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With True Love and Brotherhood

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“He's your responsibility.”

John sighs and admits, “I hadn't really thought about having to keep track of Todd and deal with my brother.”  Apparently avoiding Dave wasn't going to be possible this holiday, though John hadn't tried that hard. He did want to build a better relationship between them, but he's a busy guy, especially right now.

Mister Woolsey doesn’t look particularly sympathetic. “Doctor McKay has already cleared with Area 51 for you to use the technology they’ve obtained to alter Todd’s appearance. You wanted a Wraith on your team. Visiting your family will be an excellent test for him.” He narrows his eyes at John in a way that suggests that he's trying to hide amusement. 

John scowls. “Well they better give him a cover identity that I can explain to Dave.”

Woolsey smirks. “You’ll have to take that up with Doctor McKay.”

“Great,” John mutters.

 


 

In the lab Rodney has his head buried in his computer, so when John walks in he turns his attention to the other person present- a tall man that John's never seen before.

His pale blond hair is pulled into a tail at the back of his head and he regards John with light brown, almost amber eyes. John frowns. The guy looks... familiar? But not really. Actually, he looks delicious, in high-end jeans and a dark blue sweater the covers broad shoulders. John’s taking an appreciative second look when the man smirks at him and, by his expression, John recognizes, “Todd?”

Rodney notices he's there and looks up. “Obviously. I’ve modified the tech leftover from those aliens. " He frowns and snaps his fingers like he's waiting for their name to manifest, but when it doesn't he just continues, " The ones from the SGC’s first foothold situation. See, the device originally functioned by connecting the user to a host body, and included a mental link that allowed the user access to the memories of the host body, but since that’s not exactly necessary in this case we…”

“Rodney." John signs. "The plane does leave today.”

Rodney gives him a dirty look. Todd chuckles and takes over, saying, “Rather than allowing me to copy the appearance and thoughts of another human, the device now, with Doctor McKay’s excellent work, allows me to simply modify my own appearance to one that will attract less attention on your planet.” His voice sounds weird- completely normal for a human of course, but John can't help but think that there's something wrong with it.

Rodney preens a bit at Todd’s compliment to him, and John scowls. Todd has been doing a great job ingratiating himself with John’s team (even Ronon seems slightly less inclined toward murderous glares lately, which John can only marvel at), and while John is usually happy about that, at the moment he’s annoyed that Rodney and Todd seem to be conspiring for him to bring hot human Todd along to spend Christmas with his brother when John has enough trouble dealing objectively with hot alien Todd. He’s supposed to be objective, evaluating Todd for a permanent spot on the team, but it was hard before and he’s not sure if the idea of Todd being on the team is going to last through Christmas at his brother’s house.

“I’m glad it works,” John says, and he wishes he didn’t sound so grudging because Rodney does do good work, “but what’s your backstory?”

“Specialist Dex was able to tell me a bit about your family’s situation,” Todd begins, but John interrupts.

“This isn’t going to be a quick in and out like with Ronon, we’re going to be there long enough you'll have to actually talk to people,” John protests.

“Yes, John,” Todd says in the way that John always finds especially annoying, and this time it's made worse by Todd not sounding like himself, his voice too flat. “But I believe the explanation of being a 'contractor' will explain how we came to know each other.” He grins.

John scowls again. He’s going to hate this, he can tell.

 


 

What John really hates is that he’s pretty sure he would enjoy the crap out of the holiday if it was anything other than what he knows it’s going to be. Spending a few days hanging out with Todd and showing him around Earth would be great. A few days with John’s family would be only mildly excruciating. But put the two things together and John’s not sure all of them are going to actually survive. Todd’s been really great so far, for some reason acting like he really wants to be a part of John’s team, and he’s smart, and quick at picking things up, but John’s got a sinking feeling in his gut that something is going to go horribly wrong on this trip. Though maybe that's just experience talking.

 

They rent a car at the airport.

"Shall I drive?" Todd offers, grin slightly less pointy than usual but no less mischievous for it.

John stands for a moment, lost in the possibility of a better vacation- him, Todd, two surfboards in the back of a pickup, an empty beach, nice waves, and plenty of sand to go tearing over as Todd practices driving without John having to worry about causing a pileup.

“I’ve got it,” John replies.

Todd doesn’t really look hurt by the refusal, but there’s something about his expression that seems... less open than it had been before. John’s not sure how to tell Todd about what he wants from their time together, because he has a feeling that Todd would be quick to encourage him to blow off his obligations and do what pleases him instead. John really does want to have a better relationship with his brother, so he's not going to just blow him off, but John's pretty sure that Christmas isn't going to be a great setup for them getting closer.

 

Once they’re both in the car, John distracts himself by asking Todd, “You’ve got your cover story down, right?”

Todd sighs. “Yes, John. And I am well able to answer questions about my person with your phrase, ‘I am sorry but that is classified.’”

“Okay.” John takes a deep breath.

 


 

There’s snow on the ground but the roads are clear, and John pulls up to the estate in good time. The grounds look perfect, the snow untouched and crisp on the grass. The house itself is decked out with wreaths on the front door, hanging from the pillars that frame it, and also in the upper story windows. A lit and decorated tree shines in the lower story window of what John knows is the front parlor. The bushes are covered with strings of lights that twinkle brightly against the overcast afternoon.

