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The Crooked Path

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A Few Days in May

Rodney didn't say it aloud, he could behave occasionally, but he certainly thought it. Did anyone really need a front door that pretentious? The woman who answered, finally, was—oh, good lord—a maid.

"Yes?" she said in a suspicious tone.

Rodney didn't believe they got a lot of magazine salesmen out here in the upper class rural splendor of horse country, so she probably thought he was a journalist. Well, they'd be getting used to that soon enough. "John Sheppard," Rodney said.

"And you are?" She sounded even more suspicious.

"Aside from still standing on the stoop? Dr. Rodney McKay. Now is Sheppard here or not?"

A quiet voice floated out from the murky depths of the house. The scowling maid was quickly replaced by a woman about his age, graceful looking in a summer dress and short dark hair. She offered a cool smile and said, "I am Karen Sheppard."

"Yes, yes, lovely. I'm attempting to find John Sheppard; is he here?"

"John doesn't get many visitors ah, Doctor?"

Rodney reminded himself he couldn't sigh dramatically or sit down on the doorstep and scream. "Of course not, he's too busy being heroically stoic, or is it stoically heroic? You can't keep that up with a steady stream of friends now can you?" Rodney sighed dramatically. "I am Doctor Rodney McKay. I used to work with Col– er, John, so once more—is he here?" Rodney swore that cool smile was masking genuine amusement, which was a hell of a lot better than the pursed lipped disapproval he usually got from women.

"Yes," Karen said stepping back and finally, finally letting Rodney into the house. "It's such a lovely spring day, he's in the garden. I had hopped the sun and fresh air might do him some good."

"Christ, didn't I see that on Masterpiece Theater once?" Rodney tromped through the house, noticing a lot of grey.

Karen laughed, a lovely light sound, and pushed open a wide set of French doors that overlooked a manicured lawn surrounded by perfect gardens blooming in soft spring colors. "Now, now, Doctor I'll have you know that I did my Master's thesis on Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen."

"Oh God, another English Major."

"That's right, Rodney, it's a plot to keep you constantly annoyed. English Majors behind every bush." The voice emanated from a high backed chair in the middle of the lawn. John's head appeared around the back of the chair, a grin flashing under the black discs of his sunglasses.

"It's remarkably effective," Rodney said, a smile spreading over his own face that he was sure was remarkably goofy looking.

John was sitting beside a small table that held a large hardcover book and a laptop, both closed. Rodney dropped into the chair opposite him, staring frankly at his left leg that was propped up on a padded bench. The livid scar started at mid-calf, ran up beside the knee and twisted around to the front of his thigh and disappeared under the leg of his shorts.

"You look like shit, McKay," John said cheerfully.

"Yeah, jet lag mostly." Rodney tried for a smile again.

"Perhaps I could bring you some refreshments, Doctor, John? Since we're pretending it's summer, I could find some lemonade." Karen smiled a little more warmly at Rodney.

John grinned again as Rodney huffed at her, "Just met me and already trying to kill me." Rodney waved off Karen's attempt to reply. "Sorry, sorry. Allergic to citrus, but coffee would be fantastic."

"You really do look like crap, McKay," John said when Karen had returned to the house. "What are you doing here anyway?" John tossed his sunglasses on the table, and Rodney could see the tightness of pain lines around his eyes.

"Would you believe I was in the neighborhood and just decided to drop by?" Rodney asked.

"No, I wouldn't."

"It's true actually, or at least the next door neighbor of true. I have a meeting in Washington, well several likely, and I decided to just drop by. This way you couldn't tell me not to come."

John turned away, ostensibly to watch the bees buzzing around some flowers. Rodney took an experimental sniff to see if any sneezing was imminent. "So is this just jet lag, or something more?" John asked.

"Yeah, um. I didn't just beam down if that's what you mean. I've been on Earth for a while, Nevada and the Mountain both." Rodney flinched away from the frown John turned on him.

"A while? How long's a while?"

"Couple of months. I've been reorganizing the research on Ancient tech. They were all over the place—no discipline—and no clear focus on the right priorities. They needed someone to kick their asses into gear and I—I wanted some time away from the pressure cooker. I was losing the ability to focus on one thing for very long, always jumping from one thing to another, constant interruptions–"

"Lose the ability to use the phone too?" John said with another frown.

"Yes, yes, okay. I just really wanted some time to think things over, get some perspective, and you know how I can just–"

"Get lost in your work?"

"Yeah." Rodney smiled happily at Karen as she came into view with an entire carafe of coffee and proper sized cups.

John asked her to join them and promised to keep Rodney civil when she tried to demur. Rodney glared at him, suspecting he was using Karen to avoid the host of subjects they couldn't discuss in front of her. Rodney savored the coffee for a moment, not as strong as he liked it, but still good, and then lifted his chin and said, "So, now that we've determined I look like an overworked scientist, how about you? That looks as horrifying as it did the last time I saw it." Rodney waved at John's leg. Karen visibly startled at his bluntness, but sipped her coffee quietly and said nothing.

"It's fine." John looked away.

"Riiiight," Rodney sneered. "Looks fantastic. Have you gained any mobility at all?"

"Rodney," John drawled.

Rodney kicked him under the table, not very hard, but Karen's eyes widened in shock. "Save it for the civilians; the stoic hero act never did anything for me. So are you sticking with the Air Force doctors, or have you found an actual qualified professional—or as qualified as they come anyway?"

"It's complicated," John muttered.

"Oh, okay. I'll just drop the subject then. You wouldn't want to tell me the truth anyway. I mean really, I'm clearly so fragile I'd dry up and blow away at a little hard news, so–"

"Fine, fine, McKay. Christ, just—It's complicated because my medical records are mostly classified. Most of the doctors at the VA hospitals don't have clearance."

"Are you kidding me? No of course you're not. Oh my God, that's twelve types of insane." Rodney knew he was shouting; he just didn't care. "Have you found a specialist who can do something more than those military hacks?"

"Yeah, Karen actually found a guy at Johns Hopkins. I had an appointment, but he said he'd need some clearer idea of the form of the injury to do much good. He was very confused by the nerve damage, so…"

Rodney slammed his coffee cup down and dug his cell phone out of his pant's pocket. He flashed Karen a feral smile and reminded himself to tell her she was clearly not a moron when he got the time. He poked viciously at the buttons on the phone while John looked on warily.

"O'Neill," he yelled into the phone when a minion finally answered. "It's to whom not who—oh never mind, Dr. Rodney McKay is who you are speaking to, and I want O'Neill on the line now."

John's eyebrows had climbed up to disappear in his bangs. Rodney would have to remember to tell him he needed a haircut too. "Yes, I know exactly how busy the General is today. Exactly. Do you understand me? I want him on this line immediately. If you don't go and get him I will make your life so incredibly miserable… Yes, I know I'm on the damn list; that's what I'm… Yes, I'll hold."

Rodney figured John and Karen could hear Jack O'Neill's bellow from across the table. "What the hell do you want, McKay? A little busy here."

"My heart bleeds, General. I'll tell you what I want." Rodney grinned, wishing he could see O'Neill's face. "I want to accept your lovely job offer."

"And you picked now to tell me?" Jack was still yelling.

"Yes, now. I have one condition."

"Okay," Jack said cautiously.

"John Sheppard's medical records. I want the full version—not one fucking black mark or missing page sent to–" Rodney snapped his fingers.

"Dr. Adnan Gupta, Johns Hopkins," Karen supplied quickly.

"Dr. Gupta, Johns Hopkins. Get him whatever clearance you need and get it done yesterday. Do that, and I'm in."

"Should be possible," O'Neill said.

"Not should, is. Oh yeah, O'Neill, one more thing—I want a really, really nice office. You can consider it an apology for making me blackmail this out of you." Rodney stabbed the disconnect button and resisted the impulse to throw the phone across the lawn. "This is America, you must have guns all over this house. I really, really want to shoot something right now."

"Rodney," John said quietly. "Jesus, you didn't have to do that."

"I know that, you moron. I could have just hacked the ah, relevant Military system, probably from that laptop right there. This was easier; I had already decided to take the job anyway."

"So what job is that?" John was suspicious.

"Um, actually I don't think I'm allowed to tell you—oh who's that then?" Rodney figured the dark-haired man in the suit crossing the lawn had to be Dave Sheppard.

Karen rose to go meet her husband, offering him a smile tinged with worry. She walked him back to their table and made the introductions, not commenting on what had to be a surprise appearance in the middle of the afternoon.

"Weird day," Dave said, sitting down with them. "I gave up on accomplishing anything after the tenth person called with rumors about some big government announcement that's supposed to be made tonight."

Rodney tried to look blank; John didn't seem to be buying it.

"Some of these rumors you wouldn't believe," Dave said.

"Oh, I just might," John answered him, never taking his eyes off Rodney.

