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When they leave the San Francisco Bay and take to the skies on their way back to Pegasus, Rodney is angry. Angry, and bitter, and sad. He’s withdrawn, keeping to himself and ignoring anyone and everyone that tries to speak to him.

John had been expecting this from the moment he found out that Keller wasn’t coming, but he hadn’t expected that Rodney’s silent treatment would extend to him.

John lets it go for a while, figures that Rodney will snap out of it eventually. He sure that when the first big scientific geeky thing happens, Rodney will come out of his funk with the glory of discovery and be right back to wanting to watch Star Trek and playing remote control cars with him. He doesn’t.

Rodney does come out of his funk eventually, about two weeks in, but not towards John. He eats breakfast with the team and comes to movie nights, and he even laughs at some things. He ignores John, though.

Teyla, he smiles at. Ronon, he laughs with. John? Stone wall of silence.

*

He lets it go on for about three weeks.

After John witnesses Rodney blathering on and on about something apparently very scientifically and mathematically interesting to a bored and incredibly disinterested Ronon, John decides he’s had enough.

“Hey,” he says, leaning in Rodney’s doorway one morning as he watches Rodney puttering around the room gathering his things together. “I think we need to… Well I don’t, but maybe, did you need to…”

Rodney frowns impatiently at him, crossing his arms. “Yes, what, Colonel, spit it out.”

John lets out an annoyed huff of air. “What the hell is your problem with me?”

Rodney looks for a moment like he may relent, but then his jaw clenches and he goes back to wrapping up computer chords and stuffing things in his overflowing backpack. “What makes you think I have a problem with you,” he asks the floor.

John snorts. “Besides the fact that you barely even look at me? I dunno, McKay, maybe the fact that ever since we got back you’ve barely spared two seconds for me.”

“Well not everything’s about you, Colonel,” Rodney says, in a tone that actually hurts John. A stabbing pain right at his sternum. “Just because you’re an attention whore doesn’t mean I have to play into it.”

John’s mouth falls open. “Attention whore? Rodney, what the hell are you talking about?”

“Busy, Colonel,” Rodney says, and then brushes roughly past John and walks quickly down the hall.

Rodney hasn’t called him John once since they got back. Considering it took Rodney nearly four years to call him by his actual name rather than his title, the sudden retreat stings.

*

“I believe he and Jennifer had a very nasty fight before he made his decision to return with us,” Teyla says over lunch later that week.

“What does that have to do with me,” John asks plaintively. “I didn’t force his hand!” He raises a finger and points. “I very much made it a point to not force his hand!”

Ronon shrugs. “You’re an easy target.”

John grumbles as he stabs his fork into the hashbrowns before him. “Why me and not you?”

“Because I’ll kick his ass,” Ronon says, flashing a decidedly wicked grin.

John slouches down in his chair dejectedly. “Okay, why not Teyla?”

“She will too,” Ronon says, grin widening.

“Perhaps it is easier for him to take it out on you simply because the two of you are so close,” Teyla says sympathetically, throwing a glare at Ronon. “Matters of the heart do not always make sense, but I have noticed that when Rodney is hurt he--”

“Lashes out, yeah, I know,” John says, sighing, moving his food around on his plate. “Still not fair.”

Ronon, mouth still full of potato and ketchup, says “Maybe you should kick his ass.”

A bit of potato flies out of Ronon’s mouth and lands on John’s fork. John drops his fork onto the plate, deciding that he’s done with lunch. “You think?”

Ronon nods but Teyla gives him both a piercing look. “No, I do not think that will solve anything.” She pats John’s hand and gives him a smile. “Just let him know that you are there for him and give him time. I am sure he will soften.”

*

He tries again several days later.

“So listen,” he says, folding his arms on Rodney’s lab table.

Rodney reaches over and yanks the pages out from under John’s arms. “Busy. Leave now.”

Later still, he tries again. “Rodney, look--”

“Nope,” Rodney says, chin jutting up as he brushes past him.

The next day in his office, as he types up handwritten reports, he looks up in time to see Lorne come in wiping furiously at his face with a wet rag. John laughs when he sees the blue mark streaking down the side of Lorne’s face.

“What happened to you,” John asks, pointing at Lorne’s face. “You get into an altercation with a whiteboard?”

