movies." Einstein arrived back at John's feet, dropped the Frisbee, and began a little dance in front of him, pouncing a foot to one side of John's body and then a foot to the other, back and forth. Einstein loved chasing the Frisbee and wanted more.

Rodney almost sputtered, making a squeaking noise John had never heard before. "Tell me you're kidding."

"Why would I be kidding?"

"Because those are atrocious movies that get everything wrong about time travel. Besides, that dog looks nothing like the dog in the movies."

John picked up the Frisbee, which was already scarred by teeth marks. He needed to buy a few more, because he could tell that Einstein was going to destroy them fast. "Yes, he does."

"No, he doesn't."

John let the Frisbee fly, sending Einstein running again. "Yes, he does."

Leaning against his dad, Timmy giggled at the sight of Einstein racing down the yard, or perhaps at the two of them bickering. "What movie?"

"What movie?" John asked in horror, though perhaps not as much as when he'd learned Timmy had never seen a football game. He stared at Rodney in disbelief. "He's never seen them? Any of them?"

"Of course he hasn't. They get everything wrong."

"They're fun. And the dog looks just like mine."

"They're not fun, they're irritating, and that dog doesn't look anything like yours."

John grinned, enjoying the bantering, and thinking of a way to get further under Rodney's skin. "Then we've got to watch it. The whole trilogy. I dare you. So Timmy can see it and we can compare dogs."

"Like I'm going to spend six hours frying my brain with that trash? Besides, the second one really sucks, even more than the other two."

Einstein was back, Frisbee at John's feet, doing his little dance. The dog was inexhaustible. John was never going to be able to sleep in, not with Einstein to encourage him to run. "You watched the sequels? Why did you watch the sequels if you didn't like the first one?"

"I was hoping they might finally get something right."

"You were so not. You liked it." John grinned, mocking Rodney, picking up the Frisbee and sending it sailing again. Einstein was so athletic, maybe he should have named him after a football player. Except then he wouldn't have discovered how passionate Rodney could be about the depiction of science in popular entertainment. He liked learning about Rodney's passions. "I double dare you."

"You double dare me? What, are we children now?"

"Keep going and I'll triple dare you. Watch the trilogy with me and Timmy and you'll have to enjoy it. You can't not."

"You are as absurd as your grammar but theoretically, if I was going to waste my time so ridiculously, what do I win when I hate all six hours?"

"When I win, you make me another casserole."

"Yes, but when I win, as I will, what do I get?"

Einstein was back with the Frisbee, and this dog was going to wear out John's arm before he got tired. John flattened his palm, held it out, and said, "Down." Einstein settled, his body quivering. Someone must have gotten rid of this dog only because they couldn't cope with his energy. He was a fabulous animal, exactly what John had hoped to find, and even better trained than he expected. Timmy took advantage of Einstein's stillness to ruffle his neck fur, and Einstein licked his sloppy tongue over his face, making Timmy giggle some more.

"Do you know how many germs are on a dog's tongue?" Rodney asked.

"As many as are on a cat's?" John guessed.

"So what do I win?"

John shrugged, thinking of things he'd like to offer...not that he'd say them in front of Timmy, even if Rodney would want them. "Babysitting?"

"Fine, but I want a full six hours."

"With popcorn and stretch breaks, we'll call it seven." John stuck out his hand and Rodney shook it, his hand warm and lightly calloused. "Why don't we make it first rainy day?"

"You have to get the DVDs. I'm not paying to rent them."

Timmy looked up from ruffling Einstein. "Can I throw the Frisbee?" John silently handed it over, watching as Einstein almost climbed on top of Timmy to get it. Still giggling, Timmy tossed the Frisbee, but it didn't go far, and Einstein was on it and back quickly.

"Down," John ordered, crouching a little by Timmy. "He wants to play, but you can't let him overwhelm you, okay? You have to be firm. Confident. He wants you to be in control." Timmy nodded, taking his words seriously. "And throw the Frisbee just as far as you can. He likes to run. Have you thrown a Frisbee before?" Not surprised when Timmy shook his head, John picked up the Frisbee, giving Einstein another, "Stay." To Timmy, he said, "It's all in the wrist movement. See?" He demonstrated the swing of the wrist a few times, before letting the Frisbee fly. Einstein quivered until John said, "Go," and then streaked off after it. Timmy nodded solemnly. "Okay, you try a few times."

John stood up and stepped back a little, giving Timmy space to take command. "So what would you name a dog?"

"Galileo," Rodney said promptly.

"You were going to name the cat Galileo."

"So?"

"So you can't give a dog a cat name."

Rodney gave John a look that questioned his sanity. "Because of course, once thinking of naming a cat Galileo makes it a cat name forever."

"Well, yeah," John said laconically. Timmy was doing pretty good, making his voice sound as commanding as he could, faithfully imitating John's 'down' gesture, and Einstein was responding happily. Great dog, great kid.

Rodney shook his head in disbelief, apparently conceding that he couldn't talk John out of his twisted notions. "I have lunch to make," he said, walking away. "Are you eating with us?"

"Sure," John answered. "Don't forget we're throwing a football afterwards!" he yelled as Rodney disappeared into his house. Timmy glanced up at John, grinning. John just grinned back.

~~~

"Now, that, there," John pointed as he talked, "that's a Blackhawk helicopter. See the curve of the cabin? Pure Blackhawk."

Rodney snorted. "What is this obsession with planes and helicopters? Every single cloud looks like one to you."

"That one!" Timmy pointed to a cloud to one side of John's Blackhawk. "That one looks like a fern. See the fronds? Ferns are cool, but you have to water them a lot, and they need shade and to be covered when there's frost."

"You're as bad as he is," Rodney said with a distinct fondness.

"You're just jealous because you can't lie on the grass." John liked relaxing on the grass. There hadn't been very much in Afghanistan, at least, not in the areas he'd seen. Warfare tended to be hard on vegetation. The grass in Rodney's backyard was lush and green, a nice cushion for his body, and Timmy's thin shoulder was touching his, their heads close together. Rodney sat nearby in a patio chair, watching them, as he'd decided that his allergies had suffered enough grass from playing football. A goofy floppy-brimmed hat was perched on his head, supposedly protecting him from the sun.

"This is fun," Timmy announced. "I like looking at clouds. And football. And Einstein."

As if he knew his new name already, Einstein trotted over to Timmy, nuzzling his face with his tongue. Timmy curled in a ball to avoid wet doggy kisses, giggling and squirming as Einstein persisted.

John rolled easily to his feet. "We should do this again."

"Yes, you and Timothy. You two should play football regularly. Einstein!" Rodney snapped his fingers, and the dog turned his head to him. "Stop that. Timothy doesn't need more of your germs."

"Hey, you weren't bad." Not great, and certainly very verbal with complaints when he fumbled the ball, but...well, maybe Rodney had been pretty bad. Still, it had been fun, showing Timmy how to hold, throw and catch the ball properly, running up and down the combined backyards, pretending that the bushes were other players to dodge, making Rodney assist despite his grumbles and laments that his hands were too valuable doing calculations and running experiments to mess them up with football. John stretched, rolling his neck and flexing his shoulders to work the kinks out. "I was planning on varnishing the floors today. This was a good break."

"Can I see your house?" Timmy asked, petting Einstein as the dog appeared forlorn but obedient to Rodney's command.

"Sure. It's a work in progress though," John warned. He reached down and helped Timmy to his feet. "You coming?" he directed to Rodney.

"Oh - sure." Rodney seemed surprised but pleased to be included. Einstein flopped down in the late afternoon sun, content to snooze on the grass, so John let him stay outside as the three ambled over to his house.

"I need to change the linoleum in the kitchen," John listed as they walked through the kitchen and into the living room. "Refinish the cabinets. Varnish the floors. Get new curtains. Retexture the walls and paint them. The plumbing's good but I need new appliances."

"Dad did the plumbing," Timmy said proudly.

"You did the plumbing?"

"I fixed the plumbing a couple of times when there were problems," Rodney corrected. "At least Mrs. Neller had the sense not to wait for her son on the most important issues."

John was trying to picture Rodney with a wrench in his hand and it wasn't quite working. "You fix plumbing?"

"My second doctorate is in Mechanical Engineering. Of course I can fix plumbing."

"Engineers are geeks. They're not plumbers. Plumbers are practical."

"I'm an astrophysicist, not an engineer. Engineering is my second degree."

"Astrophysicists are even more geeky than engineers."

"Tell me, does being offensive come naturally to you, or do you practice?"

"I practice," John said with false modesty. "Is it working?"

"Dad?" Timmy said, curling his hand into Rodney's. "Are you two okay?"

Rodney glanced down at his son with a bemused expression. "We're fine. Why wouldn't we be?"

"You two were really intent. I wasn't sure if you were fighting."

We were flirting, John thought. At least, I was flirting, and Rodney certainly seemed to be flirting back. Though from the continuing bemusement on Rodney's face, John wondered if he'd even realized what they were doing. It would be ironic if he were falling for someone who exceeded his record in romantic cluelessness.

"We were just talking, Timothy."

"Okay," Timothy answered, his blue eyes doubtful.

"This is the room I've been sleeping in," John said, walking into the hallway and opening a bedroom door. "It gets nice light in the morning."

Rodney and Timmy followed him into the bedroom. Like the rest of the house, his bedroom was fairly barren. There was only a futon covered with sheets and blankets, his shirts and slacks hanging in the closet, his other clothes on a blanket in semi-neat stacks on the floor. "You're sleeping on a futon? You don't even have a bed? No wonder we didn't see you move in. It must have taken you all of ten minutes."

"I have more stuff, but most of it's in the garage. It would have been in the way of running the sander."

"You do have a bed?"

"No, not yet." John shrugged. He'd never been one for accumulating possessions. "I mostly lived on base, and after I got out, I rented furnished apartments. I'll get a bed when things are more finished."

"On base?"

John led the way back out of his bedroom and into the living room. "I was a pilot in the Air Force."

"You were? Oh, of course you were. Thus the obsession with planes and helicopters. Let me guess, you have a distressed leather bomber jacket."

"Do you know how warm those jackets keep you?"

"And yes, I'm sure your fondness for them has nothing to do with how macho they make you look."

That Rodney thought he looked macho gave John a little thrill. "Some of us naturally look macho. We're not geeky astrophysicist-engineers."

Rodney sputtered, but before he could respond, Timmy tugged at Rodney's hand and announced, "Dad, I'm getting hungry."

"Oh yes, right. It's almost time for dinner. You want to eat with us?"

John hesitated for a beat, glanced at Timmy, whose expression was a little pinched, and said casually, "Nah, that's okay. I've got stuff in the fridge I should eat before it goes bad."

"Most people have both food and furniture in their houses, though I suppose if you have to have one or the other, at least you have the most important one."

John just smiled in response, restraining himself from saying anything. Rodney paused as if waiting for a comment back, but not receiving one, said, "Well, let's go." He pulled on Timmy's hand and the two headed out of the back of the house. John followed, calling for Einstein. The dog scrambled to his feet, gazing at John with his big brown eyes, so John added, "Come on, boy. Come in." His tail wagging with happiness, Einstein came running.

~~~

John drove his car into his driveway, not thinking of anything beyond focusing on his driving. Slow, blinkers on, turn, stop, put car in park, engine off. Rodney was getting out of his car too, an unusual event that they both arrived home at the same time, but for once, John wasn't excited to see the other man.

"Oh, John, I wanted to ask - "

"Later McKay, okay?"

John went into his house, not waiting for Rodney's response. He hung up his coat, got a beer, popped the cap, grabbed a chair from the garage, and went to his backyard. Einstein was there, happy to see him, running around him and wagging his tail. John sat on the chair, petted Einstein, and sipped his beer, trying not to think. That didn't work very well, so he thought about what was in front of him.

His yard was infested with crab grass and weeds. The few bushes were overgrown and desperately needed trimming, while the tree needed a few dead limbs removed. Snails had pretty much destroyed everything else, so once he pulled out the ragged remains, he'd have a lot of barren dirt left. He didn't know anything about gardening. A few people had given him plants as presents, but mostly they'd either died or he'd given them away when he was transferred to his next assignment. He'd have to ask Timmy what grew well around here when it came time to plant. Or Nick's partner was a gardener or a botanist, something like that. He would probably help.

First he needed to finish everything in the house and then buy the decent furniture he'd never bothered to accumulate through years of military service and living in furnished apartments. He had the futon, a ratty dresser, a worn-out couch, and a couple of mismatched chairs, but needed a better couch, a recliner, coffee table, floor lamps, kitchen table and chairs, bed, nightstand... everything.

When he'd bought the house, it seemed like a new challenge, a fixer upper he could afford, moving onto another stage in his life, leaving behind the destruction of his military career and the alienation of his family. If no one wanted him, that was fine. He'd make his own place. But right now it just seemed like...a lot to do.

Eventually he finished the beer, draining the last drop from the bottle, so he went into the house and got another one. He was halfway through that one when Rodney walked out of his backdoor and crossed the lawn to stand by him. "So is there some reason for this display of solitary alcoholism? You're scaring Timothy."

John thought about that. He didn't want to scare Timmy. He liked the kid. Just...sometimes he didn't want to think. About not flying, about seeing too much war, about too much senseless violence and tragedy even here at home... "I'm sorry," he said, his voice sounding rusty.

"Don't be sorry. Stop it."

Taking a swig, John thought about that suggestion. Or demand, more appropriately. About putting the bottle down, about getting something to eat, about finding his varnish and brush. Doing something productive.

"Oh...for..." Rodney took the bottle out of his hand, and set it on the ground before curling his hand around John's wrist. "Come have some dinner."

John didn't resist, letting himself be pulled toward the other house. Einstein whined, and Rodney gave a huffy, "Yes, come on, you too," which had the dog running into the house after them. Timmy was sitting in a chair in the breakfast nook, ostensibly reading the book in front of him. "Dad?"

"John's going to join us for dinner." Rodney pushed him into a chair. "Sit," he commanded.

Einstein cocked his face quizzically at John, who said, "I think he means both of us." As if understanding, the dog flopped on the ground by the table.

Timmy closed the book, dropping it onto the seat next to him. "Hello, Mr. Sheppard."

"Timothy," John said politely before asking Rodney, "You got a beer?"

Rodney got him a glass of bottled water. "You can have milk if you want."

It was odd, because Rodney was so much less physically intimidating than Ronon, but he definitely made as much of an impact when he glowered. John took a sip of his water. "This is good."

The nook was small, the table and chairs positioned so that John could lean his head against the wall while he watched Rodney finished cooking. He could see how Rodney must be in the lab, hands moving deftly, chemicals being combined, shaken, results studied, with the same precision that he used on food and spices. Only presumably he wouldn't do any tasting or smacking his lips with his scientific experiments.

Or would he ever use chemicals? He'd said astrophysicist, not chemist. Equations on a chalkboard then, writing madly and erasing with the same vigor, probably arguing with someone the whole time. Rodney, John was sure, argued with a bunch of people on a regular basis at his institute. Anyone who thought he wasn't supposed to argue with the boss wouldn't keep that notion for long.

Rodney plunked plates covered with food in front of each of them and sat down. Rodney and Timmy both dug in, talking continually, so alike that no one could miss they were father and son. They started on Timmy's day, his little pre-adolescent crush on his teacher, what he'd studied in class, and Rodney's opinion on its correctness with many expository comments on the American educational system in general.

John ate slowly, letting his mind drift, wondering if Timmy was viewed as a prodigy with advanced knowledge or someone whose parent really needed to stay out of his education because he was contradicting too much of the teacher's information.

They shifted onto Rodney's day, and John decided he hoped Timmy was faking understanding, because it would be embarrassing if the grade schooler comprehended advanced astrophysics when John could barely decipher every third sentence.

Still, Rodney had said he was a genius. Perhaps Timmy was too.

John wondered if Marie had been a talker too, or if opposites had attracted. It was rather nice, to let them talk so energetically, and not try to get a word in edgewise. To enjoy and not think.

The two McKays loaded the dishwasher for Angela, and then Timmy wandered off with a last curious glance at John and a polite, "It was nice having dinner with you, Mr. Sheppard." John regretted that they didn't seem to have dessert. He would have bet that Rodney made superb chocolate somethings. Truffles perhaps, or a really gooey rich cake.

Rodney slid into the chair next to him, close enough that their shoulders were touching. "So are you going to tell me what's going on, or keep up the silent treatment? Because really, I'm crap at making people talk."

"Really? You seem pretty determined to do it anyway."

"Yes, because while I'm good at talking and prefer to communicate, one of the long-term benefits of being married and being a genius is that it didn't take me long to realize that not everyone else is good at expressing their thoughts. And that someone who doesn't talk is either - well, just someone who doesn't talk a lot, and some people are like that - or someone who's bottling things up and sooner or later I'm going to have a crying wife with no idea why. Frankly, I hated it when Marie cried, and I'd like to avoid my neighbor developing into an alcoholic."

"Jesus, two beers doesn't make me a alcoholic. And you shouldn't have been watching me in my own backyard if it bothers you that much."

"It's our backyard now, if you hadn't noticed. We have no fence, thanks to your partner's big feet. And guzzling beer while sitting in the dark isn't exactly social drinking."

John shook his head, feeling a little weary. Rodney seemed likely to keep bludgeoning him for information like no one in his life had ever bothered. "Nothing extraordinary, really. A woman killed by her husband. Long-term history of spousal abuse. Two kids that'll probably be raised by their grandparents, if they're lucky. The foster system, if not. Statistics say it's something I'll see a couple of times a year."

"But this was the first time?"

"Yeah." Not the first time he'd seen a dead body, not by a long shot. Not even the first homicide he'd seen. But something about reading the prior history of 911 calls, knowing she'd taken him back after each one, believed him and thought he'd change, seeing her battered, bruised body that said he never would, at least not in time for her...Violence everywhere, violence between countries, violence within families. Flying used to be his escape, but now that was denied him. "It just made me think about...what's the point?"

"The point?"

"Yeah. The point." Rodney's wife had died too, and he'd felt guilty for buying her a truck and not putting paper in the new kitchen while he struggled to raise their son alone. Lowell had battered his wife to death because she'd been nagging him about his drinking or slapping the kid or something. No one could truly say what had set him off. John could only stomach Lowell's incoherent, self-justifying ramblings for so long before he'd decided to escort the kids to the Child Protective Services worker and let Ronon finish taking the statement.

"Of life, the universe and everything?" Rodney asked. John shrugged. It was close enough. "Timothy and winning the Nobel Prize," Rodney answered immediately.

The concise response surprised a short laugh out of John. The world could be fucked up but Rodney had a firm sense of priorities. "Timothy and the Nobel Prize."

"Yes. Timothy and the Nobel Prize. I'm going to win one. Admittedly, I thought I already would have by now, but I've still got plenty of time."

"Those sound like good points." They did. The person he loved, the work he loved.

They sat for a little bit, Rodney glancing at John out of the corner of his eye, as if waiting for John to say more. John was content to slump against the wall, relax in the nice kitchen and sip his water. Lots of white, no real decorations except the plethora of magnets and Timmy's drawings plastered on the front of the refrigerator. No feminine touches at all. Finally, Rodney nudged him in the ribs. "So are you going to be okay? Or do I need to harangue you about the importance of good police officers for the stability of society?"

John snickered. "Yeah. Thanks for listening." John turned his head to look at Rodney, with his lopsided mouth and ski jump nose and concerned eyes. He didn't think about consequences. He'd been trying not to think all evening. He leaned over, pressing his lips to Rodney's, kissing him softly. Rodney's lips were thin, but warm and soft, sweet and pliant.

Non-responsive, John thought with an oh shit, pulling back to look into Rodney's shocked eyes. No kissing back, no lips moving against his, no tongue trying to explore his mouth. He heard a low growl, which confused him, as Rodney only appeared startled, not mad. And then an answering hiss, and he thought oh shit again, as Einstein skyrocketed off the floor and toward the entrance of the kitchen where Ginger stood. The cat's orange and white fur was standing erect from her back as she arched and hissed again before taking off at a run, deciding retreat was the better part of valor when faced with a determined mongrel.

"Einstein! Come back!" John commanded as Rodney yelled, "Ginger!" They both scrambled off their chairs, chasing the animals into the living room. Ginger was leaping from the top of the couch to the mantle, still hissing, her plump body surprisingly agile. Einstein was barking madly, lunging against the brick of the fireplace, trying to reach the cat. Ginger slashed down toward him with all her claws fully extended.

"Einstein!" John grabbed him by the collar, yanked him down firmly. "Down!"

The dog barked and whined, but sat, tongue lolling out of his mouth, his eyes fixed on the cat.

"Ginger. Poor kitty," Rodney crooned as Timmy came running into the room. "Dad?"

"Rodney, I wouldn't - " John's warning was too late as Rodney tried to scoop Ginger off the mantle. The cat hissed and scratched, flying out of Rodney's arms and landing with a thump on the floor as Rodney jerked away to avoid her claws. She ran out of the room, while John grimly hung onto Einstein as he barked and lunged to follow. Timmy bent to grab her, but the cat avoided his hands, and then John heard his feet pounding up the stairs after her.

"I guess I'd better get Einstein home."

"Yes. I think they both need to calm down." Rodney was touching his face, apparently checking for scratches.

"Look, I'm sorry for what happened. In the kitchen." John found himself waving his free hand like Rodney might, trying to express what he couldn't figure out how to say. I'm not sorry I kissed you. But I'm sorry you didn't want it. Not something he should say, even if it was the truth. "Just...an accident."

"Accident. Yes, of course. Well, it's been a day, hasn't it?" Rodney's eyes were curiously shuttered. "You'd better go home."

"Yeah. Well. Thanks for dinner." John dragged Einstein out of the house.

~~~

The next two nights, John strapped on his kneepads and got down on the ground with the widest brush he could find, staining and varnishing the floor. The routine was comforting, the steady back and forth motion, the newly sanded wood darkened and protected. It wasn't flying. Nothing in his life came close to the thrill of guiding a plane into the air and seeing sky all around him, but he had to find satisfaction and release in other ways now. At least until he could afford his own plane.

After having successfully avoided Rodney since the kiss, John stared at his phone Friday morning and decided he needed to tackle the issue. After all, he'd fought in a war. How hard could it be to find out if his neighbor was still talking to him? "Hey, Ronon."

"Yeah?" Ronon didn't look up from his case file, frowning as he sifted through evidentiary documents.

"Is there an institute dealing with astrophysics around here?"

"Ferris," Ronon grunted, or at least that was what John thought he heard.

"Ferris? Like the wheel?"

"The Ferris Institute for Advanced and Applied Scientific Research. People just say Ferris."

John googled and the institute popped right up. He clicked straight onto 'executive biographies' and admired the picture of Rodney, appearing deliciously smug, and read the rather lengthy and impressive biography of his educational accomplishments, research papers, discoveries, and patents. Apparently 'genius' hadn't been an exaggeration. He dialed the institute, hitting first the brick wall of the main operator who really, really wanted to give him any head of any research division rather than the executive director, but finally passed him along to Rodney's secretary, who really, really wanted to take a message rather than forward him. Glancing over, he found Ronon watching him with a puzzled expression, which was an odd thing to see, as Ronon typically didn't look puzzled. Stoic was more Ronon's default. John shrugged helplessly. 'Police detective' usually was a magic phrase to slip past watchdogs. "Look, I'm his neighbor," he finally said, wishing he'd waited until tonight and gone next door. Facing Rodney in person couldn't have been more difficult than arguing with this woman. "I baby sit for his kid."

"Very well," she sniffed, and he shortly heard, "Yes, this is Dr. Rodney McKay."

"Hey, Rodney."

"Oh - John. Oh, right. Lunch for your hooligan band tomorrow. I can do that. I need babysitting, I think Friday night. I'll have to check with Katie. Her company dinner is coming up."

Well, that was a nice thought. Just what John wanted, to stay home with the kid while Rodney was out wining and dining with his dead wife's best friend. Still, at least it was a company dinner, which sounded more practical than romantic, and John belatedly remembered Ronon's instruction to have Rodney cook. "Yeah, that's good. Though not actually why I called."

Rodney made a little noise of confusion and interrogation. "What did you need?"

"I wanted to thank you for dinner on Tuesday. And...um, realized that you'd started to ask me something and I cut you off."

"Oh, just, hmm..."

"Hey, it's okay," John said, trying for casual. "I shouldn't have bothered you at work. It popped in my mind, that's all." You've been on my mind all week, he thought, but he didn't say it out loud.

"Timothy thought you might like to go ice skating."

"What?"

"Ice skating. That thing hockey players do. We're going tonight."

Now John was really wishing he hadn't called, that he'd tackled Rodney in person. He wanted to see Rodney's eyes, to see if there was interest or friendship or pure parental obligation in the blueness. "I never have," he admitted.

"So?"

It was amazing how much challenge Rodney could imbue in a single word. "So sure. Sounds great," John answered. After all, he'd done both roller skating and roller blading. How different could it be?

"Great. Around 6:00. We'll have pizza first."

"See you then." They both hung up, and John contemplated the phone for a moment. He had a date with Rodney. Sort of, he thought. A date with Rodney and his son. At least the kiss wasn't making Rodney avoid John.

"You got a date?"

"Ice skating," John explained, curious to see if Ronon would classify it as a date, "with Rodney and Timmy."

"He gonna cook tomorrow?"

"Yeah."

Ronon grunted in return, still studying the case file. John fidgeted with his pen, rolling it between his fingers, and finally asked, "Why did you tell him I was gay?"

"You said you weren't going to lie."

"There's a difference between announcing something and lying about it," John retorted with a certain amount of irritation. He liked his partner, and quickly come to depend on him in a way he'd rarely relied on anyone, but the man's absolute conviction occasionally got under his skin.

Ronon shrugged. "If you don't say it, they assume you're straight. Then you're hiding."

"I'm not responsible for other people's bad assumptions."

"If you want to play it that way." Ronon stood, grabbing his coat. "I want to question that Small woman again. You coming?"

