It was the two-year anniversary of Rodney’s break-up with Keller.
Also the two-year anniversary of getting Atlantis back to the Pegasus Galaxy, but John knew what was more important.
He’d thought he’d have to search high-and-low for McKay, but no: there Rodney was in the first place he looked for him – in their special man-cave.
While Atlantis had been on Earth, the old girl had been given every overhaul and tune-up that could be given to her. During that time, a sort of ‘pocket space’ had been revealed to John and Rodney. They had claimed that space for their own and fit it with cozy furniture, a big flatscreen TV, game consoles, books, music player, a mini-fridge… everything to make it a home-away-from-home.
Either one of them could be found there on unusually tough days.
John liked to think that it was how Rodney sought him out for comfort. Even if he wasn’t physically in the room with McKay, it was their space, and so he was there-by-association.
That’s how it worked for him when he needed comfort.
When he arrived, Rodney was having a Manhattan made with port. Citrus was often used in several, if not most, cocktails. It heavily infused many alcohols. Too many makers were far too secretive about their ingredients, so Rodney frequently didn’t chance it.
Port was safe, however, and instead of a Manhattan made with vermouth (too often citrus-infused), he used port instead. Finding that out, John had asked his brother for advice on what port to get and had been steered towards a label called Sandeman. It was a tawny port (instead of a ruby or some other color), ridiculously smooth, and Rodney had shocked the shit out of everyone by laying a kiss on John that had curled his toes.
Of course: McKay had been three sheets to the wind at the time, but John would take what he could get.
Closing the door behind him, he watched Rodney glance up at him before flicking his gaze away. The melody of a French song from the fifties or sixties – a doo-wop love song – filled the man-cave. John’s French was rusty, but he could tell it was a little ditty about young love.
“Hey, buddy,” he greeted.
“Don’t be coy,” McKay snapped. “I know what today is and so do you.”
“Ah-ha.” John stuffed his hands into his pockets and rocked on his booted feet. “Mind if I join you?”
Rodney scoffed. “You’re the only one who wants to, so, no: I don’t mind at all.” He knocked back the liquid in his glass and held up the empty receptacle. “Another.”
“As you command, Thor.”
Rodney made a rude noise as John collected the glass. Sheppard let his smile out to play once his back was safely turned.
He fixed up another Manhattan for McKay (on Atlantis, it was known as the McKay Manhattan), grabbed a glass of straight port for himself (what; it was good), and then joined his friend on the sofa.
They sat, and drank, and listened to the song – again and again and again.
Several drinks and song repeats later, John finally had enough.
“’Kay,” he said, and gestured at nothing with his glass, “what is this? My high school French is way rusty. I’m getting somethin’ about boys and girls and age and something-something.”
Rodney scoffed. “You took French? I’d have thought—“
Rodney heaved a sigh and looked away.
“’All boys and girls my age / walk in the street two by two / all boys and girls my age / know well what it is to be happy / and eyes in the eyes, and hand in hand / they go away in love without fear of tomorrow / Yes but me, I go alone by the streets, the soul in pain / yes but me, I go alone, because nobody loves me’,” he translated.
John winced. “McKay. That isn’t—“
“Don’t!” Rodney snapped. He sat forward; elbows on knees and glass clutched between his hands. “Don’t. John… don’t.”
“I’m not lying to you,” John said quietly. “I wouldn’t.”
“Just the other day, you said—“
“About this, Rodney,” John interrupted, his tone testy. He sat forward and bumped his knee against McKay’s. “Not about this.”
Rodney sighed and nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I – I – I know. I know that, John.”
Sheppard’s heart panged as it always did whenever Rodney allowed himself to use his friend’s given name.
“Why this song?” he asked, nudging Rodney again. “It sounds too cute to be about something so sad.”
“Hello, and welcome to the French.”
John snorted a laugh. “No, seriously.”