"Karen, I think we should cancel our dinner reservations and eat in tonight. Dr. McKay, you're welcome to join us of course." Dave rose and drew his wife up with him.

"Oh, he'd be delighted wouldn't you, Rodney?" John was using his obey or else voice.

"Sure, sure, just no citrus and it'll be great."

"Rodney," John said, when Dave and Karen had disappeared into the house.

"Yes, yes fine. I'm not supposed to tell anyone, as if that's going to stop me. O'Neill offered me a job as scientific liaison to industry for the declassification of Asgard and Ancient tech."

"Declassification? That's the announcement—wow thanks for the heads up, Rodney. I get, what, a few hours to prepare?"

"Not my call," Rodney said sharply. He was not taking the blame for that one. "That's been the subject of much debate, from what I've gathered. The final decision was to not tell any former personnel about the pending announcement for security reasons. They've had a hell of a time keeping a lid on things as it is."

"How far is this going? The Gate program, Atlantis, everything?" John demanded.

"Please, you know these people. They haven't got the guts for the whole deal. Nothing about Atlantis specifically, but all Atlantis personnel are going to receive permission to tell their families they are stationed off-world, just not how far off. The gate, yes; the Goa'uld, yes; the Ori, yes up to a point. The Asgard, yes; but the Wraith and the Replicators, both no. The decision has been made to keep the concept of Ascension itself classified. They will explain the Ancients only as the now extinct race that built the gates. The full scale of the populations of humans on other worlds is going to be underplayed, for whatever good that will do. The whole thing will blow wide open within months, I figure."

"So, I'll be able to actually give my family an idea of where I've been, and how this," John waved at his leg, "happened. Wait, what about our MIAs and KIAs? Are we coming clean with the families on that?"

Rodney shook his head, noticing the use of we in that question. "There's a new department at Homeworld Security that's supposed to be reviewing cases and making decisions. It's a scary-large number when you count the entire Gate program and Atlantis, and I don't get the impression it's anyone's top priority; you know how it is. To answer your other question, I would worry more about what you tell your brother about alien technology than what you tell him about how you got injured. There is a whole host of suits running around Homeworld worrying about tech secrets getting out where and when they don't want them to."

"And you're going to join them? I never thought you'd leave Atlantis, Rodney, not for a desk job."

"Well, declassification changes everything. Atlantis will be flooded with scientists, young, bright scientists. I think a nice office in DC and regular contact with all the researchers working with Ancient tech will give me the chance to get things published first. They don't just give you Nobels if you ask nicely, you know."

"All for the Nobel, huh?" John said and smiled his easy smile, the one Rodney didn't trust.

"Absolutely. Look, you don't want your brother's company the subject of Homeworld scrutiny. He is, however indirectly, in the energy business. Don't mention naquadah reactors or ZPMs, but feel free to tell him an Alien weapon fried your nerve cells and caused the muscle degeneration."

"Okay, I get you. Man, this is going to get weird."

"Yes, and just as soon as someone starts leaking personnel lists and the reporters start knocking, we'll all be in it neck deep. Just sic that Cerberus of a maid on them, and you'll be fine."

"Sure, sure, easy." John looked concerned.

"Look, it's getting colder out here. Should you be going in?"

"Yeah, likely."

"Okay, me here—not even going to try to do subtle. Can you walk on your own?"

"Usually," John picked up a cane that was hiding under his chair and waved it. "Sometimes when I'm tired it's harder. Stairs are a bitch."

Rodney got up and walked around the chair to John's good side and held out his hand. John gripped his forearm, and Rodney reciprocated and pulled him upright.

"I always forget how strong you are," John said.

"Yes well, right now I wish I had Ronon with me." Rodney slipped his arm around John's waist and John slung his arm around Rodney's shoulders and they hobbled awkwardly towards the house. "Your room's upstairs?"

"Unfortunately," John said.

"I'm prescribing a nap. You look beat, and this is going to be an interesting evening."

Rodney stopped and stared up the staircase to the second floor. "Really wish Ronon was here," he said and got a grip on John, and with the help of the railing, they made it to the top. When they got into John's room, Rodney kicked the door shut behind them and helped John to drop down onto the bed. Rodney dropped right beside him.

"Thanks, Rodney," John said.

"Anytime." Rodney bumped his shoulder lightly.

"I've gotta find my own place, something nice and level."

"Baltimore?" Rodney asked.

"Would make sense."

"Mmmm." Rodney considered the driving time from DC to Baltimore; about an hour, hour and a half, less the way John drove. "Can you drive?"

"Only an automatic," John said with a sneer.

"Tragedy."

"Why?" John asked, sounding suspicious again.

"Well, it's like this; my grad school roommate is some sort of big shot with an international engineering company. He lives in Korea at the moment, but he did live in DC for about ten years, and he still owns his condo there. I emailed him when I was deciding about the job, and he offered it up. It's some kind of late eighties, glass and chrome bachelor pad sort of place with a gym and a pool in the building and two huge bedrooms." Rodney tried to bleed any emotion out of his voice, and said, "I could be persuaded to rent you the extra room at a very reasonable rate."

"I'm not sure what's scarier; the fact that you have a roommate who still speaks to you, or that I think that idea sounds really good."

Rodney ignored the weak joke and continued his sales pitch. "High security building—that will come in handy when your name hits the papers."

"Yeah, and getting away from the family won't hurt either."

"Karen seems okay." Rodney thought Dave had been bland, but not offensive, but then again John seemed to think Jeannie was just great, which proved—something.

"The look on her face when you said you wanted to shoot something," John laughed.

"Speaking of irritating relatives, I need to call Jeannie and give her a heads up." Rodney started fishing for his phone. "You don't mind?"

"No, McKay, I'm not going to faint on you. You don't want to call her from downstairs anyway."

Rodney hit the speed dial and tapped his fingers impatiently on his knee, and then talked over her when she answered the phone. "Jeannie, it's Rodney, obviously—look I've got news."

"Mer, what are you doing on the phone, are you, you know, around?" She sounded happy to hear his voice and irritated both.

"Yes, yes sorry. Around, yes I have been for a few um, weeks actually." Rodney braced himself for the explosion he knew he deserved.

"Weeks!"

"Yeah, okay. I just, I've been busy," he said, not trying too hard to sound contrite. "I have a new job which, before you ask, I can't talk about yet but it is around if you get me. I'll call you tomorrow, when we can dispense with these ridiculous euphemisms and to that end—I wanted to tell you to turn the TV on tonight. There's going to be news."

"News-news?"

"Yes, yes, some declassification. I don't think my name is going to come up right away, but it will so ah, just get ready."

"Shit, Mer. Wow," she paused and then said, "Around, huh? I think I like that. That's just—wait what about John? Does he know?"

"Yes, sort of, I can't say on the phone really. He's right here though."

"Why didn't you say so? Let me talk to him."

"Here," Rodney said handing over the phone. "Apparently she'd rather talk to you. Go figure."

John smacked him on the head and took the phone. Rodney made no effort not to listen.

After a long pause, John said, "Yeah, so how are you? Maddie and Kaleb all good?… Interesting all around… I'm good—well no, not really, but nothing I can't handle. I'm going to start seeing a new doctor, thanks to Rodney really, so maybe better. I'll make him call you once in a while." John turned and grinned at him, and Rodney rolled his eyes theatrically. "No. Medical Discharge. Why?" John was using his talking to a dangerous McKay voice. "Yeah… Um–"

"What is she saying?" Rodney interrupted. "Jeannie, what are you plotting?" Rodney yelled into the phone. He couldn't hear her side of the conversation, but John looked like he was receiving her usual brand of unsubtle advice. John said goodbye and turned off the phone before Rodney could snatch it out of his hand.

"Why are you really taking this job?" John asked before Rodney could demand to know what Jeannie had said.

"Look, John, you're supposed to be napping, not having deep conversations that can wait for another day." Rodney tried to rise but John grabbed his arm and pulled him back down. "Fine," Rodney said, taking the offensive, "You want to talk so bad, how about you tell me how much pain you're really in."

"Tolerable most of the time. Its not getting better is the problem." John surprised him with the quick answer. "Why did you leave?"

"I, look—I wasn't lying earlier; I was losing focus. I never expected to be as sharp, now at my age, as I was when I was younger, and I wasn't handling the stress well, and I was starting to—look, no one was there anymore." Rodney heard the tightness in his voice, and decided not to give a shit. "Almost no one I walked through that gate with the first time was still there. I felt like Hawkeye Pierce, the only original character left." Rodney sighed. Why did John have to make this day more fraught than it had to be? What happened to happily ignoring your feelings anyway?

"Doesn't that make Radek, Hotlips?" John said.

"Thanks for that visual." Rodney couldn't even summon up a real laugh.

"That nap idea does sound good," John said, letting them both off the hook.

"Yeah, I'll go."

"Sure you will, go grill Dave and Karen on my health. Stay, you look like you could use the sleep too."

