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paper cranes (upstairs, downstairs)

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Saturday

Rodney's flight leaves at 6AM PDT, which means that he's grumpy and he eats what Kaleb puts in front of him, not always the life-affirming choice. As usual, he planned for way too much time to get through customs, so he's stuck at the gate trying not to fall asleep, laptop bag in his lap and carry-on tucked under his feet. Before he left Colorado Springs, he packed his duffel of clothes that mostly fit and haven't been worn to death in another galaxy, his crumpled suit, and dress shoes that pinch. Rodney hates those shoes, but it's not like he didn't sign up for this. He'll cope. Ronon said John's family was rich and that they had good food, so Rodney's holding out hope for Sunday brunch.

The trip to Richmond from Vancouver includes two layovers, one at O'Hare and the other at Dulles. O'Hare is a labyrinthine, soul-destroying prison with crappy for-pay wifi that Rodney has to waste 10 minutes hacking into, but at least it has Starbucks. He drinks four cups of coffee and eats three donuts while he fields a series of increasingly dire emails from Zelenka. In the two years since Atlantis took a trip to the Milky Way, there's been some changeover in staff, but Zelenka and Miko are still there, Sheppard and Lorne, Carson and Biro, Teyla and Ronon. Rodney doesn't have that much sympathy for Zelenka: by now, the latest crop of scientists has probably learned not to touch anything that might accidentally Ascend them.

John meets Rodney outside security. John's slouching his familiar slouch, but the polo and slacks are just strange. "Hey," he says. "Can I-"

Rodney thrusts his bags into John's hands. "Do you know how many screaming children were on my last flight? Five. At least. The woman next to me coming from Vancouver had some deathly cough, and I ate lunch at airport Wolfgang Puck, and if I don't eat actual food and get a decent internet connection in the next thirty minutes I may succumb to murderous hypoglycemic rage."

"Food," John says, shouldering Rodney's duffel and laptop bag. "I can do that. You might have to wait on the internet until we get to the house, though."

Rodney rubs his temples and sighs. "Fine. Fine. I suppose I'll survive until we return to civilization."

They go to Applebee's, which has lots and lots of baby back ribs and baked potatoes and broccoli that Rodney gives to John and John promptly returns. Bizarrely, John's eating some kind of salad. When they order dessert, he eats two bites of his triple chocolate meltdown cake before he surrenders it to Rodney.

"Okay," Rodney says, looking up at him in alarm. "What have these people done to you, Sheppard? You've been here for fourteen hours."

"You didn't have to come," John says, like he's been saying for the last two months, except it's in the past tense now. "I told you it was going to be… not so fun."

"For your information, I was forced to play international space station with Bradley for three hours yesterday morning while Jeannie took Madison to the dentist. They don't have a television and I ran out of bribes on Tuesday." The cake is still sitting in between them, and Rodney's only human; he tugs the plate toward him and licks the last of the pecan blondie off his fork. "I ate vegan sausage for breakfast this morning," he adds. "Please tell me how this is worse."

"I had to talk to the accountant." John tugs the cake back a little, dips his spoon in the sauce spilling toward the edge. "And eat dinner with Dave. And Nancy is one of the bridesmaids. She's going to be here all week."

"Nancy?" Rodney takes a big bite of the chocolaty goodness, savors it. Hey, John offered.

"My ex-wife," John says. Rodney almost chokes. "Yeah."

"You were married?" Rodney says, incredulous. "Since when? How did I not know this?"

"I can't believe you ate vegan sausage," John says. "You must have been pretty desperate."

"Oh my God," Rodney stares at John, who averts his eyes. "I need more cake."

Rodney's half-expecting John's family home to be some kind of Gothic monstrosity, and given that they take a long, winding route from the freeway under the dim light of the waning moon, he can surely be forgiven for a little bit of paranoia and an overactive imagination. The house looks pretty normal for a Gothic monstrosity from where they park, though, for values of normal that include recently painted and aggressively landscaped.

"Here we are." John closes the door behind them. "This is the old pile."

"Nice," Rodney says, shooting for neutral. The foyer is fancier than most of the hotels he's stayed in, showcasing a huge spiral staircase that curves through the great room to the floor above. "No beating hearts under the floorboards you also forgot to warn me about?"

"Not as far as I know," John says. "I swept for bugs, too. You want the grand tour?"

Rodney's suddenly aware of his beat-up duffel and scuffed laptop bag that's duct-taped together on the inside. "Internet," he reminds John. "You promised me internet."

"I can do that." John smiles a little. He looks less freaked out.

Apparently the entire wedding party has taken over the house for the next week, so Rodney's staying in John's old room, which has bunk beds and the Star Wars poster Rodney's mother threw out when he went to college and finally, finally decent wireless reception. "You're on the top bunk," Rodney says, plugging in his laptop in the outlet under the desk. "Unlike you, I actually have some sense of self-preservation and I did not sign up for a C4 fracture in either galaxy."

"I remember the top bunk having a better mattress," John says. "Of course, who knows how secure the guard rail on this thing is. I don't think anyone's slept in it since 1985."

"It's like you don't have anything better to do than torture me." Rodney straightens too quickly and almost bangs his head on the desk. "Oh, wait. You could find me cookies."

"There's some proverb here about teaching a man to fish for his own cookies…"

His laptop's started syncing to the SGC's remote network and it's going to take a few minutes. Rodney gives in. "You really want to show me around?" he says, raising his eyebrows.

"Mostly I don't want you to get lost on the way back from the bathroom," John says.

The house is pretty big and splashy and Rodney's not too confident in his navigational skills when he doesn't have a life signs detector or datapad in hand, so John's instinct is probably the right one. On Atlantis, all you had to do was find the nearest transporter, so he found quarters two doors down from one and picked a lab that opened up five feet away from another. He's unprepared for the multiple sets of stairs ("—just take the back ones, they go down to the kitchen—") and hallways more confusing than anything the Ancients ever designed but much less interesting. John leads them downstairs without hesitation, but without his usual easy assurance. Rodney can see, even in the dim light of the hall fixtures, that his shoulders are drawn in, tight.

"Hello," someone says warmly when the stairs dump them out mid-kitchen, as promised; Rodney has to struggle to focus on the woman in front of him instead of the huge refrigerator behind her. "You must be John's friend Rodney."

She puts the jar of peanut butter she's holding down on the counter to extend her hand, and Rodney shakes it, although it's kind of odd at midnight in a kitchen. "Dr. Rodney McKay," he says. "Nice to meet you—?"

"Beth Davenport," she says. "I'm Dave's fiancée. Forgive me! It's late and I'm starving, you must be, too. John, do you want a snack?"

"Sure," John says, scratching the back of his neck. "Rodney wanted cookies."

"Cookie jar," Beth jerks her thumb towards the—wow, that's ugly—cookie jar on the counter by the six-burner Viking range. It's shaped like a giant boot and manages to clash with the curtains, the granite countertop, and the oak cabinets all at once.

It takes Rodney two and a half snickerdoodles to register that John and Beth are talking, standing by the kitchen island behind him. "—from work," John says. "Sorry, it's classified."

"I figured. Nancy's told me—oh, I hope that doesn't make you uncomfortable. I didn't want to bring that up at dinner, but—"

"Nah, it's okay. Water under the bridge. I know she's probably a lot closer to you guys than—"

Rodney turns around to see their heads bent together, John turned toward Beth, his head tilted down toward her. John picks up a banana from the fruit bowl in front of him and peels it; Beth smiles at him. She's petite, dark-haired and sharp-featured, maybe a little older than John. Normally, this is the point where Rodney would harass him about his constant flirtation with alien women, but the data here seems to thwart the model.

"I'm glad you were able to come," she says, taking an apple from the bowl in front of her. "I hope you feel at home, John. I know that you and Dave haven't been—"

"Yeah, well." John takes a big bite of banana.

"These are great cookies," Rodney says. "Did you make them?"

"That's all Lucia—she's our housekeeper," Beth says, turning her head toward him. "I'm sure she'd be happy to share the recipe if you'd like."

"We can't exactly bake—" Rodney backtracks. "I mean, they're excellent, but I'm, I'm terrible at baking."

"You really are." John's mouth slants up, familiar, unreadable. "Remember the brownies?"

"Oh, god," Rodney says, reverent. "Those were amazing. I don't know why no one else liked them. They didn't taste like—they didn't taste like beans at all. Or—that other thing."

"They were creative," John says. "I'll give you that."

"Sorry to interrupt, but would either of you like some apples and carrot sticks and peanut butter?" Beth asks, gesturing to the cutting board in front of her. "There's un-rabbit-food in the pantry, too, of course."

Rodney's been on Atlantis too long when he's seriously wondering how Beth got a hold of unrabbit without any kind of security clearance.

Normally, Rodney has a hard time sleeping offworld, even when he's in his old apartment in Colorado Springs. Euler died three years ago, but his toys are still lying around, gathering dust under the furniture and hiding under the rugs for Rodney to find when he trips over them at 5AM. Rodney should probably get rid of the place, but the rent's cheap, and putting everything in storage would be annoying and probably keep him from spending his free time in Colorado Springs watching TV on the sagging couch with his woefully out-of-date DVD collection staring at him reproachfully.

In John's immaculately preserved childhood bedroom, Rodney falls asleep almost as soon as his head hits the pillow. He wakes up a little while later when John takes his shoes off and makes him get under the comforter, but after that he's out like a light until the morning.

Sunday

"You still asleep?" John says, closing the door behind him. Rodney opens one eye to see him fumbling with the laces on his running shoes, jogging shorts riding low on his hips at the edge of Rodney's vision.

"Nrgh," Rodney says. He rubs his eyes. "What time is it?"

"Nine, but you're going to miss breakfast if you don't get downstairs soon. There's coffee and actual sausage."

"Nrgh," Rodney says. "Okay."

He drags his laptop off the nightstand and manages not to drop it while he manhandles it into his lap. Email. Right. Five from Zelenka, one from Simpson, two from Woolsey, Newegg ad, latest scathing missive to Sam Carter returned to sender with a cheerfully worded out-of-the-office-until-next-Monday-so-please-fuck-off automatic reply. Rodney's halfway through responding to Simpson when John crosses his line of sight again, rummaging in his suitcase for socks, hair damp and mussed. There's a strip of pale skin on John's right arm where his wristband should be.

"Where's the shower?"

"Turn right, second door on your right." John sits down on the end of the lower bunk, forcing Rodney to scoot his feet back, laptop sliding down into his lap.

Rodney finishes up his email to Simpson before his wrists start protesting at the angle and shuts the laptop. "There'd better be sausage," he says, crawling out from under the comforter. His waist hurts where his jeans dug into the skin during the night; he yanks them up a little to ease the pressure on the sore skin.

In the shower, Rodney jerks off quickly before he washes up; it feels weird to do it in John's brother's house, but it was impossible at Jeannie's, and what prevents him from spontaneous combustion is probably justifiable in the name of the common good. He's kind of scraping the bottom of the bucket fantasy-wise these days: he uses one of his exes and feels guilty, tries for porn and ends with erection-quashing boredom, or goes for John, because John's one of those old favorites that never actually gets old. Rodney's good at compartmentalizing. Time and John's complete and total lack of interest have made Rodney's fantasy life transcend awkward and embarrassing into another realm, one where fantasy-John and John-John are so separate that he forgets all about the hot track bottoms and returns to that time John got his shirt torn off on M22-891 five years ago and also that time the villagers on PX1-967 made him wear leather pants. Classics.

When he's squeaky clean and dressed in khakis and his Miskatonic U t-shirt, Rodney returns to John's room to find him still sitting on the bed, flipping through an old collection of Bradbury's short stories. "You waited for me?" Rodney says. "I'm touched."

