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Choosing the Road

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"Get him off my property. I want nothing to do with him or his kind."

Rodney looked part-horrified, part-hurt, as if unable to understand why his very presence should cause such a strong reaction. John had no idea either unless Rodney's reputation for pissing people off had managed to reach paranormal levels. He turned and reached for Rodney, clasping him by one arm and drawing him from the house, knowing from past experience that this was a battle neither of them could win.

"Go wait in the car. I'll be back soon."

John pressed the keys into Rodney's hand, trying to reassure his stricken friend with a single look. Rodney nodded once, curtly, and turned away, his shoulders slumped and head bowed as he walked away and clambered into the passenger seat. Sighing heavily, John recalled how Rodney had been both excited and fretful about the meeting with John's father, and yet determined to make a good impression. Neither of them had expected his father to snarl at Rodney before Rodney had even opened his mouth.

John turned back in time to see the front door slam closed behind his father.

"So much for the family reunion," he murmured, momentarily torn between striding back up to that door and ringing that goddamn bell until his dad came back out or saying 'to hell with him' and walking away forever this time. Then he realized that it was his dad's treatment of Rodney that made him want to confront his father, and not any familial concern. Rodney was his friend, goddammit. His father had no right to treat him that way without even trying to get to know him first.

Anger, raw and red, began to cool rapidly when he gained another small epiphany. He really didn't care that it was his father doing the hurting; only that Rodney was the one being hurt. His dad had stopped being important to him so many years ago and only some misguided belief that he owed it to his father to try and breach the abyss between them had brought him here today but now, even that belief had fallen by the wayside. From this day onward he could honestly say he had no father because the man who had raised him from a baby was dead to him, killed by his inability to accept that John was not a carbon copy of himself and never would be.

John took in a deep breath, feeling the weight of a heavy burden of unwanted responsibility fall from his shoulders with this realization but, as he started to turn away, the front door creaked open. Narrowing his eyes, John stared at the elderly man peering round the door frame before checking back inside. His rheumy eyes crinkled up when he caught sight of John and, being quite sprightly for someone his age, the man slipped from the house and came to John but did not stop there. Instead he tugged on his arm to drag John behind the tall bush that would hide them from sight of the house.

It took a moment for John to put a name to the man standing before him as he had not seen his grandmother's brother for decades. The years had not been too kind and the strong man he recalled from occasional childhood visits was so frail now, almost skeletal.

"Spitting image of your grandfather and so's... Yeah. That's why he got so cross." Frank's eyes darted to the car and held Rodney's inquisitive ones for a moment before turning back to John, lit with wonder. "Spitting image."

"I never knew my grandfather. Never even seen a photo. He died in the war..."

The old man made a derogatory noise, waving his hand. "Your grandfather's not dead."

John gave an awkward laugh, wondering if Frank had lost a little of his mind along with his advancing years, and was living firmly in the past. He felt a brush of fingers and looked down as Frank pushed a piece of paper into his hand. When he looked back up in bewilderment, Frank was eyeing him very carefully.

"Few years after your grandmother walked out on him, your grandfather took up with Michael. Has lived with him ever since, if you know what I mean, much to both her and your dad's disgust."

John could not contain the ripple of surprise as it did not take a genius to know what Frank was implying, though he had a genius handy if it came to it.

Wrong kind of genius, John thought, feeling a little hysteria tugging at the corners of his mind as he considered Rodney actually getting on the clue bus when it came to personal relationships. Brilliant, and smug about it, when it came to machines and computers but pretty dense when it came to interpersonal skills, John had seen better social skills from a five-year-old Athosian. The one thing he did know about Rodney was that he doubted Rodney had any hang-ups concerning homosexuality for he was often deriding the US policy of DADT.

"Why are you telling me this now?"

"Because you're not your father, Johnny. Go see your grandfather, and take that young man with you. He'll be mad at me for telling you but tell him I'm getting too old for such nonsense."

Before John could ask any more questions, Frank was gone, hobbling back up the path and slipping back inside the house. John moved to the car and sank into the driver's seat, unfolding the small paper to see a name and address written in a careless scrawl. He licked his lips nervously, ignoring Rodney's curiosity-driven questions. Originally, he and Rodney had made plans to stay in a local hotel for the week but plans could change. Quickly, he calculated the time it would take to get to the address on the paper, figuring it would take until mid-evening. They could stop at a motel for the night and then try the address on the following morning.

"How about a road trip?"

"What? Are you kidding? We have a week before we're due back and spending it inside some cramp reject from the seventies--"

"Hey, this car's a classic!" John patted the steering wheel of the Torino, wishing it had the same markings as the one from his childhood memories.

"Your point?"

"Okay, we'll trade it in for something a little more comfortable..."

"And with air conditioning."

"And with air con." John smirked.

"So, where exactly are we going?"

"Nevada."

"I told you I'm no good at gambling. I get all twitchy and laugh inappropriately."

"Yeah, I know, so you can relax."

Rodney's non-committal grunt made John's smile broaden as he recalled their poker nights where Rodney would lose despite his genius with numbers. He just could not get the hang of bluffing despite all the practice he'd had on off-world missions.

"No gambling then?"