"This is the home of your family?" Todd says.

"Yeah." John realizes he's stopped the car, and he continues slowly down the drive. "We had a couple houses, but Dad was always a fan of a good old-fashioned New England Christmas."

The original house is a dark, two-story block of a thing that John has always hated, but successive generations have added on to the property and the house is sprawled out in the back. The original foundation has to date back to the Revolution; John's mood lightens a bit when he realizes that that’s still young compared to Todd.

As John drives, Todd observes, "The Georgian style is heavily symmetrical, which has a certain appeal, but it does lend itself to imposing edifices that do not generate the warmth one would perhaps desire in a dwelling."

John slams on the brakes, the car squealing and Todd frowning as he's thrown against the seatbelt.

"What?" John hisses.

Todd just gives him a questioning look.

John tries to remember to breathe and realizes he's been getting more and more tense as they get closer to the house. He exhales. "You sound like a damn home and garden magazine. How do you know anything about Earth architecture?"

"I can read, John," Todd replies, amusement coloring his voice. They look at each other for a long moment, and Todd's amused confidence fades until he looks momentarily unsure. "I did research on several topics in order to provide subjects for conversation," he says. When John continues staring, he adds, "Was this information incorrect?"

John tears his eyes away from Todd and exhales slowly. "No. It's fine." Actually, he feels a little… giddy, picturing Todd on the Internet doing research on Earth conversation topics. John clears his throat. "Um, that's… that, uh, was a good idea." The compliment feels incredibly lame, and, even before he says anything, he sees Todd relax, like he's sensed John's feelings under the awkwardness of the moment, so they're unnecessary too. John clears his throat again and concentrates on driving.

 

The back of the house is a cleared gravel yard that fills the whole space between the house and the stables; there are a couple cars parked there, but John knows they belong to the help, as Dave's car will be in the garage, around the side of the house opposite where the drove in, and there aren't any other guests.

Dave comes out of the back door and waves as they pull up.

John takes a deep breath and opens the car door to step out, a pleasant smile fixed on his face. The air is cold and smells like more snow might be coming soon.

He and Dave walk toward each other, snow and gravel crunching under John's feet. They both stop kind of awkwardly, facing each other. "I'm glad you could make it," Dave says. He sounds like he might still be thinking about if he actually agrees with that statement or not.

"Yeah, well," is John's reply.

Dave looks at Todd with much the same look he'd given Ronon.

"This is Todd," John puts in awkwardly. "We work together."

"Another 'civilian contractor'?" Dave asks, and there's something pointed in the question that makes John frown.

"But of course," Todd replies. "I have no interest in joining the military, but they do produce some fine work on occasion." He side-eyes a leer at John.

John's entire world freezes. Did Todd just make a joke about hitting on him, to Dave? Never mind lasting the night, this isn't going to last past the introduction.

But Dave smiles, an easy, relaxed expression. "I suppose they do," he allows. He clears his throat. "Why don't you come in?" He spreads his arms and beckons Todd toward the house. John follows woodenly.

Dave gestures Todd in ahead of him and then hovers a little awkwardly around John at the door before seizing his hand and shaking it. "You look good," he offers, and it sounds more genuine than his earlier words.

John grunts in response, too shocked and uncomfortable to find words, and Dave releases him to go after Todd.

The back door brought them in through a wide hallway just off the kitchen. "Can I take your coat?" Dave offers and Todd, looking amused as all hell, gives it to him. John hangs up his own coat before Dave can ask. Dave frowns, but quickly says, "Michelle and little Jayden are in the parlor," as he leads the way.

John frowns. He's pretty sure that Michelle is Dave's wife, but Dave's never been the type to get overly sentimental about animals, so he's pretty sure "little Jayden" isn't the dog.  "Who's Jayden?" he asks.

Dave falters and turns to look at him. "You forgot." His eyes narrow. "You forgot why I wanted you here, this Christmas especially. My son's first Christmas."

He sounds like their father in this moment, the blame and barely controlled anger in his voice.

So, John starts to respond the way he always had to his father, fanning the flames of anger with sarcasm and a facade of indifference. He sucks in a breath, but right as he opens his mouth a hand clamps down on his shoulder and he finds his attention arrested by Todd, the words dying unspoken in his throat. Todd's right hand is digging fingers into the meat of his shoulder, John's own eyes caught in the steady gaze of Todd's pale brown and oddly round-pupiled eyes. He can feel, through the material of his shirt, the ridges of Todd's feeding slit- which can't be real, surely his disguise would hide that of all things.

But it's enough, enough to pull John out of his head, his own insecurity, and remember why he's here. "'m sorry," he says, instead of all the painful things he wants to say. He chances a look at Dave.

Dave looks poleaxed. "I… No, I'm sorry. I… I suppose I sounded like Dad right there. I… I didn't mean-"

He stops there, and John's grateful he doesn't force out more of a lie. "You did mean it," he points out. "But I should stop expecting you to be him." He takes a deep breath and looks at Todd, his unexpected anchor in this, before he shifts his eyes back to Dave. "It got so I could never do anything right, so I stopped paying attention to anything he wanted. I'm not an angry kid anymore and I'm sorry I came in here feeling like I was still dealing with him."

