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Vanilla

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Rodney storms out of the house as soon as he hears the car pull up. "Where have you been?"

"Jeez, Meredith, take a pill," Jeannie says, opening the minivan's sliding door. Madison explodes out of the car with all the energy of a short-lived exotic particle, except Rodney's been there for days and she never seems to slow down. She does a few laps around the yard.

"I woke up and everyone was gone," he complains. "And you weren't answering your phone!"

Jeannie leans in to unhook the baby from his car seat. "We went to the mall."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"You were asleep and I didn't figure you'd be up before noon." Jeannie swings the baby onto her hip and grabs her purse. "Oh, shocker, guess I was wrong."

"Uncle Meredith!" Madison hops across the driveway, chocolate smudged and carrying a shopping bag half as big as she is. "I got new shoes!" She does a spastic tap dance, ending with a big flourish to show off her blue sandals with purple and green dragonflies on the toes.

"They're vegan," Jeannie says, that smug I'm-saving-the-world-better-than-you-are grin on her face.

"Great," Rodney says to Madison, "you can eat them if you get hungry."

"Hey, now, tell her how pretty she looks," Sheppard says from the other side of the van.

Rodney actually, embarrassingly, does a double take. "You took Sheppard with you, to the mall?"

"He was very helpful," Jeannie says, kissing Rodney on the cheek as she passes him.

Rodney is instantly suspicious. "What was that for?"

"Nothing," she says cheerily, making him even more suspicious. She snags the diaper bag from Sheppard and heads into the house.

"Me and John got ice cream!" Madison volunteers. "I ate mine in the car and I didn't even spill."

"Ice cream?"

"John got more than me, but that's because he's bigger."

Rodney looks over at Sheppard and sees that he's got a double scoop of something white with black speckles.

"Madison," Jeannie yells out the kitchen window, "come inside and wash your face!"

Madison skips off and Sheppard licks his ice cream cone. "Nice shorts, Meredith."

Rodney looks down at his baggy cargo shorts and bare feet. He was in such a rush to get out of the house he forgot he wasn't wearing any shoes. "It's hot," he offers weakly. "Did you bring me ice cream?"

"Nope, we didn't think you'd be awake."

"Well, I am awake, clearly. You grossly miscalculated and I want ice cream."

Not that he'd ever admit it, but Rodney, having just gotten out of bed five minutes ago, isn't entirely coherent. The terror he'd felt at waking up to an empty house, the same house that Jeannie had once been taken from in the middle of the night, is starting to wane, and, as in the wake of any catastrophe, he finds he's hungry.

Sheppard shrugs. "Sorry."

"That's not fair," Rodney says, watching Sheppard swirl his tongue over his ice cream. "You go to the air-conditioned mall and get ice cream and don't invite me, and, and, while there you turn my own sister against me. I think I --"

"Mmm," Sheppard moans. "This is really good."

Rodney stares, transfixed, as Sheppard briefly sucks the entire top half of the ice cream cone into his mouth. He pulls off with a wet slurp and licks his lips. "You wanna taste?"

"What flavor is it?" Rodney's mouth is watering. There's nothing he wants more right now than a lick of Sheppard's ice cream cone.

"Vanilla."

"Vanilla?"

Sheppard's tongue flicks out. "I like vanilla."

"Vanilla's good," Rodney agrees. "We could share."

"We could, but you hate sharing food," Sheppard says, looking contrite. A dribble of ice cream runs down his fingers and Sheppard chases it with his tongue, holding the cone up and licking the back of his hand.

Rodney's desperate. "I promise not to complain about your germs. Come on, Sheppard, give."

Sheppard smiles at him lazily, slitty-eyed as a cat, and takes another lick, pink tongue dragging up and over the cone's peak.

Rodney might be panting. He can feel the sun on his face, the grass between his toes, the urgent need to grab that ice cream out of Sheppard's hand and run away with it. "I thought you were going to share."

"I don't know," Sheppard says. "I haven't heard the magic word."

"You offered, now you want me to beg? Hey!" Rodney says, finally catching on. "You're doing this on purpose!"

"Doing what?" Sheppard says, his pink, pink tongue lapping at his ice cream.