"No."

He saw the exact moment Rodney caved in, knowing that neither had anything better to do, especially as General Landry had practically kicked Rodney off Cheyenne Mountain after he made a few of his science people cry. They had already spent four days with Jeannie, getting to know her, Madison and Caleb better though, by the second night, Rodney had insisted on taking everyone out for dinner as he couldn't take another veggie meal. John had no objections after suffering the tofu turkey. Yet, seeing Rodney reunited with family had made John want to fix things with his dad, except now he knew that it was too late for both of them, leaving him feeling empty inside. Perhaps following this trail would fill that void.

"So, that's a yes then."

"Yes." The implacable expression had softened. "That's a yes."

An hour later, they were on the road in a comfortable sedan with the air con cranked up and Rodney offering up directions that contradicted the GPS that had come standard in this rental. Much to John's mild annoyance, Rodney's directions actually worked out better as they managed to avoid a couple of snarl ups and busy intersections. Eventually, the bustle of the city gave way to the open highway and John relaxed, casting occasional, affectionate glances across as Rodney hummed softly to himself.

He loved looking at Rodney, loved the way his generous mouth widened impossibly in a grin and the way his blue eyes sparkled with childlike delight at each new discovery. He loved the clever fingers that flew across keyboards and control panels with agility and precision, wondering how they would feel as they played upon his body. He wanted to see those blue eyes shining with desire and excitement for him, wanting to feel those soft lips opening beneath his questing tongue, yielding to him, letting him be more than a best friend. He had held back on this desire for so long now that it almost felt like second nature to look carefully but not touch, but it never stopped the longing finding him in the darkness of his quarters when he lay alone in his bed with just his right hand for company.

Rodney seemed oblivious as always, caught up in his own world of mathematics, physics and theorems, with ideas spinning through his brain so fast that he rarely seemed to have enough thought or tolerance left to spare for the people around them. Sarcastic and abrasive, he put the Canadian stereotype to shame but the people who cared about him, who considered him their friend, had grown used to his less pleasant character traits, only pulling him up on them when those traits threatened to take over completely. No one wanted to go through another Arcturus and the strained relationships with Rodney that had followed that cataclysmic event, leaving everyone on Atlantis feeling jittery for weeks afterwards.

Around mid-evening, John spotted a motel on the highway not more than ten miles from his grandfather's address so it seemed the appropriate place to halt for the night. He pulled up into a parking bay near the reception and asked Rodney to wait in the car while he got them a room. From the board, it was easy enough to see they had several rooms free but John wanted to share with Rodney, not wanting Rodney out of his sight while away from Atlantis and, instead, compromising on a twin room. Minutes later, he was pulling up in front of their motel room and staring through the windscreen at the number on the door straight ahead, hoping it would prove more comfortable than some of the places they had stayed on off-world missions.

Rodney shot out of the car with remarkable speed having snatched the room key from John. He grabbed his smaller overnight bag from the trunk, tapping on the driver's window and frowning at John's lack of movement. With a heartfelt sigh, John followed him in, making sure the rental was as secure as it could be for the night, though he doubted there would be much to worry about here in the middle of nowhere.

The room looked the same as a dozen other motel rooms that John had stayed in over his life though, if he was honest, it appeared marginally cleaner and the decor was a little fresher. Soft green walls and slightly darker bedspreads gave it a welcoming and yet restful air, perfect for the weary traveler. He smiled as Rodney dumped his bag on the bed he had already claimed for the night, the one closest to the bathroom and the complementary coffee maker. John could not make out the words as he muttered away to himself but Rodney's actions spoke volumes as he lifted the individual freeze-packed coffee packets one at a time to reveal barely sufficient to keep him caffeinated for a couple of hours.

"According to reception, there's a diner just down the road, McKay. You won't be going without coffee for long."

"A diner?" He had turned, eyes lighting up at the prospect of food and, yes, coffee.

"Yeah. So let's clean up and go find it."

****

"Oh, this is heaven," Rodney mumbled around a slice of pie enthusiastically, having already devoured a steak dinner as if no one had fed him for a month but then, tofu chicken and veggie burgers had tasted worse than some of the weird meals cobbled together in the Pegasus galaxy when supplies were low.

John shook his head imperceptibly at the almost pornographic sounds Rodney was making, his groin tightening when Rodney added visuals to the scene by licking the remnants of cherry and apple pie from his fingers and lips. At least most of the people had stopped staring at them by now, leaving just a few eyeing Rodney and John with open curiosity but then, he and Rodney were strangers around these parts. Eventually, an older guy came across, wiping his hands on a small towel. He stopped by their table.

"You related to Sheppard?"

John eyed him with suspicion. "That depends on whether that's a good thing or a bad thing?"

"Some don't care for his kind but he's been a regular here for... well, a long time and neither of them ever caused me any grief. Keep themselves to themselves, mostly."

Rodney frowned, looking from John to the stranger in bewilderment before deciding that he really wasn't interested in local gossip. "Is there any actual point to this conversation or can I go back to my pie now?"

The man laughed, not taking the slightest offense, which made a nice change from the 'natives' pulling out spears and chasing them out of town. If anything, it seemed to break the ice.