~~~

The difference between roller skating or blading and ice skating was...quite a lot, apparently, John decided as he went down on his ass again, and watched mournfully as children half his size skated around him, some giggling at his awkwardness.

"Aren't you a pilot?" Rodney stopped by him, standing firmly on his skates. He and Timmy owned their own pairs, nice, shiny black skates, not white ratty rented ones. "Don't you have a sense of balance?"

"Sitting in a cockpit isn't the same thing as balancing on a knife."

"It's hardly a knife. Come on." Rodney held out a hand, and between his steadiness and the railing, John got back to his feet. "You cannot be this incompetent. Take my hands."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence." John placed his hands in Rodney's, which were warm and comforting, not clammy or sweaty. The other man skated backwards as effortlessly as he skated forward, pulling John with him.

"You have to keep your ankles steady. Timothy can do this. Stroke evenly. Natalie can do it. Keep your weight evenly distributed."

"They're kids. They don't have any weight," John protested, curling his fingers firmly around Rodney's. As if on cue, Timmy and Natalie skated up to them, chatting with animation. John grinned weakly as they zipped on by.

"You are such a baby." Rodney's words were exasperated, but his smile was fond, his grip steady. "See how easy football players have it? They just run up and down the field. Hockey players are on skates." Rodney's voice continued on, detailing the many and exhaustive merits of hockey, but John tuned out most of the words, hearing them as a steady reassurance that didn't need a response, focusing on keeping his ankles steady and his strokes even. It was easier with Rodney's hands in his, the proper stride and balance coming gradually.

~~~

Fast skate was fabulous because no one was even going to pretend that John should be on the ice. Rodney escorted him to one of the openings to the rink before zooming off, and John clumped gratefully to sit on a nearby bench. Timmy and Natalie were off with some other kids, and John took the opportunity to rub on his calves, thankful that he ran every day. Otherwise, this night would be hellish. Instead, once he'd stopped falling regularly, the whole thing had become rather fun, particularly Rodney's tendency to keep at least one hand on some portion of John's anatomy to steady or guide him.

"Excuse me, do you live in Glen Oaks?"

John glanced at the woman, mentally assessing her. That brown-auburn shade of hair that always said 'I'm going gray and not acknowledging it' to him, pretty features, a good shape. "Yeah, John Sheppard," he said, holding out his hand. They shook, John noting that her grip was limp, not nearly as warm or comforting Rodney's, and she sat down by him.

"I thought so! I've seen you running. Welcome to the neighborhood, Mr. Sheppard. I'm Amanda Ryan."

"John," he corrected, and she smiled, her teeth very white. His gaze strayed back to the ice. The number of people on the ice had definitely shrunk for fast skate, and most were male. Rodney was possibly one of the fastest on the ice, his solid body looking surprisingly powerful, his shoulders appearing broad in the maroon shirt, his denim-clad legs crossing confidently as he navigated the rounded end of the rink closest to John.

"And please, call me Amanda. I can tell you're doing fabulous work on the old Neller place. It was really in a sad state. Poor woman living all alone, wouldn't move into one of those nice communities."

"It's been a challenge," he admitted. At least someone would call him by his first name, even if Timmy was still resisting. Rodney dodged around a teenager, and John wondered if he'd ever played hockey. It was a wussy sport compared to football, but maybe Rodney would have some pictures of himself, young and thin in a hockey outfit. That would be interesting to see.

"Do you like to ice skate? You're in such good shape, it must be easy for you."

She obviously hadn't arrived when he'd still been sitting on the ice every few steps. "I'm learning," he said noncommittally. "Rodney's a good teacher." And a surprisingly patient one, even if his expression had been constantly amused or exasperated at John's lack of grace.

"Rodney?" She glanced over at the ice, her pretty face screwed into a frown. "Oh! Doctor McKay. Yes, you're next door to him, aren't you? He always keeps the neighborhood association meetings...lively. That's my Cassie there, talking with Timmy." She waggled her fingers toward a little girl chatting with Timmy and Natalie, all three of them leaning on the railing, watching the fast skaters. "So what do you do, John?"

"I'm a police detective. Violent crimes unit."

Somehow she was sitting closer to him than she'd been when she'd sit down. John hadn't noticed her moving, but he registered discomfort when people invaded his personal space. "That must be such dangerous work."

"Umm...no, not really." John slid a few inches away from her on the bench, focusing his attention on Rodney to counter her uncomfortable closeness. If anything, Rodney was getting faster, whipping around other skaters, as if pushing his limits or showing off. John decided he liked it best when Rodney was skating away from him, as it gave such a great view of his denim-clad ass.

"I'm sure you're being too modest. It's so reassuring to think of you living in the neighborhood. So if we had a problem, we could call you. Like...a home invasion."

"No, you should always call 911," he said firmly, wondering why she sounded so intrigued at the thought of a home invasion, and how she'd gotten close to him again.

"Oh." She pouted. "You wouldn't come to my rescue?" She placed one hand on his, and the alarmed notion that she was flirting with him crossed his brain.

He tried to slide more subtly this time, and said hastily, "911 is fully prepared in an emergency. You should never waste time calling anyone else first."

She blatantly scooted closer to him. "But what if I just heard a noise? I live alone, with only my daughter. I'd hate to bother someone if it was a squirrel. Couldn't I call on you?" Her hand went back on top of his.

Damn it, she must be flirting. It was all very well for Ronon to proclaim that saying nothing was hiding, but how did he say what he needed to say? 'Thanks for the offer, but I'm gay,' seemed too blunt, particularly if he was misunderstanding her banter. "A dog. You should get a dog if you have worries. Burglars tend to avoid houses with barking dogs. I got a fabulous one at the SPCA," he blurted out, while trying to work out some comment about how they lived in such a nice, safe, liberal, accepting neighborhood, when happily, Rodney's voice interrupted.

"Did you see that fellow? He tried to cut in front of me. Almost made me fall. Oh, hi Annabel."

"Amanda," Amanda corrected tightly. "Rodney."

John leaped to his feet, his eyes fixed on Rodney, whose face was flushed from his recent exertion, two fingers on his throat, measuring his pulse rate. "Time to get back on the ice?"

"Couples skate." John must have looked confused, for Rodney gave a little sigh and elaborated. "It's couples skate. You have to have a partner."

"So? I need practice skating backwards. I haven't got the hang of it yet."

"You have to hold hands," Amanda said. "The whole time." Her tone indicated that she thought John would find that offensive.

"Not a problem." John caught Rodney's hand as it dropped from his throat, twining their fingers together. "We were holding hands the first few songs anyway."

Rodney nodded, bemused. "I need to check on Timothy first."

"He and Natalie are already on the ice," John noted, glancing over Rodney's shoulder to see the two gliding off while Cassie clumped back to her mom.

"Couples skate it is then." Rodney turned toward the rink, pulling John with him.

"Nice talking to you, Annabel," John said cordially, following Rodney.

~~~

John woke with the awareness that even though he was in good shape, ice skating definitely worked different muscles than running. He needed to dig out his roller blades from the boxes in the garage. Einstein would enjoy running next to him, and the neighborhood had good, smooth streets for blading.

Also, and more deliciously, he woke up remembering the confusion on Timmy's face when John had thanked him for the invitation. Momentary, but definitely there, and the fast glance at his father before he'd responded with a polite, "You're welcome."

Deciding to respect his aches, John skipped running, instead throwing the Frisbee in the backyard to give Einstein some exercise while he drank his coffee. The guys showed up promptly at the promised time, three different cars but four people emerging. John stepped forward to meet the stranger, who he recognized as Nick's partner, having seen his photo on Nick's desk. "He's a botanist. He thought he'd give you a start on getting your garden in shape."

"Great. There are lots of things that need trimming."

Dave smiled and pulled out a bag of gardening tools from the car's backseat, an obviously prepared man. "The front, first?"

"Yeah, I guess." John remembered Rodney's comment about leaving the carpet on the driveway, and that Annabel had noticed what he was doing. People apparently paid attention in this neighborhood, so the front seemed more important than the back.

"But first," Aidan announced, smiling, "We have a present for you."

"You guys - " John tried to protest that they were doing enough by helping him, but found himself dragged to the back of Aidan's car, waiting as Aidan popped the trunk open to reveal a basketball hoop with red ribbon strung around it, and a basketball in a box with a red bow on top of it. "Perfect," he said, smiling too.

~~~~

Houses were trickier to prep than John had appreciated. He thought of them as fairly straightforward: walls, floor, door. But everything that couldn't be textured had to be covered - windows, windowsills, doors, doorsills, hallway closet. Baseboards had to be popped off for replacement. Light switches were removed; light fixtures taken down or covered. Tarps covered the floors. With all the detail work to be done, John found himself grateful for the other guys' skills and speed as they worked their way through the house.

"Hey, John."

"What's up?"

Nick looked subtly uncomfortable. "I got the basketball hoop hung, and Dave's trimming your bushes." He shrugged your shoulders. "I think you should talk to McKay's kid. He and Dave kinda...squabbled."

"Timmy?" Timmy argued with adults?

"Yeah, Timmy. He didn't seem happy with what Dave was doing."

"Okay," John said doubtfully, perplexed by what could have caused Timmy to be argumentative.

"He went into the back."

That seemed like a clear direction to go settle matters, so John set his tape roller down, and headed there. Timmy was kneeling on the ground on the McKay's side of their combined backyard, ruffling Einstein's fur, as the dog tried to lick him. The two had done that same scene before, but Timmy had been laughing. Now his face with tight and unhappy, his lips thin, one side pulling down, strengthening the resemblance to his father.

Squatting down by him, John asked, "What's wrong, Timmy?"

"He's trimming the azaleas. Azaleas are boring. And yours are all pink. Mom didn't like all pink. She liked color. I was working on a plan. I was going to take them out. And he's trimming them. I told him he didn't need to do that and he just," Timmy breathed out hard, "he ignored me. So I told him I was going to take them out. Then he said they were good bushes and that you'd like them. That you would them to look nice. But they don't look nice. They're all pink. All of them."

John tried to sort through Timmy's recitation of the squabble with Dave, focusing on one highlight. "You were going to take out my bushes?"

"Dad said I could do your yard. I'm working on my plan. Dad said it's like an astrophysicist with a theory, a botanist has to have plan. Mom always had a plan. She wrote it up in a neat diagram, what plants she was going to put where. She used to do them when she wasn't feeling well. She said they helped her focus."

John rocked back a little on his heels, still feeling behind the curve of what was happening in Timmy's brain. "Your dad said you could do my yard?"

"He promised. He said you'd like it." Timmy hugged Einstein, burying his face in the dog's ruff.

John put a hand on Timmy's thin shoulder, hoping the touch was reassuring. He wasn't used to chastising children and was trying not to be harsh. "Timmy, it's not up to your dad to say what you can do with someone else's property."

"He said you'd like it."

"And I'm sure I will," he agreed softly, "but it wasn't up to your dad to promise. Not without talking to me."

Timmy looked at John, but his lips got even firmer, his eyes a little glassy. "You don't want me to do your yard?"

"I would love for you to do my yard. But your dad should have asked me first, okay?"

The tension in the thin shoulder under his hand seemed to relax a little as Timmy comprehended the distinction. "Okay. Are you going to make him stop then?"

"Your plan isn't finished yet?" Timmy shook his head so John continued, "So why don't we let Dave shape things up? It'll be easier to take them out when they're not so overgrown, right?"

"I guess." Timmy leaned toward John, who slid an arm around his shoulder and gave him a hug, as Einstein licked his cheek. Timmy giggled.

"Dave's a botanist, like your mom was."

"I bet he doesn't know as much as she did."

"I bet he knows a lot of interesting things though. Why don't you talk to him? Give him another chance," he coaxed, not wanting Rodney's son to be at odds with Nick's partner.

"Okay. But I get to do what I want, right?"

Trust Timmy to share his dad's ability to focus on one topic. "As long as I like the plan," John promised.

"You will," Timmy said, with a confidence unusual in one so young, but apparently not for a McKay.

~~~

John was lucky to have someone of Ronon's strength and stamina to run the sprayer, shooting mud all over the walls as John followed him from room to room, scraping the mud down for a flat but textured surface. They worked quickly and efficiently, as speed was the only option before the mud would harden. The business was even messier then John had expected, the sprayer covering a large area and not infrequently catching John, the drops flinging off the scraper, sticking on him too. He was grateful when they finished, the noise of the sprayer finally ending, stepping into the backyard, enjoying the weak sun on his skin after the darkness of the completely sealed house.

Aidan stepped out behind him, setting the portable spotlight down on the lawn. "Man, I'm glad I didn't have to stand too close. You two are a mess."

John gasped as cold water hit him in the small of his back, turning to see Rodney holding a hose, spraying him full blast.

"You are completely coated with muck," he said, moving the hose up and down John's body. "Are you in a second childhood, that you need to get filthy every weekend?"

"Jesus, Rodney, you could give some warning," John grumbled, even as he turned in a circle, letting Rodney spray the rest of his body.

Ronon stepped forward, and Rodney diverted the hose to him, rinsing him thoroughly. John ruffled his hands through his hair, and up and down his body, knocking the loosened mud off his skin and clothes, even as he couldn't help but watch Ronon get cleaned, envious of how the wet clothes emphasized the bigger man's muscles. John knew he was in decent shape, but genetics and a passion for running had doomed him to being skinny.

"Hey, I've got towels in the car and I'm going to be late for a date, so - "

"Yeah, go," John told Aidan. "Thanks again."

"No problem. We'll tie it up when I get my own place." Aidan waved and beat a retreat before Rodney could make him the next target.

"I'm good," Ronon said, stepping away from Rodney's hose, and flopping down on the ground, stretching out like a big, satisfied cat.

Rodney promptly turned the cold spray back on John, who yelped, but conceded the need to clean the rest of the muck off and lowered his head again, ruffled his hands through his hair some more while Rodney washed it. The spray moved down to his chest, and John raised his head again, his attention struck by the focused look on Rodney's face. The other man was staring at John like...John glanced down at himself, trying to figure it out. His body hair had grown back, so his bare legs appeared normal again, if still skinny, and his feet were clad in the rattiest pair of sneakers he owned. His red running shorts were wet, clinging to his hips and upper thighs in an embarrassing fashion, revealing more than he was sure any straight man wanted to know about his dick, and his top half was just as bad. The material of his t-shirt was thin cotton, the damp whiteness plastered to his skin, displaying his flat brown nipples. His chest hair was visible over the scooped neckline, flattened by water. John plucked at the t-shirt, pulling it away from his skin, wishing that the wetness didn't emphasize the leanness of his chest, as the spray coasted down his body and shut off.

Rodney cleared his throat, muttered that he had some extra towels, and took off toward his house before John could meet his eyes again. "Was he looking at me funny?" he asked, staring at Rodney's back and that shapely ass, perfection in casual denim. He was losing track of the number of times he'd stared at that ass, aware only that he enjoyed the view each and every time.

Ronon shook as his head ruefully as he curled his legs under him and stood up. "I've got towels in my truck. I'll see you at work Monday."

"Thanks for helping!" John yelled as he opened the fence and left. Shaking his body like Einstein to get the water off, John waited as Rodney approached with a handful of towels.

Rodney handed one to him. "Your friends left?"

"Yeah, they both brought towels. I think they were ready to get out of here." John gratefully ran the towel over his body, drying his skin and patting at his wet clothes.

"That took a long time."

"Yeah. It's one of those things that once you get started, you gotta finish. Dave and Nick left?"

"About two hours ago." Rodney's hands made a compulsive movement, as if he wanted to wave them for emphasis, but couldn't while holding the extra towels. "Thank you for talking to Timothy. I realize I - um - I - "

John shrugged. "No problem. He's a good kid. I'm glad he and Dave seemed to get along well at lunch."

"Yes, I think he enjoyed talking with a botanist like his mother. Look, I realize I shouldn't have promised that he could do your yard. I'll buy whatever he wants to plant. Despite his age, he will do a superlative job."

John ran the towel through his hair, making it stick up even more than normal. "I can buy my own bushes."

Rodney gave an impatient sigh. "You obviously haven't gone shopping at a nursery lately, and you have no idea what Timothy can consider as necessary. I'll buy the plants."

"We'll all go shopping together and see how it goes," John suggested. He liked doing things with the McKays.

"Yes, very well, and then you'll change your mind and let me pay."

Figuring he was as dry as he could get, John flipped the towel over his shoulder. "I still owe you for the lunch."

"You'll finish with your house and needing your hooligan band fed long before I stop needing babysitting." Rodney's blue eyes were looking at him intently again.

"It's getting closer, at least." John shivered a little. Even though he'd patted off, the wet clothes still clung to his skin, chilling him and causing goose bumps.

"You need to shower. I'll talk to you later." As abruptly as he'd gone to get towels, Rodney turned and walked off, leaving John wondering about that staring, hoping it meant Rodney had liked what he'd seen.

~~~~

Being at his own house in a suburban neighborhood on a Halloween was a weird experience for John. He remembered trick or treating when his father was stationed in Georgia, but otherwise the day had been mostly ignored in the foreign countries he'd grown up in. It had been similarly ignored during college, or used as an excuse to goof around and harass people, and then ignored again during his years in the Air Force.

And now here he was, trying to watch Friday the 13th on the black and white TV he'd dragged out of the boxes in his garage, popping up regularly to answer the door. Einstein seemed as disconcerted by the experience, his brown eyes mournful as he whined low in his throat when John wouldn't let him come to the door to greet those who kept invading his porch. John handed out candy to a continuous string of children dressed in a mélange of homemade or store bought costumes. Pirates were huge, and little wizards were extremely popular, as were Disney princesses. To his surprise, teenage mutant ninja turtles were still around, as well as various other superheroes.

Of all the superhero variations, he hadn't expected a Clark Kent, but sure enough, the dorky suit, the glasses, the slicked back hair, the tie twisted half off and the shirt opened enough to reveal a Superman shirt underneath..."Hi, Timmy."

"Hi, Mr. Sheppard. Trick or treat!" Timothy held out his bag, not one of the little plastic pumpkins, but a rather full pillowcase.

Einstein gave a bark, perhaps recognizing Timmy's voice, but John said, "Stay," and the dog remained by the recliner. He dropped a candy bar in the bag and then..."Trick or treat!" and Superman loomed out of the darkness. Rodney, dressed in a Superman costume, with no padding hiding his figure, just spandex clinging to his broad shoulders and solid legs. He held out a bulging pillowcase too.

John tried to hide the appreciative caress he shot at Rodney by dropping a candy bar into his bag. "Aren't you a little old to be trick or treating?"

"You're never too old for free candy. Besides, we didn't do this in Canada, so it's delayed childhood gratification for me."

"Do people buy that line?"

"For the last two years now."

John frowned, trying to recall conversations with Canadians he'd known. "I could have sworn Canadians did go trick or treating."

"Ha! But you don't know, do you? Considering that we share such a long border with you, American ignorance of Canadian culture and history is truly astounding. We're not just like you."

Putting a bit of mock wonder in his voice, John asked, "Are you saying you've been lying to your neighbors for two years?"

"Certainly not. I just pointed out that you don't really know, do you?" Rodney beamed at his own linguistic precision.

John realized he'd have to look it up if he wanted to know, because Rodney wasn't going to admit whatever the truth happened to be. He could hear the doorbell ringing at the neighbor's on the other side, which made him wonder..."Hey, who's at your house? I've been hearing someone there."

"We've got Marvin," Timmy said proudly. "Dad designed him."

"Marvin?"

"You have to see him. He's cool." Timmy grabbed his hand, but John could see a cat and a ghost coming up the walkway behind them.

Rodney curled a hand around Timmy's shoulder, encouraging him away. "Come over later, when you close up. We're finishing up now."

"Okay." John nodded, bemused, as the miniature Clark Kent and the adult Superman trotted off into the darkness carrying their sugary loot.

~~~

Half an hour later, the stream of trick or treaters had dwindled to a trickle of teenagers, so John turned off the lights and locked the front door. He crossed the backyard to the McKay house, but Rodney answered his knock on the kitchen door with a peremptory, "Go to the front."

"But - "

"The front. Go."

So John went through the gate to the front, walking up to the well-lighted porch. A silvery figure lurched out of the darkness at the farthest end. It was robotic in appearance, with a long, mournful face. "Um...hi."

"The password, please," it said, in a tone as mournful as its face.

"Um...trick or treat?"

The robot's arm swung out, hesitated for a moment, then dropped a candy bar. Reflexively, John grabbed it in mid-air. The front door swung open, revealing Timmy in Superman pajamas and Rodney in sweats.

"Isn't he cool? Dad designed him. Now try it again. You have to see what he does."

John sought guidance with a look at Rodney, but the other man just beamed, presumably at his robot's cleverness. "Um...trick or treat?"

"You've already received a treat, you greedy child. Go away and leave me to my misery," the robot lamented.

"Built-in voice analyzer," Rodney said proudly. "You can't fool it."

This was undoubtedly the most surreal moment of the day, even odder than Captain Caldwell walking into the station dressed as a Jedi Master, his shoulders appearing unbelievably broad in the beige tunics. "Why do you have a robot that gives out candy?"

"So I can take Timothy around, of course. It's absurd to leave candy out. The first kids always take the whole bowl."

That made a Rodney-ish sense, to invent a robot to fill a need. Technology conquered all. "And the insults?"

"The kids love the insults. Marvin's programmed with fifty different ones. They try to fool him so they can get insulted again."

"We have the most popular house in the neighborhood," Timothy added gleefully.

But if Rodney invented him so they could go off trick or treating... "How do you know? You're not here."

Rodney beamed even brighter. "Camera in his right eye. We'll watch everything tomorrow night."

"Is he taping now?"

"Of course. He tapes continually as long as there's movement or sound."

John wondered how bad his hair looked, and restrained himself from brushing a hand through it. He'd long ago given up fussing with it; no matter how much product he used, the cowlicks stuck up whichever way they wanted to anyway. It was an odd thought that Rodney could curl up in front of his TV and watch him talk and catch candy. But then, the whole evening had been odd. "Well, I should let you two go through your loot."

Rodney bobbed his head in rueful agreement. "It is a school night."

"Good night Rodney, Timmy." John started walking down the driveway and gave a last, "Night, Marvin," over his shoulder.

"Good night," the robot replied. "And good riddance. And I suppose I must say have a happy Halloween. Though you probably will anyway, whether I say it or not, so I don't know why I should. But oh well. Happy Halloween."