Dave looks a little choked up. "He didn't mean it," he says. "He never wanted to push you away."

John feels his willingness to open up to Dave dry up instantly. If there's one thing he didn't come here to do it was to have someone try to tell him he and Dad could have "worked it out" if John had just tried harder.

Dave clears his throat. "But this isn't about him," he says definitively. John nods and Dave walks forward and, somehow, they all make it out of the hallway and into the parlor.

John vaguely remembers Michelle from the funeral- a petite, athletic woman. She'd been wearing black and had her blonde hair in an immaculate, curling updo. Now she looks more relaxed in a sweater and designer sweats, her darker blonde hair pulled into an easy looking bun as she smiles at them from her seat on a trendy but comfortable sofa near the lit tree, a bundle of blankets in her arms.

"Shelly, you remember John," Dave says. "And this is Todd… I'm sorry I didn't get your last name."

"John, welcome," Michelle says in greeting, raising an eyebrow as she appraises Todd.

"Mrs. Sheppard," Todd greets her. He bows, completely ignoring Dave's request for his name. "Felicitations on the birth of your child."

Michelle smiles, well-charmed, and John tries not to grit his teeth. "Thank you." Michelle draws the blanket away to reveal the child's face. "We named him Jayden Noah."

John drifts closer. “How old is he?”

Michelle smiles tiredly. “Two months exactly on Christmas Day.”

Dave goes to stand behind her, his hand on her shoulder proudly.

John steps closer until he's standing next to Todd and he looks down at Jayden in Michelle’s arms. The sleeping baby is little more than a round face at the moment, eyes squinted shut as if something about life annoys him. John feels some emotion rise in him, but he's not sure what to call it. This is his nephew. He's never wanted kids, but, in a way, this is a child that he can be responsible for… for taking on camping trips or something, without being solely responsible for the child growing up to be a fuck-up like him. Todd is a solid presence against his side.

"He is beautiful," Todd says politely, and, with entirely too much gravity, he continues, "I could, as you say, eat him up."

John chokes and ends up having to excuse himself from the room to have a coughing fit.

 


 

Mary, the maid, is just in the process of setting the table for their dinner and saves him by getting him a glass of water. She's the last of the staff in the house and will soon be on her way out the door to leave to see her own family. The grooms are still in the stable, probably until almost evening making sure the horses are taken care of before they also head off to celebrate Christmas.

Once she's busy with her work, John takes the opportunity to wander the halls of the house on his own rather than return to the parlor. He doesn’t feel bad about leaving Todd to the wolves; he can handle himself. Maybe he should feel back about leaving Dave and his family to the less metaphorical wolf.

 

John hasn’t been back here in years, probably a bit over a decade even.  He can tell that, especially here in the front of the house- the part most often seen by guests- there's been extensive remodeling done. He wanders up the stairs and strolls past what had once been his room. The walls are painted an almost aggressively neutral taupe and the furniture looks like it was plucked from a catalog and set up with the intention that no human ever need touch it.

"I have your stuff," Dave says from behind him. John turns. Dave has his hands shoved awkwardly in his trouser pockets. "In boxes. If you want to look through it. Dad was going to throw everything away."

"No thanks," John says in almost automatic rejection. But he's supposed to be trying to build a relationship here, so he sighs and adds, "Not right now. But maybe someday. Thanks, for keeping it."

"You're welcome," Dave replies.

And they've run out of things to talk about.

"Congratulations, and all that," John tries. He makes a vague gesture in the direction of the downstairs parlor. "He looks good. Healthy. Nothing like Dad."

Dave grins and almost laughs before he can stop himself. "Nothing like Dad," he agrees, and affirms, "I didn't want to name him after Dad. And neither did Michelle. We wanted a name that wasn't tied up in our families." He looks uncomfortable. "You know. Nothing… complicated."

John nods. "That's good." He's not sure if this could get weirder.

Dave tries to fill the awkward silence with, "So your, um, friend. Todd." Dave frowns.

John scowls. "Let me guess, you don't like him."

"Oh no, not at all," Dave says, surprised. "He's great. I mean, definitely better than some of the guys you-" He stops and coughs. "Um, I just thought it odd that I still don't remember his last name. Usually I'm better with names." He gives a half forced smile and tries to joke, "Anyway, Michelle's pretty smitten and I was wondering if I should be worried."

John doesn't know what to do with that, so he ends up laughing awkwardly. "No, probably not." There's no way that Todd is trying to steal John's brother's wife, that's… well, honestly he'd probably think it was funny, but still. "Todd's… on a restricted visa," John tries to explain. "That's the kind of thing that could get him sent back real quick." But also, John's suddenly insanely jealous that the vacation he had rather wanted to spend hanging out with Todd is instead John having awkward conversations in the hallway with his brother while Todd spends his time charming Michelle.

"Well, we should head down for dinner," Dave puts in.

John frowns and realizes the hall is lit only by the soft glow of the hall lamps. His stomach rumbles helpfully. "Yeah, okay."

Dave smiles. He seems pleased out of proportion to John's acceptance of his stating the obvious, but John supposes they haven't actually had a full on argument yet and that's reason enough to be pleased.