“I am serious!” Rodney glanced at him and that crooked mouth wicked up in a sly smile. “But, no… this song… it was playing at a school dance. There was this girl, a—“
“Blonde,” John said, his voice echoing Rodney’s.
McKay sputtered a laugh and nodded.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “I – yeah. Anyway… I was getting ready to move on to higher education. She wasn’t… like that; like me. She wasn’t beyond-average smart, but God, she was beautiful. She rarely paid attention to me and when she did… it was okay. She wasn’t hateful, she wasn’t snide – she wasn’t superficially nice or anything, but she wasn’t mean. Naturally: I loved her.”
John nodded even as he silently chastised himself for feeling jealous over a long-ago little girl.
Rodney lifted his head; smiled at the memory in his mind.
“I was going away, everyone knew it,” he said. “Plenty of people had lined up to say ‘good riddance’ or some version of it. My parents made me attend the dance, blah blah blah… and she danced with me. She came right over to wallflower me, picked me, and took me onto the floor.”
Rodney sighed, but kept smiling.
“She said she was going to miss me,” he said, and his voice was soft with amazement. “She said I made her laugh and she was going to miss me. We slow-danced to this song; the two of us just – just – just hanging on to each other and drifting in place.”
He suddenly knocked back his drink and got up to make another one.
“That’s why,” he said, fussing at the bottles on the mini-bar; his voice brusque. “It’s a cute sad song and it fits my mood.”
He turned – and found John very much in his space.
Rodney squawked and then yelped in outrage as he fumbled the glass, spilling the contents all over both of them.
John caught the glass; set it on the bar with his own.
“Dance with me,” he said.
Rodney’s indignant diatribe about ‘ninjas’ and ‘spooks’ and ‘don’t you fucking use your special ops on me’ went silent immediately.
Without a word, he locked gazes with John. Blue eyes expressed so many things in one long stare: suspicion, hurt, hope, vulnerability.
John took hold of Rodney’s arms; drew them up until McKay fumbled them around his shoulders. He settled his own hands on Rodney’s hips and pulled him closer until he could set his chin on the stocky shelf of the other man’s shoulder.
“Let’s drift, Rodney,” he whispered.
“I—I—I—“ The stuttering squeak was too full of fear for John’s liking.
He pulled Rodney closer and wrapped his arms around him and shifted them into drifting.
It took a while, but Rodney finally melted: let his body go lax as he set his chin on John’s shoulder; tightened the embrace of his arms.
Rodney shivered in his arms and John tightened them even more.
The two men drifted in place, letting the song play around them. They figured out their groove; where their feet and knees and everything was supposed to go.
“Why?” McKay whispered.
“So you know you’re not alone on the streets,” John whispered back. “I’m here, Rodney. I’m right here.”
They drifted some more, through two repeats of the song, and then John got a fiending grin on his face as he tried to sing along.
“No,” Rodney laughed, pushing at him playfully. “No! No. Just – just stop, Sheppard.”
“C’mon, McKay!” he cajoled. “It isn’t that bad!”
“You sound like a gorilla being goosed by a hyena!”
John laughed; the sound, as always, reminiscent of gravel in a gristmill. “How would you know?!”
McKay affected a prim look. “I just know.”
John smirked. “Yeah, that’s you: knowing things. You—“
“No! No. No ‘Game of Thrones’. This is me time; not Ronon time!”
Both men snickered. Ronon was, of course, wild about the show for many reasons – but the big draw was how one of the early characters had looked so much like him it had had Atlantis personnel talking about secret cloning facilities.
“Yeah, okay,” John agreed. “This is ‘you’ time.”
Neither of them had stopped drifting together.
Rodney gave him an uncertain look. “You don’t mind…?”
“Hey.” John lifted a hand and set it to the back of McKay’s head; pressed there firmly and gave him a gentle shake. “Hey. I never mind being there when you need me. And don’t say you don’t need me, Rodney. It’s the two-year anniversary of trading the love of your life for Atlantis.”