"Not real eager to face the wolves," John says, putting the book aside.

"Wolves. Charming," Rodney says. "Well, I've got your six."

John's brother Dave waylays him as soon as he steps into the breakfast room, extending a hand and a wide smile that makes Rodney's shoulders twitch. He's wearing a tailored button-down and perfectly pressed slacks. "You must be Dr. McKay," he says. "I'm Dave Sheppard."

Rodney tries not to stare at the sideboard laden with bacon and sausage and an urn of coffee and—Rodney's good with food, not social interactions, at the best and most caffeinated of times. "Uh, hi."

"Thanks for coming," Dave says. He nods toward the sideboard. "Help yourself—we're informal in the mornings."

Apparently, china and actual silver and chafing dishes are informal.

The breakfast crowd is small, just Dave, Beth, another woman with dark hair that just brushes her shoulders, and John. Rodney's eaten all of his eggs and is halfway into the potatoes before he registers that John hasn't joined in on the conversation (banal, concerning flower arrangements and golf) and is picking at his plate. Rodney nudges his foot under the table and clears his throat. "Busy day planned?"

"I think there's some more accounting stuff," John says, cutting his waffle along the raised grid. "I figured that after a week of Madison and Bradley, you'd want time for—work stuff—uninterrupted by international space station."

"If I ever have to play international space station again, it'll be too soon," Rodney stabs at a chunk of potato. "I ran out of freeze-dried ice cream three days in and—this is the problem with positive reinforcement, John. Do you know how many times I explained artificial gravity to Bradley? And how astronauts are not like Finding Nemo in space?"

"Hey, you didn't bring me any freeze-dried ice cream," John says.

"I am not going to dignify that with a reply," Rodney says.

He looks up to see the woman sitting next to Beth staring at them, amused. "Sorry," she says, meeting Rodney's eyes. "It's just—"

"You don't have to say it," Rodney says. "I know, I'm destroying my nephew's fragile psyche with my insistence on scientific accuracy, my sister's been telling me all week."

"That's not what I was going to say at all," she says. "It sounds like you're very patient."

John can't quite suppress a snicker.

"I'm Nancy," she says. "Sorry I didn't introduce myself earlier. You must be John's friend."

"Dr. Rodney McKay." The entire week stretches out before Rodney like a limitless expanse of no as he says, "Nice to meet you."

After breakfast, John insists on giving him the grand tour.

"For your own safety," John says, glancing over towards the nearest exit, and it's like the point in every goodwill mission that's ever gone sour when John starts getting a little handsy with the P-90 and Teyla's eyes narrow slightly and Ronon steps up his loom. "And, hey, there's a billiards room."

"Billiards," Rodney says, trying to sound interested. He leaves his plate on the table because John does the meaningful glare thing when he goes to put it—somewhere—and follows John out into the main hall.

"That's the formal dining room." John points across the hall. "Sorry, I told you it would be like this."

The formal dining room has a wall full of windows with a great view of the lawn that stretches out behind the house, a long table surrounded by severe chairs, and Scarlet O'Hara drapes. "You didn't tell me anything," Rodney says, peering inside to get a better look. "Except that the house was really far from Starbucks. And that I wasn't going to have fun. Did you really eat dinner in here?"

"Not often," John says. "This is the formal dining room."

Rodney follows John through the door at the other end of the room and into the study, which has a lot of books and a large painting of a dog with a fox in its mouth that's hanging over the fireplace. The dog looks happy, like its tail was caught in mid-wag; the fox looks dead, but in an artistic, slumped way, not like a vulpine St. Sebastian. The antique desk in front of the window appears on the verge of nervous collapse.

"You didn't tell me anything," Rodney says again, turning his back on the dog and its prize to find its complement on the opposite wall, the determination and terror on the fox's face rendered lovingly with broad brushstrokes. "I realize that having to actually explain yourself to me is causing you physical pain, but I am underinformed and underdressed and I have plenty of experience with rich people, John, but the ones who have millions of dollars from making incredibly tiny microprocessors or, or weapons or something. Not the ones with, you know, hundreds of tiny forks."

"Don't call them rich," John hisses, "It's—" He frowns, rubs his forehead.

"Oh my God," Rodney says, stricken. "This is—this is one of those British costume dramas Ronon always wants to watch and I'm the uncouth American!"

"Oh my God," John says, looking wounded. "You are not Consuelo Vanderbilt."

"Who?"

"She was my mother's second cousin." John lowers his voice. "Look, it's—my family doesn't talk about money. My father made a lot of it and he married my mom—and her family had a lot of money, or used to, they came over on the fucking Mayflower or something—and they're kind of sensitive because, you know, my father bought this house from someone, it wasn't passed down through ten generations of people who are all buried in the same graveyard."

"Ah, new money," Rodney has no idea what he's talking about, but it's amusing to see John's face blanch. "Also, I kind of didn't pack anything except my suit and t-shirts and—"

"Your t-shirts are fine," John says. "Don't—let them make you feel weird."

"Have you even looked at yourself?" Rodney waves his hand vaguely at the button-down, the fancy shoes, the—he doesn't know where to start. John's always looked weird to him in civvies on Atlantis, but at least those weren't ironed.

John's shoulders hunch in a little. "Hey, I'm… cut me some slack here."

"Didn't Teyla give us some important guidance about not trying too hard to fit in with the natives after—"

"I'm supposed to be a native," John says.

"Ah." Rodney looks over at the not-yet-dead fox again. "Well. I don't actually say 'eh,' either. Not all Canadians do."

"Actually, you do." John smiles and crosses his arms, slouches against nothing. "You definitely do. But only when you're really drunk. Sometimes you think I'm Zelenka, too."

"Drunk on your shitty, shitty beer, Sheppard. Getting drunk is the only way I can tolerate that swill, which, admittedly, is somewhat circular reasoning—"

"There's a wine cellar." John's brow furrows. "I'm not sure if there's still anything down there, but we could check it out. If you're not tempted by the bountiful stores of American beer in the refrigerator…"

Rodney rolls his eyes. "Come on," he says. "I want to see the fancy pool room."

The house is a sprawling, three-story building, the majority of it 19th century additions that swallowed the 18th century farmhouse whole. There's the winding center stair that Rodney saw the first night and two others, the one that lets off in the kitchen and one on the opposite side of the house. Apparently no one's lived here since Sheppard Sr. built a smaller, newer house with a lot more bathrooms about a mile east on the same property, but Beth wanted to use this place as the wedding venue since it's "historic, and stuff."

"Is there a ballroom?" Rodney asks, peering into the attic. There's lots of old furniture draped with sheets, trunks, a rusting dress form: standard creepy attic material.

"Yes," John says patiently. "We're not going in there. Beth says it's off-limits."

"I have no burning desire to ball," Rodney says. "I'm just curious. And, as you'll note, I have been excellent at managing my insatiable curiosity, I have not asked you any deeply personal questions—"

"Aside from going through the contents of my childhood bookshelf and VHS collection—"

"—deeply personal, John—"

"—and my closet—"

"—I can't believe you still have that jacket—"

"—hey, I was quarterback!"

"—of course you were," Rodney says. "I used to get beat up by kids like you, some fond memories, really. I started high school at eleven, so I was behind the curve on physical and social and emotional development, which didn't—"

"I didn't beat up kids like you," John says, pulling the attic door closed. He frowns. "It wasn't like that."

"What was it like?" Rodney claps a hand over his mouth, a moment too late. "Sorry," he says, voice muffled by his fingers.

"You know what," John says, "I bet there's more coffee in the kitchen."

This time, Rodney leads the way towards the stairs and down the two flights to the kitchen, which is simpler than it first appeared. John's brother is sitting at the table to the lee side of the stairs, talking to a plump, fair-haired woman with a flour-dusted apron, but John's family's coffeemakers are over by the fridge. The big one's got half a pot still sitting on the warmer, but the smaller… is one of those single cup brewers with the little plastic pods. Starbucks Sumatra Roast or Dunkin' Donuts house blend? Rodney's in indecision heaven.

"Interesting," John says; he must be looking over Rodney's shoulder at the bowl full of pods next to the machine. "Chai? Hot chocolate?"

"Keep your blasphemous fingers away from my coffee," Rodney settles on the Sumatra. "You can go next."

"You can get coffee anywhere," John objects. "Chai? Chai's not so easy to come by."

"Clearly you've never tried Teyla's hangover cure," Rodney says, pushing the button and waiting for it to flash green. "There's a distinct resemblance."

"That stuff is vile."

"Precisely." Rodney turns around to find himself almost nose-to-nose with John. "Really? Are you that desperate for your disgusting tea concoction? This is disgusting tea from concentrate, John. It's the MRE of teas."

"You like MREs," John waves a finger in his face. "You love MREs. You steal my brownies all the time. You try to steal Ronon's brownies."

"Only once," Rodney says grimly. "And that was at least five years ago, so maybe you could stop harping on it already."

"I'm trying the chai."

"Do you see me stopping you?" The machine beeps, and Rodney turns back for his coffee. He holds it to his nose and sniffs: perfection. "Your loss."

The Sumatra is perfect black: bitter and too hot and Rodney doesn't care if he burns his mouth on it, he doesn't even care when John elbows him to the side so he can make that beautiful machine do terrible things, this coffee is worth every moment of suffering. Maybe he can sew coffee beans into the lining of his coat when he goes back to Atlantis, like fleeing royalty always do with their jewelry in movies. Well, Rodney's too lazy to do that, but he could borrow one of Bill Lee's lab minions and give him some snack-size plastic baggies and a stapler.

"This chai is really good," John says a few minutes later.

"You're spoiling the mood," Rodney says, sipping his coffee with his eyes closed. Mmmm. He can taste it much better this way, despite the burned tongue problem.

He can hear better, too: he's warned by the incoming footsteps before Dave Sheppard speaks. "John, can I talk to you for a moment?"

"Whatever you want to say to me, you can say in front of Rodney," John says. "Unless you're worried about Lucia overhearing."

Rodney opens his eyes and blinks. John's still leaning against the counter next to him, but he's standing up straighter, arms crossed rigidly across his chest, as he meets Dave's eyes. Dave, for his part, looks more cranky GQ photoshoot (Rodney's old dentist used to have GQ in the waiting room) than threatening.

"Right," Rodney straightens his spine a little, too. "I've signed a confidentiality agreement."

"I think it's a violation of the confidentiality agreement to talk about the confidentiality agreement," John says, "Also, that's for work. But—" he nods to Dave. "Problem?"

"You really work with him?" Dave says—he doesn't look all that much like John, but he's definitely got the inscrutable Sheppard mask. "Civilian contractor, huh? Like that Ronon guy."

"You told him Ronon was a civilian contractor?" Rodney says to John, because, seriously?

"Hey, my dad had just died," John says. "I was not—"

"So he's not a civilian contractor?" Dave asks, raising an eyebrow.

"He's definitely not a civilian," Rodney says. "I can't believe—why didn't Teyla go with you?"

"She was pregnant, Rodney, and you couldn't leave, and Ronon—"

"—volunteered," Rodney finishes for him. "That's how we all get into these messes, apparently." He looks back to John's brother, who's staring at them, rapt and incredulous. "I am a civilian contractor, Mr. Sheppard—"

"—Dave—"

"—and I've been working for the US military since, oh, 1992, I think that's when I left Caltech. You can find that much on Google, although I wouldn't recommend looking much harder unless you want people to show up on your doorstep asking you questions."

"They probably would," John adds. "But we're not allowed to talk about that."

"It seems like you're not allowed to talk about a lot of things," Dave says, turning his gaze on John like John's a piece of Ancient technology that will respond if he just pokes it the right way with his mind. Or his eyeballs. "Not a big change, I guess."

John shrugs.