 

As they go downstairs, John discovers he has an excitement building in him. Todd is here, and he's about to see him again. One of the things that had attracted John to the idea of having Todd on his team was having him close and accessible.

When they enter the parlor, John's both disappointed to be reminded that Todd doesn't look like Todd, and a bit alarmed to find Todd holding the baby.

Todd has little Jayden held along his left arm; the baby's head is dwarfed against the spread of the long fingers of the hand that supports it. Todd is humming, Jayden looking up at him with a sort of stupefied wonder as the vibration soothes the baby back into sleep.

Michelle is glancing at her son fondly as she straightens her sweater and puts items in a tote near her feet. She sees them and smiles at Dave. "Jayden's changed and fed and ready to not interrupt our dinner," she tells him. They share a quiet laugh as John walks over to Todd.

Todd looks up at him. His expression is soft and unreadable, but that could be because his eyes are so strange and normal looking. He looks good, but he doesn't entirely look like Todd.

"Had no idea you were so good with kids," John mutters under his breath.

Todd hums thoughtfully. "I have dealt with younglings before," he replies just as softly. His expression spreads in a more human way as he says, "'Kids,' as you call them."

John is silent. There are things he wants to ask, but they aren't things that Dave and Michelle can hear.

Michelle comes over to retrieve Jayden, and Dave leads them into the dining room. "Gemma has the night off but she cooked us an excellent dinner before she went, and Mary set it out."

The long table is only set for four, two on each side of one end. The end chair, their father's chair, is gone, and the space is taken up by a rocking bassinet for Jayden. The serving platters have been covered with chafing dish lids and the food is still warm underneath, filling the room with savory smells as it's revealed. John gives Todd a significant look, but Todd easily navigates both the food and the conversation.

John does nearly choke on his wine when Todd mentions, "I had been led to believe that 'Sue' was a strong name for young males of your culture."

Dave raises a tragic eyebrow. "You made him listen to Johnny Cash without giving him proper American music?"

"Well." John wipes wine from his chin. "We have a limited selection. On base." And, because he's trying to build something here, he adds, "I suppose I'm a little biased."

Dave laughs.

 

After dinner it's snowing steadily.

Michelle takes charge of the dishes and sends Dave off, Jayden tucked in his father's arms, to show John and Todd to the guest rooms.

Dave opens the door at the end of a hallway that John remembers used to lead to a weird room that, when they were kids, had seemed to exist only to display the artistic endeavors of their great great uncle. It appears to have been remodeled into a guest suite. Todd nods to Dave and walks into the suite, but John lingers in the doorway with Dave. He can see in the main room a lamp lit, and the reflection of moonlight on the falling snow outside on the patio, the glass patio doors' curtains drawn back to display the view. "The door to the patio is unlocked, if you want to go outside." Dave shares a grin with John and it's like they're kids again, sneaking out in the snow to catch Santa. "And there's some bottles in the cabinet if you need to warm up again after." Dave flushes. He meets John's eye determinedly. "I'm really glad you came," he says, like he wants to say something else, but all he says is, "Goodnight."

"'Night," John says back to him. He shuts the door and turns to look at the room. It's a small sitting room, as he'd expected, an "entryway" into the guest suite, so the door doesn't open directly into the bedrooms of the suite; there's a table with two chairs, a long sofa facing the patio as well as a flatscreen television mounted on the wall, and John notes the liquor cabinet that Dave had mentioned. But, as he's looking around the room, John only sees two other doors. There's three if you count the patio, where Todd is leaning against the jamb of the door, looking out at the snow. But, as John crosses the thick carpet and opens the other two doors, he sees the one leads to a bathroom, and the other to a bedroom. One bedroom, with one bed. To be fair it's a massive king-size monstrosity that could probably fit eight people. It’s covered in a quilt that looks straight out of a catalog of things made to look homey and inviting, the image enhanced by both of their luggage from the car set on the foot of the bed. John can't quite wrap his mind around the fact that his brother set him and Todd up in a single guest room with one bed.

He's probably been standing in the open doorway staring at the bed for about twenty minutes when Todd finally shifts behind him. "I do not require much rest," he reminds John. "I can remain in the outer room tonight."

John flinches, because he was having a mental breakdown about the fact that his brother apparently knows about him, it had nothing to do with Todd, but Todd has reminded him of something else that's been bugging him. "What's your deal?" John demands, still facing the bedroom.

Todd's tone is unreadable as he asks, "What do you mean?" 

Now that he's not looking at Todd, John finds himself missing even more strongly the absence of the usual Wraith tonality in his voice. It's like his Todd isn't even here. John grips the door, then releases it and whirls to face Todd. "Turn it off," he demands. He gestures to Todd's face. "You're not fooling anyone here, so turn it off."

Todd's expression turns from impenetrable to something predatory. He inclines his head slightly and touches the fingers of his right hand to something on the left side of his chest. His appearance ripples, and he's actual Todd again, Wraith and everything.