John stopped, glanced back. Rodney and Timmy beamed. Shaking his head, John started walking again, anticipating learning how the McKays celebrated the rest of the upcoming holidays.

~~~

Friday night and he was babysitting. Again. John pushed the niggling thought to the back of his mind, the one that said he needed to find some hot guy to date on Friday nights, so he wouldn't be available to help his hot neighbor, trying to focus instead on the ball in his hand. He threw it easily to Timmy, who intently watched it soar through the sky and caught it firmly, cradling it to his body like John had taught him. Timmy wouldn't fumble.

Einstein ran up to Timmy and gave a bark. He didn't quite understand why they kept catching it instead of letting him have his chance to sink his teeth into the pigskin.

Timmy grinned at Einstein, and threw the ball back to John, who caught it without having to lunge for it, noting how much Timmy's aim was improving, and said, "Getting dark."

"It's not that dark," Timothy protested, as he had 10 minutes ago when John made the same comment.

"Dark enough. Come on, I'm hungry." He walked toward the McKay's backdoor, and Timmy reluctantly followed. "Your dad leave dinner again?"

"Yes, it's in the refrigerator." The two worked efficiently together, John nuking the dinner while Timothy got out the plates and silverware. Timothy chatted constantly as they ate, telling John about what kinds of candy he'd scored on Halloween, what he'd done in school that week, how Mrs. Nagano and Mrs. Horowitz were really sorry he kept wearing sweats instead of shorts for running. "Hey, you want to play a game?" he asked as they were finishing up.

"Sure. What kind?"

"Stay here. I'll get it." Timothy dashed away, and John cleaned the table off, wondering if that offer had been timed to avoid helping with the dishes. It was the kind of thing he tried to do as a child, not that his mom ever let him escape his chores. Timothy arrived back with a box and began spreading out blocks with letters on them and multi-colored sticks to use as connectors. "It's the logic alphabet. It's for making geometric logic puzzles."

John picked up some of the blocks, looking at the letter-shaped symbols on them, flipping them around in his hand, thinking of how the 'p' could be a 'b' or a 'd'..."It's not just what's on the blocks, it's how they connect to each other," he said, intuitively linking them together, building a shape in his head. "The relationships and the pattern."

"Isn't it cool?" Timothy asked.

"Very," John answered with a grin. Babysitting was cool; he got to play with the best toys.

~~~

The pictures in Rodney's house fascinated John. He'd glanced at them the first time he'd babysat for Timmy, but now that he knew the McKays better, he found himself studying them in detail. He went over the ones in Rodney's den first, all of them of Rodney and his achievements. It was fascinating to see how Rodney matured as he advanced from bachelor's to master's to doctorate to doctorate to director, the lanky body filling out, shoulders getting wider, the almost-blond long hair shortening, darkening. The constant was always those blue eyes, so gleeful with pride and excitement, showing Rodney reveling in his own successes.

The pictures on the fireplace mantle were all family-oriented. Rodney in a black tux and Marie in a long white gown for their marriage, a heavily pregnant Marie sitting on Rodney's lap, a sweaty Marie and a triumphant Rodney at the hospital, cradling their newborn. A half-dozen of Timmy alone, displaying his first tooth John guessed from the open mouth, standing in front of a school, dressed in a soccer uniform.

The sadness in some pictures was inescapable. Marie, sitting in that absurdly petite truck, smiling but shockingly gaunt, with Timmy sitting next to her, his arms wrapped around her shoulders. And finally, one of just Rodney and Timmy that must have been last year's Christmas picture, standing by a decorated tree and wearing red sweaters and black slacks, both smiling quietly, not as grandly as they did in the other pictures.

The front door opened and John drifted away from the mantle as Rodney came in. "Hi."

"Hi," Rodney answered, looking tired, a smear of pink lipstick on the corner of his lips. Katie's lipstick. "Everything go okay?"

"Yeah. We had a good evening."

"Good. Good." Rodney's head bobbed a little.

"The dinner?"

Rodney yawned. "Fine. No citrus. There was dancing, so it went later than I expected."

"You dance?"

"As little as possible," Rodney answered promptly, stretching his arms. "Though I do have an excellent sense of rhythm."

John could imagine Rodney leading Katie onto the floor, swinging her around, their steps matching perfectly as they moved to the beat... Did he get kissed as the dance ended, standing on the floor swaying together, or when he'd dropped her off? "Timmy and I played with the logic alphabet. He's really smart."

"The logic alphabet?" Rodney looked bemused. "You understood it?"

"Of course I understood it."

"Good," Rodney answered, but the flash of surprise in his eyes was maddening. "It's very useful for developing logic skills, though Timothy's almost learned everything he can from it. Still, he loves to play with it, and his other babysitters couldn't even begin to understand it."

Great. Lumped in with 15-year-old girls but a shade brighter. How very nice to know how Rodney regarded him. "We played the X-box for a while too. It's fun to blow things up," John said tightly.

Rodney frowned. "Are you mad about something?"

Trying to even out his voice, John answered, "Of course not. What would I be mad about?"

"Oh, do not do that. You do not get to do that," Rodney snapped, suddenly angry.

"Do what?" John asked, confused at the sudden instruction, but still irritated.

"Do the passive thing. The whole 'it's nothing' thing. Marie did that and I hated it. But at least she was a woman so she had some excuse, and she was my wife, so I had to put up with it and figure a way to make whatever it was better. You're my friend and my neighbor and a guy, and I want you to just tell me what the hell I've done to piss you off."

John looked at Rodney squarely, at the jutting jaw, the frustration in his beautiful blue eyes, the crease on his forehead, and realized he wasn't going to get to wiggle out of this one, and wondered if they'd still be talking afterwards. "You kissed Katie," he said, surprised at the lowness of his voice.

Bringing his hand up, Rodney wiped at his face, glancing at the smear of pink transferred to his fingers. "She kissed me."

"Who the hell's being evasive now? Fine, you kissed. The two of you kissed, just like you do after every date."

Rodney's anger turned to confusion, as if he really couldn't begin to comprehend John's problem. "So?" He frowned, still perplexed. "Is this about the time you kissed me? You said that was an accident."

"Of course I freaking said it was an accident! You're straight! You're my goddamned straight neighbor who's adores his dead perfect wife and is struggling to raise his son and make major discoveries and sometimes I..." The words trailed off as John stared in horror, not expecting to have gotten so honest and so angry. They might never talk after tonight.

"Sometimes you what, John?" Rodney didn't seem to be getting angry in response, just intent, leaning forward a little, toward him.

"Sometimes I want to kiss you so bad. Lick your nipples." His eyes dropped to Rodney's groin. "Drop to my knees and suck your cock. Turn you around and put your hands against the wall and fuck your gorgeous ass." His breath was coming fast in exhilaration at his honesty and fear of Rodney's reaction. "I hate that it's absolutely impossible because you were fucking born straight. I'll never get to do any of those things. Because you take your wife's best friend dancing and think I'm barely brighter than 15-year-old girls." He stared at Rodney, helplessly, waiting for the disgust, surprised that Rodney was struggling for breath too, his chest rising and falling shakily, his eyes widened with... "And every once in a while, you look like you do now, and maybe I think it'll happen. Maybe you're curious. Maybe you liked that kiss. Maybe you'd like me to kiss you again." He walked shakily across the room, the few feet separating them the longest path he'd ever walked, his hands coming up to gently cup Rodney's face, feeling the soft skin roughened by the lightest of stubble. "You want that, Rodney? You want me to kiss you?"

"Oh...fuck." Rodney's hands came up to grip the back of John's head and hauled him into a desperate kiss. Surprised but ecstatic, John wrapped his arms around Rodney, kissing him back, startled at the passion Rodney expressed through his kiss. Rodney had clearly been hiding a lot more curiosity than John could ever have dared to hope.

John wondered how fast he should move, his hands coming down, hesitating at the small of Rodney's back, wanting to dip lower, to cover that truly luscious ass, to grind their hips together, find out if Rodney was as hot as he was, and then...

"Daddy?"

John and Rodney were instantly several feet apart, both of them staring at Timmy standing in the doorway, dressed in his Superman pajamas. "Are you two kissing?"

John looked at Rodney, wanting to follow his lead. Rodney's mouth opened and closed a few times, and just as John decided to take control, Rodney answered, "Yes, Timothy, John and I were kissing."

"Why?"

"Go on up to bed and I'll come up soon and we'll talk about it."

Timmy shifted uneasily but nodded and disappeared. "I should stay," John said swiftly.

"No, you should go. Let me talk to him and explain things."

"What are you going to tell him?"

"The truth. I don't lie to him," Rodney answered testily, which made John wonder exactly how Rodney viewed what had happened. A middle step on a road that had started weeks ago...or a mistake? And then Rodney grabbed his head, pulled him back into a firm kiss, and released him, pushing him toward the door. "Now go."

~~~

John thought of Rodney as soon as he woke the next morning, wondering how the discussion with Timmy had gone, wishing he'd stayed. He drank a cup of coffee and ate some toast, then shaved, and went for his morning run. There was no sign of movement at the McKay house, so he showered and dressed, then drank some more coffee standing by the only window that gave him a view of Rodney's house. He was checking his watch, knowing that the guys would arrive soon when the phone rang.

"Good morning."

"John?" Rodney, good. "I, um, had a long discussion with Timothy last night. He's going to stay at Dylan's house tonight. I talked to Dylan's mom and arranged it. I thought we could, um, have dinner after your little hooligan band leaves?"

Rodney's voice was unnaturally hesitant, and John's heart pounded fiercely as he absorbed what Rodney was suggesting. Perhaps he had explained the kissing to Timmy exactly as John hoped he would. "That sounds fantastic."

"Okay." Rodney was definitely relieved, as if he feared John might have changed his mind or not been serious. "I'll see you then."

"For lunch first."

"Lunch yes. Right."

~~~

Desire simmered in John's mind and body all day. He tried to push it aside, keep it in the back of his thoughts. A boner wasn't exactly useful for painting. The coil of anticipation refused to be dislodged, boiling in his stomach, replaying how Rodney had dragged him into a kiss, the hotness and eagerness of his lips.

Ronon seemed to sense his need for them to be finished and gone, the big man pushing them relentlessly throughout the day, spraying gallons of white paint over the walls with Aidan holding the spotlight, while Nick and John diligently completed the brushwork.

John deliberately sat opposite Rodney at lunch, thinking the wiser tactic would be to stay well away from him. He realized the foolishness of that choice every time their eyes met across the table, Rodney's barely concealed excitement almost taking his breath away.

When the guys left, Rodney's car was gone from his driveway, hopefully delivering Timmy to his friend's. John fed Einstein and put him outside for the night before showering, scrubbing fiercely at his body, trying to rid himself of all the flecks of paint. He wasn't sure how far they would go tonight, but he didn't want Rodney distracted by the multitude of white freckles on his skin.

Getting dressed reminded him that he needed to do more clothes shopping. Too many years of wearing uniforms and packing light for the ease of moving to his next station had left his wardrobe fairly deficient. He finally settled on black jeans and a green shirt that he hoped brought out the color of his eyes, thinking how Rodney's blue eyes were always intensified by his clothes. His hair - well, John had long ago given up on controlling his hair. He dried it and let the cowlicks have their way. Lack of product hadn't seemed to stop Rodney from kissing him last night.

Rodney was getting out of his car as John walked from his house. The other man waited, his expression a combination of nervousness and anticipation, as John approached him, fumbling in his thoughts for what to say. He held out his hand and Rodney took it, twining his fingers in John's. They walked into Rodney's house, staring at each other, sliding into each other's arms as the door shut behind them.

Ecstatic to have Rodney in his arms again, this time John didn't wait, plunging his tongue deep in Rodney's mouth as his hands caressed down Rodney's back to cup his butt, squeezing the luscious shape, appreciating the firmness.

Rodney groaned in the back of his throat, a reassuring sound, though his hands weren't as urgent as John's, resting lightly on John's back as their lips and tongues savored each other.

John pulled his lips away, resting his forehead on Rodney's. "We were going to have dinner," he offered, willing to let Rodney set the pace. Making out with other guys during his years in the service had usually gone fast, speed and secrecy inextricably linked, but Rodney wasn't just some stranger for mutual itch scratching.

"You want to eat now?" Rodney asked with disbelief and a hint of a whine.

"Not really," John answered honestly. "But I want to do what you want."

"What I want?"

"Yes. Whatever you want."

"There was a promise of nipple licking." Rodney's voice sounded unnaturally high. "And - uh - um - "

Feeling more confident at Rodney's response, John took a fast kiss, nipping at Rodney's thin lower lip. "A blow job? You want a blow job?"

"Christ." Rodney's hands spread wide on John's back, clutching at his hips, holding him tightly while he shoved his own hips briefly, quickly at John. "Yes." He shuddered, his body withdrawing from the closeness to John's, and took a deep breath. "But I've never - uh - "

"Been with a guy?"

"No," was the starkly honest answer, as Rodney looked scared, fearful John would reject him.

"I figured," John answered casually, pretending Rodney's inexperience was no big deal, but inwardly afraid. Not that Rodney would disappoint him, because that was absurd, but afraid Rodney's expectations might be unrealistic, making him disappointed with John. "We'll only do what you're comfortable with."

Rodney's words almost stumbled over themselves in their haste to be expressed. "A blow job. I would be really, really comfortable with a blow job. Yes. Definitely."

John suppressed a smile, because Rodney's eagerness was so damned reassuring and amusing and hot, all at the same time. "Come on." John took one of Rodney's hands, tugging at him, walking up the stairs and down the hall to Rodney's bedroom, Rodney a silent, shivering presence at his heels. He turned on the bedside light, wanting to be able to see Rodney's expression, gauge his responses better, and threw the covers to the bottom of the bed. And paused.

"What?"

"You have fluorescent yellow sheets," he answered in disbelief.

"They were on sale. And 400 count. There aren't a lot of color choices left for 400 count when it's on sale. I have very sensitive skin. I need smooth sheets. Besides, you've probably had sex on khaki," Rodney muttered darkly.

John laughed softly and the sheets had been a bad distraction because Rodney was starting to look mutinous, and that wasn't the right mood. So John took him back into his arms and gave him a hot, lingering kiss, excited by the dazed pleasure on Rodney's face. "I'm buying you sheets for Christmas," he promised. "Blue like your eyes."

"Yes, fine, 400 count at the very least, and blow job now please?"

As an answer, John whipped Rodney's shirt over his head, pushed him down to sit on the edge of the bed, and knelt to strip off his shoes and socks, unbuckling his belt and unzipping his slacks, moving quickly. Rodney didn't seemed deterred by his speed, lifting his hips off the bed so John could push his trousers and boxers down his hips and thighs, leaving them pooled around his feet on the floor. John had to pause again, this time to admire the solid body, the surprisingly broad shoulders, the curly brown hair sprinkled strategically over a pale chest, the compact hips, the hard dick poking up between firm thighs.

"What?" Rodney said again, infusing the single word with an astonishing amount of impatience.

"I think I promised you nipple licking first," John said throatily, suiting deed to word, his tongue circling and caressing first one of Rodney's pointed pink nipples and then the other. Rodney gasped and clenched at John, then his hands relaxed, but stayed on John's shoulders, stroking while John licked and sucked.

"Oh, God," Rodney whimpered. "Please, John, I don't want - "

Understanding his urgency, John sank to his knees, curled one fist around Rodney's stiff cock, and lapped at the head, tasting the first drops of pre-come.

"No," Rodney said, suddenly, pushing at John, who paused, staring up in surprise. "Condom. The nightstand."

John pumped his hand up and down Rodney's cock once, twice. "You been with anyone since Marie?"

"No, but - don't be stupid."

Lowering his head, John sucked the head of Rodney's cock back in his mouth, swirling his tongue, not willing to surrender his ability to taste for the protection of latex.

"Insane," Rodney whispered, but he stroked John's shoulders and hair again. "God, you, I can't believe you, that feels so good..."

Of course, Rodney would be a talker. John didn't let the words distract him, sliding his mouth up and down Rodney's erection, taking in as much as he could, devoting himself to making this experience as good as Rodney might have fantasized. He loved everything about this, the sensation of being trapped within Rodney's strong thighs, the musky scent of Rodney's body, the taste of Rodney in his mouth, on his tongue.

Rodney was moaning, his hips thrusting up from the bed, and John held onto his thighs, controlling him, keeping him from plunging in too deeply. With his thumbs, he caressed the soft sac of Rodney's balls, wanting Rodney to feel him everywhere. He increased the suction of his mouth, slowing the bobbing of his head. Rodney's hands settled on his head, clenching almost painfully, and he felt the throbbing in his mouth, the gush of sperm, and swallowed, his own cock quivering almost painfully within his jeans.

"Insane. Amazing." Rodney flopped back on the bed, arms flinging out, his face dreamy with bliss.

"Good?" John asked, stroking Rodney's thighs, pleased at the little shivers he could feel.

"Get naked and get up here." Rodney tugged at John's hair as he spoke.

"Hey, easy on the hair," John teased as he stood and whipped off his clothes, Rodney watching avidly the entire time, before snuggling next to Rodney's warm body. "You...um..." Want to get me off now? John thought, not wanting to make it sound like a quid pro quo.

"Oh definitely," Rodney responded, as if he were a mind reader. "Yeah, just let me..." Rodney shifted a bit, getting a good position, and took John's dick in his big hand, squeezing expertly, firmly. "This is how I like it. Is this good?"

"Oh, yeah. Keep it up, Rodney." And Rodney did, long squeezing strokes up and down John's dick, twisting a little, brushing on the leaking head to collect drops of pre-come for lubrication. John groaned in pleasure, tucking his head into Rodney's shoulder, biting at the firm flesh.

"No, I want to see you. Look at me," Rodney demanded insistently.

It was distracting to focus that much, but John pushed Rodney flat to the bed, bracing himself on Rodney's chest, keeping his head up, letting Rodney see his expression, eyes unfocused, nostrils flaring, mouth open and panting.

"You are so hot. You are so fucking hot." Rodney stroked harder, faster, firmer, and John thrust mindlessly into his grip, his legs on the outside of Rodney's, sliding against them, his breath coming in loud, quick pants. "Come for me, John. I want to watch you come."

With a low groan, John obeyed the command, shooting his come over Rodney's hand and chest, before collapsing weakly onto Rodney's supportive body. Rodney held him, stroking his back through the twitches of aftershock. For once, the talkative man didn't have anything to say.

John thought he must have dozed, because he woke a little with the awareness that something heavy had landed on his stomach, making him "oof!" as air was forced from his lungs. Rodney was cuddled up to him, both of them covered by the blankets, and Ginger gave a "meow" as she walked up his chest. "Your cat is heavy," he complained.

"She's hungry."

John's stomach rumbled in sympathy.

"Come on," Rodney said, climbing out of bed, crossing to his closet to pull out sweats. "Let's have some dinner. And then - um - some more?" he added hopefully, waving his hands to encompass the entire bedroom.

"I love it when a plan comes together," John smirked.

~~~

Sitting in Rodney's kitchen, dressed in his boxers and Rodney's fuzzy white bathrobe, watching Rodney move efficiently around the kitchen, could easily become a habit, John decided.

"So did you actually watch that horrendous show growing up?"

John had to think for a moment, fascinated by the dexterity and speed of Rodney's hands as he chopped meat and vegetables. "Oh, the A-Team? Not often, but my dad was stationed in lots of different places, so we watched any American TV we could get."

"Stationed? We?" Rodney prompted, tossing food into the wok and stirring it.

"Dad was in the Army. My brother and I."

"Are you trying to raise laconic to a new art form?"

John shrugged. "It's in the past."

Rodney had an odd expression on his face. "Are they - ?"

"What?" John contemplated what he'd said as Rodney seemed to fumble for words. "Oh, dead? No. My folks are retired. They live in Florida near my brother. He's got a wife and two kids. A boy and a girl."

"My folks are dead," Rodney said matter of factly, apparently long resigned to the loss. "They were killed in a car crash when I was finishing my first doctorate. Around the time I met Marie actually."

John's stomach rumbled at the smell of meat and vegetables cooking. He hoped Rodney was making a lot, because he'd worked up an appetite and hoped to work up another sweat after dinner. "So they never knew Timmy? That's too bad."

Rodney nodded. "They would have loved him. I've got one sister, Jeannie. She's married and has a little girl. We haven't always been close, but she was very supportive when Marie was ill."

"That's nice," John said. "They in Canada?"

"Toronto. Her husband teaches English."

It was funny and so very Rodney-like, how he could imbue innocuous words with such distaste. "What's wrong with English?"

"Nothing's wrong with English. It's just an extremely basic subject. And Jeannie's really smart. Almost as smart as I am. She could have been doing brilliant work, instead of just caring for Madison and her husband the English teacher."

"Yeah, but..." John fidgeted, smoothing his hands over the fuzzy lapels. He didn't want to start arguing with Rodney over people's right to do what they wanted with their lives, but it was a sore point for him. "She's doing what makes her happy, right?"

"Yes, but she could be doing so much more. What? You look like I've shot your dog." Rodney had stopped the graceful movement of his hands, just watching John with his bright blue eyes.

"My dad didn't want me to join the Air Force," John said reluctantly. That fight had been more than 15 years ago, but it still had the power to hurt, because John's dad had never accepted his decision. Even leaving the Air Force hadn't healed the rift, because then John was finally free to come out, giving his dad an even better reason to disapprove of him.

"I thought he was in the Army."

"Yeah, the Army. He would have been thrilled if I'd joined the Army."

"And the problem with the Air Force is?"

"It's not the Army. Flying's not real fighting." John could hear his dad saying the words in his head. Those, and more. John's dad wasn't considered a chatty man, but he always stated his views clearly and succinctly, and when he'd expressed his opinion of John's choice, he'd been almost as verbal as Rodney.

"You're serious? Your father was career military and didn't approve of you joining the Air Force?" Rodney's expression of awed disbelief was almost comical. He obviously didn't know a lot of career military men or had never discussed the other branches with them.

"Yeah, I'm serious."

"Huh." Rodney returned to his cooking, deftly stirring the food. "Well, Madison is a cute child, and she adores Timothy, and he seems to enjoy having her follow him around. I don't think Jeannie plans on having more, so perhaps she'll return to science when Madison is older. I just want her to be happy," he added, suddenly passionate. "I don't see how she can be happy not using all of her brain."

"Everyone's different," John said, not sure how they'd gotten into such a discussion of Rodney's sister, but ready to switch to a less troublesome subject. "I wouldn't be happy staying home all the time. Though I wouldn't mind a month or two off to finish the house. Or to go to Hawaii and surf."

Rodney dished rice onto two plates and loaded the white grains with stir-fry. "Surfing, why am I not surprised? You'd probably run on the beach every morning." He uncorked a bottle of wine and poured them both full glasses. "The observatory at Mauna Kea. Now that would be a good reason to visit Hawaii."

"Maybe we could take a vacation there," John suggested, surprising himself. He didn't normally make serious plans with other people, not that such a thing would have been easy to do while he was in the service.

Rodney looked as surprised as John felt. "I couldn't go anywhere without Timothy," he said, sitting down next to John.

"Timmy loves football. I bet he'd be a natural surfer."

"I don't see any connection between the two, except of course, that you like both of them, but yes, Timothy's very good at sports," Rodney said proudly. "I'm sure he'd be excellent at surfing."

"Surf during the day, watch the stars at night..." John leaned over and nuzzled the side of Rodney's face. "Could be fun."

"Could be a lot of fun," Rodney agreed huskily.

"Eat up, and let's have some more fun tonight."

~~~

John slid under the covers, appreciating the furnace that was Rodney McKay. Crossing the backyard had been chilly. He cuddled into the sheets, trying to leech off Rodney's warmth but not press his cold body to the other man.

"Did you run?" Rodney yawned sleepily, pulling John close and wrapping his arms around him. John went without a struggle.

"Just checked on Einstein. Ginger meowed so I gave her some canned food."

"Oh good. She usually gets her breakfast before we go to church." Rodney snuggled even closer, warming John. "Sleep now? It's Sunday and I can sleep in. Sleeeeep in," he drawled with pleasure.