"Do they still have Don't Ask, Don't Tell wherever you are?" Dave says, looking at Rodney now. "Is that part of the confidentiality agreement?"

"It's an internationally staffed outpost," Rodney says, not quite following. "I'm Canadian, and unlike your backwards military—"

"—Rodney—"

Dave clears his throat. "All I wanted to tell you is that Beth and I want you and your partner to feel welcome, John. Whatever—bad blood there was between you and Dad, John, there's no reason that has to continue. I'm—thanks for coming. That's all."

Then he nods at them again and heads out the kitchen door onto the porch.

After a few seconds go by, Rodney says, "You know, this is some really great coffee. I could go for another cup."

They end up in the gardens behind the house, which are full of grottoes and creepy old statues but not so much in the people department. Rodney brings his coffee with him, dregs sloshing in the bottom of the cup as he goes. He ends up sitting on the edge of a drained but recently cleaned fountain and looking at John's knees while John gazes up at the sky. The house is under a flight path for the Richmond airport; after a couple of minutes, a plane goes by, a big passenger jet, roaring above them.

"So, I hadn't thought," John says, a little after that. He digs a heel in the dirt. "I—about bringing you with me, I mean, and this isn't a huge wedding—"

"Naturally, assumptions were made." Rodney gestures understandingly with his mug. "It happens. This is way better than the time that the Terlani thought that Teyla and I—"

"Rodney," John says, so forcefully that Rodney actually raises his head so he can see John's face. "I'm gay. He knows."

Rodney takes a few moments to reply. It's true that he's teased John about being Captain Kirk for years, but he's never seen John with anyone. Sure, Rodney's surprised, but more than that he feels defensive and protective of John, who's been hiding this secret well enough that not even Rodney ever guessed it. He doesn't want to fuck this up. "So?" Rodney says finally. "He knows one thing about you. That doesn't mean he knows you."

"You don't—" And there's that inscrutable mask again, that little ironic quirk of the lips and tilt to John's brow. "It doesn't matter to you?"

Rodney shrugs. "In my opinion, it's a plus. This substantially lowers the likelihood I will ever have to babysit your spawn."

There's a long pause. "You know," John says, "This is not how I imagined this conversation going."

"Me either," Rodney says, putting his coffee cup down on the grass between his feet. "Apparently my imagination's been down on the job. I thought the skeleton in your closet was a passion for bad interior design, or maybe Dallas."

"I never found out who killed J.R.," John says sadly.

"I'm still not sure who killed Laura Palmer," Rodney confesses. John actually laughs, then, and sits down next to Rodney. He smells like cologne, which, gross, but whatever. Rodney pats him on the back tentatively. "You know, I kissed Carson when Cadman was in my body. And I hooked up with Zelenka after 72 hours in the lab once. It was pretty scarring, but we were cut off from Earth and all of the porn on the Atlantis servers had gotten boring and handjobs seemed like a good idea at the time. And when I was in Siberia—"

"Too much information, Rodney," John says, pulling away. "Jesus."

"Don't you feel better now? I'm sure your secret repressed military gay sex life was much more exciting."

John puts his head in his hand and groans.

"I don't care what the hell your brother thinks," Rodney says. "Do you want to argue with him about our not-actually-illicit, non-existent romance? Or do you want him to think you're boning Ronon? Because he definitely did."

John groans some more.

"'Civilian contractor'? Was that really the best you could do?" Rodney sighs. "Anyway, your ex-wife is hotter, but I have more PhDs. And didn't she say her husband was a lawyer? Winning already."

"Rodney, I am not pretending you're—" John looks up and casts him a wide-eyed look of desperation. "My—whatever."

"Why not? Isn't that what people always do at weddings?"

"Did you read that in Cosmo?"

"Cadman had it in her bathroom," Rodney says, shrugging.

"That… is not a good reason."

"Hmm." Rodney taps his fingers against his knee. "Maybe they'll give us a toaster. I can't believe I still don't have a toaster."

"I can't believe I am actually considering this," John grits out. "You don't have a kitchen."

"Come on," Rodney says. "What's the worst that could happen?"

Rodney convinces John to drive them into town so they can have Pizza Hut for dinner, in the name of conflict avoidance and they-don't-have-this-in-the-Pegasus-galaxy-now-do-they. John courteously avoids mocking him for the way he eats his pizza with a knife and fork and sometimes dips it in his Coke.

Monday

On Monday, there is brunch.

"I thought brunch was a weekend meal," Rodney says, critically reviewing his t-shirts because there's totally a difference in formality between the Tardis and "resistance is futile (if <1 ohm)." He glances up at John, who's standing in front of the full-length mirror on the back of the door to the bathroom. "Is this like a nine-day weekend?"

John pauses mid-hair-ruffle. "Yes? I think that's supposed to be the justification for drinking before noon."

Rodney narrows his eyes. "Your brother doesn't normally eat breakfast in its own room with chafing dishes, does he."

That sends John convulsing into his awful laugh, stepping backwards and fumbling for the edge of the bottom bunk as the neat lines of his pants and button-down wrinkle in protest. "No." He pauses for breath, which sets him off laughing again. "We usually ate in the kitchen growing up. Cereal and stuff."

"Normal food," Rodney says, mouth crooking up in a smile. "Ah. I see." He turns back to his suitcase and pulls out the Tardis shirt and the plaid flannel shirt that Jennifer hated.

"You really," John says, "You really thought that they—"

"Rich people!" Rodney wags his finger at John and waits for John's flinch; he's surprised when none is forthcoming. "We had this conversation, Sheppard. This is not my area."

"I'm getting that impression."

After his shower, Rodney returns to the bedroom to find John skulking around again, trying to smooth out his pants and frowning. "Stop being ridiculous," Rodney says, reaching out and plucking at the side of John's shirt. "And stop trying to be," he waves his hand, "You know. Stepford wife. Robot."

"Hey," John says, looking down at his waistband in dismay. "That's not—"

"This is why I made you bring me along," Rodney says grimly. "Stop making me give you fashion advice, it's causing me physical pain."

In the end, John untucks the shirt but leaves off the wristband, which is progress, sort of. Rodney follows him downstairs. He's selfishly glad that John's been waiting for him in the mornings. It reassures him that under all this stupid family stuff, John still remembers what's important: following the buddy system in possibly hostile territory. And unfamiliar terrain, because Rodney doesn't remember the conservatory or the winding path they take through the house to reach it being on the grand tour yesterday.

"Sorry, forgot about that," John says with a shrug when asked, because it's totally normal to forget rooms in the house you grew up in or something.

The conservatory isn't a working greenhouse anymore, so Rodney's first, overwhelming impression is of the sunlight: he has to raise his arm to shield his face for a moment before he adjusts to it. The room is a long rectangle that's all windows on three sides, glass panes making up the high walls and the gently pitched ceiling that rises above them. After a few blinks Rodney registers the people seated around a table that's been set up at the end of the room furthest from the house. John's already started over toward the empty seat next to Dave, so Rodney follows suit; he ends up on John's right, beside a woman who looks like Beth with a fuller face and shorter hair.

Right on cue, Lucia the delivering angel appears at his elbow with what can only be described as a vat of black coffee. "Thank you," Rodney says, and proceeds to drink about half of it in one go. He catches John glance at him, amused, before taking his own cup of—chai, really?—from Lucia.

When he finishes swallowing, he looks over at the woman on his right and catches her smirking at him, amused. She doesn't back off when their eyes meet, just twists in her chair to grin at him. "Hey, we haven't met yet," she says. "I'm Karen Davenport, Beth's sister, and you're—"

"Dr. Rodney McKay," Rodney says, and adds, "I'm with John," before his brain and the caffeine he's just ingested catch up with his mouth. It's one thing letting John's brother think whatever he wants and another actually saying it, even when the words are, well, exactly what Rodney's been saying all along.

Karen doesn't seem to notice his incipient panic. "The brats are mine, so I'm apologizing for them in advance. It's great to meet you, Dr. McKay. I know Beth's been looking forward to having both you and John here."

"Brats?" Rodney says faintly.

"MOM," says a muffled but shrill voice from under the table. "STOP CALLING ME THAT. IT'S RUDE."

A small arm wraps around one of Rodney's ankles, and it's so uncannily like the time with the carnivorous creeper vines on P89-703 that Rodney has to tamp down a scream. He tries to gently shake the tiny creeper vine loose but the kid just holds on tighter.

"Christina Eleanor Davenport Harriman," wow, that's some Mom-voice, "You're right. That was rude, and I apologize. But do you know what else is rude? Yelling at breakfast. Breakfast is not the time for yelling."

"I think one of your children is sitting on my foot," Rodney says, trying for civil and missing it by about a mile.

Lucia brings everyone bloody marys and bellinis while Karen pries Joseph Alexander Davenport Harriman IV off Rodney's ankle. He howls the entire time and is only placated by getting to sit in Beth's lap, although he keeps staring at Rodney with limpid, sad eyes. John can't look at Rodney without starting to laugh, which, okay, definitely less awkward than yesterday, despite the continued presence of John's ex-wife (who keeps giving Rodney a weird smile) and the addition of screaming children.

There's no food yet, no buffet, and one remaining vacant seat in between Beth and Nancy. Rodney's starting to get antsy. His stomach is not accustomed to having this amount of coffee and alcohol without something solid to keep them company, even if it's just the end of a two-week-old Power Bar. John seems perfectly happy to be discussing golf with his brother, and everyone else is happily applying themselves to entertaining the obnoxious children and/or drinking, but Rodney can't help but cast his eyes over toward that empty seat over and over again, as if glaring will somehow summon its occupant and the bacon Rodney knows is waiting for him.

"The maid of honor got in late last night," Nancy says, nodding toward the empty chair beside her. It takes a moment for Rodney to register that she's talking to him. "We thought we'd let her sleep in a little. She'll be down soon."

"Ah," Rodney says. "Well. That's good?"

Nancy smiles at him again in lieu of a reply. She's not what Rodney would have expected, if he'd known to expect anything at all—she's a knockout, yes, but also polite, reserved, and down-to-earth. She reminds Rodney more of John himself than Ferris Wheels or flying or Chaya which, well, John was probably telling the truth about their totally platonic glowy Ascended picnic and Rodney's a jerk. But that's nothing new.

The door to the house swings open, and Rodney swivels his head, hoping against hope for bacon. Instead, he finds a woman with blonde hair pulled back into a messy ponytail who's squinting against the sun. John coughs, jogs Rodney's elbow, and then, all of the sudden, fuck, he sees it, sees her, fuck, fuck, fuck.

"Sorry, guys, I slept through my alarm," she says, striding over toward them, and the change in body language is so bizarre that Rodney spends a moment wondering if he's losing his mind, right up until she looks right at him. "McKay? Sheppard? What are you doing here?"

"John is Dave's brother," Beth says. "Rodney's his—you know each other?"

"Former CO," John says, and Rodney turns to see him carefully unspooling into that deliberate slouch. "Hey, General Carter. Funny running into you here."

"You told me you were going surfing!" Sam says. "And you," she frowns at Rodney, "You told me you were going to visit your sister!"

"I did!" Rodney says, indignant. "I spent six days with her and her demon spawn and her English professor and I only made it to Tim Horton's twice. Did you actually think I was going to stick it out for two weeks?"

"I'm surprised you made it six days." Sam sighs and shakes her head. "Uh, sorry to bring work home, Beth. And—you must be Dave and Karen, right?"

Introductions go around the table. It turns out that Sam and John's ex-wife already know each other: "Sam was my roommate freshman year at Harvard," Beth explains, "and Nancy and I both wrote for the Crimson. Oh, I can't believe you're all here." She dabs at her eyes with the corner of her napkin.