John exhales, his eyes drinking Todd in. It's nice to see him, despite how weird it is to see the alienness of him leaned against the normalcy of an expensive set of curtains in his brother's guest room. His silver-white hair and beard is more striking against his dark blue sweater than the blond had been and the light from the single lamp is casting inviting shadows over the veined patterns of his skin. John's pleased also to have confirmation that this is Todd despite how strange he's been acting. "Why are you being so nice to my brother?" John isn't sure he really wants to hear the answer to that question, especially with the fact that Dave apparently knows- and Todd had joked with him about it earlier, so Todd knows that Dave knows- and John starts pacing back and forth on the thick carpet and tries to make it all make sense in his head.

"He is your brother," Todd says, like he doesn't see why this is an issue. "It is the purview of a teammate to be concerned with the status of your relationships, is it not? McKay said your relations with your family are strained."

"You're not officially on the team yet," John tries, reaching for something to put some distance between them.

"Sheppard," Todd rumbles, and John feels the shiver of it ripple up through him. Todd hasn't sounded like himself all day, his too-human voice oddly flat, John's family name sounding strange coming from Todd's lips and applied to Michelle- correct of course, but wrong. But now, here, Todd's mouth purring around the syllables of his name is a truth that belongs only to John. "We are brothers as well," Todd reminds him.

"That's different," John says. He's stopped his pacing, coming to the opposite side of the door from Todd, and stands now with his arms crossed over his chest like he's braced against the cold he can feel coming off the glass.

"Different in what way?" Todd asks. His golden eyes are following John, but he hasn't moved from his spot across the span of the glass double doors.

John shivers, but it isn't the cold. "How did you know?" he asks. "When we first got here, you joked with Dave that we were sleeping together. How did you know that he…" John clears his throat, his voice unconsciously lowering, "He'd be okay with it?"

Todd chuckles and John might be leaning a bit more heavily against the glass door now to help out his knees. "A combination of things," he says airily. "But primarily it was a gamble based on his tone when he greeted me."

John looks up sharply. "A what?"

Todd's eyes are knowing. "As if you have not done the same," he scoffs.

John opens then shuts his mouth. He can't argue with that, and it had worked out okay. Looking at the snow falling in the moonlight of a Christmas Eve night, he wants to let it go, but without holding on to his annoyance there's nothing between him and Todd but the truth. "Yeah, I guess I have," he admits.

Todd hums appreciatively at the admission.

John shivers again and shifts his weight. "If you, um," he starts, but he's barely spoken before Todd has already read the invitation in his thoughts and is moving across the space toward him, his arms wrapping around John. John can feel Todd's breath against his ear, and he shivers again but he feels warmer with the Wraith around him.

"The question is, Sheppard," Todd purrs in his ear, "are you well with your brother being aware of your interests?"

John looks out at the snow. Todd leaves the question open enough that John can interpret it either as being about Dave or about Todd. "Yeah," he says. "I am." He leans back against Todd experimentally. "My dad hated the idea of it. I thought he'd have taught that to Dave."

Todd hums softly. "Dave is, like you, his own person, not beholden to your father's desires."

"They've been the same in my head for a while," John says. He reaches with his left hand to touch the back of Todd's left hand, tucked against John's side, over his sweater, and lets his fingers stroke the smooth skin.

"That was the purpose of this trip, yes?" Todd suggests. "To see if you could be hive to each other again, in spite of past wounds dealt." He realizes he fumbled and corrects, "Be family to each other."

"Are we hive?" John asks before he can stop himself.

"We are brothers. It is… stronger than hive," Todd responds without directly answering the question. He hesitates, the soft movement of his breath teasing over John's ear. "I would be pleased if we could be something more."

John manages to keep the stupid smile off his face, though Todd can probably feel his heartbeat quickening. "More than brothers. Like what?"

Todd growls, the sound light and teasing, and tightens his arms around John, his right hand coming up to press to John's chest in a gesture that John recognizes as an expression of intimacy rather than hunger, but which still has his heart racing. "I am patient," Todd reminds him. "I have hunted this prey long and do not wish to startle my quarry."

John shivers. It's Christmas Eve, and it's snowing, and he doesn't want to run from this anymore. He turns in Todd's arms to look up at him. Todd's golden eyes are fixed on him. "What if I'm not patient?" John asks.

Todd looks at him, his slitted pupils wide in the low light as he searches John's face. He cups his left hand to the back of John's head, fingers stroking through his hair. "As you wish," he says.

John flinches. He looks at Todd almost angrily. "You researched that, too?" The words come out too breathy, too hopeful to be angry.

"Perhaps," Todd allows, sounding too pleased with himself for any nonchalance to be believed.

"Bastard," John mutters, but he's not sure who he's talking about.

Todd chuckles.

His mouth is so close to John's, John can feel the air from his breath, study the greenish grey of his lips, see the points of his teeth. John leans in, and Todd leans down to meet him, looking both amused and hopeful.

John kisses him. It's not something he'd planned out, and that goes about as well as it usually does for him- which is to say, not as expected yet somehow better. Todd's lips part invitingly, but when John takes that invitation, he nicks his lip on a tooth. When he pulls back, Todd's tongue pursues him; it's a lot longer than John was anticipating and that makes him pause in interest. He sinks his fingers into Todd’s long hair and focuses on the feel of the two of them, here.

Todd’s arms slide around him, lifting his sweater to stroke skin. John shivers as the cold air sneaks in along with Todd’s fingers. He leans back just enough to say, “So about that bedroom situation. It’ll be colder out here on the couch. You should come in.”