“I…” Rodney winced. “It sounds extremely bad when you put it like that.”
“It does, doesn’t it?” John agreed, frowning. He dropped his arm back down around McKay’s waist. “How about this: two years ago, you had the choice between getting Atlantis back home where she belonged or marrying Keller and settling down on Earth. You chose Atlantis and lost the love of your life doing so.”
“….Except you’re still here.”
John stopped drifting.
Rodney immediately tried to flee, but John locked his arms tight and refused to let go. After a few seconds, Rodney huffed. His hands bunched in the fabric of John’s hoodie.
“I can’t – I gotta – I can’t let you feel sorry for me under false pretenses!” McKay spat. He gathered his courage, as he always did, and lifted his chin to a pugnacious angle and met John’s wild-eyed stare. “I loved Jennifer, yes, because she was like that girl so long ago – kind enough to me. But Keller wasn’t – isn’t – the love of my life. That’s – that’s… you.”
His courage failed for a moment, and then he rallied.
“I do not, for an instant, think you’re going to harm me for this confession, so please don’t worry about that,” Rodney said, his tone clipped as it usually got when he was on the defensive. “But I also won’t be surprised if our relationship changes as you’re quite the ladies man, and having an – an – an ageing, balding, pudgy, cantankerous old goat of a scientist admitting to being in love with you – and have been, for so long I can’t remember what being without you was like—“
Whatever else he was going to say was destroyed as John’s lips crashed against his.
Rodney gave a terrified squeak and he scrambled in place for a few seconds – and then, as John shifted his angle and kissed him again, and then again; pressing in with soft, wanting lips – Rodney realized what was happening.
He pulled his head away and gasped: “You’re kissing me!”
John stared at him for three hot seconds and then snorted a laugh.
“Yeah, McKay,” he drawled. “I am. Or: I was. I wanna get back to it.”
Rodney huffed and stepped back, crossing his arms over his chest.
John reached out and shoved his arms down and then pulled him close again.
“We will talk about this,” John promised, “but in a way that won’t terrify the crap out of both of us – hopefully. The short version is: I love you, too, Rodney McKay. I love you as a friend. I love you romantically. I do, in fact, want to have sex with you. I hate Jennifer Keller like fuck-all else for having you and then letting you go. I’m really offended that she gave you an ultimatum when she should have been smart and agreed to anything that would let her keep you. But I’m grateful she didn’t because I was going to give up command if you weren’t going to be here with me. I was going to do whatever I had to do to be as close to you as possible and pretend to be happy that you were with her just so I could see you as regularly as I could. You get on my fucking nerves so easily. You piss me off occasionally. You take my breath away every two minutes with your brilliance and your general you-ness. And you make me laugh, Rodney. You make me laugh so much and I love it. I love you.”
Rodney stared at John with tears glistening in his wide, shocked, blue eyes.
“You…” His shoulders heaved as his breath hitched. “John. You love me.”
John relaxed at that. “Yeah, buddy. I sure do. And you love me. And we’ve wasted enough time – but I’d take all the time necessary to make sure I don’t screw up the gift of having you in my life. I’ll take this however fast or slow you want, McKay. Whatever it takes to make sure I’m still here with you where I’m supposed to be.”
“Fuck you – did you rip that from a Hallmark Christmas movie?” Rodney demanded. “That was perfect! You’re perfect! Stop – stop doing that, you—“
John laughed and pulled McKay in for some more kisses.
When Rodney whispered “I love you” so soft and sincere against his lips, John smiled.
“Oh, you are not Han Solo! You pointy-eared—“
“I take it back. I take it back, do you hear me? I—“
“Stop fibbing, Rodney, and kiss me. I’ve gone through hell to get to this part.”
“What – kissing? We’ve done that a few times already.”
“Nah – the part where I get everything that means everything to me: you.”
“Fuck you, Sheppard! You are so blatantly unfair—!”