"Why do you go to church? You don't seem to like it."

"Oh god, you're not a morning talker, are you?" Despite his protestation, Rodney's eyes opened, as if he was ready to chat. "And I wouldn't go to church at all except I promised Marie to take Timothy. The two of them used to go before she became ill."

"She was religious?"

Rodney's eyes fluttered shut and his face looked pained as he said in a tone that was clearly mimicking, "God wouldn't give us more than we can handle." He burrowed closer to John, who rubbed a comforting hand on his broad back. In a more normal tone, he added, "I don't understand why people have this obsessive need to attribute every element of life to a grand design by some all powerful being. Particularly one who thinks cancer and a lingering death is a reasonable demonstration of appreciation to inflict upon someone who loves him."

John gave Rodney a reassuring squeeze. "I can take Timmy to church sometimes. If you like."

"You're not religious, are you?"

John snickered at the horror in Rodney's voice and his wide-open eyes. "Not particularly. Just...I find services relaxing. Gives me time to think."

"Oh. Well. That would be fabulous then. You can take Timothy any time you'd like," Rodney offered eagerly.

Making Rodney happy was cool, because Rodney was so very expressive and looked so hot when he beamed. "So...last night was good?" They'd ended up on the couch after dinner, necking for a long time, hungry but not in any hurry, feeling each other's bodies, leisurely discovering sensitive points, and finally jerking each other off.

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Seriously, you have to ask?"

"Since we don't seem to be falling back asleep, I thought you might like to take things another step."

"Another step?"

"I thought you might like to...you know. Fuck me."

John had worried that Rodney might not be ready to go that far, but from the instantly glazed look in his eyes, John had worried unnecessarily. "You'd want that? I mean...I did some research on the Internet yesterday and the whole top-bottom thing...well, I wasn't sure which you would be."

"You what?" John asked with disbelief.

"What? I did some research on the Internet. I'm a scientist. I believe in research when I'm approaching a new situation. Not that it's totally new, I've had sex before, plenty of sex, but not, well, you know. Gay sex."

"You mean while we were running a paint sprayer you sat around in your office and downloaded porn off the net?" John smiled with bemusement, picturing Rodney in his cluttered office, hunched over his laptop, trying to prepare for the evening. Research. Everything could be solved with research.

"Of course I didn't download porn off the net. Do you know how many viruses are on those sites? I read."

Rodney was looking defensive again, and John melted against him, kissing lips that were tight at first, but relaxed quickly and kissed him back. Shifting away, John pushed the covers down, stretching on his stomach, spreading his legs loosely, handing Rodney the lube that he'd left lying on the nightstand. He shivered a little, partially from the loss of the warm covers but mostly in anticipation. "Why don't you show me what you researched?"

"Oh, um...yes. I can do that. Certainly." Rodney took the lube, and John watched as he spread some on his fingers. He was grateful for the morning sun, coming faintly through the thin curtains, letting him see Rodney's face, revealing his own nervousness and eagerness. Taking slow breaths, John deliberately made himself relax. Rodney was likely to be awkward the first-time; few people was fabulous at any type of sex from the very beginning. "Use lots of lube," he suggested casually. "Never too much lube."

Rodney shifted, kneeling between his spread legs, and he felt big hands cupping his butt, massaging, one finger slipping tentatively into his opening. His finger was slow and gentle as it invaded, almost too hesitant.

"I won't break. Just keep using lots of lube and stretch me."

Rodney stilled, long enough that John twisted his head to see his face. "Rodney?" The other man seemed a little dazed, off in his own thoughts. "Rodney?"

Shaking his head, Rodney seemed to come back to himself. "Later," he answered briefly, his touch becoming firmer, more demanding. John relaxed again, not sure what had happened, but enjoying the feeling of being opened, the care Rodney was showing. He'd had anal sex before, but not often. In college, it had still seemed decadent, new, and in the Air Force, rushed, furtive. Now it was no longer risky but special, something to linger over and appreciate.

Not forever though, he thought, moaning by the time Rodney had three fingers inside and had found his prostate. From the curious, constant touches, he was pretty sure Rodney understood damn well what he was doing and deriving a great deal of pleasure from making John squirm on his fingers. "Dick now, Rodney. Dick would be very good."

"If you're sure," he said, and yes, Rodney was way too satisfied with himself. His voice reeked with complacency. "I gather you approve of my research?"

John twisted his head again to see Rodney's lopsided grin. "Fuck me!" And bless him, Rodney didn't tease any longer. John heard the rustle of a condom, soft kisses on his back, and Rodney's body covering him, surrounding him as his dick pushed in. It ached, because fingers were never quite the same, but the burn was good, satisfying. Rodney withdrew, thrusting back in, going deeper. "Yeah, Rodney. Yeah. More."

"You're still tight," Rodney said shakily, but he kept moving in a steady, easy rhythm, withdrawing and thrusting, making his place in John's body.

John shoved back, the angle changing, and..."Fuck!" The feeling was overwhelming, maddening, Rodney's dick stroking along his prostate, sending sparks all over his body. He wasn't cold any longer, but hot and sweating from the pleasure, his chest tight as he labored for breath.

Rodney seemed as affected, his skin warm where it rubbed on John's, sweat making them glide slickly, the pace of his hips escalating as he went all the way in, accepting that John could handle taking his full length. One hand was on the bed, keeping his balance, but his other hand gripped John's hip, pulling as John shoved back. The initial hesitancy faded, the act becoming almost a duel as both men fought for the end, bodies slamming together, neither holding back. John heard Rodney give a savage cry, and then collapse limply on top of him, his weight a solid presence on John's back.

"Jesus, you didn't..." Rodney's hand released John's hip to capture his dick, stroking him urgently, giving him that last vital stimulation. John came hard, his ass clenching around Rodney's dick, squeezing involuntarily as his muscles spasmed from the ecstasy. Rodney gasped at the last caress as John sunk to the bed, feeling drained.

"John?" Rodney sounded alarmed.

"S'okay," he muttered, his face buried in the pillow. "M'okay."

More soft kisses on his back, and John felt Rodney withdrawing. He gave a little whimper at the loss, listening as Rodney went to the bathroom, disposing of the condom and returning with a cloth, wiping him down. Then Rodney was back in the bed, pulling the sheets over them, and they cuddled into each other's arms again.

"That was...fantastic."

"I am a genius. My talents extend to many areas." Rodney was definitely smug, but deservedly so, John decided.

Sex that good should have put him to sleep, but... "What happened there?"

Rodney twisted a bit, turning to stare at the ceiling. "When you said you wouldn't break, you reminded me of Marie."

John was surprised. "You guys had anal sex?"

"No, we never even discussed it."

"Then...?"

"You have to understand that I am a genius. Truly, certifiably. When I was a child, I wanted to learn everything. Well, everything that I thought was interesting. My parents fought a lot, particularly about how to handle my education. I skipped grades, I went to special classes, I had tutors. I didn't do the normal things that most children do. Or at least, not at the normal time. Jeannie was brilliant too, but she was younger and less demanding."

John gave a hum of assent, thinking that they were alike in some ways. He wasn't a genius like Rodney, but his childhood had always seemed off-kilter, moving to a new town or country almost every year, constantly leaving friends and having to make new ones, feeling out-of-place among the kids who'd grown up together.

"I met Marie when I was TA'ing undergraduate physics, which was...a horrible experience. Having to deal with the sheer and utter stupidity of most college students...well." Rodney's body shuddered under the sheets. "But there were some really beautiful women in the class, so I appreciated that part of the experience."

Rodney seemed to drift off, perhaps lost in thought. John stroked his side, bringing him back. He wasn't sure why Rodney felt it necessary to tell him all this information, but he was interested in hearing it.

"Marie actually approached me, after the class was over. I didn't even understand why at first. She was beautiful and..." Rodney struggled for words, a bit of color on his cheeks.

"So she was your first major relationship? That must have been hard."

"It was," Rodney said gratefully. "I'd dated other people, of course, I wasn't inexperienced, but I wasn't used to thinking a lot about other people and what they needed. And Marie tended to get silent or cry when she was unhappy, and I didn't know how to deal with it. But genius, I figured it out, and she became better at expressing herself, and we married and had Timothy. Those were great years."

Looking at Rodney's profile, John could see the fondness and happiness in his face. "Then she got sick."

"She got sick." Rodney sighed. "Do you know how atrocious the medical profession is in this country? They're practically witch doctors. They thought the chemo would work, and then it didn't, and the tumors grew, and they found more, and... she became so fragile. I was afraid I'd hurt her. I only wanted to hold her, but she, she said it made her feel alive. She could pretend she wasn't going to die, that we would grow old together. We actually fought a few times about it, and then she'd cry, and... I wanted to give her what she needed but I hated feeling like I might hurt her."

John caressed Rodney's chest under the covers, feeling the soft thatch of hair under his fingers, hoping his touch was comforting, not at all sure what to say. He'd lost friends in war, but that had always been quick. They were there, and then they were dead. Or shipped out immediately for medical treatment that didn't come in time, and then they died far from John's sight. The few who'd lingered in their dying had taken hours, not months. "She must have loved you very much."

"Yes," Rodney admitted, "and I loved her. I miss her. But..." Rodney turned his head to look at John, his voice intense as he said, "You are so hot and it feels so good to not have to worry. To know that you won't break."

"Glad I moved next door?" John teased, hoping to lighten the mood.

Rodney's face was still serious as he cupped John's head in his big hands, muttered, "Very," and kissed him hard.

~~~

Maybe he should make every Sunday a day of rest, John thought, snuggling against Rodney on the comfortable couch, watching football on Rodney's big TV, Rodney's attention focused on the laptop on his knees, typing one-handed with surprising speed and ease, the other arm draped over John's shoulders. They'd finally gotten out of bed, and Rodney made waffles. Waffles, John thought fondly, patting his still sated stomach. Waffles and football and Rodney as a big snuggly couch cushion. He could easily get used to semi-living here.

The front door opened and Timmy came in, carrying his backpack on one shoulder. "Hey, Timmy."

Rodney glanced up from his laptop screen, surprised. "Timothy. I thought you were going to call to be picked up?"

Timmy stayed standing by the door. "Dylan's mom wanted to go shopping, so she dropped me off."

"Oh, good. Did you get breakfast? There's waffle batter left."

"Dylan's mom gave us Fruit Loops."

"Fruit Loops. Do you know the nutritional value of Fruit Loops?" Rodney muttered to John, not apparently pleased with Dylan's mom's food choices. "Worse than ramen."

"I don't think waffles are exactly the most nutritional breakfast either," John said casually, but uneasy at Timmy staying so far away. Timmy tended to stand close to Rodney, frequently leaning against him.

"They're better than Fruit Loops," Rodney grumbled, and waved his free hand at Timmy, beckoning him over.

"I need to check over my homework," Timmy said, heading upstairs.

"You checked over your homework yesterday," Rodney answered, turning his head as much as his position allowed to watch Timmy disappear. "Timothy!" He started struggling up, an awkward process with the laptop on his knees and John still sagged on him.

John uncurled, standing up, and squeezed Rodney's shoulder. "Let me talk to him, okay?" He didn't think Rodney understood, but he could see in Timmy the subtle signs of someone who just wasn't dealing with the present situation. He'd seen the extreme version of those signs enough in Afghanistan or when talking to witnesses at crime scenes.

Rodney looked perplexed. "He's - yes, okay." Leaving Rodney frowning, John padded upstairs and to Timmy's bedroom, leaning on the doorframe, watching as Timmy dumped the contents of his backpack into the laundry hamper. "Hey, Timmy."

"Did you want something, Mr. Sheppard?"

Rodney tended to be a very direct person, so John plunged right in. "I have a feeling you're not happy with me."

Timmy shrugged, hanging his backpack over his desk chair. "I have to check my homework."

John stepped a pace inside the room and squatted, bringing his face closer to Timmy's level. He wasn't sure how to approach him, aiming somewhere between his best 'good cop talk to me' manner and how he would have liked his dad to talk to him. "Timmy, please talk to me. Are you unhappy because I'm dating your dad?"

"I didn't say I didn't want you to date dad. He likes you."

"I hope he likes me. I like him." John waited patiently, as Timothy started fussing with his schoolbooks, shuffling them like he was looking for the right one. Jeez, but kids had a lot of them these days. Reaching out, he curled his hands around Timothy's, stopping his hands from moving, tugging gently at him so they faced each other. "Come on, Timmy. Talk to me," he asked. "I want us all to be happy together."

"Like a family." Timothy didn't fight John's grasp, but his head hung down, his eyes hidden from John's view.

"That would be good. Like a family."

"Mom and dad used to sit like that on the couch. Mom would watch shows that dad always said were really sappy and atrocious, but he said it like he does when he doesn't really mean it and mom would just smile at him and keep watching."

Well, that was...awkward. John hadn't realized Rodney was falling into old comfortable habits. "Timmy, I'm not trying to replace your mother. No one can ever do that."

"Dad said that."

"What else did your dad say?" John asked, still not feeling that he was getting Timmy's main problem. Circling around it, getting closer, but not yet hitting the bulls-eye.

Timmy shrugged again. "That he'd been so busy with his studying before he'd met mom that he hadn't realized how lonely he was, and that he'd been lonely since she'd died, and that you were interested in him and he thought you were really hot and you guys were going to date. He wanted to make sure that I liked you and was okay with that. And I was the most important person to him but that he wanted to do more adult things with you so that you guys might need some time without me, like he and mom used to. But that it didn't mean that he didn't love me and that he didn't miss mom, just that he needed to do other things sometimes." He paused for breath and grimaced. "He repeated himself a couple of times. Dad talks a lot when he explains things."

"Yeah, he does." John gave a little smile. "Did you tell your dad that was okay with you?"

"Yes. I mean...I know adults like to be with other adults. And you're next door and I know you and I like Einstein. It's better than Cassie's mom. She dates a lot of guys that Cassie says are jerks."

"So come on, sport." He squeezed Timmy's hands gently. "Give it up. Why are you unhappy?"

"Dad likes you. He said that you're hot. That means he's a homosexual."

This finally felt like the reason for Timmy's obvious unhappiness, which startled John. The kid hadn't seemed to have a problem with John's homosexuality when Ronon had mentioned it. "Do you not want your dad to be a homosexual?"

Timmy looked up, tears in his blue eyes. "It means he never really loved mom. He said he did and that he misses her but he's a homosexual so that means he loves men."

Oh...crap. Jeez, of course, a McKay would be able to connect the dots and come to a logical conclusion of what homosexuality meant. They loved logic and reaching conclusions. "You love your grandma and grandpa, don't you?"

Timmy gave him that 'you're an idiot' frown that made his resemblance to Rodney even stronger. "Of course I do. They're my grandparents."

"But one's a man and one's a woman."

"So? They're my grandparents. It's not like...mushy love. Sex and stuff."

"There are all kinds of love. Almost everyone loves both men and women."

"Yes, but there are men who just love men and they're homosexuals and women who love women and they're lesbians and then there are men who love women and they're heterosexuals," Timmy said stubbornly. "Dad's explained all that stuff to me. When Mrs. Campion left Mr. Campion for Mrs. Larke. And again when Mr. Tomlin married Mr. Polaski."

"Your dad left out an option when he explained about those things."

Timmy's little chin jutted out. "Dad doesn't leave things out. Dad's a genius."

How Timmy instinctively defended his dad was cute, but John could foresee he'd have to tread warily when disagreeing with Rodney. "I'm sure he didn't mean to. But there are people who can love both men and women, and they're called bisexuals. They don't have the same...hang-ups about bodies that the rest of us do."

"I don't understand."

"Your dad loved your mom and now he likes me, because he can appreciate us for who we are, not what our bodies are like. So he's a bisexual, someone who can love anyone. In a...mushy love way."

"Oh." Timmy frowned, like he was mulling the idea over. "That seems really special."

"Yes. Your dad's really special."

"So he did love mom?"

It was almost a relief that Marie's memory was Timmy's main problem, because John could give him that reassurance with no hesitation. "Very much. And he always will. Nothing will ever change that."

"Okay." Timmy gave a little sigh, his body relaxing and leaning against John. The unconscious trust warmed John, and he hugged him.

"Your dad and I probably look at things differently, so any time you want to talk to me, you just say so, okay?"

"Like a good scientist gets input from different sources," Timmy said promptly.

"Yeah, like that. Now, how about some basketball? I've got a hoop that needs to be used."

"I haven't played basketball. I thought you had to be tall."

"Some of the best players are short. It's skill, not height, that makes a great player." He stood, and ruffled Timmy's hair. "Come on, let's go toss a few."

Timmy nodded, and followed obediently as they went downstairs. Rodney was still on the couch, typing with his rapid speed, but stopped and looked up. John gave a subtle thumbs up. "We're going to play some basketball. You want to join us?"

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Basketball looks marginally more exciting than football but no. I have a report to finish."

"Okay," John said. Part of him wanted to go hang with Rodney on the couch, but he thought Timmy could use some more time before they recreated his memory of happy domesticity. "We'll be outside."

"Yes, that's where the hoop is," Rodney said with a grin and a last curious look at the two of them before he returned to typing.

~~~

Rodney was working in his office when John found the chance to talk to him about Timmy's concerns. He leaned over him, sliding his arms around his chest. "You're officially bisexual," he said, pressing a few soft kisses to the side of Rodney's face.

Rodney stopped typing. "I'm what?"

"Bisexual. Timmy thought you couldn't have loved Marie if you're a homosexual."

Rodney twisted in the chair, and John came around, swinging one leg over his lap, sitting down, pleased when Rodney's arms immediately settled around his waist. "Of course I loved Marie. Where did he get the idea I didn't?"

"Because you told him men who love men are homosexuals and they're born like that. That they don't love women."

"He's very logical, isn't he?" Rodney asked with pride. "Of course, I should have explained bisexuality to him."

John stroked the back of Rodney's neck, appreciating how the softness of his short hair blended into the softness of his skin. "I got it covered."

"That's only reasonable, since you caused the problem."

Grinning, John asked, "Being so hot and irresistible?"

"Being so hot and egotis - " Rodney started to grouse, but John drowned out the words with a long, passionate kiss. Rodney clasped John's butt, holding him firmly, responding urgently, until he finally broke away to say, "Timothy could walk in. Tonight, okay? Tonight?"

"Tonight." John nuzzled at Rodney's cheek, tamping down the desire, feeling Rodney's hands relax and stroke his back soothingly.

"Oh by the way, Timothy's grandmother called about Thanksgiving. They're going to drive down on the day. Traffic's better than on Wednesday. You'll come, of course?"

The fact that Rodney automatically included John in the family holiday plans made John's heart give a little flip, which made it hard to answer, "Rodney...I'm working. Both Ronon and I are. We volunteered a couple of months ago when they did holiday schedules."

"Fine. When do you get off? Five or so? We'll eat at six."

"Thanksgiving dinners are usually in the afternoon."

"This one will be at six," Rodney said stubbornly. "Bring Ronon. I'm not eating a big holiday meal with Timmy's grandparents without you."

"We were going to eat in a restaurant with Aidan. He doesn't have any family in town either."

"Bring Aidan. Bring Dick and Naveed too if you want. Bring half of your precinct or station or whatever you call it. There will be enough food. And since I'm cooking, it'll be the best Thanksgiving meal you've ever had."

"Nick and David," he corrected, smiling at Rodney's egotistical boast about his cooking, but sure that Rodney would deliver.

"Whatever," Rodney waved. "Promise me that you'll come."

"I'll come," John promised. "The best Thanksgiving meal ever?"

"Trust me. Genius."

~~~

If John had gotten bold enough to contemplate a future with Rodney, it would have entailed a lot of awkward dating and misunderstandings. Settling into becoming part of the McKays' lives was surprisingly easy. John hadn't expected such a smooth transition, but Rodney seemed oblivious to the idea that there should even be intermediate stages. Rodney simply assumed John would eat, watch TV and go ice skating with he and Timmy; that the two of them would have as much sex as could be managed; and that John would be pushed out the door when his friends showed up to work on his house.

John was okay with that.

He was even okay with taking Timmy to church, though he found the sight of the low, domed buildings made of hexagonal bricks a little disconcerting. "That's a church?" He'd gone to a lot of different churches growing up, but his mom had always found ones that fit her traditional beliefs.

"Dad picked it. It's not the one that Mom and I attended, but it's nice."

"Okay," John answered hesitantly, willing to give it a try, but inside was reassuring, decorated with wooden pews and an altar. They settled into a pew about midway and listened to a service where the choir sang beautifully and the minister talked about God and the Bible and responsibility. John drifted in his mind, remembering the sight of perfect blue skies all around him.

They hung around after the sermon, drinking coffee and punch and eating cookies while Timmy introduced him to an astonishing number of people, all of whom Timmy knew by name. The kid was as social and outgoing as Rodney could be talkative and abrasive. Everyone was friendly, and, "Tell Rodney we expect to see him next Sunday," was a common statement. He finally replied, "I thought Rodney was something of a disbeliever."

"Faith isn't for the faint of heart," someone who John thought was named Cecelia answered, and John nodded as if he understood. He was amused when one of the ladies talked about being a Christian atheist, because she believed in what Christ taught, just not that he was the son of God. His mother would have walked out with a stiff, disapproving stance, but no one else even batted an eye. He understood why Rodney found this place acceptable. Though they were religious, they certainly weren't doctrinaire about it.

John didn't rush to get out of the parking lot, letting other cars go first. He said casually, "Your dad seems to be missed."

"Mrs. Snyder and Mrs. Tolman both like him. They're divorced. He never notices them though. He never noticed anyone until you. Cassie's Mom tried to date him too but he asked her one time if her shoe size exceeded her IQ and then she didn't want to date him any more."

John stifled a snicker, remembering Rodney and Annabel's lack of friendliness at the ice rink, feeling warmed at the thought that Rodney had been oblivious to others. "Yeah, women get a little picky about things like that."

"They were talking about politics. Dad doesn't think most people understand politics very well."

"I gotta agree with him on that one." Enough cars had gone that the lot was clearing out, so John started the car. "So it's okay with you if I keep taking you to church?" It was certainly okay with Rodney, who'd given John a very nice hand job in the morning before rolling over and going back to sleep.

Timmy shrugged, but his eyes seemed undisturbed at the prospect. "Dad likes arguing about religion sometimes, but he doesn't really like to go. Mom thought I should."

Backing up the car, John asked, "Why don't we pick up donuts on the way home?"

"Can I have two?"

"It's hardly worth stopping for less than a dozen," John answered.

Timmy grinned.

~~~

The inside of the house was getting close to done, to John's relief. He'd found satisfaction in the task, but hanging out at the McKays, playing sports with Timmy and snarking at Rodney between bouts of glorious sex was definitely much higher on his preferred list of activities.

The guys had come out again, cutting new baseboards and finishing up the semi-gloss painting in the kitchen and bathroom. The kitchen cabinets were still trashed, which had led to a spirited but unresolved debate on whether to install new cabinets or strip the paint off the existing ones before resanding them. The former would be faster but more expensive; the latter cheaper but way more time-consuming.

They decided to play some basketball rather than debate the issue any longer, and Ronon taught Timothy the joy of making a perfect basket, picking him up by the waist and holding him high enough to sink it. The cabinet argument got lost in bickering over the fairness of giant-assisted scoring.

"I need to order curtains," John said at dinner, shoveling yet another of Rodney's astounding culinary creations into his mouth. He was beginning to wonder if his unabashed appreciation of Rodney's cooking was spurring him to new and greater heights. If so, he'd keep dropping compliments regularly. "Measure the windows and stuff."

"You sound like using a measuring tape is a difficult task," Rodney answered.

John shrugged, feeling stupid at the admission. "I've never bought curtains."

"It's not hard. You go to a store, look through sample books, pick what you like. Timothy and I can help you tomorrow."

"No offense, but your curtains are beige. Besides, it's supposed to rain tomorrow."

Rodney looked around his kitchen, like he'd never noticed the curtains before. "What's wrong with beige? I like beige. It's neutral. And rainy days are perfect for shopping, except so many idiots think that the appropriate response to rain is to drive faster."

"Uh, uh." John shook his finger at Rodney. "We have a date. First rainy day is movie watching."