"Good to see a man with his priorities straight. Kate makes the best pie around these parts."

John gave Rodney a light kick under the table as Rodney opened his mouth in what probably would be some snarky comment that it was the only pie around those parts. When Rodney glared at him, John offered up his 'play nice with the natives' expression, one honed from too many similar occasions on numerous planets. Without invitation, the man sank down into the booth seat opposite John, shunting Rodney along much to Rodney's annoyance.

"Name's Marvin. I own this place."

"John Sheppard, and this is Rodney McKay." Deliberately, John left off their titles, wanting to keep this low-key and friendly. Marvin nodded, giving a half-smile at the confirmation of John's identity before waving to the waitress. She came across and refilled their coffees.

"Back in '74 my pa, me and some regulars had to see off two car loads of men who took offense at Sheppard and his...friend. My pa owned the place in those days and he stopped serving beer that day even though profits took a tumble for a while. Wouldn't let another drop of alcohol pass across the counter after he saw how too many beers could turn men he thought he knew and respected into a lynch mob."

John's eyes flickered across to Rodney, seeing the shock and understanding in his wide blue eyes. He had planned to forewarn Rodney about his grandfather and Michael once they got back to the motel room but, oblivious though he might be to many things, Rodney had figured this one out pretty fast.

"What happened?" asked John, wanting to forestall any questions from Rodney.

"Kate overheard them boys getting all drunk and self-righteous with it, and giving them the kind of hard looks that meant trouble. Now, I might not care much for what your...relative... does with another man but that's his business and no one else's." He glanced between Rodney and John. "But they'd been good paying customers for over twenty years at that time, coming in once a week on the way back from picking up supplies in town. Kept themselves to themselves, and always had good things to say about my ma's and then Kate's cooking." He leaned towards Rodney, conspiratorially. "Between you and me, Kate's pie was nowhere near as good in those days." Leaning back again, he carried on with his story. "Came in regular as clockwork and never caused an ounce of trouble. So when my pa saw them drunks heading out after them with hard talk of teaching them a lesson they wouldn't ever forget, he decided enough was enough. He picked up his rifle and took after them with me and a couple of other regulars backing him up."

"I gather you caught up with them." Rodney's face seemed pinched, his mouth a thin slash, turned down in one corner.

"Yeah. They'd forced them off the road and were dragging the pair of them from the car, punching and kicking them. Saw one of those men raise a tire iron but it never fell. My pa fired a couple of rounds into the sky to get their attention. Said some things that sent those men white with shock, and then sent them on their way with their tails between their legs."

Marvin frowned, his mouth quirky up on one side. "First and only time I ever saw them holding onto each other in what was no manly hug." He grinned and John did not need to know which 'them' he was talking about. "Don't know what my pa said to the pair of them but, following week, they walked in and sat down in the same old booth, though Sheppard was a bit put out when he learned there was no more beer to be had."

"They still come here?" Rodney asked, and Marvin nodded.

"Regular as clockwork. Same booth. This one, in fact."

John raised both eyebrows. He had chosen this booth because it had the best view of the whole diner and easy escape access in case of trouble. Now he wondered if his grandfather had chosen it all those years ago for the same reason.

"Marvin! There are other customers waiting for food."

"That's Kate. Got to go." He leaned back down and grabbed the folded paper left by the waitress. "This one's on me, boys."

"Oh! Thanks. That's...well. Yes. Thanks."

Marvin eyed Rodney. "Always loved that Canadian accent."

John saw this as their cue to leave, saying his thanks and leading Rodney back out into the parking lot. He eyed Rodney curiously as he drove back to the motel, a little unnerved by the silence from the normally talkative man. When he pulled up in front of the motel room and cut the engine, Rodney glanced at him before stepping out of the car and walking into their motel room. He waited until the door had closed behind John before speaking.

"Did you know about..?" A hand fluttered meaningfully. John had learned to read Rodney's sign language which was why Rodney's attempt to mimic military signs had perplexed him that day they were ambushed in the warehouse by the Genii.

"Great Uncle Frank might have mentioned it."

"Oh. And?"

"And?"

"And you still wanted to drive all this way to meet him." Rodney looked embarrassed. "You don't mind that..." Again with the hand waving.

"No. I don't mind, and I didn't think you'd mind either," John added, wondering if he might have made a mistake in bringing Rodney despite Frank telling him to take him along.

Rodney looked horrified. "No. No. My Great Uncle..." Rodney faltered. "Always hated the skeleton in the family closet so... No. It doesn't bother me."

John frowned, wondering what skeletons lay hidden in the McKay closet, though a large part of him hoped that it was Rodney who was in the closet, except he had never seen Rodney show any interest in men. However, he had heard him exalting the charms of various women often enough, like Colonel Carter and the first officer onboard the Aurora. As far as he knew, Rodney was as straight as an arrow. He groaned as his mind made a leap from arrow to Rodney's beautiful ass, almost feeling guilty for having a solid reason for being caught staring at Rodney's ass that one time.

"Well...that's good, Rodney."

"Yes. Well." He hooked a thumb towards the bathroom. "It's been a long day. I think I'll turn in early."