Todd smiles against his lips. “As you wish,” he repeats.

John shivers. They’re still tangled up in each other when John starts walking toward the bedroom, but Todd keeps his feet until they’re inside the room and John shuts the door behind them. He throws Todd against the back of the door and marvels again at the strange beauty of his alien in a cashmere sweater.

"It shouldn't be just what I 'wish'," John murmurs. He leans against Todd so that they're pressed together all along their bodies.

"I thought I had made my interest clear," Todd replies. His voice rumbles in his chest before it touches the air and John enjoys feeling it as much as he does hearing it.

"Yeah, okay, but what exactly are you interested in?" John counters.

"Ahh," Todd muses. He raises his right hand and brushes the backs of his fingers over John's cheek. "I am interested in you, John. I wish to be in your thoughts, to be a deeply ingrained part of your life- to be on your team, but to also know you more intimately than even that." He hesitates before continuing, "Perhaps it is asking much, but I would desire for you to be as devoted to me as I am to you."

"Hmm." John reaches for Todd with his own right hand, tracing the lines of Todd's tattoo over his cheek. "As you wish," he replies.

 

At some point they make it to the bed, and at some point John loses most of his clothes so that Todd's long fingers can stroke through the hair on John's chest with amused wonder while John's fingers trace the paths of twisting tattoos on Todd's own torso as Todd hums.

The room is well insulated and mostly warm, but when their exploring is interrupted by gooseflesh rippling over John's bared flesh, Todd wraps the quilt around them, and they sleep.

 


 

When he wakes, John feels an old excitement stirring him. It's Christmas morning, and from a place deep inside him, deeper than the disappointments in his life, that's a magical thing. As magical as being wrapped up in a warm embrace, already enjoying his gift.

John opens his eyes. The room is pretty dark, but he's lying on his side and he can see the line of Todd's arm thrown over him. He reaches to run his fingers down the outside of it, and then turns in Todd's embrace to push him back to lay flat on the bed, John leaning over him.

John looks down at him in the semidarkness. Todd's face is reduced to the features that define it- the strong ridge of his brows, the straight line of his nose, and the sweep of his sharp cheekbones- but John can also make out the curve of sensory pits on his cheeks.

Todd's eyes slit open, a soft glow of light showing from under his lids. "I can feel your excitement, Sheppard," he purrs.

John chuckles. "I was just thinking I've already got a pretty decent present." He follows one of the lines of black ink, invisible in the darkness, up the line of Todd's chest to his sternum. "Who even wants to get out of bed this morning?"

"You do," Todd reminds him. He sits up, leaning close enough to brush their lips together. "While I greatly appreciate being with you in this manner, you are here to better relations with your brother." He grins and clarifies, "your nest-brother. This goal will not be accomplished by remaining in bed."

John kisses him. "Spoilsport. And here I thought you'd be interested in skipping this scene and going surfing."

Todd chuckles.

John gets dressed with only minimal interference from Todd, and vice versa though John can't help but steal a lingering kiss when Todd puts his disguise on and see how kissing a tall, pale human-Todd compares to kissing his Wraith.

 


 

They show up for breakfast looking pretty put together, though John notices Dave giving him significant looks when he can't keep his eyes off Todd. It's easier to look at Todd's human facade today and know that it's still his Todd underneath, and John finds himself uninterested in looking away.

Breakfast is a laid back affair of pastries and coffee with just the four of them, five if a drowsy Jayden can be counted, laid out in the breakfast nook off the kitchen rather than the formal dining room. John remembers that Todd hates coffee and, though it's not like he needs to eat anything anyway, slips into the kitchen to boil some water and make the closest he can approximate Teyla's tea, which Todd professes to love the smell of. Sometimes there's no accounting for taste.

He's pouring the steeped tea into a mug when Dave comes in. He raises an eyebrow.

"Todd doesn't like coffee," John says defensively.

"Right." Dave leans against the opposite counter and looks at him.

John scowls and looks down at the mug of tea.

Dave clears his throat a couple times before he manages, "I'm really happy for you. You look happy. I know the last time we… it wasn't exactly an occasion for…"

John scoffs under his breath and Dave stops. "You thought I only showed up for money," John reminds him.

"Do you need money?" Dave asks.

John scoffs again and says, "No."

Dave nods. John gets it; that the mercenary would get nothing, but to his brother he would give whatever was necessary. But it does leave them at another awkward pause.

John deliberately picks up the mug of tea and turns to go back out to the breakfast room. It's not necessary, but Dave holds the door for him.

John slides the mug on the table next to Todd's elbow just as Michelle turns her attention from Todd to John and finishes, "It's stopped snowing, so it might be nice. What do you think, John?"

He has no idea what she’s talking about and looks at Todd.

"Michelle was just telling me about the sleigh ride she and Dave usually partake in every year on the evening of this day," Todd catches John up as he reaches for the mug of tea, closing his eyes and inhaling the vapor. He rumbles in pleasure; because of the disguise it's a shadow of his usual purring, but it makes John feel pleased.

"We decided not to this year," Michelle picks up the thread of the story. "Since it's too cold for Jayden."