Rodney froze with his fork halfway to his mouth, eyes transfixed. "You're kidding."

"I bought the trilogy yesterday."

"You *bought* it? All three excruciatingly atrocious movies?"

"You made a promise." John threw in a pout for good measure, pleased at Rodney's reaction, the glazed look in his eyes and the subtle squirming in his chair.

Rodney made one last attempt to escape. "Timmy can't watch movies all day. He has homework."

Timmy looked up from his dinner. He seemed reasonably comfortable around John, but he still tended to act absorbed in his food whenever John and Rodney got on a bantering roll at dinner. John kept working on creating three-way conversations, determined that one of these days he was going to convince Timmy to drop the 'Mr. Sheppard's. "I did it all on Friday, Dad. What movies are we going to watch?"

Watching Rodney unsuccessfully try to wiggle his way out of Timmy's interest, John thought, 'Score,' a satisfaction that carried to the next day. As predicted, the sky was gray with rain drizzling down, though unpredictably, Rodney didn't seem to be an unwilling participant, producing fresh popcorn and hot chocolate after only minor badgering. Not just nuked Nestle's Quik with milk, but a Rodney creation of chopped up gourmet chocolate, sugar, cinnamon, both milk and cream, and a few hidden ingredients he wouldn't let John see, carefully warmed and stirred on the stove. John took a sip of the hot chocolate and decided it was the best he'd ever tasted. They curled up on the couch, Rodney in the middle, with a quilt spread over all three of them. Einstein was lying in front of the fireplace, trying to absorb all the crackling warmth before it reached the humans. John hit 'play' on the remote, wondering how long Rodney would last before he started insulting the movie.

Rodney didn't make it past the credits, as the camera scanned Doc Brown's crowded laboratory with all its gadgetry, before commenting with a snort, "Please, this is supposed to be the lab of a genius? All those mechanics are basic robotics. That don't even begin to compare to what I did when I created Marvin."

"He's an eccentric genius, Rodney. It shows his eccentricities."

"He's certainly something," Rodney sniped but lapsed into momentary silence before Michael J. Fox's arrival into the lab generated a moaned, "Acid washed jeans! Down vests! 80s fashions! God, some things should not be immortalized for posterity," which John let slide because he couldn't disagree.

Marty took off on his skateboard, catching rides by hanging on the back of cars, and John thought about saying how much he used to love to do the same thing as a teenager. Then considered that Rodney might regard that as a dangerous example to set for Timmy and kept his mouth shut.

"Oh here," John paused the DVD and pointed out the teacher. "That's Huey Lewis." Timmy gave him a blank look. "Huey Lewis and the News did the theme song. The Power of Love," John explained, suppressing the disturbing curiosity of whether Timmy was familiar with Johnny Cash. The McKays didn't seem to have much music around the house, but the limited amount was all classical. He'd have to start working on Timmy's musical education next.

Timmy leaned over Rodney to grab the remote as the elder McFly and Biff talked. "Why are they talking about retyping reports? Why doesn't he just email him the file?"

Rodney and John glanced at each other in shock, trying to decide how to explain existence before computers, and Timmy giggled, one side of his mouth twisting upwards into a grin. "I've seen typewriters in movies," he said loftily. Rodney gave him a mock glare before ruffling his hair and starting the movie again.

They all agreed that Einstein in the movie was nothing like Einstein lying in front of the fireplace, though John made a token protest, as Einstein raised his head and thumped his tail eagerly, hoping to be invited to join them on the couch. Rodney rolled his eyes as Timmy and John agreed the DeLorean was cool, and John mentally added basic car repairs to his list of items he wished to teach Timmy.

"You're going to see some serious shit," Rodney mimicked Christopher Lloyd. "Oh yes, Doc Brown is such an articulate scientist. And oh god, the flux capacitor...do I even need to try to explain how bad the science is?"

"No." John nudged him in the side. "No science discussion during the movie."

The Libyans roared onto the screen in their Volkswagen van, and John gave a little sigh, speaking softly to Rodney. "Remember when terrorism could be funny?" Rodney nodded, his smooth skin of his face brushing on John's as they leaned together. The machine gun jammed, and John had to note, "That's unrealistic, because Libyan terrorists should be using AK-47s, which are effective assault rifles and rarely jam." As Rodney gave him an 'you are insane' stare, John asked, "What? You can pick holes in the science, can't I pick holes in the military aspects?"

"Yes, but you're not letting me pick holes in the science. If science discussion is banned, then so is military."

"Point," John conceded, snuggling closer, trying to stay quiet so Timmy could enjoy the movie. Even banning science and military discussions, they'd made a wise choice to start watching in the morning. At this rate of interruptions, the six hours of movie were going to take at least ten to watch. Rodney's moaned commentaries continued until John finally pinched him sharply on his thigh. As Rodney flinched, John whispered, "Jeez, let him watch the movie. Or there are other places I can pinch you." The look he received back was startled and yet...oddly excited, leading John to wonder where Rodney was picturing being pinched. 'Down,' he told his dick firmly, and settled his attention back on the TV screen.

"Jeez, he doesn't know who Clint Eastwood is?" John asked in horror as the credits for the last movie rolled, futilely brushing at the orange cat hair coating his black shirt. Ginger had joined them during the second movie, deciding John's chest made the best pillow. "Clint Eastwood?"

"Yes, and which of Clint Eastwood's movies do you think are appropriate for a child of his age? The ones with the ape?" Rodney sniped back as Timmy watched them in curiosity, so cocooned in the quilt that only his head showed.

"Well...okay, yeah. But... Clint Eastwood!" Timmy had recognize the moon walking perfectly, and damn it, if any 80s icon should be recognized by the younger generation, it should be Clint Eastwood rather than Michael Jackson. He thought about mentioning Paint Your Wagon, but Clint's singing was hardly the best introduction to his coolness.

Apparently deciding to ignore John's upset on the behalf of a great actor, Rodney asked Timmy, "So? What did you think?"

"This was fun. Can we do it again?"

"But you... you didn't like them, did you? The science is so atrocious!"

"The science didn't seem worse than the Star Wars movies, dad. And these were funnier."

Rodney gasped for breath until John was afraid he'd have apoplexy, so he petted his chest reassuringly. "Hey Timmy, let's give Einstein a quick walk before dinner?"

Sometimes retreat was the better part of valor, even if withdrawal necessitated escaping into the rain.

~~~

Later on, John would wonder if Timmy asked The Question deliberately to distract Rodney from his ongoing grumbles about Timmy's poor taste in movies. At the time, John could only think, 'Oh shit.'

Timmy pushed his food around his plate, looked up with his big blue eyes, and asked, "Can I ask a question? There was that special section in class - you remember, Dad, the one you had to sign for?"

"Of course you can ask anything you want," Rodney answered promptly. "Questions are a sign of curiosity. Geniuses are always curious."

"Do you two use condoms? You're not going to get an illness or anything?"

John and Rodney glanced at each other. A flush of color showed on Rodney's cheeks, but otherwise he seemed less horrified than John had expected. Of course, he'd known the special section Timmy had meant. "Yes, Timothy, John and I practice safe sex. At least, I do, and John mostly does."

"Mostly?" John stared at Rodney, wondering if his voice sounded as squeaky as it did to his ears.

"You know, the - thing that you do. Without - you know."

"No, I don't know!" John said, now positive he was squeaking, as Timmy asked, "What, Dad?"

Rodney sighed. "John engages in fellatio without a condom. Don't look at me like that. You do. Don't blame me for being honest."

"I can't believe you told him that!" John hissed. "Besides, the transmission rate of sexual diseases because of giv- fellatio is extremely low. It's not unsafe."

"If he's old enough to ask, he's old enough to have things explained to him. And how do you know about the transmission rate?"

"You won't even let him watch Clint Eastwood movies! And I do read more than the sports page."

"Please, this is a vast difference between not allowing him to watch violent movies and lying to him about basics like sex. Do you know what it was like, to go to high school when I was preadolescent, and have parents who refused to answer questions?"

"Clint Eastwood movies aren't any more violent than the x-box games, and I still can't believe you told him that." John tried to calm himself, but could hear his voice, too high and thin.

"Are you really mad about this?" Rodney was frowning, seeming to understand that John wasn't pleased but struggling to grasp why.

"Yes, I - " John looked helplessly at Timmy, seeing only curious innocence as his head swung back and forth, absorbing every word of the adult's conversation. What could he say? 'I think you should be lied to'? His parents must have been similar to Rodney's, dismissing his questions, telling him he was too young to understand. Their refusal to answer hadn't stopped him from learning; it only meant that his friends had been the ones to provide answers, many of them incorrect. Leveling his voice, he said, "There are things I'm not accustomed to talking about. And this is one of them. If you have more questions, then Rodney and I are going to discuss first how to answer. Privately. Okay?"

"Okay." Timmy nodded, apparently undisturbed at the possibility of having to wait for his answers. "Mom and Dad always talked about the cancer first."

Rodney stroked Timmy's hair. "I'd forgotten about that. We did. Marie always wanted to make sure you could handle it."

"Marie was a wise woman," John said pointedly.

~~~

Going to bed that night was a little awkward. The day had been fun, cuddled under the blankets watching TV, but too much food and too little exercise made John feel a little loggy, and the sex discussion had driven home how much Timmy was likely seeing him as a role model. A role model. He'd been an Air Force officer and was now a police detective, professions that were normally considered role models, but well... he'd always been one of many, and generally passed through other people's lives quickly. Now he had one kid looking up to him, expecting him to set the example, on a daily basis, hopefully for many years. It was a weird feeling.

Rodney seemed to feel awkward too, hovering in the middle of the bedroom, his hands twitching as if they couldn't decide the appropriate fashion to flail. "Look, I'm sorry," Rodney blurted out.

"No, I'm sorry," John inserted. "I shouldn't tell you how to talk to Timmy."

"No, you were right. That was too much information for a child of his age, wasn't it? I should have been less explicit."

John shrugged. "Maybe. I don't know how fully he understood." Hopefully not very, John thought. "I can't believe they had a section on that in his class."

"Girls are entering puberty as young as nine now, and he's an excellent school district, very liberal, very advanced. Well, what counts for advanced in the States. A decent school was my first criteria when we looked for a new house after Marie's death."

As young as nine? Being a role model was going to be... challenging. "My parents wouldn't talk to me about sex either. I mostly learned from my friends or my brother."

"So, it was okay? Marie and I used to talk together before we'd tell him about the cancer and the newest drivel from the doctor. Marie was always much better at knowing what to say to him, even though she was the sick one."

Rodney's face and tone sought reassurance, and John gave it to him, sliding his arms around his waist, hugging him. "It was fine. We'll just do like you and Marie, okay? Talk to me first if it's something involving me."

He took Rodney's lips in a gentle kiss, amazed as always that such thin lips that flattened downward so often could be so soft and sweet. Rodney kissed back fervently, his hands flattening on John's back.

"I guess I should tell you that I got tested. I got the results last week. I didn't know how to bring it up," John admitted into Rodney's ear, embarrassed that it had taken Timmy's question to nerve himself into mentioning it. "I'm clean."

"Are we going to be monogamous?" Rodney asked, the words almost blending together in a rush. "Because I got tested too and I'm clean so if you want to...umm..."

"Yeah, definitely. I mean, yeah. Yes."

"Oh good," Rodney sighed with relief. "I wasn't sure. You didn't seem to be interested in dating anyone else, really you don't seem to do anything except work on your house and run with your dog, but I didn't know..."

"I don't want to be with anyone else," John said, an honesty instantly rewarded by Rodney's beaming smile.

"Good, that's perfect, because I don't want to be with anyone else either."

John tightened his hands around Rodney's waist. "I'm sorry you didn't know. Didn't realize. I'm...not good at saying some things."

If possible, Rodney's beam got even brighter. "That's fine, because I've been told I'm really good at saying a lot of things and right now I'm saying that I want to give you a blow job."

"Christ," John swore, his dick suddenly hard, straining to be free of his jeans. "You could give me some warning." He felt giddy at the abrupt change, from trying to express his feelings to straight out lust, but Rodney didn't give him much time to get his balance.

"I gather you like the idea. I do have great ideas. Genius, you know." Rodney's beam was even brighter, as his hands busied themselves with John's jeans, undoing his belt and zipper, his hand careful on John's dick, not letting the teeth get caught. Eager to help, John pulled his shirt over his head, obeying as Rodney walked him backward. Rodney tugged his clothes down to his thighs, pushing John to sit down on the bed, his naked butt on the quilt.

Rodney knelt between John's thighs, big hands squeezing on the naked flesh of John's thighs, momentary nervousness overlying his desire. "I haven't... you know... ah... "

"Christ." John cupped Rodney's head in his hands, kissed him frantically, wishing that his kiss could say all the words he found so difficult to express. "You can't do it wrong, believe me."

"Are you kidding? Of course I could. Teeth. Gagging. Too sloppy, too soft, too hard. The ways to destroy a decent blow job are...well, not countless, of course..." His litany of worries was ended by another kiss from John, more lingering.

"That you want to do it is enough, okay?" And without making a move toward a condom, which John realized that for someone with a tendency toward hypochondria like Rodney, was a staggering sign of trust.

"Yes, right. Fine. Remember this is your fault if it's a disaster."

John stifled a laugh, kicking off his shoes, as Rodney pulled his pants and boxers all the way off his legs, tossing them and his socks aside. "Have your way with me," he said, trying for a combination of snarky amusement and encouragement. The lightness seemed to work, because Rodney appeared more relaxed as he knelt between John's spread legs, smoothing his hands up and down John's inner thighs.

"You're really...large," Rodney complained half-heartedly.

"Average," John contradicted, stroking soothingly on Rodney's shoulders, wondering if he should be a bit embarrassed at the stiffness of his cock, how desperately it was pointing to Rodney's mouth. "Just average. You don't have to...uh...try to fit it all in. Just do whatever you want."

What Rodney wanted was to stroke and explore, his face a little considering, a little dreamy. His hands were large and capable, the fingers long with blunt ends, feeling John's dick from base to tip, touching his balls softly. John shivered in pleasure, keeping up a gentle stroking along Rodney's shoulders and down his arms.

"Yeah, Rodney, so good," he whispered, as a drop of pre-come coated the tip of his dick.

Rodney swiped his thumb over the drop, catching it, and bringing it to his lips, tasting it. The gesture made John's dick harden even further. "God, that's hot," he said thickly. "That's your first taste, isn't it?"

Staring up at John, his thumb still to his mouth, Rodney accused, "Oh my god, you're gloating!"

"I am not," John disagreed instinctively, though maybe he had been, but really? Could anyone blame him? Rodney certainly gloated when he made John come.

"You definitely are. This is a turn-on for you, isn't it? Being my first?"

"Everything about you is a turn-on," John admitted, caressing down Rodney's chest, tweaking at his sensitive nipples, having learned nipple attention was a surefire way to coax Rodney from weird tangents.

"Oh. Well." Rodney pressed his chest into John's hands, seemingly satisfied with John's reassurance, before bending his head to John's dick, lapping at the head. The position exposed his vulnerable nape, an area that John was happy to explore, his hands now stroking from Rodney's broad shoulders to his neck and over his back.

Rodney had been paying attention because he was Rodney and he noted, observed, studied, and now practiced every technique John had ever used on him, rolling his tongue around the head, gentle mouthing, soft sucking, licking along the shaft, and finally some deliciously greedy sucking, bobbing his head to fit as much into his mouth as he could handle. John stroked and shivered, his thighs bunching and tightening with the tension, and let Rodney experiment.

"I'm gonna come," he warned, and Rodney sat back on his heels, his hands working their steady magic on John's dick, catching John's come and rubbing it into his skin as he climaxed long and deliciously, while all the time Rodney watched avidly, like he was cataloguing every response.

"Well?" Rodney asked, flashing that familiar tilted up smile, the one that had a hint of nervousness Rodney thought he hid.

"Best first blow job ever," John swore.

~~~

The transition from military to civilian had been unsettling at first, though there was a familiarity to the structure and policies of the police force, the defined chain of command and the emphasis on duty and protection, that helped eased the switch. But the best part of civilian life was definitely coming home to Rodney and Timmy, John thought, walking across the backyard and stepping into the kitchen. "Honey, I'm home," he announced jovially, wondering if he should suggest moving some clothes over, rather than parking in his driveway and changing into jeans and a sweater in his house before coming over. Of course, he did have to check on Einstein. Maybe it was time to work on getting Einstein and Ginger to become friends.

"Oh hi," Rodney said with a definite lack of attention, dancing between the pots on the stove, food on the cutting board, and his laptop on the counter.

Hm... maybe it was too early to suggest taking over part of the closet. John smiled at Timmy, who was sitting at the table in the kitchen nook, schoolbooks spread around him. Kids these days seemed to have a lot more homework then when John was growing up. "Hey, Timmy," he said, getting a casual nod in return, before asking Rodney, "What's up?"

"Shush. Letting it translate."

John sprawled into a chair at the table next to Timmy, cocking an eyebrow at him in question.

"Uncle Radek sent a message. It's in Czech, so Dad's running it through a translation program."

"You have an uncle who speaks Czech?"

"Shit!" Rodney uttered as he walked too far from the laptop, accidentally yanking out the earpiece. He fumbled to scoop it up and stuck it back in.

"He keeps doing that," Timmy supplied. "He won't wait until it's finished."

"What's it about?"

"I don't get to listen. It's classified." He pouted, a very definite pout, which took John aback. Timmy usually rolled with the punches.

"You have a uncle who speaks Czech who's doing classified work for the American government?" John guessed, still trying to figure things out. He'd thought Rodney only had a sister, so it must be Marie's brother.

"He's not really my uncle. I just call him that. He used to work for Dad at Ferris. They wanted Dad to take this big job, but he told them to hire Uncle Radek. We haven't heard from him in almost a year."

And then he sends a message in a language they don't speak? He sounded like an odd guy, but Timmy's tone was affectionate.

"Oh here. You got a package today. The mailman didn't want to bend it to stick it in your mailbox. Can I see what's in it?" Timmy pulled a large envelope from between his books, flipping it so that the address was on top.

John's stomach fluttered in a bad way as he recognized his mother's very distinctive, feminine writing. "Thanks. I need some water. You want anything?"

Timmy shook his head no, so John got up, dancing around Rodney to reach the refrigerator for the filtered water. No tap water for the McKays, and John had learned way more about water purification systems that he'd ever intended to know the first time he'd gone to the sink with a glass in Rodney's presence. He watched a little of the video as he stood there. Radek was about the same age as him and Rodney, a bespectacled guy with wispy brown hair hanging over his forehead and into his eyes and stubble covering his cheeks. From the tendency to use his hands, exciting gestures going upward, he could have been related to Rodney. He wasn't Rodney or Marie's brother though, just some other fellow that Timmy liked better than John.

Rodney yanked the earpiece out again while trying to check on the food, and John grabbed and rolled it up, setting it on the laptop keys. "Jeez, let it finish."

"You do not know how long I've been waiting to hear this! This is - "

John took a swallow of water, and raised his eyebrows. "What?"

"I can't tell you!" He wanted to. Oh, he wanted to, and Rodney wasn't accustomed to denying himself. Rodney was as desperate to talk about Radek's message as John was to not open the package from his mother.

"I've been in the Air Force. I can keep a secret."

"Yes, so can I! I have to. If anyone ever found out - "

"They wouldn't from me." John risked a sideways peek at Timmy, who was sitting very quietly, as if John's persuasiveness might succeed so they could both learn the secret.

"I can't!" Rodney wailed, and it wasn't quite with as much need as John could coax out of him in bed, but it was pretty damn close. "Ferris could lose all government contracts! Do you understand what that would mean to the company? The research that could be taken away from us?" John sighed and mentally conceded defeat.

"Aren't you going to open your package?" Timmy asked, apparently sharing John's realization that Rodney wasn't going to break.

"Oh yes, the mailman didn't want to bend it." Rodney waved one hand toward it. "Well, open it. At least you can share if it's something interesting."

"I doubt it is."

"Who's it from, Mr. Sheppard?"

John sprawled back in the chair with his glass of water, wishing it were a beer, reminding himself that he didn't need the calories. His waistline was already beginning to show the effect of too many good meals at Rodney's and mornings when Rodney distracted him from jogging. Not that those mornings were without aerobic exercise. Contemplating the envelope, he wondered which was more stressful, Timmy's Mr. Sheppards or the letter from his mother, who was damn unlikely to be writing anything he wanted to read. Unless, by some miracle, she was writing exactly what he craved. Christ, he wanted a beer. "It's from my mother."

"You have a mother?"

Huh. John wasn't expecting Timmy to find that fact surprising. But then, neither Timmy nor Rodney had living mothers, so why should John? "Yeah. She and dad live in Florida. Close to my brother and his family." He slid open the envelope, pulling out a single sheet of paper and a bundle of photographs of different sizes. He flipped open the sheet, quickly scanning the simple, terse letter. No, not anything he'd wanted to read. John hoped Radek's message would make Rodney happy. One of them should get good news.

"Are you okay? You look upset." Timmy was lightly fingering the photos, not making free with them, but slowly nudging to separate them, spreading them over the table, letting his curiosity show.

"It's nothing," he answered, folding the letter. "One of my great-aunts died." Not that anyone had told him in time to attend the funeral. Maybe they assumed he wouldn't come? Or did they not want him there?

"Are these you?"

They were indeed him, mostly from the 1970s, when his dad had been stationed in the states for a while, and John and his brother had been sent to visit Aunt Ellen a couple of times. Great-aunt Ellen, not that they usually bothered with the 'great.' He joined Timmy in spreading the photos apart, glancing over them. Ellen had a big plot of land, and a strong belief in the need for children to play, so he and Warren had been free to roam. His knees were skinned and his clothes were dirty in a lot of them, but jeez, his smile had been big, almost Technicolor in the fading photos. Those had been good times.

"Hey, getting your degree?" Rodney unerringly slid out the one with John in his gown and mortarboard. "What in?"

"Aeronautical Engineering." Ellen hadn't been able to come to the ceremony but he'd sent her a picture afterwards, as she'd asked. "With a minors in Criminal Justice."

"Really? My second doctorate is in Mechanical Engineering."

"Yeah, really."

"Makes sense. Air Force." Rodney was giving the photo a thorough examination. "You were cute." He blushed, glancing quickly at Timmy, but his son didn't seem to notice the compliment.

"I don't understand. Why did your mom send these to you?"

"Well, Ellen's dead and they're breaking up her photo albums. They thought I'd want the pictures of myself."

Truly, he did, because remembering the good times and how he'd looked when he'd been close to Timmy's age was cool. He just wished the photos didn't come with the feeling that his mother had given them away because she didn't care to remember those times. Or him.

Something on the stove spat, and Rodney dropped the photo and scurried back to his pots. John scooped the pictures back into the envelope and Timmy piled his books on the empty chair, and Rodney was soon setting plates in front of them, giving the laptop one last check. "Finally!" he crowed, setting it down on the table, sticking the earplugs back in as they started to eat. John and Timmy gave each other a mutual shrugging look and ate quietly. Timmy flipped open one of his schoolbooks and started reading, but John just watched Rodney with rapt fascination, admiring the expressiveness of his face. He rarely seemed to feel the need to control his reactions, to mute himself or his opinions for the benefit of others, a strength that John admired.

John finally pulled the plug out of one of Rodney's ears. "How many times have you watched that?"

"Three. John, this is...I wish I could tell you." Rodney's eyes were shining with delight and excitement at whatever Radek had said. "What Radek's doing...this is...world changing. World changing."

Stifling the rush of jealousy, John teased, "So is Radek going to win the Nobel Prize for it?"

"Radek? Before me? No. His research is all classified." Rodney frowned, stabbing voraciously at his meat. "I wonder what they'll declassify and when." And how much I can get published first, John added mentally, amused at Rodney's ambition.

"You would have been able to go if it hadn't been for me." Timmy was playing with his food again, pushing his meat and vegetables around and mushing them together. Emotions made Rodney eat more and faster while Timmy dawdled and ate less.

The sudden accusation startled Rodney, as his eyes widened and his jaw dropped open. "Well, yes, but - I didn't want to go."

"Yes, you did," Timmy said stubbornly. "You still do. It's world changing, you said so. You always told Mom you were going to be famous and that you'd do research that would change the world."

"Okay, well, yes I did," Rodney rapidly retrenched, his words tumbling out without thought, "but I don't mind missing it. Well, I do, but - John?"

John squeezed Timmy's shoulder, not sure why he was being called upon. He didn't have great experience at reassuring kids, though he'd been working a lot lately on being empathetic. He and Ronon were getting a good routine together, only it wasn't quite 'good cop, bad cop' but 'good cop, silently glowering cop.' "I think Rodney's trying to say that he would have liked to go, but other things are more important. You're more important."

"I am?"

"Oh hell yes," Rodney blurted out. "Never think you're not."

John brushed Timmy's hair away from his forehead, while Rodney squeezed his shoulder, and Timmy smiled, noticeably relaxing. Then Einstein whined and scratched at the door, and the moment was broken.