"You know what," Rodney says. "Stop it."

"I'm just enjoying my ice cream. You should have come with us, gotten one of your own."

"That's it," Rodney says, advancing on him. Sheppard takes a step backwards, but Rodney lunges, tackling him to the ground. They land on the grass, wrestling to gain control of the ice cream cone. The top scoop rolls off into the flower beds, but there's still one scoop left and Rodney pins Sheppard down, grabs his arm, and tries to pry the ice cream out of his hand.

"That's my arm!" Sheppard says, laughing and writhing beneath him.

"I know it's your arm, you imbecile. Give me the ice cream and I'll let you go."

Sheppard gets a handful of Rodney's waistband. "Never gonna happen."

Rodney manages to bend Sheppard's arm up and Sheppard smacks him in the nose with the cone. Rodney seizes Sheppard's hand and swipes his tongue across the ice cream, finally, finally, and it's cold and sweet and the little black speckles are gritty, and it tastes like summer and family barbecues and late nights out on the patio. And then Sheppard, who's laughing so hard he can barely speak, wraps a leg around Rodney in an attempt to flip them over and Rodney has to let go of the ice cream in order to brace himself and somehow the whole thing ends up on the lawn. They both freeze.

"This is why we can't have nice things," Sheppard says sadly.

Rodney stares down at Sheppard, at his teasing eyes and grinning mouth, and grabs him by the head and kisses him. It's over fast and Sheppard doesn't even have the decency to look surprised. "You've got ice cream on your nose," is all he says.

Sheppard's been playing nice with Rodney's family all week -- sleeping on the couch without complaint, watching morning cartoons with Madison, barbecuing soy dogs with Kaleb, going shopping with Jeannie and voluntarily carrying around a diaper bag in public -- he's a big hit with the Millers. It makes Rodney like Sheppard even more, and since Rodney already likes him an embarrassing amount, this is just too good to pass up. He kisses Sheppard again, wet and deep, and Sheppard opens up to him, mouth cool and sweet as ice cream.

They kiss, slow and hot, with long strokes of tongue. Sheppard flips Rodney over, holding him down and kissing him, and Rodney's so far gone he doesn't even care about his grass allergies or the fact they're making out on his sister's front lawn. Sheppard gives him a series of wet, lingering kisses that have Rodney shivering from their heat.

"Get a room!" Jeannie shouts out the kitchen window.

Rodney ignores her, his hands shoved under Sheppard's shirt, palms sweeping over Sheppard's sweaty back. Sheppard licks the tip of Rodney's nose and they roll around on the grass, kissing and grinding against each other.

"Seriously," Jeannie yells, "don't make me turn the hose on you two!"

Rodney sighs into Sheppard's ear. "She'll do it, you know."

"It'd be worth it," Sheppard says, grin pressed to Rodney's neck.

They sneak one last kiss and break apart, Rodney with a tent in his shorts that he hopes the neighbors can't see or someone really will turn the hose on him.

Sheppard licks some ice cream off his chin. "Maybe there's more ice cream in the freezer?"

"My door has a lock," Rodney says.

"Ooh, let's do that one."

Rodney rolls over and Sheppard pulls them both to their feet. They stumble up the porch and into the house, Sheppard snickering as they rebound off a wall. Rodney ducks in and kisses Sheppard's mouth, his sticky chin, the scruffy underside of his jaw. They get tangled up on the stairs when Sheppard's hand creeps up the leg of Rodney's shorts and Rodney gets distracted and has to stop and squeeze Sheppard's ass.

Jeannie appears at the foot of the stairs with a basket of laundry. "It's about time, but can you please get out of my way, I have four more loads of wash to do."

Rodney's brain ticks over and he digs his fingers into Sheppard's hips. "What do you mean it's about time? Did you two plan this?"

"Hey, you kissed me," Sheppard says.

Jeannie starts up the stairs, forcing them to scramble out of the way or be plowed over by her gigantic laundry basket.

"I don't care who kissed who," she says. "Just get your asses behind a closed door. And dinner's at five." She walks past them and into the nursery.

Now Sheppard looks surprised. "Did we just get sent to our room?"

"Yes," Rodney says, pulling Sheppard inside. "Welcome to the family."