Rodney wasn't convinced that was such a great idea. Move talking would just get them into the deep waters he wanted to avoid.

"Also, you can help me get this leg on the bed; it's not very cooperative when I'm this tired," John said.

Rodney helped John swing his leg onto the bed and considered leaving in search of a very large scotch, but he stretched out on the other side of the bed instead. John didn't say anything; he just dropped off to sleep faster than the average cat.


Rodney had thirteen voice mails on his phone when he got up. He deleted them all but the one from Jack O'Neill. Jack sounded contrite about the medical records, snide about the office request and told Rodney to stay the hell away until the first flurry of publicity had settled down.

Rodney wandered downstairs. Dave and Karen were sitting by the French doors in a room that looked like a living room to Rodney, but was probably called something else. Rodney slumped down on a sofa opposite them and gratefully accepted the drink Dave fixed him.

"John seemed more himself today, Doctor." Karen told him.

"Hmmm," Rodney said, "do you think so? He seemed too easy to push around to me, not enough fight in him."

Dave raised his brows in a familiar way. "Karen told me about your conversation with General O'Neill. I hope this new doctor can make some progress now."

"Yes, well, I just wish I'd known earlier. My own fault I suppose; I should have realized that emails telling me, everything's cool, were to be disregarded."

"I had asked John if there were any friends of his that might visit," Karen said, "I had hoped it might be a help to him." She glanced at Dave before she continued. "When Patrick passed away, John brought a friend with him to the funeral. I asked John specifically about him, but John—well frankly he brushed me off with some joke. I think it would be good for him to see people who care about him."

"Ronon, yes, and shortly to become possible too. Great idea. You wasted yourself in the English Department Karen; you have a very quick mind," Rodney said absently, busy plotting ways to get Ronon and Teyla to Earth as soon as possible.

"That rates as high praise from McKay, in case you haven't quite got the hang of the language he speaks yet." John was leaning in the doorway behind Rodney. Rodney could see his reflection clearly in the glass doors when he looked up.

"I find Canadian English is usually fully comprehensible to Americans, Sheppard, I don't know what you're talking about. Guess it doesn't work both ways." Rodney studied the reflection. "Why are you lurking in the doorway pretending you're not in pain?"

"It's nothing Rodney, just a foot cramp. I don't flex my foot in a normal way, so the tendons keep locking up." John limped over to sit on the small sofa beside Rodney. "That looks good," he said and sniffed at Rodney's drink. "I can't even remember what whiskey tastes like."

"You'd be drunk on one even without the medication anyway," Rodney said.

"Yeah, likely. Hey, remember in the first year–"

"Oh god, yes with the–"

"Yeah, never been so hung over in my life."

Rodney noticed that when John smiled for real the pain lines around his eyes disappeared. He snapped his fingers at John, waved at his foot, and snapped again. "Get it up here."

John used both hands to lift his left leg on to the sofa. Rodney grabbed at the foot and pulled it into his lap. He dug his thumbs hard into the sole, sweeping them up and out. John let out a groan as Rodney repeated the move. He spent some time working the ball of the foot, trying to work out the tightness he could feel in the flesh. He made another mental note to look into massage therapists in DC

"God, that's fantastic. Marry me, Rodney." John was almost writhing around on the sofa.

"Sure, I'll book the tickets to Vancouver right away. Madison can be flower girl. How does June sound?" Rodney could see Dave and Karen sharing a look out of the corner of his eye. They were getting very good at the understated reactions.

"June sounds great." John pulled his foot back to the floor and grinned at his brother. Dave managed a weak smile back.

The maid came to announce dinner; Rodney hurt himself rolling his eyes but managed not to snort out loud. He was surprised when a couple of teenaged boys came clattering in to dinner. They were Dave and Karen's kids of course; Rodney had theoretically known they existed but hadn't seen any of the usual signs of kids in residence. "Right," Rodney said to John, "very interesting evening."

"John," Dave said in a tone that Rodney could only call parental, "do you know something about this announcement that's got everyone buzzing."

John flashed his harmless idiot grin. "Don't know what you mean."

"Yes," Rodney answered over John's words, "he does. He's just not allowed to tell you anything." John glared at him. "You'll just have to wait along with the rest of the planet." Rodney refused to discuss it further, and Karen took over the conversational flow with a practiced ease.

They retired to a different room after dinner, one with comfortable sofas and an enormous television. John explained to Karen that the boys should skip their homework for one night, and they turned on the television to a half-hour of newsreaders speculating about the forthcoming announcement. All they knew was that the President was going to make a special announcement, and then special experts would make a presentation. Rodney joked to John that the I in IOA should stop being capitalized, but John was just silently staring at the television.

At 8:00 pm the President's familiar face appeared on the screen. He read a brief statement off a teleprompter that made vague references to security and international cooperation and frontiers of science and exploration. Judging by the reactions of Dave, Karen and their two bored children, no one would have any idea what he was talking about.

When the President was finished, the scene shifted to a featureless grey room that Rodney knew was in a specially shielded section of the Homeworld Security offices. A group of people arranged themselves on a row of chairs facing the camera. In the centre sat General Jack O'Neill. To his right were Colonel Samantha Carter, Colonel Cameron Mitchell, Doctor Daniel Jackson, and Vala Mal Doran. To O'Neill's left were General Hank Landry, Richard Woolsey, General George Hammond, and a curiously empty chair. They took their time settling in, while the network people identified everyone except Vala.

"Sorry you're not there?" Rodney asked John, and Dave and Karen flashed startled glances their way.

"God no," John said feelingly. "You?"

"Ha, no. This is all Sam and Daniel's show."

General O'Neill stood up and identified himself, speaking the name Homeworld Security for the first time in public and promptly passed the floor to Doctor Jackson. Daniel and Sam traded back and forth for over an hour, speaking in front of a screen that showed carefully selected footage of the Gate activating and some obviously alien, yet peaceful worlds. They let Mitchell interrupt occasionally with charming anecdotes dripping with southern charm. The Generals and Woolsey spoke for a few minutes each, mouthing reassuring platitudes about intergalactic security and international cooperation. They passed the floor to Vala Mal Doran who recited a dramatic and sanitized version of her life story. She then ceded the floor to the showstopper; Teal'c in full Jaffa robes. He quietly addressed the camera for over an hour, and his assurances about security and peace seemed a lot more believable to Rodney. He had decided to call the broadcast a masterpiece of misdirection and half-truths when he finally got around to writing his memoirs.

Dave flicked the television to mute when the picture dissolved back to the network talking heads. He rose and stepped over to stand in front of John. He looked grey, face drawn with shock, as he sank to a crouch at John's feet.

"Johnny, you've been there all these years? On other planets, getting shot at by aliens?"

John reached out and grasped his brother's arm. He flailed his other hand helplessly. "Rodney," was all he said.

"Right. Classified, a lot is still classified. There are things you specifically cannot even be allowed to guess because of your position." Rodney waited until Dave turned to meet his eyes. Karen came up behind him with a chair, which he slid into. She stood behind him with her hand on his shoulder. "John was—we were—on another planet for years, yes. The person who shot him was as human as any of us in this room, although neither he nor the weapon was from Earth. Details are—problematic."

Dave rubbed the back of his neck and shook his head.

"What happened to the person who shot John?" Karen asked in a hard, cold voice.

"Rodney killed him," John answered.

"Good, that's good," she said quietly. She left them to go sit with her boys, presumably to answer their awed questions as best she could.

"Civilian contractor," Dave said finally, "I thought that was code for, well something else. You meant alien didn't you?"

"Ronon," John said fondly, "yeah. I don't think of him as an alien—just my friend. He's from a planet that was all but destroyed; there's only a few of his people left. Rodney talked him into coming with me to the funeral."

"I didn't know you knew that," Rodney said. "I'm going to milk O'Neill's guilt for all I can. Get him to authorize a visit. Teyla too."

"Yeah, you think you can?"

"Just watch me," Rodney said with a smirk. "I think I ah, want to call Jeannie again." Rodney fled the room and sat on the stairs by the front door. He decided John could break it to his family that his name was going to eventually be public without his help.

Rodney was scrolling through the messages on his phone when John hobbled into view. He looked wrecked. Rodney bounced to his feet and couldn't think of a word to say. John threw the cane on the floor and grabbed at Rodney's shirt. "Come here, just come here." John hauled him into a desperate hug, and just laid his head down on Rodney's shoulder. "Christ, he hasn't called me Johnny since he was ten," he said, his voice a ragged whisper.

Rodney pulled John in tighter. The doorbell was right above their heads, and Rodney made an undignified squeak when it peeled three loud electronic tones. John leaned against the wall while Rodney retrieved his cane for him. He made it to the door as the bell was peeling again. Karen hovered in the hallway behind John while he pulled the door open. Rodney could see her face freeze into a polite blank, but he hadn't missed the darker look that flashed across her features first. An attractive woman in a conservative suit clattered in to trade brittle air kisses with Karen. Rodney was leaning back in the shadows at the foot of the stairs; she hadn't seen him yet.