"Okey-dokey." John tried to keep it light and non-threatening because there was a great divide between acceptance and active participation in homosexuality, and John was not quite ready to reveal his bisexuality. Especially not to the man who, unknowingly, held both his love and desire in the palm of his hand. He waited for Rodney to reappear from the bathroom, eyeing him covertly as he straightened out his sheet and blankets before settling into his bed.

By the time John had completed his ablutions and returned to the outer room, Rodney was already snoring softly with the same snuffy breaths that were familiar from more than a dozen off-world missions. Padding light-footed across the room, he stopped and looked down at Rodney, letting his eyes drink in the sleep-softened face with its incredibly long lashes forming a dark-golden crescent above high cheekbones and his soft lips parted like Sleeping Beauty awaiting a lover's kiss. Wisps of fine hair were already spiking in all directions, adding innocence to his face that belied all that Rodney had seen and done in just the few years since stepping through the Stargate into Atlantis. Wraith killer and Destroyer of Planets, though admittedly the worlds in that solar system had been uninhabited, and yet he was also a hero and a savior, with more than one world reaping the benefits of his vast intellect but at this moment, all John could see was the beauty of this man he had grown to love.

As if subconsciously aware of the scrutiny, Rodney's eyelashes fluttered, his fingers clenching and un-clenching in the sheets. Not wanting to awaken him, John slipped into his own bed and switched off the light, allowing the soothing rhythm of Rodney's light snuffles lull him to sleep.

****

The lack of inertia dampeners made the drive up the dirt track leading up to the Sheppard place one hell of a bumpy ride and Rodney was relieved when John pulled to a halt before the single story ranch house. He watched with interest as an old man pushed up from a porch seat and came to the edge of the steps, leaning on the upright for support as he gazed at them with intrigue. He had removed the hat from his head, pushing one hand through a shock of white hair in a habit so familiar to Rodney that it was hard to believe John and this man had never met. Amazingly, Rodney could see the similarities between them. Some people might have missed it but Rodney was not quite as oblivious to details as many believed, at least not when it came to someone he cared about. He knew all the lines and angles on John's face, the sweep of his jaw, the arch of his brow, and the bow of his lips. He could recall every line around mouth and eyes from when he smiled, when he frowned, when he laughed or held himself rigid in anger. Despite the messiness of his hair, Rodney had seen the patterns there too, the way some strands always fell in one direction while others tumbled in another.

He had watched in horror as Kolya allowed the wraith to feed upon John, seeing the changes wrought upon his handsome visage even through the low quality video feed. He knew the wraith had given back all of those stolen years plus a few more besides because his memory had recorded the slowly increasing length and depth of every line like time lapse photography since the day they met. Rodney had imprinted John's face upon his memory on the day they met, partly in jealousy at this flyboy having something he could only dream about, and the rest from the sheer awe and beauty on his transfixed face as he studied the holographic schematic unfolding across the ceiling above his head. Every day since then had provided another snapshot to be retained for as long as his brain would hold its pattern

The old man reminded Rodney of the wraith-aged John; the one slumped in the chair after the wraith had fed that final time at Kolya's order. According to John's report, the wraith had fed again later, taking all but the last spark of his life force to provide the strength he needed to feed upon and kill the Genii soldiers who had caught up with them following their escape. Sometimes, in the dead of night, Rodney wondered if the wraith would have been so generous in restoring John's life force if he had not fed from those Genii, refusing to dwell upon their gruesome deaths. They deserved what they got for allowing Kolya to commit such a terrible act against another human, against John.

John stepped out of the car and Rodney saw recognition in the old man's eyes as he looked towards him. He called out a baby version of John's name that tugged at Rodney's lips, especially after all the teasing he had taken following Jeannie's visit and her insistence in calling him by his given name, Meredith. Meredith Rodney Ingram McKay and Johnny Sheppard. Perhaps he would get some payback now.

John's wide grin as he turned to tap on the passenger window was in sharp contrast to the steel-eyed, nervous expression he had carried when they first reached John's father's home. Whatever had passed between these two in those fleeting seconds had put John's mind at ease. The look of shocked awe and adoration on Robert Sheppard's face when Rodney stepped out of the car was another sharp contrast to the sneering, hate-filled twist of John's father's lips and the hardening of his eyes when he first caught sight of Rodney. Robert Sheppard looked at Rodney as though he was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen, looked at him the way Rodney had always wanted from John and Rodney knew the open look, coming from a strikingly similar if older version of John Sheppard would fuel more than a few fantasies.

With a cryptic remark, "Looks like we have the same taste in men, son", Robert led them into his home, calling out to the man who had shared his life for so many decades before turning back to Rodney. "You know any Allinsons'?"

****

Maybe it's something in the genes, Robert thought, lips twitching as Rodney looked back and called John 'Colonel' as he entered the small parlor. He recalled his own brush with the military and how he had deliberately set out to Canada, leaving a wife and a baby behind, to join the Canadian forces when the US army had refused him because they didn't need so many soldiers then. Now he laughs at the irony that Canada was the place where kids went to avoid being called up for military service but, at the time, all he had wanted to do was help fight the war in Europe. He had been disappointed when they assigned him what was little more than garrison duty in Hong Kong; his Royal Rifles battalion was considered unfit for combat.