“No, got into an altercation with McKay,” Lorne grumbles, sitting down in front of John’s desk. “What the hell did you do to him anyway?”

John frowns, sinking lower in his seat. “What do you mean?”

“I was looking for you so I went to the labs. When I asked McKay where you were he went apoplectic and screamed something about not being your fucking keeper, and winged a blue marker at me.” He points to his face. “Good aim, by the way. You did a good job training him. Any enemies you encounter that are allergic to magic marker are in a world of trouble.”

John scrubbed his hands over his face. “I don’t know what the fuck McKay’s problem with me is. We were fine, and then we came back here. And now it’s like he, I don’t know. Hates me.”

Lorne shrugs. “Maybe it’s the sudden lack of sex?”

John snorts. “Yeah. We need to go on a mission and get him laid.”

“Operation Extract Stick from McKay’s Butt By Judicious Application of Women Parts,” Lorne says, mouth curving on a sly smirk. “You have a go.”

John laughs and decides that actually it’s not a bad idea. The mission part, not the application of women parts bit.

*

The mission goes to hell in a handbasket from the moment Woolsey briefs them on their mission. Rodney fights for twenty minutes with Woolsey on the necessity of him going and only begrudgingly agrees when Woolsey says he understands the people of the planet they were going are known to have many different savory flavors of coffee.

Once there, Rodney makes it a point to do the exact opposite of everything John says. He does this to the point that when it’s time to go home John tells him to, whatever he does, not go back to the jumper.

John corners Rodney in the labs after the mission debriefing, and glares at him. “If you want off the team, fine. You’re off.”

“What,” Rodney crows, turning to face him and crossing his arms. “Excuse me? You’re kicking me off the team?”

“No, McKay, I’m not kicking you off the team,” John says, feeling exhausted and pissed and something very near depressed. “But obviously you have an issue with me that you won’t discuss with me, so I can’t fix it. And being that I need the men on my team to listen to what I am saying so that we don’t, I don’t know, all get thrown in jail because someone disobeyed a direct order about not looking the chieftain directly in the eyes -- I thought maybe the prudent thing to do would be to offer you the ability to step down from the team.”

Rodney at least has the decency to look properly guilty. “It was a stupid rule,” he says, looking down.

John glares at him. “So you decided to protest it? Teyla expressly told us not to. I guess I shouldn’t have reiterated it, if I hadn’t maybe you wouldn’t have done it just to spite me.”

“I didn’t do it to spite you,” Rodney says, but his tone says he’s lying and John wouldn’t have believed him even if it hadn’t.

“Do you want off the team or not,” John asks, clasping his hands behind his back.

“No,” Rodney says.

It’s a relief, but it also just annoys John even more. Instead of asking Rodney for the fourteen millionth time what the hell is wrong with him, John simply turns around and walks away.

*

John is playing Sudoku in his office when his instant messenger chimes.

rmckay: You in or you just forgot to turn it off as per usual?
jshep: in
rmckay: I owe you an apology. I'm sorry for my behavior on the mission.
jshep: thank you
rmckay: I shouldn't have challenged the chieftain, it's just some of these rules really piss me off, like he thinks he's better than everyone how dare you meet his eyes. As if he even has half of my intelligence, if anyone is better than anyone it's me by virtue of the fact that I don't make my minions give me foot massages.
jshep: didn't miko do that once?
rmckay: Ok yes but she volunteered
jshep: so that's it? you just want to apologize for how you behaved on the mission?
rmckay: Yes, that's all I had to say.
jshep: fine. accepted.
rmckay: Did you have more?
jshep: thought we did, guess I was mistaken
rmckay: Stop being cryptic Sheppard and just say what you want to say.
jshep: you've been a massive dick to me since we got back here. thought maybe you'd apologize to me and let me in on why that is, but I apparently overestimated our friendship.
rmckay: Well now you're overstating things.
jshep: what have I overstated?
rmckay: Of course we're still friends, Sheppard, it's just a difficult time for me right now.
jshep: that's fine, mckay, you know I'm here for you, I get it, you miss Jennifer, but in the mean time if you could maybe act like you don't fucking hate me maybe I'd stop feeling like shit every time you walk in a room.
rmckay: Have I been treating you that badly?
jshep: this is the longest, most pleasant conversation we've had since getting back. and it's over im, not even in person.
rmckay: Did I just talk to you yesterday about the thing with Zelenka?
jshep: that was ronon.
rmckay: Oh. Well I didn't realize.
jshep: whatever mckay, just stop being an asshole.
rmckay: Listen, I can't tell you yet, okay? I'm not. I haven't really figured it out properly.
jshep: whatever. gotta go.
jshep is no longer available

*

All told, it takes Rodney a month to finally tell John what’s going on.