~~~

The pictures were gone when they cleaned off the table, and John didn't think about it, figuring Timmy had scooped them up accidentally with his schoolbooks. He'd get them back later. So when he went upstairs after checking on Einstein and making sure that Ginger was in the house, with the cat flap closed, he was surprised to see them spread out of the bed, Rodney studying them.

Not all of them, he realized, stepping closer, resting a hand on the small of Rodney's back, but just the 8 x 10s. "Rodney?"

Scooping up the rest, leaving only two on the bed, Rodney asked, "College or Air Force?"

"College or Air Force for what?"

Rodney picked up the frame with Marie's picture, waved it. "I realize I should have changed it a while ago, but I didn't have any pictures of you, and..." His gazed dropped to the picture, holding it steady now in both hands. "I really loved her."

"I know." John stroked his back. "You don't have to change it."

"Yes, yes I do. Not the pictures downstairs, those are Timothy's life, but here, in the bedroom we both use... college or Air Force?"

"College," John answered.

"Floppy hair. You were very cute. Still are," Rodney added, with a quick grin. "I'll take the other one to work."

"I'd like some pictures of you too." John said, collecting the other pictures and dropping them on the dresser. "I lost my camera. I don't have one now."

Opening the frame, Rodney put the picture of him in black gown and mortarboard on top of Marie's. "I've got tons on my computer. We can print whatever you like." He set the frame back on the nightstand, and John slid his arms around Rodney, holding him tight.

"Thank you," he whispered.

~~~

The McKays in the kitchen was the normal routine, Rodney working away at dinner, Timmy finishing his homework, so John was disconcerted to walk in the house one evening to find the kitchen barren. With Thanksgiving approaching, Rodney had become particularly fussy about food, trying to get the refrigerator cleaned out and reviewing recipes with the dedication he must accord to doing equations. John crossed into the living room to find an attractive redhead surrounded by bags and boxes. "Um...hi."

"Hello. You must be John." She held out her hand to shake with an air of determined politeness, her smile forced and her chin high. "I'm Katie. Katie Brown."

"Oh, yes. Rodney's mentioned you." She really was pretty, with shining red hair down to her shoulders, big blue eyes, and a trim, feminine body. If Marie set the standard for Rodney's type, then Katie filled the mold perfectly.

John reminded himself of the huskiness of Rodney's voice when he murmured of John's hotness and how eagerly he went to bed every night. Rodney had a new type. He smiled politely at Katie, shook her hand, and glanced around at the mess. "What's up?" And why didn't he already know? This much of a disaster couldn't be a spur of the moment plan.

"Rodney finally decided to clean out Marie's things. They've been stored in the spare bedroom. I'm going to take a lot of her botany books. Marie had some nice jewelry that Rodney had bought her so we sorted that out for Timothy to keep. His wife..." Presuming, of course, that Timmy had a wife, her hands seemed to wave.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" John offered, still wondering why he'd been left of this loop, but wanting to join in.

"If you could help me carry some boxes out? There were some clothes and things that I'm going to drop at the Goodwill."

So John did, hefting boxes of books and clothes and miscellaneous items outside, filling the back seat and trunk of Katie's car. She came down the stairs as he walked back in from loading the last round. "Rodney's still upstairs talking to Timothy. This was stressful for him."

"I guess it would be." They shook hands again, Katie looking like she wanted to say something, but then she gave another gentle smile and left. John bounded upstairs, meeting Rodney in the hallway as he shut Timmy's door behind him.

"Oh - hi. Timothy's playing in his room. He wanted to be alone for a while." Rodney sighed, nuzzling in the hollow of John's neck and shoulder. "We cleaned out Marie's stuff today."

John hugged him, nuzzling back. "Katie explained. You okay?"

"Yes, just..." Rodney leaned on him. "I had the movers pack everything when we left the other house, so it was the first time I'd gone through Marie's things. There wasn't any point in keeping stuff that wasn't being used, but still...cancer sucks so much."

"Yeah," John agreed, holding him close. "So what, uh, brought this up?"

"Oh, Marie's parents will be here Thursday. Marie had antique dolls and some trinkets that she wanted her sister and her nieces to have." Rodney made a face. "Then we fought so much over Timothy that..." He shrugged. "Well, it seemed time to handle it. I think we got everything Marie wanted them to have, and Katie's taking the rest of the stuff to Goodwill."

John hesitated to press for answers, but still curious about what was going on in Rodney's head. Was he letting go of Marie? "So you feeling better about them?"

Rodney grimaced again. "No, not really." Then he smiled, an oddly sweet smile. "But I am feeling pretty damned good about, well, you," he said, his arms squeezing John and his lips taking his in a gentle kiss.

~~~

John shifted and wiggled, getting comfortably settled next to Rodney. His whole body was warmed by the blankets and the heat of Rodney's body, and his ass felt pleasantly sore. Rodney was truly a genius, a fast learner, and someone who loved to practice recently acquired skills. John appreciated these facets of his character, even as he contemplated their conversation of a few days ago. He almost hated to bring it up again, but it couldn't be delayed any longer. "So how about tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow? Everything's good to go. Timothy and I did the last of the shopping today. The rudeness of people on the last day before Thanksgiving is simply unbelievable, except that really, nothing about the pettiness of human nature surprises me. Oh, I used your refrigerator. Ours was too full to fit everything."

"No, I meant...what about your in-laws?"

"Let Timothy handle them. He's good with them."

"Yeah, but...what about us?"

Rodney shifted, resettling so that they faced each other, though John could only faintly see his perplexed expression in the dim light. "What about us?"

"What do you want to tell them about us?" John asked as neutrally as possible.

The awareness of what John was asking finally flitted across Rodney's face. "Oh god, you think they'll go ballistic, don't you? We'll have massive hysteria with the holidays."

"Will we?"

With a sigh, Rodney rolled to his back, his profile now pensive. "I suppose so. We've had fights on most of their visits so really, why should this one be any different?"

"So do you want to...not tell them?"

"I thought you weren't going to hide anymore," Rodney accused, turning his head to glare at John.

"I'm not saying we should," though damnit, he was, he knew he was, the memory of the last big fight with his father on what should have been the happy occasion of his homecoming was too fresh and he didn't want to screw up the day for everyone. He'd already done that for his own family. "I'm asking you what we should tell them. You know them best."

Rodney snorted. "I may know them best, but I don't understand them all." The 'I'm in problem solving mode' expression settled on his face. "They'll be upset for some reason, I'm sure. We'll talk to them on Friday, okay? Survive Thanksgiving and then get the yelling out on Black Friday?"

"That seems appropriate," John answered wryly. They lay quietly for a while, though John could tell from Rodney's breathing that he hadn't fallen asleep. "Rodney?"

"Yes? Please nothing more about annoying relatives?"

"No, I was just..."

"What?"

"Why are you dating me? If you were never interested in guys before?"

"Who said I wasn't? And hello, genius? Absurdly hot neighbor think I'm attractive and wants to fall in my bed and teach my son all those stupid macho things other people think he ought to learn, am I going to be so stupid as to say no?"

"Not you," John agreed amiably, smiling goofily.

"I would think not," Rodney sniffed. "Now go to sleep. I have to get up early to make the pies."

John obeyed.

~~~

Thanksgiving was a peaceful day at the station, as if all the city residents were too busy eating to engage in criminal activities, but even with few calls, the light crew meant that everyone was kept busy and the day flashed by quickly. The Moores had arrived several hours before John, Ronon and Aidan reached the McKay's, 'Dick and Naveed' having declined in favor of spending the day with Nick's brother and his family. At the initial introductions, Marie's parents seemed like nice people, making amiable small talk, and Timmy was thrilled with their presence, as they clearly doted on him. Rodney poked his head out of the kitchen only long enough to say, "Good, hello, you're here, Timothy, get them drinks. John, help me serve?"

John followed Rodney into the kitchen, wondering how many hours Rodney had spent barricaded in here, working away on food, food, and more food, rather than socialize with his in-laws. The counters were covered with bowls and platters, everything from the largest turkey John had ever seen - and he'd seen a lot cooked by Air Force chefs - to multiple small dishes of olives and pickles. "Hey," he grabbed Rodney's face, gave him a swift kiss. "Happy Thanksgiving."

Rodney grinned and kissed him back before they started carting all the food to the formal dining room, and everyone settled around the table. Rodney's fingers twitched but John and Ronon took his hands firmly as Mr. Moore said grace. He gave John a brief eye roll but politely tilted his head. John guessed he was running equations in his head while letting the words wash over him.

"The meal looks lovely, Meredith," Mrs. Moore said as everyone began digging in.

"Meredith?" Aidan hooted. John gave him a glare, too far away to kick him under the table.

"Dad and Mom have the same initials, Marie Renee Moore and Meredith Rodney McKay. Dad doesn't like Meredith though, just like Mom didn't like Renee." Timmy glanced at his grandmother with a helpful air, as if he really believed that she didn't know or had forgotten those facts. "Dad's always been called Rodney."

"Yes, darling, you're right," she answered with a brittle smile. Though Marie had physically resembled her mother, her photos had a vibrancy and openness that Mrs. Moore had either never known or lost a long time ago. Mr. Moore seemed more approachable, at least. Not as talkative but more gray and faded, as if he would dissolve into fog while she snapped into small pieces.

John added some yams to his plate, contemplating how high he could pile it or if he should keep the food level manageable and have seconds. Or do both, pile high and have seconds. Yeah, definitely both. "I'm not real fond of my middle name either." Then he realized everyone was looking at him.

"So? What is it?"

"Stephen. With a ph."

"Stephen is the name you don't like? How can you not like Stephen?" Rodney's glare shot steak knives at him - Stephen was clearly not comparable to Meredith.

"I just don't. I'm not a Stephen."

"I'm named after my Dad. He was in the Marines," Aidan said proudly, which thankfully led to a discussion of Aidan's father, his dedicated service and early death. John thought it was a shame his grandmother had made him promise not to follow in his father's steps, as Aidan would have made an excellent Marine. Mr. Moore had done his two years in the army, with service in Korea, so the two bonded while John kept silent, not wishing to spin Air Force stories.

Conversation bounced around easily through bizarrely, Rodney participated little, focused on single-mindedly shoveling food in his mouth, almost as if he were imitating Ronon. John managed to get Aidan and Mr. Moore off the military by bringing up sports, and the three shared their love of golf.

Mrs. Moore constantly encouraged Timmy to give chapter and verse on his life, soaking in his every word. "The Halloween pictures were charming. Fortunately you'll be old enough soon to go by yourself. Your father won't need to be dressing up. It's not quite dignified for a man of his age."

Rodney broke out of his absorption in his plate. "Even in this neighborhood, Timmy won't be wandering around in the dark alone."

"Besides, grandma, we've already figured out our costumes for next year. We're going to be both versions of Captain Picard in the 'Rascals' episode."

"Captain Picard? Is that one of those...star voyagers characters?"

"He was on The Next Generation, grandma, not Voyager. He's really cool and he wears a black and red uniform. He gets..." Timmy rattled off the plot line of the episode for his grandma, giving her a detailed account of how the Captain turned into a child and still saved the day. Her face suggested that she listened out of love for him, not out of any interest in the show.

"Doesn't Captain Picard have hazel eyes?" John asked out of the corner of his mouth.

"We can wear contacts!"

And they would, John bet, custom colored contacts for one night's walking around the neighborhood. "Just don't shave your head." Rodney's hair was short, but so very soft, and John liked running his hands through it. Though he bet that Rodney would look good bald, very dignified and sexy. Maybe he'd get to see that happen, the natural result of aging. A long future with Rodney would be good.

"I'll wear a bald cap and the junior Picard had hair, so Timothy wouldn't need to worry. We'll have to rewatch the episode, see if we can adjust his hair style."

"Maybe he should start growing it longer," John suggested solemnly. "So it'll be easier to restyle."

Rodney nodded thoughtfully, continuing to inhale his food. "You're right, that would be a good idea. Though he's young, so his hair grows fast."

"Maybe you should measure his hair growth, figure out a mathematical equation to determine when you need to start letting it grow to get it to the right length without cutting."

Still nodding, Rodney said, "Now that is an excellent suggestion. We could - " Suspicion crossed his face. "Are you making fun of me?"

For a moment, John knew that if they'd been 'out,' he would have grinned and then kissed Rodney. But they weren't, so he couldn't do the second part, which sucked beyond all measure. "A little," he confessed.

"We'll make you come as Data," Rodney threatened. "Gold paint, all over."

John waggled his eyebrows, trying to subtly suggest that being painted with gold all over could be quite interesting, but Rodney just glared, either at John's making fun of him or to suppress any instinct to respond in kind.

"He looks way more like Spock, with those ears," Aidan offered, "and Ronon could come as a Klingon," he added, and the conversation fortunately eased into a more general discussion of holidays and holiday planning.

Next year. Next year it would be different.

~~~

After dinner, they adjourned to the living room, almost too full to move. There was a good reason to eat Thanksgiving dinner in the mid-afternoon instead of after work - time to digest. Next year, John decided he'd ask for Thanksgiving off.

Rodney was bringing out coffee and John's mind, as fuzzy as his stomach was full, reminded him he should be helpful, even if the Moores didn't realize he was Rodney's partner. He was still Rodney's neighbor who'd dragged a bunch of friends to a family holiday. He followed Rodney back to the kitchen, where the other man grabbed him, pushed him against the refrigerator, and kissed him hard.

"We'll tell them tomorrow," Rodney commanded.

"Huh?" John asked, because truly his brain couldn't function with the overdose of good food and Rodney's kisses.

"I hate feeling like I can't look at you too much or they'll wonder. Being 'in'," Rodney mimed little quotes in the air, "sucks."

"Tomorrow," John soothed, stroking Rodney's sides. "Tomorrow."

"Tomorrow. And if they don't like it - "

"They seem like nice people."

Rodney gave a sharp laugh.

"Well, she seems a little uptight. But he likes golf."

"Golf. Seriously," Rodney muttered, but he was turning his attention to one of the cabinets. "Whacking a little ball around the grass. She likes sherry. Do you want anything?"

"I couldn't have another bite," John said honestly. "But I think Ronon likes Kahlua."

Rodney pulled out a few more bottles of alcohol and thrust them at John before finding some liqueur glasses. Loaded up, they headed back to the living room, where Timmy and Mrs. Moore were intently examining a diagram, and Mr. Moore was sharing more of his experiences in Korea with a rapt Aidan. Ginger had made herself at home in Ronon's lap, and he was softly stroking her while she purred loudly.

"This is wonderful work, Timothy. Mr. Sheppard must be so pleased." Mrs. Moore lifted her hand to accept a glass of sherry from Rodney, looking at him as she spoke. "Timothy does such fabulous work. He's so like his mother. He'll be a superb botanist."

"He is," Mr. Moore agreed. "Just like her."

John shared surprised glances with Aidan and got a more philosophical shrug from Ronon. Timmy was a dead ringer for Rodney, Ronon and Aidan silently agreed. Rodney didn't seem to register the comment, but Timmy spoke quickly. "Mr. Sheppard and I haven't gone over it yet. We just talked about what he likes."

Had they? John vaguely recalled a conversation where Timmy had peppered him with the names of plants, and John had said he liked lush green and lots of color and low-maintenance and no nettles or thorns. Like his father, Timmy apparently could run with minimal instruction.

"What about the backyard? Have you done a diagram for it?""

"I worked on it some, but it's not ready." Timmy flicked a secretive glance at his father. "Besides, Einstein likes to have two yards."

"But the fence will be going back up, won't it? You can't keep the two yards combined. What if John decides to move?"

Timmy glanced at John, apparently horrified at the possibility. John looked at Rodney, who'd frozen in mid-pour. "I don't have any plans to move any time soon. And my dog likes to have a bigger backyard."

"It's just not done to leave the fence down. People expect fences in this neighborhood."

Maybe Marie's mother was a bit of a bitch, John thought, because she'd hit that exact point, as if she instinctively knew letting down other people's expectations had been a problem for him. He wondered if they should take the opening that she'd brought up, a perfect transition into their being together, but Rodney wasn't leaping in, quietly focused on pouring drinks, and after being the one to suggest delaying the announcement until tomorrow, John didn't feel right changing his mind. Or was Rodney not saying anything because he thought John wouldn't want him to? John hadn't known the stupid demolished fence could be a perfect segue.

"Why don't you get that history project you did to show your grandmother?" Rodney suggested abruptly, and Timmy jumped up, running out of the room.

"The fence is going back up, isn't it?" she asked again.

"It's not like it matters. No one sees the backyard except us, and John's got a lot of expenses with his house. Maybe I'll redo all the fence, not just that side. Later on." Rodney's lips were unnaturally thinned, his shoulders tensed, and John knew that this little scene with its implied lying was disturbing him too.

"There's no reason to redo all the fences. The other ones are perfectly good."

"Give it a rest, Patty. Timothy likes to run around with the dog. It's good for him. He doesn't need to play those computer games all the time."

"Timothy doesn't play computer games all the time. He's a very active child, just like Marie. But he can run around his own backyard," Mrs. Moore argued back at her husband, as Timmy rushed in with a model, plunking it down on his grandmother's lap, his words almost tripping over themselves as he began to explain it.

Ginger purred extra loudly, and John glanced at Ronon to get a look that clearly asked, 'aren't you not supposed to put up with this crap anymore?' John bit his lip, wondering if he should go ahead and broach their relationship, but Rodney was still quiet, his eyes on the alcohol he was pouring, and John let the conversation change.

Next time he'd be able to stand by Rodney and rub his shoulders and support him and tell Mrs. Moore that their lives and houses weren't any of her business. Next time.

~~~

John bolted awake at the sound of a tapping on glass, momentarily disoriented. He flicked on the lamp as Einstein whined and shifted off the futon next to him. Looking around, he saw Rodney's pale face at one of the bedroom windows. Rodney made a swirling motion in the general direction of the back door, in what John presumed was supposed to be a military hand signal, but was totally not, and disappeared. Yawning, John padded to the door, Einstein bounding by him.

"They've gone to get in line," Rodney announced gleefully as soon as the door opened. Einstein bounced happily around him and outside.

John shivered in the cold, wishing he'd grabbed a robe to put over his t-shirt and boxers. "What line?"

"Best Buy or some place where the crowds will be equally atrocious." He tugged at John's hand. "Come get in bed."

"They've gone shopping? What time is it?"

"Almost three. Come on." He tugged again.

John resisted, his brain slow to function this early in the morning. "Seriously? They've gone shopping at three in the morning?"

"Yes, seriously. They love bargains and Timothy loves to get them to buy things for him. They have breakfast at a restaurant afterwards and let me sleep in. They'll be gone for hours. Long past the time you have to go to work."

"They're insane," John said, but he let Rodney drag him out the door, contemplating whether he should go back to his bedroom for his keys, and deciding to leave the back door unlocked. If there were burglars roaming around after the holiday, they could have his black and white TV. "Certifiably."

"Of course they are. They don't like having me for a son-in-law."

Arguing with that was impossible, and the grass was cold on his feet, so John kept his mouth shut and pulled Rodney to his house, and upstairs to his bedroom, shivering as he got under the covers. Rodney shook off his robe and kicked off his slippers before slipping in after him and curling around him.

This was how a holiday ought to end, he thought before he slipped back into sleep.

~~~

John rang the bell, bouncing a little on his toes, looking forward to leftovers, really excellent leftovers after a rather hectic Thanksgiving Friday, during which every thief in the city seemed to want to take advantage of the frenetic and careless holiday shoppers, but when the front door was yanked open to reveal a clearly stressed-out Rodney, he firmly told his stomach to chill. "Hey, what's up?"

"John, this isn't - "

Then Mrs. Moore was behind him, almost looming for such a small woman. "I hope you're proud of yourself," she said bitterly.

"Proud - "

"It came up," Rodney said, and John didn't need to ask what "it" meant, or whether "it" had gone over well.

"Oh."

"You should just - "

"I'm involved in this," John said firmly, stepping in, one hand resting on Rodney's side, guiding him to move aside. Mr. Moore was standing by fireplace, hands in his pockets, frowning. Timmy was sitting in the chair, his face pinched and unhappy. "Hey, buddy." John crouched by Timmy, handing over his keys. "Why don't you give Einstein some exercise? The frisbee's on the kitchen counter, by the back door."

Timmy looked eager but unsure, so John took his hand and put the keys in it. "Go on, go." Timmy glanced past John to Rodney, who must have nodded, because Timmy skyrocketed out of the chair and fled the house.

"Is that supposed to impress us?" Mrs. Moore snapped. "Do you think you care more for our grandchild than we do?"

"Look, I realize it's got to be hard to see Rodney with another partner - "

Mrs. Moore snorted. "We don't care about seeing Rodney with someone else. Lord knows, I didn't believe he'd ever manage to land another fool. I never understood what Marie saw in him. Rodney's not the issue. We're concerned about the damage to our daughter's memory and the example this sets for our grandchild."

John gazed disbelievingly at Mrs. Moore, and had to snort a laugh, which made her bridle. "If you didn't expect to see Rodney with anyone else, then you weren't paying a lot of attention. He's hot, successful, intelligent, and an amazing cook."

Rodney still appeared tense, arms crossed over his chest, but he shot a grateful look at John, who had to wonder if anyone had ever taken his side in a fight. He'd said Marie got quiet or cried when she was upset. How much had she argued with her parents?

"An amazing cook? He can only cook because we made him learn. He fed Timothy ramen for months. And the house was a wreck. There was clutter everywhere. It was practically - "

"Yes, I know." John used his best police voice to cut through her words. "I understand that all of you were grieving, and that things...got out of hand," he described charitably.

"Not far enough, because we didn't win. But we will this time. We're not going to let our grandson - "

"Oh seriously!" Rodney exploded. "Blue state here! Domestic partnership laws. They're not going to take Timothy away from me because I'm sleeping with a man. A man who is a police officer with a superb war record. You just try - "

"We'll do more than try. This time we'll succeed."

"No," John snapped in frustration. "Don't put Timmy through this again. He loves all of you. He will always love all of you, and Marie."

"John's right," Mr. Moore said suddenly, his voice tired, his face weary. "I don't want to go through all that again, and you know that Marie would never have wanted us to try in the first place."

"Marie would never have wanted to be replaced by a man. She wouldn't have wanted Timothy to have two fathers. It's unnatural, Hank."

If Marie's mom ever met his dad, John knew they'd get along well. At least Mr. Moore was more accepting as he answered, "Marie wanted Timothy and Rodney to be happy." Meeting John's eyes, he added, "We just need to know that Timmy's going to be okay."

"You know that Rodney is a great father. And I think Timmy is a great kid. I promise you that I have his best interests at heart. I would never hurt him, or allow him to come to harm."

Mr. Moore stared at him steadily and John met his eyes unflinchingly. He had nothing to hide. Mr. Moore finally nodded. "Come on, Patty. Let's take a nap. It's been a long day."

"Hank, we can't let this go. We should have known yesterday, as soon as he gave us those things of Marie's. He's cleaning out her memory. He's replacing her with, with him."

"We can't stop it, honey. Come on." He tugged at his wife's hand, and with a last disbelieving glare at John and Rodney, she followed him up the stairs, hissing frantically at her husband, words that John ignored.