No one had expected them to fight even though the British had been planning to withdraw from Hong Kong before Canada offered more men. No one had expected the Japanese to invade during the confusion surrounding Pearl Harbor either, and Robert had never expected to become one of the frightened young men facing those harrowing, tiring days of continuous combat only to meet with defeat. Separated from his unit, he had surrendered on Christmas Day with the remnants of one of the British battalions, listening to the bark of Japanese soldiers ordering them to drop all weapons when all Robert wanted was to hear his mama's voice singing carols and share his son's first Christmas.

There were times when he had envied the dead over the years that followed. There were times when the cries of pain held less anguish than the hopeless look in a half-starved and beaten man's eyes. The brutality of the guards and the inhumane way the prisoners were treated would remain with him always, boiling up from his memory in the darkness of the night. Michael's presence kept the worst of those nightmares away. Even in his old age, Michael still held him in strong arms each night, snuggled up against him with his snuffy breaths hot against Robert's neck and kissing him with so much passion as the sun rose.

Michael had never been a prisoner of the Japanese but he had faced horrors of his own in prison that still made him shake in fear and pain some nights. Over the years they shared their pain. They talking of Michael's first love, Danny, of the betrayal, of the days spent in prison being used and abused. They spoke of Robert's fumbles in the darkness of a Japanese work camp, faces averted as they found physical solace in another human's touch, not wanting to see who was touching them so intimately in case they gave the game away in the light of the day and were beaten to death for their sins.

Perhaps that was why he and Michael were so well suited. Perhaps that was why they had been able to find solace in each other's arms, willing to accept being ostracized by family and shunned by neighbors because they needed the strength and comfort that only the other could provided. They needed someone to wake up to, someone to make love to in the daylight, unashamed by the intimacy of their touches, and someone to hold close in the darkest hours.

Plus he's still hot, Robert added silently with a smirk that sent John's eyebrows climbing, no doubt because Robert was staring at Rodney's gorgeous, heart-shaped ass at the time. Except Robert was recalling a very similar ass in a very similar body. Michael's ass and Michael's body. The long years might have made that ass a little less padded and maybe they didn't make love so frequently any more, but Robert had never stopped admiring the beauty of the man he had taken into his home and life all those decades ago.

Any concern that John would take offense at Robert's apparent ogling dissipated as John matched him with a cheeky grin of his own, enjoying the look of bewilderment when Rodney turned and caught the pair of them smirking.

"What? Is there something stuck to my back?" He was twisting, trying to see over his broad shoulders.

"Relax, Rodney. There's nothing there."

Rodney opened his mouth to argue but snapped it shut, eyes widening at movement behind Robert. Robert smiled as strong fingers gripped his shoulder, lending Michael a little more stability as he shuffled forward. Despite all of Robert's best efforts with almost daily massages, that injured leg remained a constant source of irritation and pain for Michael, worsening as the years progressed until even the cane was not good enough to support him most days.

Michael and Rodney stared hard at each other, one with open amazement, the other with a mixture of wonder and confusion.

"Is that Gina's boy?" Michael asked.

"Gina?" Beautiful clear blue eyes, so reminiscent of Michael's, widened a fraction more as Rodney's mouth dipped even more on one edge. "Gina as in Georgina?" Robert watched as the connections were made rapidly. "Georgina Allinson? My grandmother?"

"My sister."

"Oh no!" Rodney turned to John. "Why didn't you tell me my great uncle was your grandfather's...?" Rodney waved a hand around, as if unable to find the right word to describe Michael's relationship to Robert.

"It's not like I knew myself until five seconds ago."

"What? How could you not..? Oh."

"Yes. Oh."

Rodney had flushed with embarrassment and Robert did not need to be a mind reader to know why because his son had vowed never to let his grandson know anything about his paternal grandfather or the company he kept. Which begged the question, who had told John about him? Robert's money was on his ex-wife's brother - and his best friend outside of Michael. Of all his family and so-called friends, only Frank had stuck by him through the years, not allowing Robert's sexual preference to damage their friendship. For his part, Robert had asked Frank to keep their continued correspondence a secret, not wanting to force Frank to choose between him and his sister when he could have both.

"So you spoke with your Uncle Frank."

"Great Uncle Frank," John replied; his correction confirming the source of his informant. "He figured you'd be mad at him for saying something but said he's too old for such nonsense."

Robert gave a wry grin. "Old coot will get himself into one hell of a mess if your dad finds out."

"I don't under--"

Robert forestalled any more talk about family and recriminations. "There's time enough to ask questions later. How about letting two old men get their weight of their feet?"

Rodney looked slightly embarrassed and flustered. "Yes. Yes. Of course. Right." His blue eyes darted to John, looking to follow his lead, and Robert narrowed his own in speculation, uncertain of the relationship between these two younger men. For a moment, he considered being blunt and asking outright but there was uncertainty in his grandson's eyes, reminding Robert that, family connections aside, they were still strangers but he wanted that to change.