"Why Nancy, we weren't expecting you this evening," Karen said.

Rodney was marveling at Karen's accent, which had started marching south at the word why, and had crossed the Mason–Dixon Line by the word evening, when he realized that the visitor was John's ex-wife.

"Perhaps she was in the neighbourhood and just dropped in," Rodney said, rounding his own accent out. He could practically taste the extra vowels.

Karen looked at him approvingly over Nancy's shoulder. John was leaning casually against the wall smiling a bit vacantly.

"Why don't we all go back into the lounge, and Nancy can tell us what brings her out on a night like this," Karen said, sweet as honey.

They trooped back down the hall and Karen ushered Nancy into an oversized armchair that made her look like a child. Dave turned away from the dark window and raised his brows. Karen waved him onto a small settee, and he seemed happy enough to obey her. She busied herself at the wet bar set into one corner of the room. She poured mineral water into a glass and handed it over. "Rodney honey, take that over to John, and I'll bring you a whiskey in a minute. Nancy dear, do you still like your vodka on the rocks?"

Rodney handed John his drink and sat beside him. Karen brought him a generous scotch, and he was almost certain she winked at him when she handed it over. Making Nancy's drink seemed to have completely slipped her mind, and she slid gracefully into the seat beside her husband and addressed Nancy again. "You don't know Rodney of course; Dr. McKay is a close friend of John's." She managed to make it sound like Rodney was a frequent visitor and not a stranger who'd bulled his way in just that afternoon.

"Are you one of John's doctors then?" Nancy asked.

"No," Rodney answered her, making the o so round and clear you could skate on it. "I worked with John for many years; I was a civilian contractor under his command." Rodney put a nice spin on the word under. He glanced over at John and thought he looked like he couldn't be forced to open his mouth at gunpoint. Dave was trying to blend in to the upholstery.

"Oh, well that's—wasn't that fellow before a civilian contractor as well? I guess you must have been stationed someplace very interesting."

She was looking at John, but Rodney decided to pretend he hadn't noticed. "Ronon, no one's quite like Ronon," he said.

"Look, I can't talk about where I was, Nancy; you know the drill," John said.

"Well I just thought with the announcement tonight–"

"Now Nancy, don't push the poor boy. Why, he can't even tell his family anything." Karen reached over to pat Nancy's knee consolingly.

Rodney decided a smug smile full of details about John's whereabouts for the past few years was not out of order. "His hands are tied. I'm sure you've heard of non-disclosure agreements."

Nancy rose as suddenly as she'd arrived and made noises about getting back to town. Karen rose as well, but John got there first, pulling himself to his feet and walking with Nancy to the door. He returned after a while to lean casually against the sofa. "You two should take your act on the road," he said in a tired voice.

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean, John Sheppard," Karen said primly.

"Uh-huh. Rodney honey, would you give me a hand up the stairs. I've had enough for one night." John managed a credible imitation of Karen's sugar sweet honey.

Rodney threw back the rest of his drink and went to haul John up the stairs. He left him at the bathroom door and ducked into John's bedroom to wait.

John appeared dressed in some sedate striped boxers. He got his leg hoisted onto the bed by himself this time. "You gonna crash here?"

"Sure, I'll just hit the bathroom and be right back."

John was lying on top of the covers when Rodney returned. The room was humid and murky, lit only by a weak lamp on the nightstand. Rodney climbed in beside John and rolled onto his right side to face him. "Seems weird to be doing this unarmed."

"Sleeping together?"

"Yeah."

John stared at the ceiling for a while and then spoke. "I have accepted that this," he waved a hand at his leg, "limits me. I really have. I've had months to get used to it, and the first few on Atlantis I had lots of attention from the shrinks, so I mostly deal okay now. Sometimes the frustration hits hard though." He paused in his speech to look at Rodney again. "All of that is by way of telling you that if I could actually move properly and wasn't drenched in pain killers, we'd be doing very little sleeping in this bed."

"Really," Rodney said flatly.

"Oh come on, what was that routine downstairs if it wasn't territorial? Don't act like I'm presuming or something."

"I know exactly what I was doing downstairs, and I can even intuit what Karen's motives were. My question is, why did you let us?"

John had the grace to look a bit chagrined. "Nancy was always on at me about where I was, and how she never knew what I was doing. Her showing up was obviously her way of saying she had the answers now. Pissed me off."

"Ha, displacement in action," Rodney said.

"What?"

"Her, not you." John still looked blank. "Oh please, I've spent years knowing where you are and what you've been doing pretty much constantly. Where was never the pertinent question. She obviously never let herself realize that."

"You're angry," John said, sounding surprised.

"Somewhat—moderately peeved. That whole accepting thing you were saying. I get it, I do—always did. I just can't help occasionally wishing you had found me worth the risk."

"Oh."

"Yes, oh."

"I guess, hindsight being what it is, maybe I would choose differently if I could," John said.

"Hindsight is for IOA performance reviews and autobiographies. We could devote our lives to building a time machine, and go back and do it all over differently."

"Yeah, maybe not."

"You want to come see this place in DC tomorrow?"

"Sure. You got any problem with me packing a bag and just moving in sight unseen?" John asked, a bit of verve back in his voice.

"No, no problems here."

"Okay, since I'm on a roll, you got any problem kissing a guy with whom you're moderately peeved and who couldn't get it up with a crowbar?"

Rodney didn't bother with an answer; he just rolled closer. He was surprised, even though he shouldn't have been, at how familiar it all felt. John's skin was a little chill under his hand, but his lips were soft and agile. Rodney let his hand wander, looking for more skin to touch while they kissed. John was stuck flat on his back and couldn't reach much more than Rodney's head. Rodney pulled back looking for a better position, but his eyes focused on John's lips and he was instantly pulled back in. He wasn't surprised that once begun, this was something he wasn't too willing to ever stop doing. He let his teeth out to play a little, nipping at John's perfect bottom lip, and he got some nice sounds of approval for his efforts. He wanted to just sprawl out on top of John and make himself at home, but that option wasn't on the menu.

Rodney pulled his mouth free from John's teeth and kept going, rolling over on to his back. "Okay, now is the time when Rodney gets blunt and possibly insensitive," he said to the ceiling.

"Okay," John said cautiously.

"I need data. I'm not good at just winging it—well you know that, so I'm going to ask you some questions. Do me a favor and don't say I'm fine, and we'll be good."

"Okay," John said with a little more weary resignation than caution this time.

Rodney kept his eyes on the murky grey swirls of the ceiling plaster. "Can you lie on your left side?"

"No."

"Right side?"

"Not all night, but for a good while before it's uncomfortable."

Rodney was pretty sure uncomfortable was John-speak for excruciating, but he let it go. "Can you have your left leg bent for long?"

"In a chair for about an hour maybe. Not in bed."

"If I bump into you?"

"Walking? You might send me flying, depends. In bed, you might make it hurt a bit but no permanent damage."

Rodney considered the answers carefully and then threw in the one that might be too blunt, even for him, "Can you lie on your stomach?"

John snorted, "Is your mind in the gutter?"

"Always."

"It's not very comfortable, not really a viable option."

"Hmmm."

"I'll answer the one even you are likely too polite to ask," John said after Rodney stayed quiet for a while. "If I skimp on the pain killers, I get glimmers of life, but the pain is still pretty bad so..."

Rodney had some ideas about that, and they started with a trip to Johns Hopkins. "Okay," Rodney said and rolled to his feet. He surveyed the bed for a second, calculating angles and distances and making a note to make sure the condo had a king size bed. "Sit up." He snapped his fingers a couple of times and said, "Up, up."

John struggled upright and braced himself back on his hands. Rodney pulled the covers down on his side of the bed and got on his knees next to John. John just looked at him in bemusement as Rodney pulled him up to a full sitting position and then slipped his arms around his chest from behind. He tugged, hard, and backed off the bed, and John cut off an exclamation of surprise and ended up at an awkward angle but mostly on what had been Rodney's half of the bed. He got with the program and wiggled his legs back straight and flopped back onto the pillow. Rodney walked around to the other side of the bed, pulled the covers down and flopped down facing John.

John held out his arm and said, "Pull."

Rodney got a good grip and pulled John over onto his side, and they were kissing again. John got his hand up under Rodney's tee shirt, and Rodney had to break off the kiss to gasp at the sensation of John touching his bare skin. John was smirking at him, so Rodney slipped his hand as deep it would go into John's hair and kissed him with every bit of pent up desire he'd been keeping down deep for years. John finally pulled his mouth free and fended off Rodney's grasping hands long enough to wriggle slowly down the bed. Rodney cooperated by wriggling up as far as he could and when John's nose bumped into Rodney's hard on, he grinned and said, "Well hello there."

