Sometimes, in the course of summer evenings, the friends would take a stroll together in the Wild Wood, now successfully tamed as far as they were concerned. . . . The mother-weasels would. . . say, pointing, 'Look, baby. There goes the great Mr Toad! And that's the gallant Water Rat, a terrible fighter, walking along o'him! And yonder comes the famous Mr Mole. . . . "
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
Following the big shake-up at the SGC when Atlantis returned to Pegasus, John stayed with Jennifer and Rodney in their Colorado Springs house for two months before Rodney cornered him and forced him to admit that he'd actually moved in.
John made some stupid and embarrassed-sounding comments about finding another place.
Rodney told him to shut up and start pulling his own weight.
"Which," he said, "to clarify, means do all the yardwork." Jennifer was curled up in the recliner with one of John's fat paperback novels, but she was watching to make sure Rodney didn't go too far; plus the look on John's face was hilarious. "You seem like someone who knows his way around a lawnmower," Rodney concluded airily, waving a dismissal at John over his shoulder.
It turned out John had never mowed a lawn in his life, but Jennifer ran him through the basics the next Saturday morning. He caught on fast. Jennifer put his name on the Job Wheel, assigning him meals to cook and bathroom-cleaning duty along with the mowing. John started contributing a third of the mortgage payment, instead of awkwardly trying to give Rodney money that Rodney always refused. He painted his room a rusty red and moved in boxes of his stuff.
John and Jennifer threw a Superbowl party, inviting pretty much everyone at the SGC. Jennifer and Rodney attended the annual convention for Xenopharmacology, Rodney streaming video of Jennifer's award speech from his seat. Rodney and John arranged their schedules so that two of their five annual months on Atlantis overlapped.
Jennifer enjoyed having three months alone with Rodney and being the focus of his intensity. But to be honest, by the end of three months Rodney sometimes got to be too much. When John came back home, to Earth, to their house, he provided the kind of respite Jennifer hadn't even realized she needed.
"It's the state fair," John said, his first Saturday back. He found Rodney's jacket under the sofa and tossed it at him without even looking to see if Rodney made the catch. "Get your ass in the car."
"I didn't miss you at all," Rodney snapped as he followed Jennifer out the door. He bitched the whole fifty-minute drive down to the fairgrounds, but John had his sunglasses on and the windows rolled down, and looked almost relaxed.
When they arrived, John bought a whole stack of ticket strips and started seducing Rodney onto the rides with increasingly bad pseudo-explanations of the physics involved. John put Jennifer in charge of the camera, and she amused herself by staying on the sidelines and taking horrible pictures of Rodney and John on the Tilt-a-Whirl and the roller coaster and the pirate ship and -- when John lost a vicious, heated game of rock scissors paper -- the merry-go-round.
When they finally staggered up to the Gravitron, the lights bright as the sun went down, John said, low and lazy and calculated perfectly to grate on Rodney's last nerve, "And this demonstrates the Newtonian principle of getting stuck to the wall with four gravities of, of suction. Also inertia. Or something."
Rodney concurred with a nod, manfully not baring his teeth, and added, "Also the quantum probability of having your vomit stick to your face," as he handed a whole strip of tickets to the attendant with instructions not to let John off the ride until they were all used up.
"You're so mean," Jennifer said, finding it impossible to get a good picture in the dark with John flashing by at twenty-four revolutions per minute.
"That would be why he's laughing," Rodney said, and put his arm around her waist. "We should have fed him first."
When John staggered down the stairs after his fourth spin, Rodney and Jennifer had to physically steer him towards the hot dog place Rodney had seen earlier. John was not entirely in control of his ability to stand upright.
"This is the best hot dog ever," Rodney said through a disgusting mouthful. He held his across the table, right in John's face. John winced back from the mustard relish ketchup meat and shook his head. "You've been spoiled if not ruined by inertial dampeners. Can I have your onion rings?"
"Only if we all go on the Ferris wheel next," John said. Rodney shrugged and John shoved the cardboard container over. Jennifer snagged two rings quickly; they had a way of disappearing.
When they got into line, Rodney discussed all the possible ways mechanical failure could result in their horrible deaths. Ten people away from the front of the line, interrupting Rodney's discussion of how improper maintenance of the gears could result in disaster, John said in a carrying whisper, "You have your tools, right?"
The teenaged girl in front of them squeaked and pulled her boyfriend out of line. Jennifer barely managed to hold back her laughter until the kids were out of earshot.