****

John could not help the small glances in Michael's direction. No wonder his dad had been even more of a bastard than usual when he went to see him, taking Rodney along with him. In hindsight, he understood the strangely irrational hatred his dad had for Rodney on sight, how his eyes had narrowed and his lips had tightened into a bloodless line before twisting in a snarl. Of course, that begged the question, how did his dad know what Michael looked like?

On the one or two occasions when John had asked, mainly for some project at school, his dad had told him that he had no photos of his grandfather, just his grandmother. According to his dad, his grandfather had died at the hands of the Japanese and, perhaps in some warped way, that was true because it was clear now that, to his grandmother, the man who had returned from the Japanese work camps was not the same man who had left all those years before. Perhaps she had changed too, forced to bring up a child alone only to have a stranger return to her in the guise of her long missing husband. Unable to fulfill each other's needs, maybe it was easier to blame her husband for the failure of their marriage and, certainly, he had made it easier on her by bringing Michael into his life.

Anger and resentment. A woman scorned, bringing tragedy into their lives.

That seemed to be Michael's story too and John wondered what was worse, losing someone you loved through death or knowing they still lived but hated, or at least resented every breath you took?

The rest of the day passed by too quickly, filled with reminiscing with even Rodney's attention held as he learned so much about his much-loved grandmother, Michael's sister, who had died before Rodney's twentieth birthday. At least Rodney's grandmother had kept her brother's memory alive, remaining in contact with him throughout her life even if Rodney's parents had failed to carry on with that family connection following her death. He left Rodney absorbed in a bundle of handwritten letters spanning almost three decades.

"Hey," Rodney exclaimed, with his eyes bright and his lips curved in a beaming smile. He waved a letter. "It's all about me."

John snatched the letter, ignoring Rodney's token protest, and smiled as he read aloud. "You have a great nephew, Meredith Rodney Ingram McKay. I wanted Michael for you, but your niece wanted a link back to the old family name even though I could swear Meredith is mostly a girl's name these days." John smirked at Rodney, enjoying his scowl. "I'll send you pictures when I can."

"Did she?" Rodney asked determined to ignore the renewed teasing about his name. He had legally changed his name, dropping the Meredith, as soon as he was old enough and had enough money to pay the legal fees.

"I guess there could be some in the tin." Michael pointed towards a bookcase, unperturbed when Rodney went rooting through it and returning, triumphantly, with a large tin box.John smiled when he realized the tin contained both his grandfather's and Michael's pictorial memories, spotting a crazy-haired baby that could only be him among baby pictures of Rodney. Sure enough, the handwritten note on the back held John's name and date of birth in his Great Uncle Frank's handwriting. Throughout the box, photos of him mingled with photos of Rodney, and with those of Robert and Michael looking so much like him and Rodney, unaware until now that their lives had been entwined since before they even born.
With promises to return the next day, John set aside his beer and dragged a reluctant Rodney away, having seen how much this reunion had tired the two older men.

Rodney babbled all the way back to the motel but John could feel the tension lying beneath his words especially as he fell silent the moment they reached the room. It was already late but, unlike the night before, Rodney seemed extremely self-conscious as he began to strip off the outer layers of his clothing, leaving John feeling irritated with him. Just because they shared a strong physical resemblance to their respective relatives, and even though John would admit to himself that he would like to share a whole lot more than that with Rodney, it did not mean that John was going to suddenly pounce on his best friend and nail him to the mattress. The paranoid straight guy act was out of order and John finally had enough when Rodney backed away towards the bathroom with his over shirt bundled up to hide his boxer-clad groin from John's view.

"McKay," John growled menacingly, only to have the anger fade into shock when Rodney began to babble an almost incoherent apology.

"I'm sorry. Oh god, I'm so sorry. Please don't hit me. I can get another room and I promise not to say anything or do anything. I only kissed him the once and it never went any further than that. I promised never to do it again and even blamed April Bingham for the mono when I know it was Ryan. She was a great kisser too and she didn't---"

"Rodney? Rodney."

It took several attempts to penetrate the envelope of fear surrounding Rodney and John could not help the pain gnawing at his insides as Rodney flinched from his touch but, somehow, John managed to get the fear-filled babbling to stop, pressing Rodney down to sit on his bed. John crouched down in front of him, concerned by the way Rodney's hands twisted the shirt in his hands, his eyes refusing to meet John's until John slapped his leg.

"What's going on, Buddy? Who's Ryan?"

"Oh god!" Rodney pushed up from the bed and John followed.

"Rodney?"

"He said I had a girl's name so that's what made me do it."

"What?"

"Kissing Ryan! Can't you keep up?"

"Actually... No." John stated. "Who the hell is Ryan?"

Rodney seemed to deflate. "A boy from the chess club. He needed help with his algebra homework but afterwards... Dad walked in while he was kissing me." Rodney sighed and rubbed his eyes. "He blamed my mom's Uncle Michael. Said I didn't get the gay gene from his side of the family." He sighed deeply closing his eyes. "Just one more thing to argue over."

"You're gay?"

Rodney's eyes snapped open and met John's. "Honestly? I don't know. Dad had a pretty convincing argument for why it wasn't such a hot idea kissing other boys." His expression sobered from anxious to resigned. "I never meant to fall for you but you've got the...the messy hair and the eyebrows and the...the licky lips thing and--"

"Licky lips?"