"Okay, we need to eat now, you are too drunk for 11 AM," Karen says, rising to her feet. Lucia beats her to the door, though, and the next fifteen minutes are mostly a beautiful montage of bacon, pancakes, and more bacon, plus Dave staring at him and John and Sam a lot.

During a pause, Rodney looks up from his bacon and over at John. He swallows. "Didn't you tell—people—where you are?"

John takes a moment to finish chewing the slab of pancake he's just stuck in his mouth. "Yes?" he says. "I didn't send a mass email out to the entire intranet, but it's on file somewhere, in case the D—in case."

"Okay, good." Rodney takes another gulp of coffee.

"So, how do you all know each other?" Karen says brightly, when Lucia's come back for some of the plates.

John's mouth is full, but Rodney and Sam say, "That's classified!" almost in unison.

Sam winces and rubs her face. "McKay and I work in the same field, academically. And yeah, I did use to be their commanding officer. For a while."

"Sometimes literally in the same field," Rodney says. He spears the last piece of pancake with his fork.

"Oh, yeah, that time both of you and Keller fell into that—cave," John says, and pauses.

It's been two years, and Rodney thought they were over the awkward Jennifer-related silences, but apparently not. He clears his throat. "Yes, yes, and now I have your preferences for the entire lineup of People's 50 Most Beautiful People of 2007 permanently burned into my brain, and don't think I'm forgetting—"

"Aww, McKay." Sam leans back in her chair and smiles. "Never change."

"That's some coincidence," Dave says. The women and children have vacated the conservatory for "girl time" (air quotes supplied by Sam, which, just no) and left Rodney with the Sheppard brothers and the cleared table. Lucia keeps refilling his coffee mug: whatever they're paying her, it's not enough.

"Air Force brass is a small world," John says. "Same with astrophysics and Harvard alums. It's not completely improbable."

"Stranger things have happened," Rodney agrees, thoughts drifting. Last week, Jinto tripped over an Ancient device on New Athos that cloned his dog, and now everyone on Atlantis is arguing over whether the no large pets rule can be revoked in the face of sixty adorable Athosian psychic wolf puppies. They all look exactly like the dog from Due South, except with lavender fur.

John pokes him in the side. "You can't have a puppy. We had this discussion."

"Do you not understand the definition of 'classified'?" Rodney says.

"You know, Sheppard Utilities does some work with the government." Dave taps his fingers on the table. "I have some clearance."

"Not this much. I'm sorry." John's spine is straightening up again, which makes Rodney nervous. "Nancy works for Homeland Security, and she doesn't even have clearance."

"Huh." Dave turns in his seat to face John, jaw set. "Well."

"I can't believe we just saw Carter in a dress," Rodney says, trying to steer them back toward neutral ground, and why is he the voice of reason and family togetherness here, this is not in his skill set.

"Rodney," John says, "Jesus."

"What?" Rodney raises his hands, at a loss. "Sorry for trying to divert the conversation away from your manly posturing about classified information, and also, for the record? I am perfectly capable of taking care of a dog."

John actually puts his face in his hands, which is what sets his brother off, and oh, no, the awful, squawking laughter is a Sheppard thing, and they're both laughing together in cacophonous disharmony. Dave reaches out and puts a hand on John's shoulder, and there's an awful moment when it looks like John might pull away and go all stony-faced and silent, but then John leans into it, gives in. It would be touching if Rodney weren't worried about permanent damage to his hearing, aesthetically speaking.

"Classified dogs?" Dave manages, eventually. "Really?"

"Everything is classified," Rodney says. "For the record, I have no sympathy. None. I just spent a week with a nine year old and a two year old on a relentless joint campaign to pump me for information about my job and get me to buy them something filled with animal products and high-fructose corn syrup."

"They just want to know why their mom gets to visit you and they don't," John says, pulling free of Dave's hand. "Which is understandable."

"It's going to take Madison at least fifteen more years to catch up enough to work with us," Rodney says. "She asked."

"She's nine, and doesn't she want to be a ballerina?"

"Oh! Changed her mind. You'll like this one, Sheppard. She wants to be a Formula 1 driver." Rodney takes a sip of his coffee. "Which, I don't even know, they don't have cable, she's not allowed to have Barbies or Hostess cupcakes—"

"—or animal products?" Dave finishes for him. "Your sister sounds very serious about parenting."

"Well, we all respond to our formative, scarring childhood experiences in different ways," Rodney says blithely. "Jeannie won't eat meat, I won't set foot in Canadian Tire, Teyla won't play Scrabble with us—"

"She can't read English!" John says.

"Hmm." Rodney pauses. "I always thought it was because she didn't like the tile stands."

"That, too."

"Anyway," Rodney says to Dave, "My sister is a vegetarian stay-at-home mom who has been ABD for a decade. You'd think one dissertation wouldn't be as hard as two kids, but apparently it's low on her extremely misguided list of priorities."

Dave's got one of those indulging-the-crazy-person looks on his face that Rodney is so very intimately familiar with. "I don't know about that."

"Look, my sister is a genius. In our field, in the world, it's Jeannie, me, Sam, and R—one other person." Rodney looks over at John, who quirks an eyebrow, but doesn't say anything. "And don't ever tell Sam that I said this, because you'll put a dent in my hard-earned reputation as a self-centered asshole, but we need all of us. So my sister needs to get her ass in gear and send Bradley to pre-school, or she's going to keep having to transcribe her notes from finger paint on the wall and yes, that has actually happened, I am not exaggerating."

"He's actually a genius." John hikes his thumb in Rodney's direction. "He's not making that up."

"Thank you, and I would just like to note that is a strong argument in favor of my being able to take care of a dog—"

John puts his head in his hands again.

"I see," Dave says, sort of to Rodney except that he's looking down at John, who's obviously fighting another wave of helpless, horrible laughter. Dave doesn't look a lot like John—he's supposedly younger but looks like someone who runs a major utilities company, whereas John looks like John, even when he's wearing weird clothes and surrounded by people who think he's some fuckup who lucked into top secret work, but don't know it was being the military commander of Atlantis or that luck has nothing to do with it. Dave is not the kind of guy you run into in the Pegasus Galaxy. Which means Rodney's more than a little out of his depth here.

"Eventually, you're going to see the light," Rodney says to John. "You can't let Torren have one and side with Woolsey on this just because you think I'm incapable of taking care of a cactus."

"You are," John mumbles through his fingers. "You killed the cactus that Katie gave you. You forgot to water it for a year."

"Well, dogs remind you that they need to be watered, and fed, and—other things dogs need. They're very helpful, which I understand is also a dog trait."

John lifts his head and looks at Dave. "Do you see what I have to deal with?"

"I'm getting an idea," Dave says.

 

Tuesday

John has to do boring things like go to a suit fitting with Dave and talk to the family lawyer, so Rodney has an entire day to himself for drinking coffee, eating cookies, and troubleshooting the latest problem with Cheyenne Mountain's DHD, also known as the Ancient equivalent of "device not detected!" flashing on all of the monitors in the Gate room. Apparently Carter refuses to work on her vacation, fancy that, so Rodney's the one hauling his ass out of bed at dawn to deal with it. Well, Rodney's always on call when he's on Earth; he's not so great at leaving the nervous fussing at home, even with Zelenka and Lorne in charge.

Predictably, there's no Linux version of the US military's super encrypted proprietary video chat software. Rodney spends thirty minutes installing the Windows version on John's laptop, finding out it's incompatible because John uses Windows Vista and none of the developers thought even the US military was stupid enough to use Windows Vista, watching the Windows version crash and burn in four increasingly unfixable ways, and then exploiting a back door into the SGC's servers so he can use Skype like everyone else on Earth. By the time Rodney's able to start raking one of Bill Lee's lab monkeys over the coals and walk him through Control Crystals 101, he's already given up hope on humanity as a species and it's not even 8 a.m.

Apparently John's room isn't that soundproof, because about an hour later Sam knocks on his door. "Rodney, some of us are trying to sleep."

"Well, some of us are doing YOUR JOB while on vacation," Rodney yells back. Jerry—Jacob—whatever the kid's name is—looks even more terrified. "I'm not done with you," Rodney adds. "Don't go anywhere."

After another ten minutes, Sam gives in. Working with Sam in John's childhood bedroom while she's still in pajamas isn't the most surreal thing Rodney's ever done (thank you, Pegasus galaxy), but it's definitely up there. Rodney has to admit that she's better at dealing with the SGC's squalling, pampered baby scientists than he is—she gets Jerry to admit, sheepishly, that no, he hasn't actually tried turning the DHD on and off again because he doesn't know how, and voila, after several hours and eight swapped crystals, the software that monitors the Gate is back online again.

"There is not enough coffee in the world," Sam grumbles. She's sitting in the desk chair backwards for some reason, arms folded over the back and chin propped atop them.

"There's a thermos over there somewhere," Rodney says, waving his hand at the desk. "I took the whole pot this morning."

"My hero," Sam says. Then she drinks a ridiculous amount of coffee straight from the thermos in one long swallow.

Rodney rubs his eyes. "So, your secret plan for this week was to dump all of the apocalyptic alien conflicts on me?"

"I threatened the SGC with death." Sam yawns. "I thought you'd be bored in Vancouver and Jeannie could pitch in if there was a crisis."

As if that's not the most horrifying idea that Rodney has heard in… at least fifteen minutes. "I filed my itinerary with the SGC!" he says. "Also, do you not remember what it's like when Jeannie and I work together?"

"You and I work together well enough now," she points out. "I figured you both had mellowed."

Rodney rolls his eyes. "You are an awful person and I can't believe they gave you Atlantis and then they gave you another ship to terrorize. Are those sushi pajamas?"

"They were a present," Sam says, rolling her eyes right back. They sit in comfortable silence for a minute before Rodney's brain switches over from Ancient tech to the world around him.

"Bill Lee's lab monkeys have seen you in my room on vacation in your pajamas." Rodney's eyes widen. It's true that this used to be high on his fantasy scenario list, but he didn't actually know Sam then. Or SG-1, really. "Oh my God. This is a nightmare. O'Neill is going to call me up and challenge me to a duel for your honor, and hey, stop laughing, it's not that funny—"

Sam covers her mouth, but she's still giggling. "No—it's actually—that funny."

Rodney gives her a level glare.

"I can defend my own honor, McKay," she says, getting to her feet. "But if you wake me up before 0900 again this week, I will kill you with my bare hands. Got it?"

It takes another half hour for Rodney to write a patch for the security vulnerability he exploited earlier and send a scathing email to the SGC's IT department. Then he makes the mistake of going downstairs for more coffee and promptly gets roped into helping Beth and Karen fold paper cranes. "Can't you hire someone to do this?" he complains.

"We asked our friends and family to fold them for us," Beth explains. "We sent out the paper with the invitations, but we only got about 800 cranes back."

"We need a thousand," Karen says. "Come on, John said you were great with paper airplanes."

"He did, did he," Rodney says. He eyes the pile of origami paper on the table.

Karen grins, shark-like. "I bet you can fold better cranes than Chrissy," she says.

Unfortunately, Rodney's competitive nature can't resist a challenge like that, even when he's competing against a five-year-old. He refills his mug with nectar from the single-cup brewer and gets down to business folding knife-sharp, exacting creases into the brightly colored paper. Kate and Beth are working at a more leisurely pace and chatting like two people without the weight of two galaxies resting on their shoulders. It turns out that Beth's a vice president at PBS in charge of fundraising and Karen's a lawyer. They both think that the other works too much, which Rodney finds very amusing.

"I have to go into the office tonight and tomorrow morning." Beth sighs.

"Didn't you take the whole two weeks off?" Karen says, with the flavor of an old argument. "And didn't you just finish a pledge drive?"

"I'm going to be out of the country next week, and Gina's still new."