In the gondola, Rodney glared at John and accused him of being one very cracked nut. John just grinned and dropped his head back, watching the lights and the faint, washed-out stars.
Before heading back to Colorado Springs, John and Rodney had a fierce competition to win the ugliest stuffed animal at a sharpshooting game. Jennifer got a great picture of John eye-to-eye with a purple octopus. Heading home, she curled up to sleep on the backseat, and let whatever never-ending argument John and Rodney were having wash over her.
Jennifer would be the first to admit that she'd never planned on a life that looked like this, but it worked. It worked so well that first one year, then another, then a third flowed by before she and Rodney finally had a talk about John.
Jennifer came home from work one day to find Rodney sitting on the couch with John sleeping on his shoulder. Rodney was typing one-handed and half-watching a show about dinosaurs. He made some desperate gestures that Jennifer interpreted as a cry for help. She kicked off her shoes at the front door, kissed Rodney on the head, put her bag away, and changed into yoga pants before settling down on John's other side with the latest Journal of AstroAnatomy. Rodney shoved John over to slump on her instead and made for the bathroom -- after giving Jennifer a glare of death first, of course.
Jennifer changed the channel to ESPN and had college basketball on when John woke up. She felt him stir and patted his shoulder awkwardly as he shifted and stretched.
"Hard day?" she asked, and then winced when Rodney stuck his head out from the kitchen and pulled his finger dramatically across his throat. She patted some more. "It's almost suppertime."
John sucked in a breath and sat up, straightening and then leaning forward, elbows on his knees and his head hanging down.
Jennifer shifted forward to the edge of the cushion and put her arm John's shoulders. Not tugging him closer, not squeezing him, just letting him know that she was there.
"Set the table if you're up," Rodney yelled. "I've only done everything else, all by myself."
"You're a real martyr, McKay," John said, but he shoved to his feet looking marginally less wrecked.
Nothing unusual came up over supper, but John excused himself to his room after washing up. Jennifer followed Rodney upstairs.
"So what happened to John?" she asked, crossing her arms. Despite all three of them working at the Mountain while on Earth, medical, military, and scientific gossip for some reason tended not to overlap.
Rodney flopped down on the bed and patted the comforter. Jennifer sat where indicated, and Rodney tugged her into a half-embrace, half-snuggle.
"Teyla's pregnant again," Rodney said. "We just heard in today's databurst. And of course Jeannie just had her second, and Walter the chevron guy got engaged, there's going to be a party, and Vala's on the outs with Jackson this week so she sat in John's lap all through lunch, apparently. And wiggled."
"So?" Jennifer said. She was a little wistful hearing about Teyla herself. She and Rodney had decided not to have children. She knew they'd made the right decision, for them, but so many people she knew now were going down that other road.
"So all of that, for John, is a crappy day full of careless people asking him prurient questions about marriage and kids and girlfriends, or boyfriends in the case of Vala when she didn't get the rise out of John she wanted. Although she at least realized she'd overstepped and bought him a Rainbow Ice to make up for it."
"You don't think he's kind of lonely?" Jennifer asked, trying to think of what was in John's best interest and not how lonely she'd be if he moved on.
Rodney shook his head. "No. He isn't." There was an unspoken he has us that went at the end of that, Jennifer thought, which Rodney had censored because it sounded too cheesy and melodramatic. Even though it was true.
Jennifer scratched Rodney's stomach idly and said, "Do you think he needs space, or should I go break out the Scrabble board?"
"I hate playing Scrabble with you," Rodney said, which Jennifer took as a yes. "You always bludgeon us with bizarre medical terminology."
"John won the last game with lynx," Jennifer said. "I need to bring him down."
Rodney rolled to lean over Jennifer and kissed her, hands stroking over her hair. "I love you," he said, "to the point where even your bizarre competitive streak is adorable."
Jennifer was the one who brought it up midway through the game. She'd waited until John had that smug look he got when he had good letters. "Look, John," she said. John's expression went momentarily horrified before he shut it down to bland. "You know you're part of this family, right?" Jennifer tried for a non-threatening smile. "I mean, Rodney, and me, and you -- do you ever want more?"
John stared down at his tiles, looking ill. "Is that some kind of a proposition?" he asked carefully. "Or do you want me to move out?"
Jennifer's stomach dropped. She wondered if John would sleep with them, if he thought that was the price he had to pay for acceptance.