Rodney swallowed a laugh, not wanting to encourage dorky humor too much and then swallowed a moan. John was wasting no time; he had Rodney's cock pulled out of his shorts and sucked into his mouth like he'd been hungry for this for a long time. Well, he wasn't the only one, so Rodney made the tactical decision to let John fly this mission. He got both hands in all that hair and just let himself go. If anyone asked him after how long it lasted, and he really hoped that no one ever would, he wouldn't have a clue. He just knew that he was blown apart into a million happy pieces. He also knew that John Sheppard was an evil, evil bastard who was licking the very sensitive head of his spent cock. When Rodney got up the intestinal fortitude to yank on John's hair, all he got back was a smirk; but by the time John had wriggled up, and he'd wriggled back down, and they met in kissing range, he'd gotten over his pique.

"You can't think the lights off here," John said to the top of his head.

It was possible, okay probable, that Rodney had fallen asleep half on top of John.

"Light's on your side of the bed now, buddy."

"Fine, fine." Rodney sat up enough to snap off the light and then flopped back down again. "We skulking out early tomorrow or staying for breakfast?"

"Let you know when I wake up. It's been I while since I had to sleep with your epic snoring, I don't know how that's going to go."

Rodney congratulated himself on still having his touch. He easily swatted John's head in the total darkness and managed to dodge the retaliation almost completely.


John acquiesced to Rodney driving them with poor grace and peppered their trip into DC with sarcastic comments about Rodney's skill behind the wheel until it was all Rodney could do not to laugh in unfettered joy at the familiarity of it all. The GPS in the car found them the condo building by not quite the most circuitous route possible, and the key card for the parking garage worked. The other key card for the elevator worked, and they and their meager luggage soon found themselves inside unit 1707.

"Holy shit," John said, "we've walked into a time dilation field."

Rodney snorted and strode into the living room to check out the view. His progress was arrested by the sight of a matte black wood and glass cocktail bar that ran the width of the room. Behind it the floor to ceiling windows, which guaranteed he'd never feel any claustrophobia in this place, gave a view of trees and buildings and the distant Washington Monument. "Great," Rodney said, "nothing like a little piece of knock-off Egyptiana to remind me I work for the SGC."

"I thought you worked for O'Neill."

"Technically I'm on loan from the IOA. O'Neill says he's going to give me back if I irritate him."

"If?"

"Yeah, that's what I said." Rodney ran a finger along the bar and eyed the huge sectional sofa with interest. One thing the vintage look had going for it was enough sofa room for long legs. "I am dressing you up in a tux and taking pictures of you in front of this bar holding a martini glass. Practice your James Bond face."

John glared for a second and then grinned. "Sure, good idea. The first night you're passed out on the sofa with Cheetos stains on your lips, I'll know where the camera is."

Rodney looked at the TV and stereo with disdain. "We need to get some essentials in."

"I take it you mean an Xbox rather than milk and bread?"

"It's all about priorities, John. And why stop at just an Xbox? I was thinking maybe a full wireless set-up—connect everything. I should be able to encrypt all the signals and have it set it up in an afternoon."

"So, you can look at I can has cheezburger on a fifty-four inch plasma?"

"I don't know what you mean." Rodney wandered off to check out the rest of the place. Bachelor pad was certainly the theme, all right. The bathroom was twenty-year old sybaritic chic gone mad. He spent a quick moment mourning the unlikelihood of ever getting to have sex in the giant tub, but he contented himself rather easily with a replay of waking up that morning with John pressed up against him, snoring quietly in his ear.

"John, you should see the bathroom," Rodney called out, "It's got a Vegas hotel room, orgy-sized tub, and one wall is made entirely of glass blocks."

Rodney stepped through to the master bedroom and opened a set of doors onto a closet that was almost as big as John's first quarters on Atlantis. "So," Rodney said without turning around, "What do you think?"

"Hell, Rodney, there's no one here I have to be nice to. I don't think I've ever loved a place more."

"Aww, you're so sweet to me." Rodney grinned and turned around. John had adapted his door leaning ways to accommodate the cane, but he was still John, so Rodney took a long look. "So ah, you know I said that stuff about renting you the second bedroom, but I mean, if you want to, you can have it. If you want a space, you know." Rodney tried to blank his expression. That wasn't really how he'd meant this conversation to go.

"You want me to keep my stuff out of your way, sure." John sounded formal and stiff.

"No, ah, no. Why would I? Actually, where is your stuff?" It suddenly occurred to Rodney that they'd moved out of Dave and Karen's house with nothing but a duffel bag and an alarming assortment of medications. He hadn't seen any sign of the usual John Sheppard ornaments; golf clubs, surfboard, guitar, comic book collection, giant tome of great literary merit, etc.

"Storage."

"That's insane; you only have a guitar, a poster and a surf board. Get your damn stuff here," Rodney yelled. The idea that John had been squatting in his brother's house, bereft of any possessions, was not something he was going to feel guilty about. He'd needed that time on his own, just as much as John had.

"It's okay. I don't want to crowd you," John said and stood up straight.

Somehow that sent Rodney right over the edge and into normalcy. "Did you hit your head? Look, this conversation is giving me heartburn. Get your damn stuff, buy some more, put it wherever the hell you want and sleep wherever the hell you want, preferably with me."

"Okay then." John grinned and relaxed to lean against the doorframe again, and Rodney grinned back.

In the Full Heat of Summer

Rodney grabbed a white board marker and scrawled the word salt on the bottom of the freeform grocery list portion of the board. He went back a second later and added the addendum, and let's actually buy some this time instead of gazing in confusion at the fourteen different varieties and then wandering off to the chip aisle. He fit his editorializing vaguely into the column space of the list, so John couldn't cut it off when he snapped a photo of the white board with his camera phone. He was about to turn back into the kitchen when a note scrawled on the other half of the board caught his eye. Karen called, she's dropping by, and I emailed your chess move to Zelenka for you. If you're lucky he won't notice how you suddenly got better. Also, thanks for declaring war on me, asshole. The armies of Rome will crush your Viking ass. Rodney glared at the message, but no date or time appeared.

The intercom buzzed, and Rodney looked down at his tee shirt emblazoned with the slogan, He's With Genius, topped with a right-facing arrow. He shrugged and told himself Karen should be grateful he had pants on and went to buzz her in.

"Rodney, honey," she said when she'd finished surveying the living room. "I love what you've done with the place." Rodney raised a brow at her, but she just smiled serenely. She really did remind him of Teyla a lot of the time. "I went to a party at a frat house once, and it looked just like this," she added, and Rodney amended his comparison with the caveat that Teyla didn't have quite the same smart mouth.

Rodney glared at her smile and turned his back on the mess of DVDs, game controllers and remote controls that littered the sofa and coffee table. They kept part of the coffee table clear because they ate in front of the TV most of the time. "Your wit could cut glass," he said with very little scorn.

"You know, Rodney—or more likely you don't—John moved in with Nancy when they got married. She had a very nice condo with a very fashionable address." Karen turned to look at him, her lips twitching. "She made him keep all his boy things in the laundry room. The place looked as pretty as a magazine spread."

"His boy things?"

"Oh, don't look at me like you don't know what I mean."

Rodney grinned at her back as she seated herself on one of the black and chrome bar stools to enjoy the view. He fixed her a bourbon and water and poured himself a shot of scotch and sat beside her.

"So, no big news or you would have called me," she said.

"Same old, same old. Gupta has the pain medication moderated to something a little more reasonable now that they've cut out some of the other medications. I don't know exactly how those interactions worked, the morons prescribing the stuff likely don't understand it, but John's not walking around half stoned all the time, and he doesn't sleep such an unreasonable amount anymore. He says, Gupta that is, that if new research on the weapon turns up anything, we might revisit the idea of other treatment, but it is what it is for now."

"What are the chances of that? Further research, I mean."

"Not much. I can tell you exactly how the weapon works, not that you'd know what the hell I'm talking about, but we'd need something along the lines of treatment records of victims, and that's just not going to happen." Rodney couldn't explain that the civilization that had invented the foul thing had been culled back to the Stone Age, and there were only a handful of the things left in existence.

"So, about what you expected then."

"Yup," Rodney said. "He's a bigger gym rat now than he ever was; that's helping too. So really, nothing's worse, and some things are better. He's got some new friend at the gym here in the building, some guy about sixty who's in a wheelchair. They haul out his extra chair and try to invent wheelchair martial arts or something, I don't know. The guy used to be a marine, so they happily trash talk each other in between reps on the weight bench and generally bond in that testosterone laden way I'll never quite get."

"Yes, Rodney, you're so effeminate." Karen patted him on his, okay, really quite nice bicep and gathered up her purse and sunglasses. "Dinner next week, honey. I'll let you know when. Dave's got this new vice president who's a goddamn asshole and needs to be taken down a peg. I might invite him and his lovely wife too."

"I'm not your trained pit bull you know." Rodney grinned at her.