Rodney leaned against John. "Oh thank god that's over. And really not near as bad as it could have been." He laughed a little hysterically. "Practically a walk in the park compared to what we did after Marie died."

John hugged Rodney close. It felt good to be needed, to be able to support Rodney. "I think they'll come around. Hank, at least."

"Patricia never understood how lucky she was that I'm a nice guy. I could have taken Timothy away, far away. If I hadn't promised Marie - I could have made sure that they would never have seen him again."

"You planning on living in Siberia?"

Rodney shuddered. "I did a consult in Siberia once. Three months away from Marie and Timothy. It was hell. And cold. No, there's - well, it doesn't matter. She was dying and I made a promise."

Farther away than Siberia? What could be farther away than Siberia? "Where Radek lives?" All the muscles in Rodney's body clenched, and John stroked his hands soothingly over his back. "I know, classified. It doesn't matter. You promised and you're the kind of guy who keeps his promises. They'll come around."

"Believe me, if I was ever going to break a promise, that would be the one." They both paused, hearing Patricia's raised voice. She and Hank must still be arguing.

"I thought we were going to tell them together."

"We were. But Timothy was talking to them and he kept saying John this and John that and Patricia made this comment about how it sounded like we were dating and - well, I don't have much of a poker face. Patricia started making accusations, and I yelled back, and..." Rodney sighed, at a loss to describe the ensuing argument.

John hoped the fighting hadn't begun too long before he'd arrived to help it stop. "Timmy likes to talk about me?"

Rodney's mouth twitched in a way that meant either jealousy or amusement. "You hadn't realized? The football, the Frisbee, the dog, the movie marathon, the house repairs, all your friends. You've won him over."

John slid his hands over Rodney's ass, giving each cheek a squeeze. "As long as I've won you over, I'm happy."

"Oh yes. You did that a long time ago."

~~~

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, John was over at the McKay house as early as seemed reasonable. Patricia and Hank had never emerged from the guest bedroom while he ate dinner, and then he'd left, not wanting to cause more tension in front of Timmy. He came to the front rather than going to the back door, surprised to see that Marie's truck was parked on the street, and Timmy and Rodney were already dragging boxes out of the garage. The weather was cool enough that both were wearing sweaters with their blue jeans, Rodney all in blue while Timmy's sweater was bright red. The Moore's car was missing. "Hey."

"Oh - good. You're here. We can use someone with more height." Rodney pointed to the ladder. "Can you get the rest of the boxes down?"

"I'm only an inch taller than you," John grumbled, but he climbed the ladder, straddling it to sit on the top, and began pulling down boxes with 'Christmas' sprawled on their sides. Lots and lots of boxes. "Where are the Moores?"

"They wanted to get an early start." Rodney didn't appear at all distressed by the decision, taking the boxes from John and hefting them to the driveway.

Timmy was opening the boxes, pulling out lights. "We're going to take pictures of the decorations and email them to them, so they can see everything we do. We have the best decorated house in the neighborhood."

Of course they did. McKays never did anything by half. John smiled as he tugged another box out of the rafter, and handed it down to Rodney. "So, they, uh, coming back for Christmas?"

"They never do." Rodney beamed, his back to Timmy. "They spend Christmas with Marie's sister and her two girls."

"Cool." The McKays worked well together, straightening the strands of lights on the driveway, plugging them into the extension cord and checking for burnt-out bulbs. John helped as Rodney bid, finally glancing at the house to comment, "You're going to need a taller ladder." The six-foot ladder simply wasn't tall enough for either of them to string lights to the second floor, even if they stood on the very top.

"Hmm? Oh, we don't put the lights up. We have the Rodneyator."

"The McKayation," Timmy corrected, grinning.

John cocked an eyebrow at Timmy as Rodney bounced inside, presumably to retrieve whatever brilliant device he'd invented. "You okay?"

Timmy nodded, curling his hands into the bottom of his sweater to keep them warm. "Grandma and granddad came down for some dinner after you left but then they went to bed early. Dad and I watched some Star Trek. Dad always likes the tribble episodes when he's upset. Grandma and granddad got up early and left. They decided to have breakfast on the drive."

"And that's okay?"

Timmy shrugged. "I guess."

Then Rodney was bouncing out of the house with a large black thing that barely fit in his hands. It resembled a spider, but blockier in design. "Watch this!" he crowed gleefully, setting it at one end of a strand of lights, pointing a remote at it. The Rodneyator clutched the end of the strand, and began walking up the side of the house.

"Isn't it neat?" Timmy seemed to have buried any concerns about his grandparents in the excitement of watching the miniature decorator.

"Very. How did you come up with it?"

The question generated a look from Rodney that John could only describe as evasive, which was odd considering that Rodney generally was incredibly expressive. "Just an idea I had. Isn't it amazing? We put up twice the lights in half the time as anyone else."

"It's not too good in trees and bushes," Timmy confided. "We have to do those ourselves."

Rodney scowled a little. "I need to work on the articulation of its legs. It should be able to do everything."

"What's the fun of having it all done for you?" John grinned.

"What about your lights, Uncle John?"

"I don't have any," John said casually, feeling absurdly as if his heart had turned over at finally getting an 'Uncle John.' He put his hand on Timmy's shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

"No lights? No Christmas decorations?"

John shrugged in response to Timmy's horror. "This is the first time I've had a house to decorate." Last year he'd received a few Christmas cards, one from his sister-in-law because she held hopes the rift could be patched, and others from his old Air Force buddies or their wives, and he'd stuck those around his apartment. That had seemed enough.

Timmy tugged at Rodney's sleeve. "We can share, can't we Dad?"

Rodney jerked with surprise, having gotten absorbed in watching the Rodneyator click its way up his house. "What?"

"John doesn't have any lights. We can share, can't we?"

"You don't have any lights?"

"Jeez, McKay, did you have Christmas lights when you graduated from grad school?" Not that leaving school was quite comparable to getting out of the Air Force, but it had the same 'not settled and living in suburbia and accumulating holiday decorations' feeling to John.

"Dozens," he answered promptly. "Marie always liked to decorate. Oh, hey, you could have the nativity scene. It's - um - those, I think," he offered, pointing at a couple of boxes.

John glanced down at Timmy. "What do you think? Help me set up the nativity scene?"

Timmy's mouth tilted downward as he looked indecisive, and John belatedly realized that the nativity scene had probably been Marie's. To his relief, Timmy nodded. "Yeah. Mom would like that. Hey, Dad, can we give him the reindeers too? They'd look good with the other animals."

For a moment, John thought Rodney was going to say no, his mouth opened and flapped silently, but he was apparently susceptible to the combined hopeful eyes of John and Timmy, so he nodded and said, "Fine. But just the two stand-alone ones. We need the one with the sleigh for Santa."

~~~

"I wouldn't have figured you as a big Christmas guy," John commented, pulling more tuppperwares from the refrigerator.

Rodney was opening everything, organizing a feast of leftovers. He was moving slower than his normal high-energy franticness, undoubtedly worn out by the hundreds of lights that they'd strung that day. Even with the funky spider robot, decorating a two-story house and its garden with enough lights to rival Las Vegas took a lot of time. "I wasn't as a kid. Christmas - well, any holiday or period of enforced togetherness - was an opportunity for my parents to fight. But Marie loved Christmas. And Timothy does too," he gestured fondly at Timmy, who was setting the table. "Getting presents is always good. I always enjoyed that part."

"Christmas is fun," Timmy agreed. "And we have the best decorated house on the block. The Little's house came closest last year, but Mrs. Little was mad at how much they spent on electricity and she says Mr. Little can't try to compete this year."

"Like he even could," Rodney muttered, deftly slicing turkey. "Sandwiches? Or just warmed?"

John's stomach contemplated the options as he asked, "The Littles?" John was certainly never going to bother trying to compete with Rodney. The nativity set with the two glitzy reindeers behind it made a nice tableau on his front lawn, all the Christmas decoration he needed. Well...maybe he should get a wreath for the front door. Something made with real pine tree branches that would smell nice.

"They live three houses down from Mrs. Nagano. They keep trying to grow bougainvilleas but they always kill them," Timmy announced. "We don't have the right weather for bougainvilleas. I want a sandwich, Dad. With mayonnaise and sweet pickles."

"Ah, the house with the dead bougainvilleas," John murmured, as always amused at Timmy's powers of observation. He'd be a great scientist. "Just sliced and warmed with dressing."

"Mrs. Little doesn't understand why Mrs. Nagano and Mrs. Horowitz like to watch you run. She says you're too skinny and you're gay anyway."

Not sure what to say about strange women insulting his appearance, John hesitated while Rodney leaped in, waving the knife. "She doesn't need to be watching John. *None* of them need to watch John. Am I going to have to fight the whole neighborhood off of you?"

That made John grin, thinking of Rodney fending off an entire pack of suburban ladies, and he put his hand on top of Rodney's, directing the knife back toward the turkey. "Not Mrs. Little at least."

"Hmphf," Rodney grunted, not appeased by John's amusement, but resuming his slicing.

"Do you want to get a tree with us tomorrow, Uncle John? Dad said we could get a really big one, didn't you, Dad? We can get one that's seven feet tall, can't we? And then you could help us decorate it and the house."

"Decorate the house? You decorate inside? We unpacked all the boxes from the garage today."

"Those were the outside boxes. The inside decorations are in the attic."

John swiped a piece of turkey from the pile Rodney had cut, munching it down, too hungry to wait any longer. "Sounds good," he said, thankful that his house was almost done. Doing Christmas with McKays was clearly another time-consuming project.

~~~~

For someone who seemed so clueless with women, Rodney had a bad habit of surprising John with them. John gritted his teeth and smiled at Rodney and the blonde seated together on the couch, stacks of Christmas cards and red envelopes on the coffee table in front of them. Rodney waved his pen at John. At least he didn't look like he was having fun. "John, hi, John this is Marcia."

"Hi," John said momentarily ignoring the blonde in favor of curling his hand in Rodney's sweater, leaning over the stacks to give him a soft, sweet kiss.

Rodney looked a bit dazed when it was done. Good. Offering his hand to the woman, John introduced himself. "John Sheppard."

Her expression was considering, her grip firm as she shook his hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you." She didn't look exactly like Marie - a bit slimmer, her hair as long but swept into a sleek bun on the back of her neck, perhaps a bit taller but hard to tell since she was sitting down - but they were certainly similar types, pretty and fair-skinned. Like Katie. "Marcia Brady. And yes, I've heard all the jokes and no, you don't get to make them unless you're giving the institute a thousand bucks."

John grinned, liking her sardonic forthrightness. "You must be the PR director."

"The PR director? Is that how you describe me? Don't stop signing, Rodney."

"Torture director would have been more appropriate," Rodney muttered, continuing to sign, and John could see that they had a system, Rodney sprawling a quick greeting and his signature, Marcia taking the cards and sealing them, the envelopes already preprinted with addresses and postage.

"I'm vice president in charge of administrative affairs," Marcia offered, "and dinner's going to be late because Rodney's not stopping until this is done."

Rodney made a grumpy noise of distress, and John said, "You've got a lot of cards."

"Everyone who gives money to the institute gets one," Timmy offered, coming behind John and leaning against him, holding out two cards. John ruffled his hair. "I've written the ones for grandma and granddad and Aunt Michelle."

"Good, that stack," Rodney pointed to the finished ones. "And there's the one for Jeannie, you can do that too."

"Okay." Timmy dutifully took a card and an envelope with a Canadian address on the front, bouncing back out of the room as Rodney yelled after him, "Tell her to take up science again!"

John sprawled in the chair opposite them, interested to watch their interaction, grabbing one of the cards to admire the front, a picture of Rodney and Timmy in front of a Christmas tree by a building that must be the institute, all sleek glass and metal.

"Yes, like Timmy says, everyone who gives money to the institute gets one," Marcia explained. "Ferris makes a lot of money from contracts, but pure research takes a lot of money too. We encourage rich people who want to be remembered to contribute." John looked at the stack and wondered how many important people knew Rodney. He'd never quite thought of the other man as someone who hobnobbed with the wealthy, but presumably he must. "So I hear you're going to our Christmas party," Marcia continued. "I hope you're not one of those guys who wear hideous Christmas ties, are you? A sweater with a reindeer?"

"Christmas party?" John asked weakly, wishing that he'd retreated to work on the kitchen cabinets, his last major project before starting on the yards.

Rodney's head bobbed up from the Christmas card he was signing, as if he realized he was late with the invitation. "The big office party coming up. Christmas. It's dinner and dancing. Not this Saturday but the next. Your black suit and that green shirt of yours would be good."

"Christmas party?"

"Yes, Christmas party. You know, those celebrations for the commercial holiday that every office has as an excuse to get drunk? Marcia's set it up at that new French place downtown. Food should be excellent."

"Food will be excellent," Marcia murmured, brushing a sponge on the flap to close another envelope. John couldn't tell the color of her eyes, but he knew they were judging him.

"You want me to go with you to your Christmas party?"

Rodney gave him a confused stare. "Who else would I take?"

"I've never been to an office party as a guy's date."

"Yes, novel experience for you then. I live to expand your horizons. You are going to go with me, yes?" Doubt that John hated to hear crept into Rodney's voice.

"Yeah, that'd be cool." John glanced at Marcia, noting her rapt fascination with their conversation. He'd sat down to watch the two of them, and now she got to watch them. "The, um, the people at your work will be okay with it?"

Rodney made a noise in the back of his throat, reassured at the source of John's hesitation. "In case I haven't mentioned it several times in your hearing, I'm the executive director. Which means I'm the boss at my work. I make all the decisions. So yes, people will be fine. They would be anyway because they're enlightened scientists, not homophobic cretins. A few of them are even gay."

"Oh, cool."

"Besides, they already know," Marcia added. "They've known since Rodney put your picture on his desk."

John grinned goofily. He'd forgotten that Rodney had taken Ellen's picture of him in his Air Force uniform to work. "You have my picture on your desk?"

Red crept across Rodney's cheeks, and he shot a glare at Marcia. "Yes, of course. I said I was going to. Besides what about your work? Don't you guys have an office party?"

"Someone's organizing a lunch."

"Not a ball?"

Rodney sounded hopeful, and John wondered if he was picturing it, John in a shiny policeman's uniform, Rodney in a tux, the two of them waltzing in a ballroom, to classical music played by a full orchestra... "I think that's a Monty Python routine, not a real thing."

"Shame. I'd buy a ticket. Keep signing, Rodney."

"I'm hungry. Can't we break for dinner?"

"You promised me you'd have them done before dinner." Wow, her nagging tone was just as firm as Rodney's.

"I'll start dinner," John offered, rising. He'd seen enough to know that while Rodney relied on Marcia a lot, they'd never been seriously interested in each other.

"You cook?" Rodney asked dubiously.

John curled his hand back into Rodney's sweater, dragged the other man into another lingering kiss. "I'm a man of many talents," he promised, pleased to see how quickly he could make Rodney's eyes glaze over.

~~~

John handed his coat to the attendant, and stared as Rodney emerged from his heavy trenchcoat, admiring how incredibly hot he was in an elegant tux. "You should have told me to get a tux," he griped, fidgeting with the sleeves of his black suit. "I could have rented one."

"Yes, because you need to be hotter than you already are." Rodney's eyes roamed up and down John's figure, obviously appreciating the black suit, black tie, and emerald green shirt.

"It's not a tux."

"Dr. McKay?" asked a slightly accented voice, and both men turned to see a Japanese couple, the woman wearing big round spectacles and a long red form-hugging dress, the man in a tux. Another tux, John noted, ready to kick Rodney for not warning him.

"Oh, Miko. Miko, this is John Sheppard. Miko and umm...her husband."

Rodney didn't have a clue what the husband's name was, John guessed, and wondered how many times they'd already met. But he got distracted from the husband's lack of name by Miko's enthusiastic, "He is very handsome, Dr. McKay! Just as his pictures show."

"Pictures?" John asked weakly, because when had it become plural? He shook the nameless husband's hand but then Marcia, looking attractive with her hair sleekly twisted on top of her head and wearing a long gold dress pounced on them, grabbing Rodney's arm and dragging him into the restaurant. Rodney pulled John along with him before he could shake Miko's hand too. Or get Miko's last name.

"Ferris is here! Rodney, you didn't tell me Ferris was going to come."

"I didn't know," Rodney said helplessly.

"There's actually a Ferris?" John asked.

"What, did you think the most prestigious scientific institute in the world was named after a carnival attraction?" Rodney hissed back.

The frenzy of their motion, threading around tables and dodging waiters, allowed John to not answer because really, it had seemed a reasonable idea to him. Why not name a work place after a device for fun and entertainment? "Midway," he noted, before they arrived in the back room where several long tables were set up, and other members of the Institute had arrived and were mingling or taking seats, all at a distance from an old man who sat by himself at the end of one table. He was thin and might have been tall at one point but age made him hunch in the chair.

"Doctor Ferris," Rodney said happily, almost ingratiatingly, in a tone of respect he'd never used for his in-laws.

"Rodney. It's good to see you." They semi-shook hands, Rodney taking one of his and just holding it softly, and John guessed the swollen knuckles meant arthritis. "Who is your friend?"

"This is, um, my partner, John Sheppard. Detective John Sheppard. He's with the police."

John reached forward to take his hand, copying Rodney's gentleness, glad that the old man was wearing a light gray suit, almost the same shade as his thin silvery hair. It probably cost twice as much as John's suit, but at least it wasn't a tux. "It's good to meet you, sir."

"John was in the Air Force too," Marcia announced.

Ferris looked at John intently. "You were? A pilot?"

"Yeah, um." Why had Marcia brought that up? He hadn't planned on rehashing his Air Force career as painful social chit-chat with anyone, much less Rodney's boss. Not that he hadn't loved being in the service - he had. Mostly. Except when senior officers yelled at him for doing the right thing, and then the ending had completely sucked.

"What did you fly?"

"I've flown both helicopters and planes. Cobra, Apache, Sea King, Black Hawk, Osprey, Sea Harrier." Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Rodney's expression of surprise and admiration. Maybe talking about his service wasn't all bad.

"An impressive list of accomplishments, Mr. Sheppard. I only flew bombers. B-17s."

John examined the thinness of his skin, the scattered age spots, and made a guess. "You flew in World War II?"

"I did," the old man said proudly. "Not as maneuverable as what you've flown, but the B-17 was a solid machine. She never let me down."

"A classic," John agreed, sinking into the chair next to him, interested to hear what it was like to fly in combat under such different conditions. "How many missions? Where were you stationed?"

"Well, Rodney and I should circulate, so we'll leave you to talk. Rodney, come make nice with all your staff before dinner starts."

John twisted enough to pull on Rodney's other arm, tugging him down for a fast kiss. "Hey, beer?"

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Yes, I love to be your server."

"Oh, and - " In front of his plate was a tag with a name elegantly written out. "Can you find mine?" he asked, handing the tag over.

Marcia snatched it from his fingers. "Don't worry about it. You just stay where you are." She dragged Rodney away, toward a cluster of people.

Ferris leaned close to John, speaking in a confidential whisper. "She's very happy you're here. She's already heard my boring war stories."

"How can stories about flying be boring?"

Ferris's laugh was a dry, whispery cough. "Oh, I'm going to like you. Rodney continues to have good taste."

~~~

John stepped out of the restaurant, feeling happy and relaxed, his insides warm and full. Outside was cold and crisp, the night sky clear, a multitude of stars twinkling brightly. It would have been a great night for flying.

It was an ever better night to be with Rodney.

"Aren't you cold? How can you not be cold? You have no body fat to keep you warm." Rodney fussed at him while holding out his coat.

Obligingly, John turned his back to Rodney, slipping his arms into the sleeves. "It's not as cold as Antarctica."

"Yes, truly a brilliant observation," Rodney sniped, but his smile was fond as he turned John around to face him, beginning to do his buttons.

"I could be in Antarctica now. I would be if I'd stayed in the Air Force."

Rodney's fingers paused. "Really?" He started buttoning again. "Huh."

"Milk runs from McMurdo. I said no. Got out and became a cop."

"And met me, so yes, undoubtedly the wisest decision you've ever made." Rodney beamed at John, and his obvious appreciation and happiness in the evening made John feel ever warmer.

"It's good to be here." The evening had gone really well. Scientists partied longer and more vigorously than John had expected, though the fact that their alcohol-fueled joviality had entailed jokes about quarks and an occasional sudden loud disagreement on particle acceleration hadn't surprised him. John had been content to sit with Ferris, who clearly understood the talk raging up and down the tables, but seemed pleased to spend the evening comparing their military experiences. Ferris's stories about joint combat missions with the British Royal Air Force had been fascinating, and he'd been flatteringly interested in everything John had to say.

"Yes, and now it would be good to be home." Rodney tightened the belt on John's trenchcoat.

"No, it was - it was good to be there. To be involved. To feel part of something. But now it's good to be here. With you and Timmy."

Rodney nodded, but John could tell he didn't really get it. He wished he had the words to explain how much being a part of a family meant to him. Sighing, he dropped his head to rest on Rodney's shoulder.

Rodney's arms closed around him in a quick hug. "Yes, good, it's all good, but now it's cold, so let's go home, okay?" Slipping an arm around John's waist, he began to guide him toward the car, one of the last few in the parking lot.

"I love to fly. I miss flying every day. I want to buy a plane some day. When I can afford it."

Nodding his head at what he assumed were John's drunken ramblings, Rodney opened the car door, waiting while John sat in the passenger seat. He walked around the car while John carefully did up his seat belt, wanting to prove he wasn't drunk. Not that drunk anyway. Not so much that he didn't know what he was saying - just enough that he could say it.

"We always moved when I was a kid. Every year mostly. My dad kept getting stationed some new place. I'd try to make new friends but it's hard in a foreign county. And my mom...she had definite ideas on who was appropriate. She'd get along well with Patricia. I got used to doing a lot of things alone. Or with Warren."

While John talked, Rodney drove out of the parking lot, heading toward home, his eyes forward but his face in profile had a very 'I'm listening' expression. "Warren is your brother?"

"Yeah. He's older than me. I had lots of energy when I was a kid, did lots of sports..."

"Because you're such a sloth these days, with the running and playing sports with Timmy and working on your home," Rodney murmured.

"I always liked sports but it's hard to be on a team when you're new. I did a lot of running. I always wanted to be a pilot so I joined the Air Force." He paused, watching the streetlights flash by, trying to figure out how to explain everything.

"So then you felt like part of the team?" Rodney prompted.

"Sometimes. Not always as much as I thought I would. Pilots are sorta separate from everyone else. But in combat, yeah. I did. We were all fighting together and they relied on me to save their asses. They counted on me to get them out. And then I didn't. I failed them."

Driving one-handed, Rodney squeezed his thigh. "Knowing you and your overinflated sense of responsibility, I'm sure you did all you could. War sucks, John."

"I came out when I got out. I told my folks and my brother I was gay. I was tired of lying and 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' didn't matter any more." John exhaled a shaky breath, staring at the houses, the Christmas lights blurring together, or perhaps that was because his eyes were wet. "They won't talk to me now."

"Christ," Rodney swore. "They disowned you?"

"Yeah. They don't want anything to do with me. Except my sister-in-law. She still sends cards."

"Homophobic idiots," he swore. "They don't deserve you."

"Those people tonight, they all accepted me. Accepted me as part of you. It felt...good. To belong. I never really felt like I belonged like that."

Rodney slowly turned the car into the driveway. "I'm glad. It feels good to belong with you." He shut off the engine, taking John's face in his hands, kissing him gently. "I'm sorry. I thought dealing with Hank and Patricia was atrocious. But your own family - "

"It doesn't - they don't matter now. This is - this is - good. To be here."

"I'm glad." Rodney kissed him again, still so sweetly, delicately. "I'm really glad you moved next door."

"Yeah. Me too." They kissed again and again, and John burrowed his head onto Rodney's shoulder, sighing.

"I should have known you'd be a sentimental drunk," Rodney said, with love and humor in his tone, lightening the moment.

John caressed Rodney's thigh, cupping his groin, willing to follow, ready to end confession time. "I could be a horny drunk," he offered.

Rodney audibly gulped. "I have to run Brittany home. Stay like this, okay? Stay like this."

"I will," John promised.