John feels suddenly trapped; should they offer to watch the kid so Dave and Michelle can continue their traditional outing? It wouldn't be for too long; John's helped enough with Torren, and Todd seems like he'd done well enough yesterday, so they probably won't kill or otherwise irreparably damage the child, but the two of them alone in the house with an infant is not a situation John would choose.

But Michelle keeps talking over his momentary freak out. "We thought you might enjoy it, so we didn't cancel the reservation. Don't feel like you have to," she says with the most earnest face, "but if you'd like, I thought it would be a nice activity. The course takes you through some back pastureland and then into the old downtown. The shops won't be open today, but the streets are all done up for the holiday, so it looks nice, and they get you hot mulled cider."

John's so relieved to not be asked to be solely responsible for his nephew that he finds himself agreeing to the activity without realizing what's happening.

 

After breakfast, they exchange gifts.

John had expected it to be an awkward moment. After all, he and Dave barely know each other, he knows Michelle not at all and neither of them know Todd.

John has cheated a bit and talked it over with Teyla before selecting a rather unknowingly appropriate choice of an extremely finely woven blanket that Michelle coos over as perfect for her to use with Jayden, and a package of the coffee-like beans they trade with Manaria for. As John predicted, Dave is intrigued by them.

"It's not anything you can get around here," John cautions. "It's a local variant."

"Thank you," Dave says, and he looks like he means it.

Michelle got John and Todd both more sweaters in softest cashmere. John's is green which makes him chuckle, and Todd's is a rich brown that John can't help but think would look really nice paired with Todd's usual golden eyes.

Todd's gift is a surprise even to John, who waits with some anxiety as Dave opens it and then stares at it. Looking over his shoulder, Michelle makes a noise that sounds sentimental before getting distracted by Jayden's fussing and going to walk around the room.

"Wow," Dave says finally, "This is…" He clears his throat and looks at John, not Todd. "I mean, I worry that you-" he clears his throat again. "It's nice to know that you're not alone out there. "

John has no idea what the gift could be and reaches over a little peremptory to take hold of it.

It's a painting, John recognizes Major Lorne’s work- though more accurately it’s a print of the original, slightly altered. The painting is of John and his team, and, as always, John is a little taken aback to see himself smiling at them fondly, to see all of them captured so well. Rodney has his hands raised, in the middle of explaining something, Teyla looks like she’s waiting for him to finish so she can patiently correct a facet of his analysis that is perhaps insensitive, and Ronon leans back, watching them with amusement and ready to protect at a moment’s notice. John can tell that they’re in Atlantis, but the background details, and also other details like any visible Expedition patches, have been blurred out in this print, which means Woolsey or someone must have approved for Todd to bring it. John finds himself repeating Dave’s soft, “Wow.” He touches the edge of the frame, then hands it back to Dave. “Yeah. That’s.” He clears his throat.

"The work we do is dangerous," Todd says, voice low, "but John is looked after. Cared for." He meets Dave's eyes. "He is not alone."

Dave nods. "Thank you." He looks at the picture then up at Todd. “You’re not in this.”

Todd smiles. “Not yet.”

John has to bite his tongue. He’s seen the original of this painting, and Todd’s in it. He’s standing behind John, their shoulders almost touching. Seeing it had been what had convinced John that Todd was already a member of his team- if other people could see how well he fit, then it was time for John to go through the steps to make it official.

But Todd’s a Wraith, and Dave can’t know about that, so someone airbrushed Todd out of the picture. Dave can’t know that Todd’s as much a part of John’s team as he is John’s heart. “It’ll happen,” he says. He tries to put all the conviction he can into the words.

Todd smiles. “I know.” His hand curls around the mug of tea he’d brought with him from breakfast, though it must be cold by now, and his eyes are soft on John’s face.

 


 

About three in the afternoon John finds himself and Todd hustled out the door by an intent Michelle and led over to the sleigh by a cheerful Dave.

The sleigh is a rather intimate affair, with a short bench for the driver and a seat behind that fits two people comfortably. It’s painted a festive green, polished to within an inch of its life, and trimmed with evergreen boughs. A pair of sleek Belgian horses stand in the harness, their chestnut coats gleaming under the sunlight. They give Todd a wary look, the bells on their harness jingling, but dismiss him as an object of interest when he gets into the sleigh.

“Well if that isn't John Sheppard!” The sleigh driver calls, and John realizes that he knows the man.

“Sepp,” John says back with a grin. He’s been a groom in the Sheppard stables since John was a kid, and John teases, “I hope Dave hasn’t gotten stuck in the hayloft again anytime recently.”

Dave rolls his eyes and Sepp laughs.

“Take them round the way you usually do for me and Michelle,” Dave tells Sepp, before turning to John. “The country is nice, but the sunset when you come back across the field is the best.”

John nods, but he feels awkward again suddenly. Does Sepp think that he and Todd are romantically involved? It’s true, but John has a reflexive thrill of fear and freezes up a little. He's tucked into the sleigh and wrapped in a heavy wool blanket, so no one notices except Todd.

"We'll be on the way in a jiff," Sepp says, like it doesn't matter to him, and John maybe really lets it sink in that not everyone thinks the way his dad does. Did.

The sleigh lurches and slides a bit at the start, but after they leave the Sheppard land, they slip into a path worn through the neighborhood and which leads to the town. With ruts for the runner already cut through the snow and ice, the horses keep up a brisk pace.

