John woke up in the hotel room and pushed the cobwebs of sleep away as he reached next to him, finding cooled sheets where Rodney's warm body was supposed to be. "Rodney?" he called, his voice echoing throughout the plush room, but got no answer. He groaned, then got out of bed and padded over to the door, where there was a note taped just below the peephole.
"Seeing a friend. Be back soon.
John crumpled the paper in his hand, then tossed it toward the recycling container, where it fell just short. He picked it up and dropped it in, then grabbed some clothes and went for a shower.
Vacation had brought them to Canada, though it was mostly to visit Jeannie and her family in Vancouver. When Rodney had suggested they spend some time in Virginia to see John's brother, John sidetracked them, saying, "I've never been to Toronto. Maybe we can go see a Leafs game?" He knew Rodney didn't pay attention to sports but had somehow always kept up with the Toronto team's schedule, though his attention faltered a year or so back. He wasn't sure why, but maybe Rodney's disappearance to see a friend had something to do with it.
After a couple of hours and still no Rodney, John got antsy. He pulled a couple of strings and contacted Cheyenne Mountain, where he was able to get one of the SGA drones to ping Rodney's subcutaneous transmitter. "He's in a neighborhood a couple of miles from your hotel," the Airman said. "Looks like he's moving around erratically - almost in a circle. Do you want me to dispatch a team to pick him up?"
"No," John replied. "Just text me the coordinates, and I'll go see what's holding him up."
There was a click of buttons. "Sent," the Airman replied. "Oh, and Colonel, the Daedalus is in orbit, if either of you needs extraction."
John chuffed out a laugh, then said, "Thanks," before he signed off.
It took a little while to find the coordinates, and when John finally spotted him, he realized why Rodney's signal was erratic. Rodney was on the ice, playing some sort of pick-up hockey. He got out of the SUV, bundled deeper into his jacket to ward off the -20 wind chill, and walked up to the makeshift ice rink. Pond hockey. He had no idea Rodney could even skate. But as he looked out over the ice, there was no mistaking Rodney; he could pick those broad shoulders out of any lineup. And the way he moved on the ice told John that he was no stranger to either skating or hockey. Only thing that worried him was that Rodney seemed to have abandoned his jacket, opting instead for a green jersey that matched his teammates.
"McKay!" John called out, and Rodney instantly looked over. However, John's call had the unintended consequence of taking Rodney's attention off of the defensive player in a blue jersey he'd been haggling with. The player changed directions in an instant, swung around Rodney, and shot the puck into the net. Players on the team cheered as they skated to one another, calls of, "Nice one McNally!" coming from the players in blue.
He hadn't realized someone had walked up to him until a voice next to him asked, "So you the guy Rodney's been talking about?"
That took John aback. "Rodney's been talking about me?"
The guy smiled, took off his gloves, and held out a hand. "I'm Sam. Sam Miller. I'm Eric's..." He didn't finish the sentence, though John understood the words not said. Whatever Sam was to Eric - whoever that was - well, John was in the same boat with Rodney. He was Rodney's...something. They hadn't defined their relationship, but they were all but married. Had been for a couple of years.
"Which one's Eric?" John asked as Rodney and the other players started streaming off the ice.
"John?" Rodney called as he skated closer, his arm around another player.
"The one Rodney has his arm around," Sam replied. And was that a jealous tone in Sam's voice? John barely noticed it, because the arm Rodney had around the handsome player touched a nerve for him as well.
"What're you doing here?" Rodney asked as he stepped off the ice and walked awkwardly on his skates to where John and Sam stood. He watched as Eric withdrew from Rodney's arm and walked up to Sam. And while he didn't pull Sam into a hug, or show any affection at all, John could tell by the way Eric said, "Hey, Sammy," exactly how close Eric and Sam were. "Eric? This is my partner, John. Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, United States Air Force." Rodney gestured to his friend. "John? This is my friend Eric McNally. Retired NHL player who played with the Toronto Maple Leafs."
John reached out to shake Eric's hand and smiled as he watched Eric's fingers brush Sam's, which brought a smile to Sam's face, then shook. "Nice to meet you, John." He glanced back at the pond. "And thanks," he said, then bobbed his head, "for that."
"Likewise," John said, then asked, "Wait, thanks for what?"
"Distracting this guy so I could break the tie," Eric replied.
"Yeah, you owe me so many-" Rodney started, then caught himself. He cleared his throat, then said, "You can pay up later," with a mischievous smile on his face.
Rodney chose that moment to lean into John. "Oh jeez, McKay," John said. "You're all kinds of sweaty." He playfully moved back, but Rodney just tried to get closer, even with the bulk of his hockey equipment making it complicated.
Sam looked at John as he rolled his eyes. "You get used to it," he said. After a beat, he added, "You guys wanna head back to our place where these two can shower? Then, I believe, the tradition is loser takes winners out for drinks."
"You in?" Eric asked, looking at Rodney.
Rodney glanced at John, who gave the smallest of head bobs. "You're on."
It was much later that John got the story of how Rodney and Eric knew each other. Rodney's family had grown up down the street from Eric before Rodney's family had enrolled him in a gifted school halfway across Canada. They'd been friends since they were kids, and Eric had taught Rodney how to play the game.
And when they'd gotten back to Atlantis, after about half of his debt had been paid, John called in a few favors from Zelenka and surprised Rodney with an indoor ice rink on Atlantis. It had previously been a ballast tank for the city, but with a little bit of engineering, had become a great ice rink. Now he just had to figure out how to requisition dozens of pairs of ice skates.