"You're going to have to get someone to string these, too," Karen says, fingering one of the cranes. "Unless you magically have more free time somewhere that I don't know about."

Rodney opens his mouth to say something about time dilation fields and manages to change gears at the last moment. "I haven't had a vacation in two years," he says. "We don't really get vacations."

Beth blinks. "Surely you get leave?"

"Leave is for the weak and people who do nonessential work." Rodney makes a perfect diagonal fold. "I'm technically still on call. And I'm covering for Sam."

"That's ridiculous," Karen says.

"You're telling me."

The table falls quiet for a moment before Beth says, "I know what you and John do is classified, but—Dave doesn't know anything at all. He worries."

Rodney stares at the crane in his hands, then looks over at Beth. "If he's worried about John constantly putting himself in danger, as opposed to accepting that as, you know, reality, I don't know what to tell you. It's what we do. It's necessary."

"I don't think the military—"

Karen touches her sister's arm. "Beth," she says, shooting Rodney an apologetic look.

Rodney glances up at the ceiling for a moment, mulling what he wants to say. He hasn't spent time with anyone without a security clearance in years, unless you count children who fully believe that international space station is a game and Uncle Mer is their coolest uncle. "I can't tell you about what we do or why it's necessary because it's classified. I don't want to tell you, either, because you really, really don't want to know. I'm Canadian, I'm not part of the—" he gestures abstractly, searching for the words, "—US military industrial complex, well, I work for them, but I'm not—I'm part of something else. And yes, it's necessary and important, and—cool." Rodney smiles despite himself. "What John does is important. And, obviously, what I do is very important, but John's essential, too."

That's as close as Rodney can get to saying, No one else can do what John can do, and I don't know what we'd do, what the city would do, without him, so I try to keep him from getting himself killed even though Teyla and Ronon are usually better at it, and yes, we do fight space vampires that suck the life out of you and robots that can duplicate you and infect you and see, see, you really didn't want to know that, now did you, because there's nothing you can do. It's probably close enough.

"Okay," Beth says, lowering her eyes. "I'm sorry, Rodney, I didn't mean to—"

"Pass me some more paper," he says. "Aren't we supposed to be folding cranes now?"

39 cranes later, Karen says, "Hey, Rodney, have you ever threaded a needle? Sewed something?"

After they finish folding the cranes, Beth heads out, taking Nancy along for the drive to DC and leaving the task of stringing everything together to Rodney and Karen. When John finally shows up in the kitchen early in the afternoon, Rodney is arguing with a five-year-old about how to thread a needle. It's not one of his finer moments.

"Grandma says that you just need to leave a tail," Chrissy says very seriously. "Otherwise you use lots and lots of thread."

"You are in kindergarten and your mother had to thread your needle, so pardon me if I'm not swayed by your rhetoric or your completely wrong opinion, since I have been darning socks before you were born, which—is terrifying, honestly."

"Your thread is really long." Chrissy pokes at the tail that Rodney's tossed over his knee.

Rodney pulls away and makes a face.

"It's too bad that Nancy has my camera." Karen snaps another section of wooden track into place. She's taken a break from the crane assembly line to set up Alex's train set on the floor, in hopes that he'll stop latching onto Rodney's leg at random intervals. So far, it seems to be working. "Are kids always like this around you?"

"Sort of," Rodney says.

"You're awful." Chrissy tosses her hair. Her cranes are staggering crookedly along the thread she's draped across the table, but Rodney's being very good and not commenting.

"That means she likes you," Karen says.

"And you're sewing wrong," Chrissy says, poking his knee again.

Rodney actually turns in his seat to glare at her more effectively. "Do I need to explain mass and gravity to you? Because you can't actually expect to hang twenty cranes on a single piece of thread, even this ridiculous nylon—stuff. That's why you have to loop back the thread and knot the ends together. And, look, wow, it doesn't break the fabric of the universe!"

"Hey, guys," John says, having come from nowhere to lean against the (sadly, decorative) pie safe by the side door. "How's it going?"

"Rodney's teaching us science." Karen smiles beatifically. "And sewing."

"You told them I could fold planes," Rodney says. "Why? Why would you do that?"

"You fold the best planes," John says, like they haven't been trash-talking each other through biweekly paper plane contests for the last seven years. Rodney's jaw literally drops. "I thought you could help them out."

Yeah, Rodney's got nothing to say to that.

"I brought doughnuts," John adds. "Krispy Kreme."

"I hate you," Rodney says. "Are they still hot?"

John is doing his charm-the-ladies thing, which means that he takes over crane-stringing duty from the Davenport Harrimans and Rodney eats six donuts watching him thread a needle the correct way and hang twenty cranes together at a time. Elizabeth taught them to do it that way, or at least taught Rodney, who was determined to be competent before he attempted to make a presentation to his scientists. They'd crowded around the table, Elizabeth, Teyla, John, Rodney, and Carson, for Button Replacement And Sock Darning 101; it was three months since they'd had any contact with Earth. Of course, Teyla was incredibly skilled at sewing because she was incredibly skilled at everything, and Carson's mother had taught him to do everything from hooking rugs to felling a seam, so it was just John and Rodney who needed help, Rodney protesting loudly and hotly all the way.

Now John has that same intense look on his face, holding a crane up at a time while the ones he's already strung drape over his lap in a profusion of patterns and bright colors. Rodney sucks the icing off his fingers one at a time. He's not actually going to make John do this crap by himself, but he wants to give John some time to rue his general life choices and feel sad that he only ate two doughnuts in the car.

"I can definitely tell which cranes were folded by the five-year-old," John says, eyeing one of them speculatively. He gives the beak a pinch, but it doesn't really help.

"Chrissy was very insistent about folding some," Rodney says. "She said hers were better than mine."

"They definitely seem to be more… purple."

Rodney rolls his eyes. "I think that was the main criterion she was using, yes."

John looks over the crane at Rodney. "You're being an unusually good sport today. I thought you'd last three cranes, tops."

"It hasn't—" Rodney checks his watch. Okay, he's spent the last three and a half hours working on this stupid crane project, but it didn't seem that long at the time. "It's very relaxing," he says defensively. "And your family is—not completely aggravating. Aside from the spawn."

"I'm really disappointed in the US educational system," John says. "I thought kids learned about mass and potential energy in the first week of kindergarten these days."

"It's an outrage," Rodney agrees.

As usual, John's sitting where he can see the whole room. Rodney's turned to face him, so he notices the shift of expression on John's face first, the way the smile that's tugging at John's lips elides almost imperceptibly into his usual look of noncommittal amusement. Rodney's right hand drops to his side, fingers clutching against his thigh reflexively.

"Hey." Dave comes to a stop behind the empty chair to Rodney's left. "Save me any doughnuts?"

"No," Rodney says. He can see John's brother out of the corner of his eye, but he doesn't look over, just wipes his hands off on one of the cheap drive-through napkins and picks up a crane. It's one of the ones that he folded, each fold exact and precise, gold chrysanthemums on the outside concealing a vivid chartreuse interior.

"Sorry, we ate all of them," John says. "Did you want something?"

"No," Dave says, but he keeps hovering.

It makes Rodney antsy, but he picks up his needle and doubled thread anyway, gets ready to start a new strand of cranes. Everything seemed fine yesterday, but Rodney has plenty of experience with how easy it is for things to go nuclear when trapped with family members in a car for extended amounts of time. The eight-hour drive home from Jeannie's summer camp the year before Rodney started college, for example. It's easy for even the best of intentions to go horribly, horribly wrong.

"Have you given some thought to…" Dave trails off.

John's face goes blank. "Not right now," he says.

"You have to do it before you go back," Dave says. "I'm sorry, it's just—"

John glares at him. "This isn't a good time."

"That's right." Rodney says, sitting needle, thread, and crane back down. "Weren't we going to Starbucks?"

"You just ate six doughnuts," John says, not getting it.

"I want a frappuccino," Rodney says. "I'm thirsty."

This seems to be enough to make Dave back off, because he raises his hands and says, "I'm sorry. John, I—we can talk later."

"Sure," John says. He looks down at the crane in his hands as if he isn't sure how it got there.

"I wasn't kidding," Rodney says. "We're going to Starbucks."

The closest Starbucks is thirty miles away. The drive is mostly on two-lane roads through the bucolic Virginia countryside. Rodney suspects that John is taking the scenic route, but as John let him veto the Eagles in favor of Yes, Rodney is cutting him some slack.

"The Eagles? Really?" Rodney scrolls through John's iPod. "And since when do you have an iPod?"

"Dave gave it to me," John says, keeping his eyes on the road. "He's trying, I guess."

Rodney's never going to get over the birdsong lead-in to the swirling guitars that open "Closer to the Edge," so he's quiet for a few minutes, letting the music wash over him. Music always sounds different when he's in a moving car, whether or not he's driving. John lets Rodney turn up the volume, too, so it surrounds them, thrumming through the car, for an uninterrupted eighteen minutes and forty-four seconds. Perfection.

When the song ends, it skips to the next track in Rodney's progressive rock playlist and "Tom Sawyer" comes on, which reminds Rodney of everything that is wrong with the US and so, so very right with Canada, as he tells John for approximately the ten thousandth time.

"But what about Celine Dion?" John says. "Avril Lavigne?"

Rodney points out the window to a Wal-Mart.

"Okay," John concedes.

At Starbucks, Rodney gets a triple venti double-blended extra-whip java chip frappuccino in a trenta cup and John gets some kind of smoothie. (Rodney didn't know Starbucks made smoothies.) They grab a table by the window and spend the first 12 ounces of Rodney's frappuccino immersed in the kind of ecstatic bliss that only blended beverages can provide.

"I realize that you have no desire to talk about your family's collective emotional disturbance," Rodney says, stirring in the whipped cream, "but I have to confess a certain degree of academic curiosity."

"Dave wants me to write a new will," John says. He's fiddling with his straw; it squeaks against the opening in the lid. "The last one still has Nancy in it."

"Somehow, I am not surprised," Rodney says. He decides not to mention that his own still mentions Elizabeth. "So? What's the big deal?"

John makes a face. "Family investments and stuff. Not actually as easy to get rid of as you'd think. The lawyer wants me to declare a clear next-of-kin."

"So?" Rodney shrugs. "Give it to Stanford or something. I'm endowing a chair at MIT."

"He…" John makes that helpless, wordless, sad puppy face that Rodney hates and somehow also finds endearing. "You…"

Finally, it makes sense. "Oh, please," Rodney says. "You've been my next-of-kin since 2006. We live in another— it makes sense, don't look at me like that. Jeannie's the executor, it doesn't mean you have to actually do anything."

He probably should have discussed that in advance, or maybe mentioned it sometime in the past five years, but, well. It was on file somewhere, it wasn't something he thought about most of the time. That was how you ended up with wills years, maybe a decade out of date: you were trying not to die all the time and just wanted to think about something else when you got home, like how it was unfair that Ronon got Jennifer to side with him on Upstairs, Downstairs when you wanted Arthur C. Clarke night.

"Rodney…" —and oh, that's a terrible John face, the kind of face John usually gets when someone is dying and he's trying to be stoic— "Look…"

"Okay, okay, I said academic curiosity," Rodney backpedals. "I don't think it's bad idea to write a new will. If you're—far away most of the time—it's good to have someone there. Besides, if you die horribly in the line of duty, I'll probably be there, possibly dead with you, which, hmm, might be a strong argument in favor of someone less, I don't know—"

"Rodney," John says again, weirdly intent, "Of course it's you. It's you."

"Um, thanks?" The table of elderly ladies behind John is totally eavesdropping on them; Rodney narrows his eyes in their direction. Thankfully, John's staring into the depths of his orange mango whatever and doesn't look like he's paying too much attention.

"I hate being here," John says.

Yeah, the smoothies here are definitely squirrelly. "Starbucks?" Rodney says.