He shows up at John’s with beer, feet shuffling as he jerks a thumb over his shoulder towards the direction of the South Pier. “You wanna… it’s been a while.”

John contemplates saying no, wishes that for once they were back on Earth just so he could have the satisfaction of slamming his door in Rodney’s face.

Looking at Rodney’s shifty eyes and contrite expression, he relents. “Sure,” he says, reaching back and grabbing a jacket. He looks at Rodney’s short sleeved shirt and grabs a flannel shirt as well, tossing it at him. “Kinda brisk tonight.”

The walk to the pier and their first two beer are shared in an awkward kind of silence. John swings his legs over the edge of the pier and downs the last three sips of his beer, waiting for Rodney to speak first. John’s made all the ‘first moves’ he’s going to.

As he’s opening his third, Rodney begins to speak.

“I could have had a good life there. Been happy,” Rodney says, staring out over the water. John watches his profile for a moment and then turns to face the same way. “With Jennifer. We were happy. I think we could have been happy for a long time together.”

John stares up at the two moons and remains silent, waiting for this to go somewhere that means something to him. Somewhere that explains why John has been Enemy Number One since they returned.

“If I’d stayed on Earth, I could have been happy, I think. I would have wondered, of course. Missed it here. But I would have made it work there. Gotten a good job, lots of money. Been with Jennifer.” He pauses, laughing. “Ya know, when I proposed to Katie-- or, rather, when I intended to propose to her-- it was because Jeannie kept asking me when I was going to. Saying I probably wouldn’t find anyone better. Saying that if I wanted kids, I should lock her up now.”

John grimaced. “That’s fucked, McKay.”

Rodney looks at him, face guarded. “That she said it or that it convinced me?”

John shrugs. “Little of both.”

“After it all blew up in my face I told Jeannie, and she said she wasn’t so much saying that I couldn’t do better as she was trying to make me realize that I could,” Rodney says, snorting. “In her backwards, Psychology 101, Jeannie kind of way she was presenting me with a timeline to figure out whether or not Katie was really what I wanted.”

John smirked. “Or, she was just fucking with you because it’s fun.”

“Mostly that, yes, I think,” Rodney says, chuckling lightly and looking down. “But with Jennifer it was different. I didn’t want to marry her because I couldn’t find anyone else, I wanted to marry her because I didn’t want her to. It… That’s still not why you’re supposed to marry someone is it?”

“I think you’re supposed to marry someone because you love them,” John says. “I loved Nancy. Thought I wanted to spend forever with her.” He barks out a laugh. “Forever turned out to be less than a year, but.”

He frowns, staring down at his beer and resisting the urge to start asking questions. Marriage? You were already thinking marriage with Keller? Since when? Why? Did you ask her? Where? How? What did she say? Did you break it off, or is she waiting for you?

Why haven’t you talked to me about this?

“What I’m saying,” John says finally, “is I don’t think there’s only one reason to get married, or, a right reason, or whatever. Just, do you want to or not. Is this the person you want to be with forever?”

“Forever is too abstract of a concept,” Rodney says quietly. “Forever. Ha. I don’t even know what I’ll be doing next month, much less a decade from now.”

“I think a marriage license should be like a fishing license,” John says with a sardonic grin. “Something you renew every year. Or don’t. Still feel like being married to me? No? Okay then, we’ll just let the license expire.”

Rodney looks at him. “That’s depressing.”

John smiles sadly. “Less depressing than getting divorced and hearing that she married someone else four months later. And oh yeah, she was seeing him before you got divorced.”

“Hm,” Rodney hums, finishing his beer and reaching for another. “The point is, when I thought about a future with her, I wasn’t uncertain. I knew. We’d be happy. We’d maybe have kids. I’d have a good life. I’d be able to start publishing again. I’d be recognized for the genius I am instead of everyone thinking I’m a hermit.”