"I know that, honey. I never once said you were trained. Give John a kiss for me." She waved languidly at the door, and Rodney returned to his pot of pasta sauce with a smile.

Once the sauce was bubbling away nicely, Rodney scrawled, been and gone, over John's note about Karen's plan to drop by, and locked himself in the spare bedroom. The room had quickly become Rodney's office and was filled with ugly metal boxes that housed his homemade computers. Wires sprouted everywhere; black boxes with blinking lights were grafted on to everything, and there were more monitors than most people would believe necessary. Two walls were covered in whiteboards, and the best view for contemplating their contents could be had from the bed that had been shoved against the wall. John had taken one look at the ever changing and growing conglomeration of plastic and metal and glass and said that it looked like Rodney was building an inorganic hive ship. This remark that had gotten him banned from the room in perpetuity.

John had a sleek, new iMac that sat on a bit of chrome and glass next to the bar in the living room. It was tidy and neat and looked like it was never used; the keyboard wasn't even sticky. When Rodney had asked him if he ever really used it, John had smiled and said something about keeping a few notes. Rodney had cracked a joke about him getting old and losing his memory, and John had retaliated with a scurrilous claim about Rodney's allegedly failing vision, and they'd never talked about it again. Of course, Rodney had hacked into the machine and found a large document named Hindsight, which turned out to be the story of the first years of the Atlantis mission. It needed someone who knew what they were talking about to go through it and correct some of the science, but it was really very good. Rodney was afraid he might be the only one to ever read it.

A growling stomach and the waning light that made it into the room around the blinds on the windows told Rodney he'd gotten lost in his work again. He hadn't heard any smoke alarms, so he had confidence that John had saved his sauce from death by boiling dry. He shut all his computers down, the ones that weren't busy crunching simulations at least, and shuffled out into the world again. No smoke emanated from the kitchen, so Rodney headed for the living room. John was there looking out the wall of windows.

Rodney stopped and stared at him; he was bent at one of his familiar angles, leaning on the bar and facing out into the last of the afternoon sun. He was dressed in a pair of sweats that were a bit too short in the leg and a bit baggy in the ass. He'd paired that with a worn and holey black tee shirt that stretched to cover his stomach only when firmly tugged down and his favorite red plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up. His hair was a shaggy riot of spikes all pointing off in their own directions.

"I've changed my mind about the tux thing," Rodney said in a husky voice.

John turned around and smiled. "Yeah?"

"Yeah, I think I like you best just like this."

"I thought you liked me best naked." John smiled and blushed a little and then smiled a little wider.

"Mmmm-hmmm."

"I rescued your sauce. Tastes good."

"Really? And thank you, did you eat or just sample?"

"Just a taste, I thought I'd wait for you to come out of your lair." John smirked at him, and Rodney smiled. He actually liked the idea of having a lair. He got to crank the air conditioning in his office as cold as he wanted, and he never, ever had to listen to Johnny Cash. "Come on, McKay. Food then maybe some couch time, what do you say?"

"My Viking hordes overrun your feeble empire couch time, or something more x-rated?"

"Why not both, wouldn't be the first time I had to make it up to you for destroying your weak civilization."

"Asshole," Rodney said, but turned and headed for the kitchen. They fumbled around in the kitchen, neither of them very comfortable there yet, and got an edible meal on the table.

Rodney had been shocked to discover, in the middle of his first week at Homeland Security, that John couldn't cook at all.

"Well, I can make toast and heat stuff up. This is the first place I've ever lived where I was actually allowed in the kitchen," John had answered his surprised question petulantly.

"My god, what kind of housewife are you?" Rodney had asked with a smirk a mile wide, because winding someone up for fun was a game two could play.

"The kind who spent twenty years in the Air Force and can still kick your damn ass if you ever call me that again?"

"Oh baby, I love it when you get all domineering," Rodney had answered and he smiled fondly now, remembering how he'd ducked the potato that John had lobbed at his head. His reflexes really had been honed by all that time running from mortal peril.

After dinner the great epic battle between the Vikings and the Romans was on again and rapidly degenerating into a siege. Rodney was struggling to hunker down and stay alive long enough for his tech advancements to give him the edge, so he could wipe the evil scourge of Rome from the map. Of course, the leader of the Romans currently had his hand down Rodney's pants, which was hindering his concentration.

"Bed, you Roman pervert," Rodney said decisively.

"Absolutely, just as soon as you take the damn flannel sheets off the bed."

"No. You're cold all the time anyway and–"

"Not with the furnace that is McKay in the bed. Why the hell do you have flannel sheets in Washington anyway? It's hot here most of the damn time, it's hot out now."

"That's what a/c is for, besides I like flannel, it's one of my few fond childhood memories."

"You had flannel sheets in Vancouver?" John said, "I've been there; it rains a lot and it's not cold."

"Jeannie lives in Vancouver now, we didn't grow up there. We grew up in a part of Ontario affectionately known as the snowbelt. Believe me, the winters there in the seventies were epic."

"No flannel in the summer, that's my final word." John said.

"Fine, fine. Hey, if we're going to be changing the sheets anyway?"

"Mess them up first." John pointed at Rodney. "Sound tactical plan."

Rodney was stretched out on the bed, the soft, comfortable, flannel covered bed. John was arranged between his wide spread legs in the closest approximation of a comfortable sprawl that John could maintain. He had two slick fingers deep in Rodney's ass, thrusting in a lazy rhythm. He licked and sucked at Rodney's cock and balls, seemingly as the whim took him. It was all very slow and easy and almost gentle, and totally guaranteed to drive Rodney wild. Rodney was humping against the bed and panting, trying to egg John on to some faster action with his hands or more action with his mouth. It was not working. John chuckled in an evil patronizing way when Rodney started to whine.

"I'll beg, John, if that's what you want. I'll plead. Just, Jesus, John!"

John chuckled again and applied his tongue with a little more vigor. Rodney got a handful of John's hair and held on tight. John rewarded him with a fast, almost too hard fucking with his fingers while he sucked with enthusiasm.

Rodney was almost coherent again when John rolled slowly upright to head to the bathroom. He paused in the doorway and tapped the cane against his foot in an unconscious habit that was becoming as familiar as his older, more well worn tics. "I do enjoy it, you know," he said quietly, not turning around. "Making you go crazy like that."

"You don't have to explain that to me, I'm familiar with the joys of the occasional power trip."

John snorted in amusement and said, "It's more than just a power trip. Change the damn sheets, McKay."

Rodney rolled upright and did as he was told.


Karen called and told Rodney she wanted to get the hell out of her damn house, something Rodney had learned not to question. He wasn't overly fond of Dave Sheppard's inherited estate, so he could relate. She wanted to eat out, in the city, like normal people damn well do. Rodney also refrained from mentioning most normal people didn't eat in the kind of places she did. The meal was just for the four of them, because she'd decided that Dave's damn asshole VP can fend for his own damn self. Rodney was rapidly coming to the conclusion that he was the only person she knew who didn't care if she put the word damn into every sentence.

The restaurant was typical of Karen's taste, luxurious but nothing so ephemeral as stylish. Rodney was busy worrying about having to have the citrus conversation in a place where the staff could all lie with an easy smile, and wasn't paying any attention to the other diners while the hostess led them to their table. Well, they all looked the same to him anyway, Washington people. It occurred to him to wonder if everyone had the hidden depths of Karen, but he decided it was very unlikely.

"Doctor McKay," an unfamiliar voice called out, startling Rodney out of his twisting thoughts.

A navy suit topped by a hundred dollar haircut approached, and Rodney glared at the hostess when she politely stepped aside for the intruder. He'd liked his life better when he was always armed in public. He glanced over and saw John tensing up beside him. He had a brief flash of inspiration involving swordsticks, and then the guy, who did look vaguely familiar, was almost on top of them.

"Doctor McKay, so nice to see you again." Rodney knew that had to be a lie. "I didn't know you were working with Sheppard Industries, that makes things complicated doesn't it?" the man continued in smooth insinuation. Rodney winced and tried to imagine how to extricate himself from this misunderstanding with someone who might actually be important in the energy industry, not that Rodney would ever remember who he was.

Karen looked the fellow up and down and laid on the honey. "I'm terribly sorry, but you've made a mistake; this isn't a business dinner, Rodney's family."

Rodney looked at her in shock. She was brushing off Navy Suit, yes, but he was reasonably sure she had actually meant what she'd said. Karen must have signaled the hostess in some esoteric way, because they were moving again, heading for their table and leaving Navy Suit behind. Rodney glanced over at John and found him looking more bemused than anything else.

"So, John," Dave said, once the salad plates had been cleared, "given any thought to my offer?" Rodney couldn't help but smirk a little at Dave's tone; he sounded like he was conducting a board meeting.

"Dave," John said, "You know how I feel about that."

"I know what you keep saying, but you need to do something with your life, John."