John lifts his head. "No. Ear—with my family. They're not my family. All this paperwork—it's all bullshit from my father, he left the business to Dave, yeah, but there are all these properties and investments, and there's a trust fund, it's—I thought I was done with all of this."

"My father was a jerk, too," Rodney says. "It happens. Some people shouldn't be parents."

"I don't want to talk about it here," John says, standing up abruptly. Their audience of senior citizens looks disappointed.

"Fine," Rodney says. He tries not to sound too sulky. "I was almost done with this anyway."

They get in the car, but John doesn't do anything beyond putting the keys in the ignition and resting his forehead against the grip of the steering wheel. "My father said some things that—after I split up with Nancy."

"Oh my God," Rodney says, shocked. "You're talking about your feelings."

John turns his head and glares at him, which—okay, he hasn't been replaced by an evil clone or completely lost his mind, that's good. "Shut up."

"Fine, fine, shutting up now," Rodney says.

"That's—okay." John closes his eyes for a moment. "Dave thinks he can make everything like that never happened, like he wasn't there. He's—I don't know why they, why his—I don't know why they want me here, when Nancy's here, when—and in that house."

"Your family seems nice?" Rodney volunteers.

"They were all there," John says, and obviously, whatever this is, it's something that a trained professional should be handling, but Rodney has the feeling that John's not going to talk to any of them. This is worse than every single time that John's been alien roofied. "The last time I saw any of them before Dad died was in 1994."

Rodney reaches out a tentative hand and pats John on the shoulder, and, oh God, if John starts crying, Rodney is going to have a panic attack, he is not equipped for this, this is worse than when Bradley stubbed his toe on the coffee table on Thursday and clung to him, sobbing, for twenty minutes. "You know that—Teyla and Ronon and I, and Jeannie—"

"That makes it worse," John says. Then he falls quiet.

After a few minutes of silence, which is hopefully long enough, Rodney says, "You should probably let me drive back."

It's pretty worrying when John actually hands over the keys.

 

Wednesday

This morning, Rodney wakes up early enough that John's still gone for his morning run and goes downstairs in search of coffee and… something. He's not quite sure exactly what until John's brother comes into the kitchen while Rodney's on his second mug of the strongest coffee the single cup brewer has to offer.

Rodney's been terrifying TAs and lab minions and academics and coworkers since he was a teenager. Dave Sheppard might be head of a major utilities company and actually know what the fuck to do with all of the little forks and spoons at dinner, but there is not a chance in hell that he is prepared for Dr. Rodney McKay, Ph.D., Ph.D., on the warpath. Rodney puts on the face that he used to use at Kavanagh's annual review before he finally managed to get rid of him, points the finger that has struck terror into the hearts of the best scientists Earth has to offer on a daily basis for the last seven years, and says, "You and I need to talk. Right now."

Because the last seven years have, horrifyingly, instilled a level of humanity in Rodney that he hopes his minions never discover, he lets Dave pour himself a cup of coffee before steering him into the room with the creepy fox hunt paintings. "Sit." Rodney points to the nearest chair.

Dave sits, cowed. "What the hell?" he says.

"You made John talk about his feelings. To me." Rodney says, looming. "Have you even met your brother? Do you know how many hours of sleep I lost last night, wondering how this galaxy has finally managed to make him unhinged?"

"This galaxy?" Dave asks.

This is why Rodney never talks to people without a security clearance. "Not germane to this discussion," he says. "Do I have to repeat myself? What the fuck did you do?"

"We went to see the family lawyer yesterday. That's all." Dave frowns, then sighs. "How would I know?"

"You're his brother," Rodney says. Five years of silence didn't prevent him and Jeannie from picking up exactly where they left off, which, okay, was maybe not the best thing at first, and five years wasn't seventeen, but family was family, whether you came with it or it found you.

"You'd know better than I would," Dave says bitterly. "He left for college when I was sixteen and I've barely seen him since then. I know Nancy better than John—she introduced me to Beth."

"I didn't even find out he'd been married before until this Saturday! And I've known him for seven years!" Rodney says, and okay, he's still a little pissed about that. "We run a fucking city together!"

Dave stares at him.

Rodney's totally blown this. Ronon would have done a better job even if he hates forks, Teyla would have—Teyla would definitely have been the best choice, all around. Why is Teyla always pregnant whenever John has some major life crisis?

"You run a city in another galaxy," Dave says, slowly. "And you used to run it with Sam Carter?"

"This is why they don't let me talk to people," Rodney says, palm-to-face.

Predictably, that is the exact moment that John chooses to open the door and say, "Lucia said you guys were in here?"

Dave turns his wide eyes on John now. "Do you fight aliens?"

"Jesus Christ, Rodney," John says.

"I was interrogating him! You know I'm not good at that!"

John remembers to close the door before he starts laughing. He's a lot better at this "loose lips sink ships" thing, surprise, surprise.

"He'll have to sign the NDA. Carter probably has a copy."

"Sam is going to kill us for making her work on her vacation. Again."

"Correction," John says. "She's going to kill you."

"Oh, nitpicking now that we're in a moment of crisis that is technically your fault, Sheppard, because you're related to him, and anyway—"

"You're the one who insisted on coming along—"

"Teyla thought it was a good idea!"

"Teyla thought me coming to the wedding at all was a great idea," John says, "And look how that's panned out."

"I'm still in the room," Dave calls over from the chair by the window.

Rodney ignores him. "Sam will have to debrief him anyway. You can't do it."

John frowns. "They let you debrief Jeannie."

"Jeannie is a vegetarian conspiracy theorist! I just got into her house. The SGC thought I could, you know, persuade her."

"Wow," John says. "You left that part out in all the touching family stories. Wait, those weren't you."

"Sorry if I was a little distracted by altering the fabric of the universe while you were off buddying up with Rod," Rodney says.

"Seriously? This again?" John rubs his temples. "I like you better, okay, everyone likes you better. He was weird and kept trying to give me pointers on my swing. Has your ego recovered now?"

"Golf." Rodney shudders. "I had blocked that part out, thank you very much, Sheppard."

"Still here," Dave says, waving this time.

"Okay," John says, extending a hand toward Dave without really looking at him. "You—stay here, okay? I need to go get Sam and—damage control. Rodney—" John sighs.

"I'll be good?" Rodney says.

"Ha, ha." John rolls his eyes.

Once John leaves, Rodney's stuck alone in the dead fox room with Dave Sheppard, who's lounging in his chair now, legs crossed. The sudden shift in body language is the first thing that really reminds Rodney of John, honking laugh aside; he can see the way that both of them fall into camouflage by default, adapting to their surroundings. With John, this kind of ease is always a sign that he's either completely relaxed or wants someone to think he is. Usually the latter. Rodney narrows his eyes.

"You're very credulous," he says to John's brother. "Nothing about your brother commanding a city in another galaxy seems unlikely to you? Did you watch too many Discovery Channel specials on UFOs and start thinking the pyramids were built by aliens?"

Dave shrugs. "It explains a lot of things, that's all. About John."

"The pyramids were actually built by aliens, by the way," Rodney says. "In case you were wondering."

"Not really." Dave slouches further down into his chair. The resemblance is definitely uncanny.

"You're completely freaked out by this, aren't you?" Rodney says, and when did he become this fluent in Sheppard body language? "This is why they get Sam to do these things. She's—tactful."

"How long have you known?" Dave asks. "Who told you?"

"I was recruited out of a tenure track position at Caltech, so that would have been—1992?" Rodney tilts his head. "I think they sent the guy who's head of the main labs at the SGC now. I don't really remember, I was practically orgasming over the practical applications of wormhole theory for days."

"How old were you?"

"24," Rodney says, reminiscing. In 1992 he published four papers and had more sex than he has in the last seven years combined, including Jennifer. "That was a really good year."

When he looks over, Dave's staring again; this time it seems more wary than uncomprehending. "Who are you?"

"I'm a civilian contractor," Rodney says. "Technically."

"McKay." Sam takes a seat in the spindly antique chair that John found somewhere. It creaks.

Rodney's still standing, partially because he's afraid to sit on anything in here. "General Carter," he says, forcing himself to meet her eyes. She's not even his boss anymore, after all, and her theories about recharging ZPMs are completely wrong, which she'll find out when she checks her email in approximately five days. "Should we be having this conversation in front of—" He jerks his head in Dave's direction.

"Cat's out of the bag now," Sam says calmly. "Besides, I want you to hear what I tell Dave, because I'm hoping you can restrain yourself from sharing any more classified information than you already have." She sighs. "You held it together in front of Nye and Tyson, but not him?"

"They'll find out they're all wrong eventually." Rodney huffs.

"Or they'll be dead by the time everything's declassified," Sam says.

"Hey," John says. "On topic?" He's leaning against a bookcase behind Dave, arms folded.

"Please." Dave sits forward, the pages of the non-disclosure agreement fluttering in his lap. Once Sam came into the room, he sat up straight, slouch abandoned. Rodney keeps forgetting that Sam is one of Dave's fiancee's best friends. He didn't even know Sam had friends who weren't her team, although, well. He really should have learned by now not to make any assumptions about her; Sam slaughtered him in Settlers of Catan the last time she was on Atlantis.

"Did you sweep the room?" Sam asks John.

"I went through the whole house when I got here," John says. "It was clean Saturday. I should go over it again, though."

"Let's do that," Sam says. "I'd like a little more time with your brother before we get to the confidential stuff. Rodney, you can stay."

"You swept the house for bugs?" Dave says, twisting around in his chair toward John.

"Yeah, Dave," John says, looking down at him. "I did."

Rodney is completely out of his depth here. He knows John, he trusts John more than—more than anyone, but there's always been a part of John to which no one has access. Seeing that in John's face, in the way he moves to stand over his brother's chair, makes Rodney feel like he's intruding onto something deeply private.

Sam gives him a one-shouldered shrug in acknowledgement when he meets her eyes. "Go get the toys you brought, John," she says. "I know Bill let you take home things you're not supposed to be playing with."

John nods and heads for the door.

"Government security is really this lax?" Dave says, watching his brother leave.

"No," Sam rolls her eyes. "And sit down, Rodney, you're looming. That armchair by the fireplace looks sturdy."

"I am not looming," Rodney says, swallowing the rest of his complaints. He drags the chair over. It's heavy, but it does seem structurally sound.

"They do actually run the scientific and military sides of an outpost in another galaxy," Sam says to Dave. "Hard to believe, huh?"

"Kind of," Dave says.

The armchair turns out to be unexpectedly comfortable when Rodney sits down in it. He crosses his legs, leans back, and relaxes into the cushions. "Is there a reason you're keeping me here right now? Is he supposed to be an audience for a rehash of the most humiliating highlights of my career?"

"Rodney," Sam says. She looks surprised, maybe a little hurt, for a second. "Dave, this guy has saved your brother's life about a hundred times. He and John have been protecting our galaxy from some things I'm not going to tell you about for the last seven years. He's extremely rude and a hypochondriac which, I don't even understand how you can still—but he's a good guy. Your brother is in good hands."

This is the moment when Rodney has the awful realization that Sam also thinks that he and John are a couple.

The rest of the morning passes in a blur of checking for bugs, carefully avoiding passing Dave anything Ancient in case it turns out he has the ATA gene, rescheduling a golf game for the afternoon, and a mid-debrief kitchen run because yes, Rodney does actually have hypoglycemia, he is not making that up. Sam's greatest-hits-of-the-Stargate-program carefully omits the Ancients, the Asgard, the Wraith, the Ori, the Gou'ald, and even the gates themselves; she explains that she's the captain of a spaceship and confirms that John and Rodney lead a (classified) outpost in a (classified) galaxy. She lets Dave play with an Asgard penlight she has on her keyring and dodges his questions about its origin.