~~~

John kicked his shoes off toward the closet door, then pulled off his clothes, casually draping them over the chair. He fell back onto the bed, sprawled across the quilt. Brittany must have punched up the heater, because the room was too warm. He should probably go find the thermostat and turn it down, but was too relaxed to get up.

His mind drifted over the evening, remembering Rodney's staff, the respect and awe most of them seemed to display toward his lover. It had been so cool to be in public, in front of a bunch of strangers, to be able to touch Rodney affectionately, to have Rodney smile at him, to exchange the occasional light kiss, and to have no one say anything. A few had shot glances at them, but their expressions had shown only amusement or curiosity, not revulsion. Even Rodney's boss hadn't minded.

He'd never have had tonight if he'd stayed in the Air Force. Never have been able to dress in his blues, to escort Rodney into a dinner, to have Rodney enthusiastically introduce him to everyone... John smiled, still pleasantly buzzed. He touched his side, almost feeling Rodney's hand resting on his waist, openly proclaiming that they were lovers. He stroked over to his belly, down to his cock as it stiffened, thinking all the time of Rodney's touch. Where the hell was he? How far away did Brittany live?

"Sometimes I wonder if Marie was right and that there is a god," Rodney said conversationally.

John opened his eyes, seeing Rodney standing by the bed, untugging his bow tie. "I was thinking about you."

"Were you? What were you thinking?"

"About your touch." John gave himself a lingering stroke, down and back up his dick, so good. "About how much I wanted you home."

"Did you?" Rodney asked. "Whatever for?"

"Bastard," John replied affectionately. He stretched, arching his back, pleased to see the front of Rodney's tuxedo trousers expand. "I want you to fuck me. Long and slow."

Unbuttoning his shirt, those competent hands undoing small pearl buttons, Rodney asked, "Do you ever want to, ah, fuck me?"

John squeezed the base of his dick fiercely at that image, staving off the excitement. He was too relaxed and wanted to stay that way. "I do. Some time. If you want. When you're ready. God, your ass." His eyes shut, picturing Rodney's exquisitely full ass behind his eyes. He'd noticed that ass on the first day he'd met Rodney. Of course he wanted to be in it. "But not tonight. Tonight I want you to fuck me. Long and slow."

"Yes, you said that," Rodney said with a weird combination of impatience and reverence. He moved away from the bed, making John pout and lift his head, watching as Rodney rapidly stripped and hung his tux. Rodney came back toward him, his dick heavy and erect, swinging with his walk. He snapped off the overhead light and turned on the bedside light, staring down at John with unabashed hunger.

"Rodney," John whined, spreading his legs, propping one foot on the bed, giving his most winsome smile. "Fuck me?"

But Rodney didn't seem disposed to grant John's request immediately, sitting on the side of the bed and stroking him like he was delicate china, appreciating the fur on his chest, his nipples, his belly button, the tip of his cock. John arched and stretched, preening at Rodney's touch, feeling like an exquisite work of art.

"What else do you want to do?"

The question confused John, and he frowned through the haze, then smiled as Rodney crawled on top of him, lube on his fingers. "Do?"

"To me, with me," Rodney clarified, inserting a finger between John's cheeks, patiently stretching him. "What else do you want to do?"

John wiggled happily on Rodney's fingers. "You've been researching again, haven't you? I want to sit at your feet and suck you dry in your office," he admitted lazily, the pleasant glow of alcohol in his veins making the admission easy. "Stay there and lick you until you're hard again so you can fuck me over your desk."

"God," Rodney might have sworn, but his tongue was in John's mouth and another finger had joined the first. "What else?"

Wrapping one leg around Rodney's waist, John rubbed his heel on Rodney's butt. "Fuck you. Spank you." He gave Rodney's butt a light spank, his fingers slapping the fullness, the sound sharp in the room. Oh yeah. That would be hot.

Rodney's entire body jerked at the slap. "Fuck." Another frantic kiss and a third finger. "What else?"

John smiled sleepily, savoring the sensation of Rodney's fingers stretching him. Jeez, it was so Rodney, the careful unrelenting preparation that he wouldn't skip, no matter his own desperation. "What do you want?" he countered.

"I want to fuck you," Rodney growled gutterly. "Hold you down. Keep you prisoner. Love you forever."

John giggled before whispering into Rodney's ear. "I have handcuffs."

That tipped the balance. Rodney's big hands spread his cheeks wide, and his dick plowed into John's ass, the entire length in one long stroke. "Fuck," Rodney muttered again, between hard burning kisses, pulling out and slamming back in. "Fuck."

"Yeah, that's good. Long, deep. But slow." John wrapped his other leg around Rodney's hips, using the grip to rock against him, trying to force him to a leisurely pace. He didn't want this to end quickly, wanted it to last forever. "Make it last."

Rodney whined from deep within his chest but obeyed the direction, slowing the tempo of his hips while sweat beaded on his brow from the effort and his blue eyes glittered with hunger.

John stroked Rodney's back, feeling the broad solid muscles flex under his hands. "Yeah, Rodney. Long and slow."

Rodney gave another whine, making John giggle again, but he nuzzled at John's lips, keeping the pace slow and even and steady, fucking John long and deep, his thick cock filling John fully with each measured thrust.

Everything was so perfect, the party, the friends, the beer making his brain sluggish, the single light revealing Rodney's face, the strain as he struggled for control of his body's needs, to give John what he wanted.

John tightened his arms and legs around Rodney, his body rocking into a long sustained orgasm, his cock pulsing wetly over his stomach. Rodney gasped, shuddering in John's arms, emptying himself deep within. John smiled, petted Rodney's back one time and drifted into sleep.

~~~

In the morning, John woke up, heavy and warm and less hung over than he expected, limbs all tangled with Rodney's, and slowly pondered the remembrance that he'd tried to explain his emotions. To Rodney, who had actually seemed to listen and understand, even though John didn't understand them himself. That seemed wrong on many levels.

Opening his eyes, he saw Rodney sleeping, head tilted back on the pillow, mouth slack, faint snore issuing from his lips, his face more endearing than handsome when not animated by his intelligence.

Well, either Rodney thought he was an idiot or an emotional basket case or he'd dismissed John's ramblings as drunken incoherence. Which was only right, as they had been. Or John had been even drunker than he'd thought, and manufactured the entire scene in his imagination. John snuggled his head on the pillow closer to Rodney, who jerked and woke up. "Hmmm...John?"

"Morning," John answered, his voice husky, feeling incredibly comfortable. He realized he was clean, with no dried evidence of last night's orgasm on his body. Rodney must have wiped him down after he fell asleep.

Rodney pressed even closer, as if they weren't already entwined enough to make a knot, giving a sleepy murmur.

Squeezing back, John asked, "So, um, good party last night?"

"Great party," Rodney corrected, twitching his hips against John's, alerting him to an early morning erection, just in case he had missed it. "Better ending."

"Yeah?"

"Definitely." Rodney was beginning to move a little bit more, shifting on top on John, slower than a sloth. Or Ginger.

"Uncle John!" Timmy knocked loudly on the door. "Uncle John! We're going to be late!"

John and Rodney both groaned, and Rodney rolled off John, pulling the covers over his head as John rose up enough to see the alarm clock. They weren't late, but they could be if he didn't start moving. "Okay! I'm up!"

"Okay!" Timmy yelled back.

"His timing sucks."

Rodney's head peeked out of the covers. "Yes, one of the many disadvantages of attending early morning church services, no time for Sunday morning sex. You volunteered," he reminded John, way too articulately for a man he seemed ready to sleep the rest of the morning. "Your half of the parental responsibilities. Go forth and listen to the religious drivel. Bring back donuts," he added, head burrowing back under.

"Parental responsibilities?" John asked, but Timmy pounded on the door again. "Uncle John!"

"I'm up!" he yelled again, throwing all the covers on top of Rodney, swinging out of bed. His half of the parental responsibilities. It sounded good.

~~~

"So did you have a good time with Brittany last night?" John asked, watching the other cars leave the parking lot. As much as he'd rather have stayed in bed this morning, he liked this routine, the chance to chat with Timmy during the church excursion.

"Yeah. She's nice. She doesn't like to play the Logic Game with me but she let me play the x-box as long as I wanted. Was the party nice?"

"Yeah. It was good."

"I guess you'll be going with Dad from now on? Brittany's nice but I liked you better as a babysitter."

"Yeah, I'll be going with your Dad from now on." And wasn't that just more of the coolness? He was half of a real official couple for the first time since he'd tried to have girlfriends in college. "But we'll make time to do stuff, just the two of us, okay?"

"I'm going to be too old for a babysitter soon anyway. But it's always fun, when we do stuff together."

John ruffled his hair. "It's going to be several more years before your Dad lets you stay home alone."

Timmy's eyes dropped to his hands, and John ruffled his hair again, making his head tilt a little. "What's up, buddy?"

"Do you think Dad'll go to heaven?"

The question shocked John, though he supposed it shouldn't. Timmy had lost one parent; it stood to reason he'd be insecure about the other. But how to answer it? Rodney sure wouldn't support the notion that he was going to spend an afterlife sitting around on fluffy clouds. "Did something make you worry about that?" he asked to delay, trying to figure out if something specific had raised the worry. Maybe Rodney had been fussing about his citrus allergies again.

"Grandma mentions it sometimes in her emails, that Mom'll be waiting for us and it's too bad that Dad won't get to go. Though I don't think she's really sorry about it. She doesn't like to spend time with Dad anyway."

What a bitch. John considered what to say, not wanting to offend Timmy's beliefs or his love for his grandmother. "You know the Bible was written by different people a long time ago, and it's been translated?"

Timmy grimaced. "Yeah, Dad tells me that. And no one really knows who wrote it and the people who translated it changed things. So we shouldn't believe it."

"I'm not trying to say you shouldn't believe it. But I think you have to feel God here, in your heart," he said, resting his hand on Timmy's chest. "This is most important part of what you believe, not what your Grandma or even the minister says."

The words seemed to be what Timmy needed to hear, because while he still looked serious, he was beginning to tentatively smile. "So if I believe that I'll see Dad in heaven, I will?"

"Heaven's supposed to be perfection, right? Could it be that without your Mom and Dad?"

"And you and Einstein and Ginger?"

"Yeah, all of us." And presumably God would sort it out so that he and Marie could share Rodney.

"I'd like that."

John checked the rearview mirror, seeing that the traffic had cleared out. "You ready to pick up donuts, now?"

"Dad said to make sure to get him lots of chocolate ones."

"Cool." John felt almost a little shaky. He'd never pictured having heart-to-heart talks on religion, but he thought he was doing pretty damned well with his half of the parental responsibilities.

~~~

The knock on the door came way too early. They needed to work with Timmy on the whole concept of letting them sleep in, though as John stretched and yawned, he supposed Sundays and Christmas had to be exceptions. Saturdays and vacations then. "Dad?" Timmy asked hesitantly, nudging the door open, the light in the hallway framing his small figure in his Superman pajamas, holding a tray. "I brought coffee."

Rodney snorted and bolted to an upright position. "Coffee?"

"For you and Uncle John." He walked in carefully, setting the tray on the nightstand before perching on the bed.

With a yawn, Rodney tugged him to sit between the two of them before picking up one cup of coffee. He sniffed then handed to John. "Black."

John took it, scooting to sit up as Rodney downed several gulps from the other mug. "Merry Christmas," John said, sipping from his own cup. Useful children were a special blessing, as his Aunt Ellen would say whenever she insisted he and Warren do chores.

"Can we open presents now?" Timmy asked, even as he tucked his legs under the blankets.

"Coffee," Rodney murmured happily. "You are a wise and intelligent child."

"I'm a genius," Timmy agreed. "Just like my dad. Can we open presents now?"

Rodney took another gulp, apparently now functioning enough to focus on more than his caffeine fix. "John? Presents?"

"Presents sounds good." He climbed out of bed, tucking his feet into slippers and putting on his robe, glad that he'd put his flannel pajama bottoms back on last night. Even sleeping next to the furnace that was Rodney, the nights were too cold for his boxers.

"The first one's up here," Timmy announced.

Rodney climbed out of bed too, wearing his pajama bottoms and a t-shirt, shrugging into his blue robe. "Oh good. You finished - "

"Yes, Dad. While I was waiting for the coffee."

The McKays had obviously been scheming on a present. John found his wrists grabbed, one by each McKay, Rodney holding him gently enough not to upset his coffee. They escorted him into the hallway, where he blinked at both the bright light and the multitude of ribbons wound around the door to the room that had been used to store Marie's things.

"This is for me?" He traced his fingers over the large sign on the door, To: John and Einstein, From: Rodney, Timmy and Ginger, recognizing by the painfully neat lettering that Timmy had made it.

"Yes, that's what the sign means," Rodney said, then continued nervously, "You don't have to, of course. But it seemed logical and, um, we wanted you to know that we're both giving this. We both want you to accept it."

Suddenly dying to know what was behind the door, John ripped at the ribbons, tearing them off the handle. He opened the door and stepped in. Inside was a desk with a laptop on it, a treadmill, a dresser, and a big fluffy dog pillow on the floor. Pictures were on the walls - several clusters of John, Rodney and Timmy, and another of bombers, planes, and helicopters. Red and green bows were dotted everywhere, on the furniture, on the pictures, even on the walls.

"It's of course mind boggling that you don't have a computer, so we got you a laptop. It's set up on the home network already. We thought a treadmill so you could run on rainy days. The dresser and closet so you can move all your clothes over, and stop draping them everywhere in my room. The pictures - well, I tried to remember the ones you'd told Ferris that you'd flown, but we can change those."

John stepped closer to see the pictures, looking at some of the ones of him from his great-aunt's photos, the picture Laura had snapped of him and Rodney at the office dinner, him and Timmy playing fetch with Einstein, even one of him all sweaty, hauling the fence boards away, a small portion of Ronon's back showing. Rodney must have supplemented the pictures from Ellen with ones he'd snapped when John wasn't looking. Miko's reference to 'pictures' was now clearer.

"It's your room, Uncle John," Timmy explained.

"My room?"

"It may seem absurd, of course, and you may not want it after all the work you've done on your house, but we thought you could move in? Seriously, with all the repairs you've done, you could sell that house now and cash out at least thirty thousand on a down payment on your plane. You're not, um, really attached to having a house of your own, are you?"

Timmy's hand crept into his. "You'll share with us, won't you Uncle John? You'll be here all the time?"

John felt frozen, words stuck in his throat, as he absorbed how much they'd planned, what this all meant. "You want me to live with you? Permanently?"

Rodney waved at the room. "Yes. Your room. This is the gift, your room."

"When did you do all of this?"

"You saw when we cleaned out Marie's things. We did most of the shopping before Thanksgiving since Timothy had the week off school. Absurd, of course, that the school system stacks up those days that are supposed to be for preparation so the teachers undoubtedly use them all for holiday stuff, but...well. Not really the point."

"This is amazing." John carefully set his coffee cup down on the desk, which was real oak and solidly built but graceful too, a description he remembered giving one time of the type of furniture he wanted. He clasped one arm around Timmy's waist, raising him up to hold him against his side, as he wrapped his other arm around Rodney, hugging them both at the same time. Timmy's arms circled his neck while Rodney squeezed him ferociously.

"I take it that's a yes?"

John kissed Rodney hard, hearing Timmy giggle in his ear as he did. "I can pack tomorrow." He gave Timmy's cheek a loud smacking kiss, earning another giggle.

"Good," Timmy said. "Can we go open my presents now?"

John let him down. "Why don't you go check on Einstein first? Your dad and I will be right down."

Timmy gave him a suspicious look. "You guys aren't going to take a long time, are you?"

"We'll be fast," John promised.

"Okay." Timmy sounded doubtful but he left.

John slid his hands under the sides of Rodney's fuzzy blue robe, resting them on his waist. "You're sure about this?"

Rodney grinned. "Please? Do I not look serious? I shopped for treadmills. I did research on the Internet and went into a fitness store and talked to a sales clerk about treadmills."

"No greater love - " John froze.

"Yes, no greater love hath Rodney McKay than to shop for fitness equipment. You do like everything, don't you? All good choices? We can take anything back. Well, except the laptop, because I built it - "

John stopped his words with an eager kiss. "It's perfect. I love the room. I - " He licked his lips.

"It's okay. I know; you're not that good at being verbal, particularly not without several glasses of beer." Rodney's eyes were full of affection.

"I love you Rodney. You and Timmy." John blurted out the words quickly before his brain could stop him, rewarded by the joy spreading over Rodney's face.

"Dad! Uncle John! You promised you wouldn't be long!"

"Coming!" Rodney bellowed, before taking his turn to be the one to bestow a hard kiss. He curled his hand around John's. "Let's go open presents."

John followed him, eager to see how Rodney and Timmy would like their presents, but knowing he'd received the best one of all.

~~~

Ronon showed up mid-morning, with a white rat with big ears and a pink collar around its neck cradled in one hand. "Merry Christmas," he said, handing over a bag of wrapped presents.

"Hey, Merry Christmas."

The white rat gave a bark. "This is Princess."

"Oh, that's, uh, the Chihuahua?"

"Yeah. I thought she could play with Einstein."

"Um, yeah, Einstein's outside. Let's introduce them in a bit." And hope that Einstein thought Princess was a friend worthy of playing with, and not a snack for eating. Putting the bag of gifts down on the couch, he yelled toward the kitchen, "Rodney! Ronon's here!" A muffled, "Okay!" came back. "He's working on Christmas dinner but he saved some waffle batter for you. You're hungry, right? Hey, come up and see my big present." John led Ronon up the stairs and into the bedroom. "Timmy and Rodney fixed this up for me. They want me to move in."

Ronon gave the bedroom his customary searching once over he accorded to crime scenes and nodded. "Nice."

"Rodney wants me to sell the house so I have a down payment for a plane. With what I put down and the equity I've earned from the repairs, I could make a lot. I just feel a little bad, all the effort you guys put in on it."

"Did you say yes?"

"Yeah," John admitted.

"Aidan won then."

"Won what?"

"The office pool. I had New Year's Eve. Nick thought you'd hold out until Valentine's. Caldwell guessed early January. I forget who else guessed what. Aidan kept the list."

"You guys had an office pool on when I'd move in with Rodney?"

"Just on when you would agree to. We'd figured you'd move a few days after that."

"You bet on my love life?"

Ronon shrugged. "It seemed a sure thing."

It hadn't seemed a sure thing to him. He hadn't really thought about where the two of them were going, just hoped that it would continue a long time. A very long time. Like maybe the rest of their lives. "So I guess no one will mind when I sell the house?"

Timmy leaned in the door. "Dad says to tell you your first waffle is ready and how many more do you want?"

"As many as he can make," Ronon answered, turning to walk out the door. "We'll finish the yards first. Then you can sell it. You got the kitchen cabinets done?"

"The staining's all done. I just need to rehang the doors." As John followed Ronon and Timmy down the stairs, the mention of the yards made him realize - "Hey, you never showed me your diagram for the backyard."

Timmy glanced over his shoulder. "Dad said not to. He said you might ask about why I have a fence in the diagram. Is that really a dog?"

"Yeah. This is Princess." Ronon stopped halfway down the flight of stairs, staring back at John. "You never wondered why he didn't do a diagram for the backyard? We all knew."

John scrunched his face because okay, this was getting embarrassing that apparently Ronon and the entire force had figured out his love life before he had. "I just thought he was busy. Kids have a lot of homework these days."

"It was so cool this morning," Timmy gleefully announced to Ronon. "He was really surprised. It was the best Christmas present ever. Dad said it'll be difficult to top it next year."

"But you're going to try?" John asked because hell, he wasn't greedy, but being on the receiving end of McKay-adoration was pretty damned cool.

Timmy flashed a grin, one of Rodney's lopsided beaming grins, and said loftily, "Geniuses don't try. They succeed."

~~~

Egg nog, the real kind made with whipped eggs and a health dollop of brandy, was truly one of the best drinks ever, John decided, sipping at his glass, slumped against Rodney, only upright enough that he could still swallow. Perhaps even better than Rodney's hot chocolate. Rodney had one arm around John's shoulders and felt almost as warm as the crackling flames in the fireplace. "This has been a great Christmas."

"We'll get your stuff moved tomorrow."

John hummed in contentment, noticing a piece of gift-wrap on the floor, tucked under the enormous Christmas tree, had gotten missed. Between the three of them, Ronon, Nick, David, and Marcia's flying visit, there had been a lot of presents opened that day. It wasn't surprising they'd missed some clean up. "I'll pay half of the mortgage and utilities and stuff."

"No, really, don't be absurd. I pay it now. I'm used to paying it. Put it all into your plane."

"That's not fair to you." Watching the tree with its multicolored sparkling lights was almost hypnotic. He'd never realized that so many Star Trek and Star Wars ornaments existed until they got out the indoor decorations. Kirk and Luke next to Santa and an angel made a surprisingly harmonious blend.

"Of course it is. You can take Timothy flying so I can get work done and then you can come home and have amazing sex with me."

"I'd rather make amazing love with you."

"Well, yes, of course. That would work very well too."

"I just need my clothes and like that. We can leave the furniture and kitchen stuff there until I can garage sale it."

"You'll have to find a real estate agent. I'll ask Marcia."

"The one who helped me buy the house was fine."

"Oh, yes, good. Well, if he's not available, let me know. Marcia has all sorts of contacts."

John smiled in his glass. Rodney did like to make sure everything got organized. But that was okay. He liked Rodney's pushiness for the concern it showed. "You sure you're comfortable with everything going into my plane? Seriously, I can contribute to your mortgage or - "

"Please." Rodney gave him a one-armed squeeze. "Shut up."

"I can buy us tickets to Hawaii, so I can teach Timmy to surf and we can go to that observatory. We'd have to go in the summer, I guess? Or maybe Easter break?"

"Actually, I was thinking of a different vacation destination."

"Hmm?" Ginger leaped onto the couch, flinging herself down on his legs, purring loudly, and John petted her absent-mindedly. Einstein thumped his tail from his place by the fireplace, but he was too worn out from playing with Princess to even whine in protest at her privileged position.

"I was thinking we could go to Disneyworld. Timothy would love to go. And then we could swing by and meet your parents and brother."

"Rodney..."

Rodney gave another squeeze. "You should at least show them what they're missing. Genius and his son, how could they not want to know us?"

"If we're going to do family visits, I'd rather go to Canada and meet your sister."

"Hmmm. She'd like that. Madison too. She adores Timothy. But John, your parents..."

John sighed before nuzzling Rodney's cheek. He had his doubts that he'd ever make up with his parents, but his cluelessness with relationships had already been pointed out today. And if anyone could batter down walls, it was Rodney and Timmy. "Jeannie first though. She sounds really nice." At least, he thought she did. Understanding her through the barrage of "I'll kill him! I can't believe he didn't tell me you two were that serious! This is fabulous! I'm so glad to talk with you finally but I'm going to kill him!" had been a little difficult. John had felt dazed by the time he handed the phone to Timmy.

"Jeannie first," Rodney agreed.

"I've never been to Canada, maybe we could take a tour, see a couple of different cities."

Rodney made a humming noise of agreement.

"Maybe I'll ask you a question before we go."

"A question?" Rodney frowned, confused.

Yeah, he'd be the next one to organize a big surprise. He'd have to do some research about marriage in Canada and what paperwork was needed and then figure out some incredibly romantic way to ask the question. Maybe Timmy would help him. "Don't worry about it," he answered. "My mind's sluggish from too much food."

"It was one of my best meals," Rodney agreed.

"This is the best Christmases I've ever had."

"Me too."

John didn't respond, just stayed nestled against Rodney, watching the fire and the lights on the tree, sipping from his eggnog, feeling Rodney's hand gently stroking him, also content to stay silent and enjoy the peace of the Christmas evening. Only months ago, John had moved into a new house in a new neighborhood, knowing he couldn't go back to his old life, but a little bemused by settling into suburbia, a life so different from his original choice.

The last few months had been busy, fixing up his house, getting to know his new job and his neighbors. Meeting Timmy in drag, he remembered, smiling, and Rodney annoyed with him. And now today felt like the beginning of another new life for him, the one where he got to spend all his tomorrows with Rodney and Timmy.

This was the best life of all.

The end