John gave Dave a lazy grin and slouched a little in his chair. Rodney had seen that routine countless times, and knew enough to look for John's hand fisted on his knee under the table. If they were in the conference room on Atlantis, John would be kicking him under the table or tipping a look at Teyla, looking for a rescue. "What offer?" Rodney said, talking over the start of Dave's next argument.

"Rodney," John said, pleading for something—likely for Rodney to drop the issue entirely, but that wasn't going to happen.

"What offer? You never said anything—or oh, God, did you? Did you tell me all about it, and I wasn't listening?"

"Relax, Rodney. I didn't say anything, because there's nothing to tell." John fiddled with his water glass and tried the lazy smile again.

"Hmmm, yes well that's likely debatable," Rodney said.

"What isn't in your book?"

"I offered John a position with the company," Dave said, before they could get a good bicker going.

Rodney turned to stare at him. You can't call him a moron, he told himself. Behave, he told himself. "Are you insane?" Rodney said, voice climbing half an octave.

Karen sat back, not saying a word, serene smile in place. Dave stared at him and then laughed. "Maybe," he said. "You don't think he'd be any good at it?"

Rodney waved off that ridiculous suggestion. "Of course he'd be good at it, don't let the stupid slacker act fool you. That's not the point."

"What is the point?" John asked sharply.

"The point is," Rodney turned his glare on John, "that you'd be bored out of your mind, but you'd keep at it out of some sort of sense of loyalty or masochism or just plain Sheppard stubbornness, and then where would we be?" John returned his glare with interest, but didn't say anything, which Rodney was willing to take as tacit acknowledgement of the truth of his words. The last thing he wanted was both of them strangling in a suit and tie every day.

"Sheppard stubbornness," Dave said, quietly. "I think I've heard something about that before."

Karen laughed softly and firmly changed the subject to a less volatile topic.


"Wasn't bad," Rodney said later when they were in the elevator heading for home.

"Steak was good," John said.

"Dave's loosening up a little finally."

"Karen's doing. She's been keeping some strange company lately."

"Ha, are you calling me a bad influence?" Rodney asked.

"Nah, I'm just wondering when Dave and I are going to wake up and discover you two have eloped together."

"Oh very, very amusing."

"I thought so."

Rodney thwacked John on the shoulder. "You should try that line on Dave, see if he agrees."

"Maybe not."

"Yeah, maybe not."

Inside the door, they split up, Rodney going to strip off his hated suit and tie, and John to get his leg elevated. Rodney came back into the living room wearing a pair of boxers and nothing else. He pointedly ignored the blinking light on the phone promising him messages he didn't want to hear and headed straight for the bar. "Drink?" he asked John.

John scrunched his face up and finally shook his head. "Took an extra pill before dinner, so likely not a good idea. I'll just suck the residue off your tongue later."

"And they say romance is dead." Rodney dropped onto the sofa and groaned in utter, utter relief at being home again.

"Long day?"

"A reporter from some newspaper in Britain is sniffing around."

"Oh?" John seemed very unconcerned, but Rodney wasn't so sanguine. They'd had months of unexpected peace; no one had found the rest of the story yet and splashed their names everywhere, but it was a question of when not if.

"The decision has been made; they're going to announce the existence of Atlantis. They're just fighting over the details now."

"So maybe I should have a chat with the concierge, the doorman, spread some green around, maybe we can keep some level of privacy."

"Well, they're timelineing this for a release in the fall, so no hurry, but yes, good idea. John Sheppard charm—never fails."

"Well I wouldn't say never, not everyone is as easy as you."

"Ha, yes true. I think if I realized what a slut I was going to be in my forties, I wouldn't have resented my very un-slutty youth so much."

"Oh hey, speaking of that, I got a package in the mail today," John said, utterly failing at an innocent look.

"Oh?" Rodney tried for blasé and missed by a mile.

"Yeah, wanna come see what I bought?"

Rodney knocked back his drink in a toast to the wonders of online shopping and the German sex toy industry and said, "Lead on."


Summer's End

Rodney threw his briefcase into the hall closet and slammed the door. He headed straight for the bedroom and shucked his suit, tossing it into a pile of stuff he needed to get cleaned. The door to the bathroom stood open, steam from the shower billowing out. He stuck his head into the bathroom and hollered, "I'm home."

"Yeah, I know, McKay. You don't actually have a stealth setting," John hollered back.

"What have you been doing?"

"Hot date with the free weights."

"Oh, good—oh, shit. I forgot, completely and utterly forgot. Your geriatric delinquent friend called this morning and said he's going to visit someone, whose name you'll be shocked to hear I can't remember, and he won't be around for any play dates for a week."

"He did not use the term play dates," John said.

"Well, no, but that doesn't make the term any less accurate, though."

"Sort of like how you're still an asshole even if I don't actually call you one?"

"Exactly, and people say you're not that bright," Rodney dug deeper into the dresser looking for a clean tee shirt and coming up empty. He briefly considered wearing one of John's but he gave up on the idea. John's new devotion to the weight room had had an interesting effect on his physique, but that didn't mean they'd suddenly started wearing the same size. The Sheppard stomach was still very nearly flat, and he was annoyingly slender.

"Rodney, Rodney! Fuck, get in here now," John yelled, and Rodney dropped the pile of laundry he'd been sorting and ran for the bathroom.

"What, what," Rodney screamed and ripped open the shower curtain. John was just standing there, hair in sticky conditioner spikes, letting the water hit his back. "Jesus, you fucking scared me. I thought you'd fallen and cracked open your stupid head."

"If I'd done that," John said, sounding kind of dazed, and Rodney started looking again for signs of an injury, "wouldn't there have been more noise, like I don't know, thum–"

"Oh, oh, oh. Shut up and get out of the shower." Rodney gestured impatiently, looking around for John's cane.

"Oh, so you noticed finally. I'm all wet and sticky—I don't want to drip on the floor."

"And if we do anything in that shower, you will fall over and crack your stupid head. Out, out and get in the damn bedroom, John."

"By your command," John said with a grin.

Rodney ignored that provocation, and gave up on the search for the cane. "Oh god, just here, hold on to me."

"I'll get you all wet."

"I don't care, I'm about to rip this shirt off anyway." Rodney let John lean on him, and they hopped in a very undignified manner into the bedroom. "How, um what, ah how do you–"

"Just dump me flat on my back, Rodney and then get naked."

"Dumping, stripping. Yes, yes."

Rodney crawled up from the foot of the bed, eyes never leaving John's cock, as if it might deflate if he took his attention away for even the barest moment. John was propped up on his elbows, watching too, so perhaps he'd had the same ludicrous idea. He'd spread his legs wide and Rodney angled his approach to steer clear of the left one. He bent down like a cat lapping at its water bowl and licked a luxurious stripe from base to head.

John gasped and dropped back down flat to the bed. "Oh yeah, Rodney. Yeah, that's it."

Rodney spread his smug smirking lips around John's cock and sucked hard. John moaned like he was dying, and Rodney damped down on that stupid train of thought and concentrated on the here and now.

"I want, I want—Damn it, I want to fuck you so bad." John punctuated his outburst with a punch to the mattress.

Rodney pulled off reluctantly. He wanted that cock in his mouth, desperately. He crawled the rest of the way up John's body, lowered himself carefully, slowly—figuring out on the way down that he should make it look more like teasing than concern. He knew that his face showed all the hunger he felt, and John responded by grabbing at his ass and pulling him down. Their groins bumped uncomfortably, and then Rodney shimmied against John's water slick skin, and John groaned aloud again. Rodney hesitated the barest fraction of a second, and John narrowed his eyes and gave Rodney a vicious glare and thrust up. Rodney smiled wide, showing his teeth, and thrust right back. They fought their way through to a rhythm that had them both cursing and gasping, and Rodney still needed something in his mouth, so he latched his teeth onto John's shoulder.

John shouted something and thrust harder, digging his fingers painfully into Rodney's flesh, and he was afraid he was going to have handprints on his ass cheeks. "Yes, yes, oh fuck yeah," John shouted.

Rodney suddenly had more lubrication to ease the grinding of his cock against John's slick flesh, and he thrust as hard as he dared and found another patch of taut shoulder to sink his teeth into. He kept thrusting even as he came, even after it had gone beyond almost too much. He stopped finally when John loosened his grip on Rodney's ass and slid his fingers up the sweat slick expanse of Rodney's back. "Shower for two is next on the agenda," John said into his ear.

"Mmmm, getting right on that," Rodney rolled off of John and positioned himself so John's left leg was tight against him, soaking up his body heat. They slept until the late afternoon sun had crawled off their bodies, and the chill of evening forced them up and into the shower.


Autumn

"I think we should go out to dinner tonight," Rodney said before he'd even wrenched his tie out of his collar.

"Unhn." John continued staring at his computer screen.

"I know a place that serves a great roast flauterbeast," Rodney said a little more loudly.

"Unhn."

"They make a great linken tart with keq nuts on top."