"So, that guy Ronon—is he an alien?" Dave hands Sam's keys back to her.

John shrugs. "You could say that."

"He's more of a…" Rodney pauses. "Coworker?"

"Right," John says.

"He and—Teyla—they're your friends?"

"Yes," Rodney says, and, crap, he misses Teyla more now even than he did three hours ago. "She works with us, too. When she's not off frolicking on maternity leave, again."

"Wait, Teyla's—?" Sam says, grinning.

"We'll catch you up later," John says. "But, yeah."

The last time they saw Sam in Atlantis was almost a year ago; the SGC usually sends out Caldwell with the Daedalus. She's missed Teyla's pregnancy, Ronon and Amelia getting engaged, and John's promotion, as well as the official end of DADT. Nothing interesting happened aside from a few Marines coming out and Cadman and Jennifer kissing in the mess, which was sort of disturbing but mostly hot. "Are Jennifer and Cadman actually dating?" Rodney says to John. "Did we ever establish that?"

John makes a face. "I don't want to know."

"Later," Sam says hurriedly, looking intrigued.

The golfing that John rescheduled turns out to be with Dave's other groomsmen, who come out to the house for lunch beforehand instead. They've both just come down from New York and talk like it; apparently they went to Yale with Dave. Rodney has a hard time telling them apart.

"Am I going to have to pretend I know how to golf?" he asks John under his breath.

John passes him the pepper mill. "Nah, I think Beth's sister requisitioned you for cookie baking or something. I warned her."

Another horrifying realization: Rodney has become an honorary member of the bridal party.

Yellow Shirt Groomsman and Pink Shirt Groomsman both talk a lot about the NYSE and NASDAQ. Rodney owns some stock in Apple and should probably check on it at some point, but he hasn't paid any attention to the stock market since around 2004. Mostly he watches John out of the corner of his eye; John is giving most of his attention to Dave. Rodney can't blame him, but he's pretty sure that Dave's not going to burst out "my big brother is visiting from outer space!" at the table.

Sam looks blissfully unconcerned about all of this, possibly because there are actual pecans from actual Texas in both the salad and the pie Lucia serves them afterward. Rodney manages to give the pie his full attention right up until he notices that John isn't eating any of it.

"You could stay and make cookies," Rodney says as Lucia clears away their plates. "You like cookies."

"I'll pass," John says, but he looks torn. Tired, too. Rodney doesn't really get this, any of this, why John is trying so hard to fit in, even now that his brother knows that John actually has a good reason this time for disappearing so suddenly and thoroughly from his life.

"Cookies?" Rodney says, meaning: things you actually like, people you actually like, are you seriously going to spend hours listening to these people talk about the fucking stock exchange, I bet you'll stop complaining that only Woolsey wants to golf with you when we get home, which I am really tired of hearing about, for the record.

"I'm fine," John says. "Really."

The entire bridal party plus obnoxious small children convenes in the kitchen. Thankfully, Rodney isn't assigned any mixing or oven duties: he just rolls out the dough and cuts out the shapes with cookie cutters so the tiny demons can cover them with sprinkles and colored sugar before Beth puts them on parchment-covered baking sheets and into the oven. For the most part, everyone talks over him and around him, but Rodney finds that he doesn't actually mind it. The repetitive motion of rolling and cutting out the cookies is relaxing, and it's oddly soothing to let the conversation wash over him instead of joining in. Nancy and Karen talk lawyer shop (Nancy's some kind of counsel for Homeland Security), Beth updates them all about old classmates she's found on Facebook, and Chrissy asks Sam about gravity; Sam speaks much better five-year-old than Rodney. Best of all, Alex is too distracted by decorating cookies to try to cut off the circulation to Rodney's feet.

There are a lot of cookies to decorate; it turns out that they're for the gift bags. For someone with a presumably large budget for the wedding and a demanding job, Beth is really hands-on with everything.

Rodney doesn't even complain that much when they put him in charge of baking all the fancy premade pizzas for dinner.

"Please kill me now." John sprawls onto the lower bunk. He flops an arm over his face, blocking the glare from the light overhead.

"Hey, that's my bed. You have your own death trap up there," Rodney sits down next to him and kicks off his shoes.

"They're both my bed," John says.

"This is the one I'm sleeping on," Rodney elbows him. "Move over. Also, you didn't have to spend all afternoon with those assholes."

"Did you all paint your nails and braid your hair together?"

"I had at least ten cookies," Rodney says, scooting back against the wall at the head of the bed. He stuffs a pillow behind his back and folds up his knees so John still has room at the foot. "We ate all the good pizza before you got back, too. There was barbeque chicken."

"That's not fair," John whines.

"You snooze at the golf course, you lose," Rodney says, unperturbed. "Being the wife is great."

John chokes.

"Your ex-wife is surprisingly nice," Rodney adds. "Did Dave's friends ask you awkward questions that you couldn't answer because you live in another galaxy?"

"No," John says. "I didn't really… talk to them that much."

"I told you to stay for cookies," Rodney says.

From his seat below the top bunk, Rodney has a good view of the desk, John's Star Wars poster (hung right next to the door), and the dresser that neither of them has bothered to use. He wonders which bunk John slept on growing up. Probably the top bunk, although it's a twin and the bottom's a double; that would definitely appeal to anyone lacking a proper fear of spinal cord injury and/or death.

John puts his free hand on Rodney's foot and leaves it there for a while.

"I can't figure out if this is supposed to be some kind of manly bonding gesture or the weirdest come-on ever," Rodney says eventually.

John lifts his arm off his face so he can glare at Rodney.

"Were we having a moment? Was that supposed be a moment?" Rodney says. "Sorry. I'm not good at these things."

"I've noticed," John says. He doesn't take his hand off Rodney's foot.

By now, Rodney should have enough data to figure this one out. It's troubling that he doesn't know what should be self-evident, but he's never had a window into John's head. And if John's making a pass at him, why now? Why here?

"Do you want to watch Star Wars?" Rodney says.

John makes his incredulous face. "Star Wars?"

"I have all three episodes on my laptop." Rodney scoots over to make room for John. "The Empire Strikes Back is, of course, my favorite, but we can always start from the beginning."

"Return of the Jedi has Princess Leia in that bikini thing," John says.

Rodney fumbles under the bed where he shoved his laptop this morning. "I didn't think you were watching Star Wars for Princess Leia, and the alien bondage thing is hot, but—" He catches John's eye. "Are we having some kind of allegorical discussion about my sexual preferences now? I didn't major in film studies, Sheppard."

"I'm just…" John closes his eyes. "I'm not…"

It's not like Rodney is an idiot, like he'd turn down the ridiculously hot John Sheppard of his fantasies. The problem is that the real John Sheppard, in addition to being ridiculously hot even when he's wearing golf clothes, is his best friend and teammate and—he can't just have sex with John. They're kind of already married without the actual marriage part, aside from the two planets that Elizabeth said didn't count. "Huh."

"What?"

"The Empire Strikes Back it is." Rodney opens VLC on his laptop. "Get up here, you're going to miss the credits."

"I saw the credits twenty times in theaters," John says, moving up next to Rodney. He leans against the wall next to him, leaving some space between of the two of them.

"I've only seen it in theaters fourteen times, including the second release," Rodney says, "but I own it on VHS, DVD, and LaserDisc."

The familiar theme pours out of the speakers and washes over them. This has to be the fourth or fifth time Rodney's seen this movie with John, but it never gets old. The last time they watched it was with Teyla, Kanaan, and Torren, who obediently covered his eyes for all the fight scenes. Torren liked Return of the Jedi better because it has Ewoks and he's three, but Rodney assumes his taste will improve as he gets older.

Rodney lets the credits and most of the action on Hoth go by before he says, staring straight ahead at Luke wrapped in the corpse of the tauntaun, "You know, if you can't get better at this talking thing, this relationship is never going to work."

John stiffens abruptly beside him. "Rodney, I—"

"I know, I know." Rodney lifts his arm. "Come over here, I'm trying to watch the movie and you're being distracting."

"You have all the dialogue memorized," John says, not budging.

"That's true," Rodney says. "My arm is getting tired, Sheppard."

John finally gives in and slides under Rodney's arm, lets it rest around his shoulders. They've definitely had some textbook huddling-for-warmth in the past, but that never—okay, Rodney tried not to think of that as erotic at the time, because the gulf between plausibly deniable cuddling and plausibly deniable boners seemed pretty wide. Now that boners seem to be on the table, Rodney's actually completely content to sit here like this, laptop resting on his knees, John's head pillowed on his shoulder, smelling like grass and sweat and the ghost of cologne, and beneath that, the indefinable scent that's just John.

"You smell nice," Rodney says, right around the time that Han gets frozen in carbonite.

"Hmm," John says sleepily.

Rodney spends the rest of the movie in a drowsy haze of snuggles and shared body heat. When it ends, he shoves the laptop back under the bed as carefully as he can. Neither of them are going to be happy if they spend all night sitting up, so Rodney pulls John down onto the bed with him, trying not to wake him up too much, and tucks his extra pillow behind John's head. Hopefully John will appreciate his noble sacrifice in the morning.

 

Thursday

Rodney wakes up at 5 AM when John's alarm goes off on the other side of the room and he nearly elbows Rodney in the face trying to get up and shut it off.

"What?" Rodney blinks blearily into the dark. He's disoriented for a moment, thinking he's back in his bed in Atlantis, thinking— "Is something—What's—?"

"It's okay." John sounds way too awake for 5 AM. "Go back to sleep."

"You got up and it's cold," Rodney says.

There's a long pause during which Rodney registers his surroundings and John hovers by the door, indecisive. "Fine," he says, dropping his sneakers back down by the door. He climbs over Rodney to the side of the bed that abuts the wall, and curls up tight around his pillow, spine barely brushing Rodney's arm.

Rodney turns over and wraps one arm around John, pulls him close. He's tall and skinny and uncooperative, his hair is tickling Rodney's nose, and Rodney is struck with his third awful realization in one twenty-four hour period: he is completely, hopelessly, ridiculously in love with John Sheppard, and every single other person in this house has figured that out before either of them.

"You are stupid," he says to John, trying to tamp down all the warm squishy feelings that feel like they're melting his insides. "I hope you like being the inner spoon."

Then Rodney falls asleep again, because it is 5 AM.

The next time he wakes up, John is still there, possibly because he's completely pinned down by Rodney and felt moving him might be impolite or lead to him waking up and making John talk about things. Avoiding potential awkward conversations at all costs does seem like a John thing to do.

Rodney talks to him anyway. "I'm accepting your proposition," he says into the curve of John's neck, which smells even sweatier this morning and somehow even more delicious. "I'm not exactly sure what it is, but—I'm accepting it."

"I'm not really sure either," John admits, shifting his hips slightly, and—ah, mystery solved.

Rodney moves his hips against John's and it's amazing. It's also now 10 AM and everyone probably thinks they're up here having hot gay sex, which is unfortunately only almost true. "We missed breakfast," he says, trying to get off the hot gay sex train.

"Lucia probably saved us some." John's breathing kind of hard for someone who's only done a little bit of thrusting up against Rodney's pelvis, and it's, Rodney thought he had been turned on before, but there's nothing like watching how into him John is, how responsive he is when Rodney slips a hand underneath his shirt and just touches the soft, warm skin on his side.

"Fuck breakfast," Rodney says.

"We should get up," John says, pushing himself up on his elbows. "I have to—"

"What could possibly be more urgent than—?"

"Rodney…" John exhales, warm breath tickling the curve of Rodney's shoulder. "It's not more urgent," he says. "I—this was easier in my head."

"Easier like it turned into instant porn or easier like I shot you down and humiliated you publicly and took away all your toys?" Rodney asks. "Not like that's ever happened to me."