John snorts. “I’m surprised you didn’t stay for that alone.”

“Yeah,” Rodney says wonderingly. “Me too. It was always what I wanted, exactly what I thought my life would be, right up until I learned about the stargate. Even after that, I still thought… eventually. Eventually that’s what my life will be.”

John steals himself because he can feel it in the air. This tension that’s been around Rodney since they got back, it’s about to be unleashed. He’s not so sure he wants to know anymore. Still, he asks, “So why are you here?”

“You,” Rodney says, and it’s not the recrimination John had been expecting. Just a statement of fact. “The fact of the matter was the choice came down to me staying and having her and being published and… all of the things I’d always envisioned my life eventually being, or… You.”

John swallows convulsively, because he’d never expected the answer to be that. He’d never expected the answer to be him. “Rodney.”

“You, who taught me that family is what you make it, that team is important,” Rodney says, looking back out over the ocean. “That people are more important than facts, statistics; that reason doesn’t compare to community.”

John looks at him and sees his mouth twist in a semblance of a smile. He stares at Rodney, feeling speechless and thrown and shocked to his core. “McKay.”

“To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them. I’ve stood with you for five years, John,” Rodney says softly. “Me staying on Earth while you came back here felt too much like abandonment.”

“You mean us,” John says, forcing his voice out. “You’ve stood with us.”

Rodney shakes his head. “That’s what I told her, that it was you, and Ronon, and Teyla. It felt like lie though, and I’ve never lied to you before and I won’t start now,” he says, looking at him. “Which isn’t to say that I don’t feel very strongly for them as well, but… You were the deciding factor.”

John smiles and ducks his head to hide it. “Rodney, I don’t know what to say.” He takes a deep breath and tries to figure out the right word to convey what he’s feeling. “Jesus,” he says, when no other word fits.

“So I suppose I was angry at your very existence,” Rodney continues, laughing to himself. “That, were it not for you, I would be happy and perhaps married. And while I don’t regret following you back here, I do regret not also having that.”

“Damnit, Rodney,” John says, hand clenching over his bottle of beer. “I do want you to be happy, you know that right? I wanted you to come back, of course I wanted you to come back with me. But… I would have understood.”

Rodney snorts and looks at him. “You would’ve been pissed.”

John laughs and shrugs. “Yeah, probably. But I would have worked on understanding.”

“I also regret the absence of regular sex,” Rodney says morosely, sighing. “I really regret that.”

John looks at him, this man that’s stood by him through thick and thin for the past five years, who gave up a lifetime of happiness to follow him into a warzone, and comes to a decision.

“Not necessarily,” he says.

Rodney looks at him and arches an eyebrow, smirking. “Oh, what, you’re offering?”

John shrugs a shoulder and remains silent.

“Wait,” Rodney says, fingers fumbling his beer as it sloshes onto his pants. “Wait, really?”

John grins and relaxes, leaning back on his elbows and looking up at the sky. “Don’t play dumb, McKay. A part of you had to know.”

“I… hoped,” Rodney says, flustered. “We’re… we’re talking about the same thing here right?”

“A man doesn’t follow another man to another galaxy if he’s not thinking there’s at least the slight possibility for blow jobs,” John says, and laughs at Rodney’s wide eyes.

Rodney blinks and shakes his head. “I was expecting to have to woo you.”

“You suck at wooing, McKay,” John says, sitting up and leaning closer to him. “Besides, you’ve been wooing in your stupid caveman hit me over the head with a four-by-four and insult me way for five years. Surprise: You got me.”

Rodney smiles, slow and wide. “I can’t believe this is working out so well for me.”

John smiles back, just as wide. “I can’t believe you gave up publishing for me.”

Rodney leans forward and says, “Me neither.”

John captures his face in his hands, pressing his lips to Rodney’s in a sweet, slow kiss. He opens his mouth and revels in the way Rodney’s immediately opens as well, giving it up for him so easily, without fuss. When their tongues touch John moans into Rodney’s mouth and his fingers glide into Rodney’s hair.

“So worth it,” Rodney says breathlessly against John’s lips a few moments later.

“I promise you,” John whispers back. “I’ll make sure it is.”