"Mhm. There it is, damn." John made the keyboard clatter for a minute and then he resumed his staring.

Rodney shook his head and wandered off to the bedroom. He stripped out of his suit and changed into jeans and a tee shirt. He eyed himself in the mirror for a long moment. He was getting tired of the suits a lot faster than he'd forecast; he had given himself a least a year before he was ready to burn his collection of ties. He was doing everything right, locking his door and turning off the phone for two hours every week to work on papers he wanted to publish, spending one or two days a month reviewing in-depth the research that various people in various places were doing on Ancient based technology, keeping up with some of the pure theory that he and Sam and Jeannie passed back and forth, but it didn't seem to be enough.

Rodney stomped back into the living room and leaned over John's shoulder to see what was so engrossing. Line after line of text filled the screen. Rodney could barely read it; he needed glasses and was being a moron about it, but he caught his name on the screen.

"Editing," John said.

"I didn't know you'd got that far."

"What, you're claiming you haven't hacked my computer to read this?"

"Well of course I did, merely testing the security encryption of course, but I haven't seen it in a while," Rodney leaned closer, trying to will the letters to come into focus.

"Pretty much done. If I can ever show it to an agent, I'll know if it's any good."

"You know the SGC and the IOA and Homeworld are going to take the red pen to it right?"

"Yeah, I planned for that. I put some stuff in that'll make them go nuts at the idea of it ever going public; I'm hoping excising that stuff will satisfy their need for control, and they'll let the rest slide."

"Devious man," Rodney said admiringly.

"Yeah, they made us take tactics classes in soldier school."

"You went to cocky pilot school, and any deviousness you know, you picked up reading those giant tomes of Russian literature."

"Nah, hanging around the lab with you and Zelenka." John grinned up at him. "So, you said something about dinner?"

"We should go out," Rodney said seriously.

"Okay, you have a particular reason?"

"Might be our last chance."

"Let me find some pants then."

"If you must."

Rodney stood looking out at the Washington Monument and considering the feasibility of moving to Outer Mongolia before morning. John reappeared in a pair of faded-out black jeans and a tight white tee shirt that did a good job of showing off his new weightlifter shoulders—and his nipples.

"I'm up for a bit of a walk, if you want to hit that Italian place down the street," John said.

"Sure, yes, it's a nice night."

Rodney made the maitre d' give them a booth in the most secluded corner. John raised his eyebrows but followed along. They shared some mussels in garlic butter and a bottle of Prosecco that was as tart and dry as summer—summer somewhere other than DC that is. "The Guardian is running the story tomorrow," Rodney said, "well, the day after tomorrow, but it will hit the web tomorrow night here."

"They slipped the IOA's leash?"

"Someone tried to strong-arm the publisher; he told them to fuck off, and here we are."

"They have the whole story?" John asked.

"Enough. Our names, faces. Everybody else too, but..."

"We're the ones that are here."

"Yeah, well, for now. It's inevitable that Woolsey, Radek and maybe Lorne will be recalled to handle some press duties. I'm planning on making my move on O'Neill and insisting that Ronon and Teyla get added to the list."

"That would be great for us, but hell for them," John said. "How do you prepare someone for the media circus they'll face?"

"I think Ronon and Teyla might be just what the media and the IOA deserve, since they aren't predisposed to put up with any of it. From what Sam has let slip, and some slightly more blunt things Daniel's told me, the IOA is not too concerned with protecting the privacy of the sacrificial lambs they throw to the media. Which brings me to an interesting point; details of our living arrangement haven't quite filtered out to anyone outside of Homeworld yet."

"How the hell did that happen? I just figured–"

"O'Neill's sense of humor is ever wondrous and strange." Rodney looked a glare at the innocent waiter who had stopped to whisk away their plates and replace them with steaming piles of pasta. "I'm assuming the Guardian guy is not so easily misled. We'll be all over the news."

"We'll be the news. Faggots in space."

"Hmmm. Not in so many words of course; they'll be polite and call it a homosexual scandal, but the unofficial media will be all over this, and then of course there are the people who want a symbol they can flog."

"Call Karen," John said.

"Yeah, we have to call her and Dave, also Jeannie, et al—and you should tell your gym playmates in person."

"No, I mean yes, but I meant call Karen and tell her we need a PR person," John said.

"We do?"

"Trust me on this. If you want your image managed and your message spun, you hire a pro."

"You know, it's weird but even with being around Dave all the time, I still forget where you came from, who you used to be."

"I used to be a lot of things," John said.

"Yeah, you and me both." Rodney attacked his pasta for a while and then said, "I'm getting antsy doing the office thing."

"Yeah?"

"I don't—I don't have any other plans exactly, I'm just–"

"Antsy," John said.

"Yes. You?"

"Nah, I mean I wouldn't mind a vacation, but I like the writing thing. Still seems presumptuous to be writing my fucking memoirs, but–"

"You're good at it. I'm thinking of hiring you to ghost write mine."

"Really? I mean you're not just being a smart ass?"

"Well I'm always that, but no, really, I mean it. I'm not the literary snob you are, but I liked what I read. Hell I was there for all of it and I still learned something so..." Rodney let the waiter take his plate and sipped at his wine, picturing his schedule for the next day and trying to wedge in even a phone call to a PR firm. "We could go to Vancouver for a bit," he said.

"Hmmm," John said, and then, "Ocean."

"Yes, the Pacific in fact."

Rodney pulverized the remaining scrap of his tiramisu into crumbs with his fork. John was indulging himself with a cognac, and the waiter wandered by occasionally to try to guilt them into leaving. "So, if we go the PR route, and I think we should, just what is our message?"

John stared over Rodney's shoulder for a while, and then said seriously, "I'm not married to the idea, but I'm thinking faggots in space actually has a nice ring to it."

"You getting militant in your old age?"

"The cane isn't just stylish, Rodney."

"Okay, I'll confess—I don't get it," Rodney said.

John smiled the smile that didn't reach his eyes. "I can't pass anymore, Rodney."

"Which means what, precisely?"

"It means that there have been a few incidents, things people have said and done, and it's opened my eyes a little. I also don't really like the prospect of being touted as the crippled hero by people who would hate me if they knew I was gay."

"Ah," was all Rodney said, and then, "Faggots in space it is then." Rodney wasn't sure if he'd ever tried to pass; he'd just never actively tried not to. He hadn't said anything to Jack when he'd realized some sort of force field had gone up around his little corner of Homeworld Security keeping gossip about his living arrangements from leaking out. He'd never told Ronon and Teyla exactly why he was leaving Atlantis and returning to Earth; he just told himself he didn't need to and that they understood. He'd never really lied to anyone on Atlantis, but there was one memorable conversation with Elizabeth where she'd gotten exactly the wrong idea about him and John, which was still in some way the right idea, that he'd gotten himself out of by the skin of his teeth. His sessions with Kate Heightmeyer had been more nerve wracking than helpful at times, with his mind full of everything he couldn't say. During his background check, he'd looked an IOA interviewer in the eye and grimly refused to answer certain questions. He'd been terrified he was going to screw his chances for Atlantis, but he was afraid his bad lies would be worse. Katie—that was lying to himself though, so did that count? "Hey, we're outside," Rodney said, noticing the stench of car exhaust and the bright lights of the city that blotted out the stars.

"Yeah, Rodney, I know. You've been inside your own head for the last half-hour. I just figured you were trying to stick me with the tab."

"Well, what's the point of shacking up with some sexy millionaire, if I have to pay for my own dinner?"

"Right, you're after me for my money."

"No, not really. It's your dirty mind I'm more interested in."

"Ah, Rodney," John said and slung his arm around Rodney's shoulders, "you say such sweet things to me." They continued walking, John's arm around his shoulder and Rodney's arm around John's waist. They couldn't walk very quickly that way, but the night was warm, and it was nice to not be in a hurry.

When they got home, John dragged him by the hand into the living room and then just stood staring out the window.

"Look," Rodney said when he'd gotten tired of trying to figure out why they were standing there, "not that this isn't fun, but–"

"Shut up for a second, Rodney," John said, so he did. After a long time where they stood pressed tight together and stared at the obelisk that always reminded Rodney of the Goa'uld, John finally spoke. In a careful flat tone, just the way he'd delivered their most horrible mission reports in the early days, he said, "It was autumn when I told my father I'd joined the Air Force. Waved the papers in his face, the whole deal. He raged at me, of course; I knew he would, and I egged him on. He brought out the big guns, said the thing he'd been saying to me since I was a kid." John squeezed Rodney's shoulder and continued, "He said, Johnny-boy, your life is a straight line, a straight line to Washington."

"What, you want to move?" Rodney said, and he was mentally packing their stuff; there was no reason they couldn't go live by the ocean, or somewhere with actual winter, or maybe–

"No Rodney," John said, and kissed the side of his head. "I'm just telling you I'm glad I took the crooked path."