"Yes, the way you lick your lips when you're nervous or confused or..." He waved a hand as if that explained everything else.

"Oh?" John frowned and then frowned some more when he caught himself doing the 'licky lips' thing. "Why didn't you say something?"

"Are you kidding? You're... You're the Pegasus galaxy's answer to Captain Kirk, with glowy ancient chicks in every port."

"You know Kirk was totally into his head scientist. The girls were a smoke screen."

"Oh yes," Rodney exclaimed sarcastically, "because Spock was such an emotional animal in the..."

The kiss took Rodney by surprise, effectively cutting off his sarcastic rejoinder, and John thought he had made a monumental mistake until the unresponsive lips suddenly softened beneath his touch and opened to the inquisitive flick of his tongue. He felt the moan deep in the back of Rodney's throat as hands scrabbled into his hair to hold him squarely in place, the vibration rocking into him and setting his whole body pulsating with a need too long denied. His own hands were gripping Rodney's broad shoulders but he quickly moved one to cup the back of Rodney's head, fingers carding through the feathery, fine hair as John deepened the kiss, tongue stabbing into the open, willing mouth, trying to touch every surface and discover Rodney's unique taste beneath the bitterness of stale coffee and beer.

Rodney was babbling against his lips and John did not need to understand the words because the need and desperation was in every touch, every swipe of tongue and gasp. The heat of Rodney's smooth skin beneath the palm of his hand and the feel of muscle sliding over bone seared into John as he stroked the wide plane of Rodney's back, fingertips catching on the harder edges of rib and vertebrae, sinking into the hollow of his lower back to dip beneath the rougher material of cotton boxers and cup the swell of one perfect ass cheek. Fingers traced the valley and he groaned as Rodney arched up into him as John's fingertip skimmed the hidden muscle. Rodney's hard erection ground into John's and Rodney stammered in frustration, mouths sliding wetly apart as John pressed that one finger, slicked with sweat, against the tight entrance.

"Too many clothes...too many clothes."

John chuckled into the rounded ear, attacking the lobe with tongue and teeth, awed by the whimpers interspersed with breathy moans as Rodney squeezed his eyes shut, surrendering to the moment. Somehow, he managed to get his hand between their close-pressed bodies only to tangle his fingers in Rodney's as they both tried to push aside the restrictive clothing. He gasped as Rodney freed John's erection, the large, clammy hand wrapping around him, jacking him from base to tip, thumb flicking over the sensitive bundle of nerve endings with each stroke until he was panting hard against Rodney's perspiring neck, nose buried in the short, sweat-dampened strands behind his ear. He palmed Rodney's hard flesh, matching him stroke for stroke, lost in the litany of half-formed words and soft cries falling from Rodney's kiss swollen lips. John bit down as release washed over him, anchoring his body to his lover even as his spirit soared, muffling his cries of ecstasy in the solid body pressed tense against his. Fresh heat and wetness covered his hand and belly as Rodney shuddered against him, muscles trembling and knees weakening until John was fighting to keep both of them upright. Instead they slid gracelessly to the floor, legs entangled within their half-clothed bodies.

John stroked Rodney's sweat-matted hair, planting soft kisses of love and reassurance on his temple and cheek as he worked towards the still gasping mouth and those red, swollen lips. This time the kiss was full of tenderness, soft and languid, heavy with satisfaction as their breathing slowed. His skin tingled wherever Rodney touched, feeling the heat of his body even through the clothing they had not found the time to remove. He pressed a hand against Rodney's cheek, effectively holding his head against John's chest while his other hand wrapped around the broad shoulders. They remained on the floor for another ten minutes before Rodney began to wriggle in discomfort from the semen drying against his skin and stiffening his clothing. John extricated himself from beneath Rodney's solid weight and pushed to his feet, offering a hand down to Rodney.

"Oh, my back. Oh this is going to cost," he grumbled as he stood up stiffly, arching his back against the tenseness of strained muscle. He continued to moan as John led him into the small bathroom, the mutters smothered as John helped him remove his sticky shirt. Once they were both naked, he pushed Rodney towards the shower and stepped in behind him.

"Where's the soap?"

The cake of soap slipped from Rodney's grasp and he bent over to pick it up, giving John a fantastic view of his gorgeous rear. His hands followed his eyes, sliding over smooth, wet skin. Rodney tensed and looked up and over his shoulder, his expression sour.

"Any mention of prison shower sex and I'll wash your mouth out with the soap."

He straightened and spluttered when John reached around Rodney's waist to lather up his hands within Rodney's before smoothing his now-soaped hands over Rodney's belly, sweeping south to gently stroke the softened cock, encouraging Rodney to open his legs wider so John could wash between them. Rodney let his head drop back onto John's shoulder, lolling against his neck as John continued with his tender ministrations, cupping the soft sac and feeling just the slightest twitch of interest from the flaccid cock, but no more than that. Neither of them was a horny teenager anymore and would take a while to recover but John preferred quality over quantity anyway. Once the warm water had washed away the soap, John stood back a fraction, licking his lips in anticipation as Rodney turned in his arms. He sighed as the strong fingers massaged the soap into his skin, kneading muscle and stroking over still sensitive flesh. The intensity of Rodney's expression made John smile, seeing all of Rodney's focus set on the self-appointed task, fingers exploring with a scientist's curiosity even as they cleansed.By the time they were both clean, the water was starting to cool, making John wish for the endless supply of hot water flowing through the Ancient showers in Atlantis.
That night, only one of the double beds was used and John drifted off to sleep with the breathy snores and snuffles of his sleeping lover by his side.