"It's kind of completely the opposite," Jennifer said, and looked at Rodney. He obviously wished he was somewhere else, but failing miraculous escape, was willing to let Jennifer struggle to find the right words herself. "I mean, of course we want you to stay, but not because you're the guy who lives in the guest room, but because this --" she waved around the table -- "is pretty much a working marriage of three people. You belong," she added. John still didn't look up, but his ears turned red.
Rodney cleared his throat and gestured towards John with the back of his hand. "You've already made yourself invaluable in yardwork alone, and can we please move on with the game? I'll give you a vowel," he said earnestly to Jennifer. "Two."
Jennifer snorted. "John?"
John pushed back his chair at an angle. "I don't," he said, and swallowed, cleared his throat. "I don't want to come between you, or be --" he made an abortive clenching gesture.
Rodney smirked. "Finish your sentences."
"This is weird," John said, going for the easy out, and gave Rodney a sullen, resentful look. Jennifer supposed that John must have figured out Rodney'd been talking about him.
"You're weird," Rodney shot back. "But bizarrely, we like having you around."
Jennifer figured in for a penny, in for a pound. "We've been together three years now. My father sends you Christmas presents. Rodney threw up on you when he had food poisoning." She took a breath. "Are you happy? Is there anything that you want to change?"
"Besides the gutters on the garage?" John muttered, slouching.
"Sex?" Rodney suggested, and John and Jennifer flinched simultaneously. "What? That's the elephant in the room that we're not talking about, right?"
"Trust me, Rodney," John said, and now his whole face had gone red. "Having sex is the last thing I want."
"Oh, yes," Rodney agreed, sarcastic but obviously trying to deflect John from what he'd just said, because John had not said sex with you. "You never see it coming, do you?" He picked four letters up and spelled quoit off of Jennifer's prion.
"Not your turn and not a word," John said reflexively. Jennifer grinned and handed him her electronic dictionary.
For John's fourth birthday after moving in, Jennifer and Rodney gave him a ring.
"Um," John said, staring into the box as if it might bite him. Rodney smacked him in the head. John was too paralyzed with shock to duck, but he rubbed his head and glared and said, "Ow," as he reached across the table blindly to grab the wine bottle. "Maybe we should have too much to drink," he said. His voice tried for wry humor but came out cracked and raw.
Jennifer lifted the wine away deftly and refilled all three glasses. They toasted John, and Atlantis, and old friends, until Rodney slapped his palms on his knees and said loudly, "No more talking, let's move on to cake."
Jennifer sat up straight, blinked her eyes into focus, and got to her feet with a fluid ease that would have sent her stumbling if not for John's hand on her elbow.
"Thanks," she said, and gave John a conspiratorial grin. "I got that carrot cake from the place over on Main."
"Oh, God, not again," Rodney grumbled. "Don't even cut me a piece. Do we have any ice cream?"
"You'll have cake and like it," Jennifer said, but she brushed a caress over his cheek with her palm as she headed into the kitchen to grab the cake box.
Rodney kicked at John's boot under the table. "Vegetables should never be in cakes, it's just wrong."
John finished his wine and raised an eyebrow, moving his foot out of range. Jennifer gave him the first big slice of cake, one decorated with a race car and a helicopter and a hammerhead shark.
"I wish," John said, picking up the shark and staring into its beady sugar eyes. "Sometimes. I could. Feel, you know, be. . . normal."
"Screw normal," Jennifer said, overloud, and Rodney and John both turned to stare at her. She put the knife down hastily. "It's overrated. We like you just as you are, and you put up with us somehow."
"Not a hardship," John said, and bit the shark neatly in two. The ring fit him perfectly, and it looked right, Jennifer thought, for all that it was four years late.
One morning when John was heading out to the Home Depot, list in hand, he dropped a kiss on Jennifer's cheek as he passed her. Rodney was seated at the table communing with caffeine, and John ducked to give Rodney a kiss as well, at the top of his forehead.
When he straightened, Jennifer caught his eye. She gave him a smile and raised an eyebrow.
John pointed at her. "That's as far as I'm prepared to go."
"But yet we love you anyway," Rodney said, not even looking up from his newspaper and coffee. "Don't forget the -- you know. Things."
"Sure, Rodney," John said. He pulled on his ugly Red Sox cap as he walked out the door, but he couldn't hide the grin that stretched ear to ear.