The wind is sharp, but John is warm. He leans into Todd's side. Todd's body is cooler than his, but still warmer than the snowy air. “You make a useful windbreak,” John tells him, and Todd chuckles.

He leans in and brings his lips to John’s ear. “And you have your uses as well.” John shivers and distracts Todd with animal life.

“Look there.” John points at a hawk wheeling over a distant stand of trees. Closer by, a herd of shaggy ponies watch them as their sleigh glides past and, as the get farther out, a group of deer go bounding into the trees as the sound of the sleigh's bells gets near enough to startle them.

 

When they get to the old downtown, they get out and walk around a bit. As predicted the storefronts are all shuttered on Christmas Day, but the street signs are wound around with greenery and the windows are trimmed with wreaths, holly branches, and blinking lights.

“Your planet has been long protected from the vagaries of your Ancient kin,” Todd observes. “There is a peace to this settlement that I would like to see more of among my own stars.”

John kicks the snow. “It’s not like we haven’t fucked things up well enough ourselves without any help,” he points out. “But, yeah. Especially today I think, people try to focus on the good stuff.”

 

When they get back to the sleigh, Sepp hands them a travel mug of hot mulled cider. “I’ve just the one mug,” he explains with a shrug. “Mister and Missus Sheppard usually share.”

John flushes, and after he drinks he offers the mug to Todd, who takes it with a bow of the head. He sips at it but doesn’t seem to enjoy the taste and passes it back to John. The mug warms John’s fingers as they all climb back into the sleigh.

While Todd had sat with his arm around John on the ride out, he leans in closer on the way back, his hand curling around and tucking under John’s arm to rest against his side instead of remaining on the edge of the sleigh. It’s only about four-thirty, but the sun is sinking down, and the sky is painted in shades of pink and orange and red all along the horizon.

“It is beautiful,” John admits.

“Hmm,” Todd agrees, though he has his face tucked against the side of John’s.

 

The rest of the evening continues in the vein of going much better than John had been expecting from this trip. He has three more days of vacation, and he’s starting to think that they might all make it through this visit without the kind of knockdown drag out yelling match that are mostly what he remembers of his adult relationship with his father.

 


 

The next morning, the sunlight hits John in the face and he realizes they forgot to shut the bedroom door.

The sound of the maid in the hallway gives him a start as he tries to remember where Todd left his disguise device, but she apparently decides that it’s too early to bother guests and continues down the hallway.

Todd is spread out on the bed underneath John, and turns his head, following the sound of the retreating maid. “How much trouble would you be in if she saw me?” he asks, amused.

“Let’s not,” John replies. He kisses the strange curve of Todd’s ear.

Todd rises up from under him. “Pack your things,” he advises.

“What? Why?”

“You have accomplished what you desired here, have you not?”

“Yeah.” John thinks about it. “Things with Dave are way better than I thought they’d be,” he admits.

“Then perhaps we should take advantage of a truism of your countryman and depart before we begin to smell.”

“What?” John frowns.

“‘Relations and fish smell after three days’,” Todd informs him. “I have researched this.”

John laughs. It feels good to let the emotion out, and, aside from the fact that Dave might be upset if they cut and run, it's a weight off his shoulders to not have to worry about eventually screwing up this visit when it's mostly gone so well.

Todd regards him seriously. “It will be better to have a short visit that is pleasant, than a longer one that you and he will remember poorly." He reaches to run his hands through John's hair and rest his forehead against John's. "Unless you wish to remain here for the length of our time on your planet?”

John narrows his eyes in an attempt to return the same level of seriousness, but he has a hard time reigning in his smile. “Not if you have something else planned.”

Todd grins. “Perhaps I do.”

 

“Todd told me last night,” Dave says at breakfast. It’s just the three of them, Michelle taking charge of a fussy Jayden so that Dave can say goodbye to them. Gemma’s back in the kitchen and they have eggs and hash browns and bacon on the table. “He said you have reservations in Kauai.”

“Oh did he.” John stabs his plate with his fork and glares at Todd, who looks innocent in the way that only the guilty can. “I hadn’t planned to run out on you,” John tries to explain.

“No, that’s actually-” Dave says at almost the same time. He clears his throat and starts again. “I’m really glad you came. This has been… more than I’d hoped.” He smiles and John finds himself returning it easily. “Maybe you can come again. The next time you get some time off. Or for Christmas again.”

The offer is left very open, and John appreciates that. “Maybe I’ll try for Jayden’s birthday next year,” he offers in return.

Dave smiles and nods. “That would be nice.”

 


 

John's not surprised that Todd wasn't entirely truthful about Kauai, and instead they end up in Malibu, a stone's throw from what had been John's stomping ground as a teenager. Standing on the sandy beach, John inhales, the salt wind in his face. It's a weird combination of nostalgia and a taste of home- the taste of Atlantis.

"This is what you wanted?" Todd asks.

John turns to look at him. He looks human, of course. The long length of him is draped against the side of the old pick-up they rented like he knows the way the wetsuit hugs his body does things to John. Which, he probably does.

"Yeah," he admits. "Come on." They get the boards unstrapped and John grins at Todd. "Let me show you a thing or two."

Todd grins back.