"I didn't try to kill someone while I was, you know," John says, but he's smiling now.

"I wasn't trying to—it's not funny, Sheppard. John. It's not funny."

"It's funny." John flips Rodney over and nuzzles his neck and this really doesn't seem like the time to get out of bed at all, even if Rodney's going to get sarcastic teasing from the flower girl on up from the moment he goes downstairs.

"Mngh," Rodney reaches up to draw John closer, but John evades his grasp, sliding away and off the bed.

"Sorry," John says, and he does sound apologetic. Rodney rolls over on his side and watches John rifle through his suitcase. It's strange being allowed to check out John, the curve of his ass and the lines of his strong thighs and—Rodney is totally wrong about his ability to compartmentalize. He might never be able to look at John again in public.

"Can you stop being weird now?" Rodney says. "Can we just fast forward to being home and, and everything being normal, except with more—?"

"Is it really that weird?" John says.

"It's that weird," Rodney says. "This isn't fucking Camazotz. Cut it out."

He lets John shower first. It's Thursday, and they only have the rehearsal dinner tonight and the wedding tomorrow left. Rodney has lived under the gun for three weeks before, waiting for the Wraith to show up, and waiting for John is nothing like that, it's easier and it's worse. When Rodney's in Pegasus, he's doing everything he's always dreamed of, facing down stuff worse than nightmares, feeling alive and real every second of every day even when he's falling asleep in the lab for the third night in a row. Every time he's on Earth, he misses Atlantis and her galaxy, fondly at first and then with a pressing ache. It hasn't occurred to Rodney, until this morning, that what he does on Earth means just as much as what he does on Pegasus. It's not a reprieve from his life.

They'll have to business casual it up for the rehearsal dinner later, but there are a few hours of freedom yet. From the bottom of his suitcase, Rodney pulls out the Wormhole X-Treme! t-shirt Kaleb gave him as a belated birthday gift.

As it turns out, no one missed them at breakfast, because the house is under siege. Beth and Karen's extended family has converged on the house for late brunch, along with some of John's extended family and a few family friends. John ends up grabbing each of them a plate while Rodney raids the kitchen for coffee, and they eat out in the garden behind the house. There are some kids running around the lawn, but the dry fountain from the other day is out of the way and shaded from the house by some trees.

They're sitting on the rim of the fountain, John on Rodney's right, so Rodney has to work twice as hard not to elbow John while he's trying to eat. Rodney keeps trying to pay attention to the food on his plate—poached eggs in hollandaise sauce, bacon, sausage, fresh fruit, croissant —but he keeps getting distracted by John, who seems totally engrossed in his breakfast for once. John is wearing khakis and his wristband and Rodney's Blue Harvest t-shirt, for no reason Rodney can fathom.

Rodney stares down into the fruit cup on his plate, which is full of strawberries and blueberries and sliced white peaches. It looks delicious. He wants to blow John right then and there, he wants—

"You okay?" John says, looking over.

"Eh," Rodney takes John's empty plate, stacks it beneath his half-full one, and sits them both on the ground. Then he leans over into John's space and rests one hand lightly on John's thigh. "This okay?"

"Everyone's—" John glances back to the house.

"No one's paying attention," Rodney says. "That's not what I asked."

Instead of answering, John leans in and kisses him. Rodney expected John to be more hesitant, the way he's been all week, but no, John's intense and focused, pressing his closed mouth against Rodney's for a long moment before he brushes the tip of his tongue against Rodney's lips and Rodney opens up for him. And he's—Rodney's had it wrong this whole time, too, because he's kissed but he's never been kissed like this, and he had no idea that this was what John was keeping bottled inside, this hunger that has nothing to do with interior decoration at all. John moves one hand up to cup Rodney's jaw, thumb the skin beneath Rodney's ear, and it takes a moment for their bodies to line up right so Rodney doesn't end up with his ass in the fountain. Rodney braces one hand against John's thigh and curves the other one up beneath his too-loose t-shirt. His senses are overloaded with John, John, John, John's scent and taste and all the places they're pressed together, lip and arm and chest and thigh.

Rodney has to pull back for a moment to catch his breath, pressing his forehead against John's. He keeps stroking along John's leg and up his spine; Rodney can't stop touching him. John has one hand woven through Rodney's hair and another supporting him at the waist, and he keeps absently brushing the sliver of flesh just above Rodney's jeans.

"So, I guess that was okay?" Rodney nudges his nose against John's.

"Yeah, I guess," John says, tilting his head down to kiss under Rodney's jaw.

They get about fifteen more minutes in before they're swarmed with small children playing tag and Chrissy says, triumphant, "You're KISSING! I'm telling MY MOM!" which, reason number seven hundred and thirty eight why Rodney is never having kids.

The wedding rehearsal is boring. The actual ceremony is being held on the big lawn behind the house, so mostly there's a lot of standing around and trying to keep the kids from destroying any more of the grass. Everyone remembers their lines, the minister admires the landscaping, and Rodney stands toward the back and tries not to make it too obvious that he's playing sudoku on his phone. John looks about as awkward as he usually does when being forced to participate in local rituals of welcome and thanksgiving. Karen cries, Beth cries, and then Sam cries, which is terrifying. Rodney manages to escape all of the subsequent group hugging.

When they ate brunch in the conservatory on Monday, it seemed spacious, but crammed full of assorted Davenports and a few stray Sheppards, the room feels like it's about to burst at the seams. The wedding party and assorted spouses are all crammed around one long table, with John and Rodney opposite Dave and Beth, leaving John next to one of the interchangeable groomsmen's wives and Rodney next to Karen's husband, an architect named neither Joseph nor Alexander. Sam's wedding guest turns out to be none other than Daniel Jackson, who gives Rodney a friendly wave and spends most of dinner talking to Nancy about the political situation in Egypt. Nancy's husband spends a lot of time toying with his pasta and shooting everyone cheerful smiles.

All too soon, the mushroom-gorgonzola ravioli and steak are gone from Rodney's plate and someone is handing Beth a wireless microphone, because it's time for speeches.

Beth gets to her feet and taps the microphone quickly to check that it's on. "Hello, everyone!" she says. "We're not going to do the thing where we pass the microphone around to everyone, I'm sorry, Aunt Gloria, but I'll let the wedding party have at it, because they did come from far and wide to celebrate with us. Thank you all for being here, and folding cranes for us, and Louise, thank you for bringing the bridal party a gift basket full of waterproof mascara for tomorrow."

Rodney actually listens to what Karen and Sam and Nancy have to say, although he's heard most of it already. Although he'll die before admitting it—okay, that's an exaggeration, Rodney knows from firsthand experience—he's enjoyed hanging out with them all week, and he likes Beth, who has her priorities in the right place when it comes to good food. He's still not sure quite how he feels about Dave, but if Beth likes him, that's a point in Dave's favor.

Karen's husband Rob passes Rodney the microphone, and Rodney hands it over to John without thinking much of it until he sees the frozen expression on John's face. Spontaneously extemporizing to a crowd of strangers about feelings and about his family? This is John's worst nightmare.

It's probably better that Rodney didn't have any time to think about this beforehand, because then he would have gotten worked up and overcome with horror and it would have been like that time he recorded an hour of video to send to Jeannie after he'd been awake for almost two days. He pulls the microphone back, takes deep breath, and starts to speak. "So, I'm John's partner Rodney, and I hadn't met either of you before Saturday, but as you know, Dave, John has never overcome his childhood fear of public speaking so in the spirit of—wedding stuff—I am going to rescue him from the looming terror. Dave, it's clear that you really care about your family, which I can tell by the quality and quantity of coffee available in this house for the past week, and, and, Beth, I appreciate your dedication to cookies. I wish you both the best, and John does, too. Thank you for having us."

Rodney passes the microphone over to groomsman #2, wipes his sweaty palms on his pants, and tries not to hyperventilate.

When he looks over at John, John's staring at him so intently that Rodney has to look away, back to his empty plate. He almost jumps out of his skin when he feels John's hand close over his under the table. John curls his fingers around Rodney's and strokes them with his thumb, his touch both soothing and electrifying. Rodney turns his head toward John and finds John smiling at him, and Rodney thought that by now he'd seen all of John's facial expressions, but this one's new and all his and it's already his favorite.

Dave's standing up now, clearing his throat. "Thanks, everybody," he says, and leans down to kiss Beth's cheek. "Thanks. That's all."

Upstairs, later, John fumbles at the buttons on Rodney's shirt until Rodney gives up and helps him, laughing at him a little but mostly just laughing.

"This is so weird," Rodney says, leaning in for another kiss. "Not bad-weird. Just, weird."

"Shut up," John says, but he doesn't look put off. He shoves Rodney's shirt off his shoulders and kisses his lips quickly before detouring to the skin beneath Rodney's ear, which usually makes Rodney ticklish but right now is just, holy crap, so hot. John bites him there, gently, and leaves a trail of little bites down to Rodney's collarbone before Rodney pulls him back up to kiss his mouth again.

"I like talking," Rodney objects when he comes up for air, fumbles at John's belt buckle. "I like you, too," he says, finally getting the buckle loose and pulling John's belt free.

"Jesus, really?"

"Really." Rodney's not sure exactly what they're talking about at this point, but— "Can I blow you now?"

"You'll have to stop talking," John says, because he's an asshole.

"Hmm," Rodney says, yanking down John's boxers, and he doesn't mind taking a break from talking at all.

Later, John mumbles, "I like you, too," into Rodney's shoulder, like he's hoping Rodney's asleep or losing his hearing in his old age or something.

Rodney pats John's back gently and says, "I know," and then, "Does this mean we can get a dog?"

 

Friday

John looks terrible in golf clothes, but he looks amazing in a suit with a shirt with one or two buttons undone at the top. There are definitely worse times to discover this than when they're about to head downstairs to John's brother's wedding and already late because of the detour to jerk each other off in the shower, but Rodney can't think of one at the moment. John's fidgeting by the door, and Rodney is trying to, you know, pull on his socks faster, but it's hard when he's not giving the task his full attention.

"Stop being so attractive." Rodney leans over and fumbles with the laces on his dress shoes. "It's distracting."

"You—" and John is suddenly up in his personal space, one hand hot against the back of his neck, "You think I'm distracting? Like you're not—"

"I look like a used car salesman," Rodney says, because he does. The suit he's wearing was incredibly expensive a decade ago, but after seven years in the Pegasus galaxy, it doesn't fit all that well: it's too tight in the upper arms and too big in the waist. He should probably have gotten it tailored, but realistically, the fact that he remembered to get it dry-cleaned this week is a minor miracle.

"You don't," John says, sitting down on the bed next to Rodney, and, danger, danger, Will Robinson, because he's left off the terrible cologne and all he smells like is himself and Rodney just wants to tear off John's clothes like John's a romance novel heroine and Rodney is James Bond. Rodney settles for digging his fingers into the mattress to prevent himself from putting them anywhere else, which is fine until John whispers, breath hot against his ear, "Do you know how much I want—how long I've—"

"Tell me." Rodney tries to sound more matter-of-fact and less like he's barely repressing a long nonverbal sigh of sexual frustration.

John takes a deep breath, and says, very low, "I want to take off that terrible suit and I want to suck you off, and then I want to fuck you in this creaky old bed where every single person on this floor will hear what we're doing, and I don't care, I want them to know."

"I didn't think the bed was that creaky last night," Rodney says. "But, okay, I'm not opposed to that general plan. Later."

"Jesus Christ," John says, staring up at the ceiling.

Rodney gets to his feet and straightens his tie in the mirror one last time. "Come on. Before they send Sam after us."

John rolls his eyes. "Fine."

"Once more unto the breach?" Rodney turns around.

"Let's go," John says, and kisses him.