****

Michael snuffled and whimpered once in his sleep, quickly soothed as Robert traced a hand with practiced ease from shoulder to hip, knowing exactly which touch would comfort and which would arouse his sleeping partner. Tonight they had made love, slow and easy, with hands moving effortlessly with long familiarity. As always these days, Michael fell asleep quickly after release, his weak body too exhausted from the intense pleasure racing through him. Robert rarely took him these days even though he loved being inside of Michael, thrusting deep into a body that remained as beautiful to him now as when they first met. The years may have added wrinkles and liver spots. It may have thinned him until sharp bones protruded where he was once fleshier, leaving this fragile man in place of the strong body he had first made love to all those decades ago but the beauty of this man still shone through in his eyes and his crooked smile, and in the thin hands that touched him with such reverence.

Tonight he had pressed into his beloved with as much care as two old men could manage, his hands mapping a body he knew better than his own, his lips worshiping the man who had become more important to him than the air he breathed.

As Michael settled, Robert's thoughts turned to his grandson and Michael's great nephew once more, knowing that both he and Michael had found a final measure of peace when they watched those two young men together, seeing the soft glances that spoke of more than simple affection. On their first visit, he had known they had never shared a bed with intimacy but from those heated looks, taken while each believed the other not watching, Robert had hoped that would change. Rodney was John's Michael, the one who would love him and cherish him with all his heart and mind, and for as long as they both lived. Within an hour of their second - and final - visit, he knew his wish had come true, seeing the love and passion passing between them and the new awareness between their bodies. The brush of fingers and the shared smiles told him more than any open declaration, though they had blessed him and Michael with that knowledge before they left, knowing they would find acceptance here.

Earlier today, he and Michael had set the last of their affairs in order, stopping off at the diner as they always did, and slipping into the same booth that always seemed to be free. Marvin had joined them for a time, asking about their visitors and discussing the weather before making a promise to come out and help them fix a broken fence tomorrow. As much as three months ago, Robert would not have even considered asking for help but he felt so tired today. Yet it was a good tired, and he had seen that same tiredness and contentment on Michael's face as they slipped into their bed and made love slowly.

Robert smiled and pressed a kiss against Michael's wispy, white hair, closing his eyes and letting his beloved's warmth and love envelope him as he drifted off into sleep with Michael curled up against his side, as always.

****

Epilogue:

John knew something was wrong when Caldwell insisted on speaking to both him and Rodney alone on a personal matter. They had tried to keep their relationship low key since returning from Earth, relying on DADT and the goodwill of an open-minded expedition to protect them from the worst that the US military could throw at John but someone must have said something. Whether that was out of bitterness or ignorance, John would probably never know.

Of course, if Caldwell had only had suspicions before then Rodney's guilt and fear-laden expression would have given them away immediately as he babbled and twisted his hands while trying to maintain a nonchalance and arrogance that did not sit well with the nervous inflections in his voice. Part of John wanted to thump him, to make him shut up, but another part could not help the feeling of overwhelming love and a desire to protect his lover at almost any cost. He swallowed any sarcasm and waited as Caldwell eyed them both strangely before pulling out a letter addressed to both of them.

"General O'Neill asked me to deliver this to you. I'm aware of the contents and offer my sincere condolences."

John narrowed his eyes, accepting the envelope even as Rodney recoiled from it. He opened it carefully, removing several sheets of folded paper and read the few words on the covering letter. He felt the burning sting of tears forming behind his eyes but simply nodded his acceptance as Caldwell allowed some compassion to show before he turned and left John alone with Rodney.

John handed over the letter, not surprised when Rodney began to read it aloud.

"It is with heartfelt regret that I must inform you of the death of..." His voice trailed off as he read the remaining words in silence.

Unlike John, Rodney's eyes brimmed with tears that caught in his long lashes. He tried to bat them away, merely dislodging them instead so they ran down his face. The letter had been written by Marvin less than a week after John and Rodney's visit but had taken over a month to reach the desk of General O'Neill. Not that it had made a huge difference as it could not have arrived in Atlantis much faster as the ZPM was depleted, and the network of Stargate's was still not complete, leaving the Daedalus and the Odyssey as the only means of communication between Atlantis and Earth at this time. The funeral had already taken place with the two men buried together in a small family cemetery on the land that had belonged to the Sheppard's for several generations, attended by a small gathering of people who had known them. John's father had not attended.

Mentally, John locked the door, not wanting anyone to walk in on them as he took Rodney in his arms and hugged him, recalling two old men who had shown them that love could last a lifetime, if they were willing to take the chance and choose the same road together.

As he tightened his hold on his grieving lover, planting gentle kisses in his hair, John knew that having Rodney by his side was worth taking that chance.

THE END