There was a sort of out of the way bakery on his way back from the university.
It wasn't a big hassle, and when he had that horrible Saturday morning lab to oversee, Rodney McKay liked to stop by there, cuss while he looked for a parking space, and then go inside. All of their pastries were amazing, little creations that made it worth navigating the gravel parking lot, and the hill, and the traffic, and the fucked up turn around into oncoming traffic that he had to manage to get out of their parking lot. They made croissants and Napoleons, and little chocolate foam things, but most importantly they made incredibly delicious cakes, and John had admitted that he liked chocolate cake.
John had shown up at his apartment all of three weeks ago with his suitcases and his fucked up face wearing his dress uniform. It had lived in the back of Rodney's closet since John had taken it off, zippered away reverently in mothproof plastic as if it actually meant something other than a bitch of a way to say goodbye to a lifelong career.
Rodney tried not to think about it. Trying and actually accomplishing were very different things, however, and for the most part, he remained more bitter than John did. John woke up and wandered into the kitchen. He smiled, lazy and slow, and licked chocolate and almonds off of his fingers when Rodney came home with croissants.
Today was a cake sort of day, though. He'd just decided it. John had been quiet the night before, sullen, trying to work out where to go from where he was, and Rodney had done his best to suggest that hey, he didn't have to rush or worry about it because Rodney owned his little house straight up, and John was more than welcome.
It had probably been all the wrong things to say.
Okay. Definitely the wrong thing to say because John had been quiet all night and he hadn't been up with coffee made when Rodney finally rolled out of bed, and maybe Rodney was a little worried that John wouldn't be there when he got home, either.
It was possible. If that was the case, he was going to need the cake for himself.
They hadn't actually talked about what had happened. It had been mentioned vaguely, in circles, because Rodney had left for reasons close enough to John's that they could commiserate quietly, relish in the fact that Pegasus had chewed them up and spit them out, but they'd survived. He hadn't thought they'd needed to talk about it, and John was raw and touchy in places Rodney wouldn't have guessed.
He fumbled for his cane and managed to snatch it up, pushing open the car door and moving his stiffened leg out of the foot well with a grunt of almost satisfaction. There were, of course, grand benefits for injuries such as his own. He got to park closer, and wow, that was such a fantastic tradeoff for blown knees and an ankle held together with pins. He should have considered that before he went to Pegasus.
They all expected death. They all expected to die, but they didn't expect crippling injuries, disfigurations, cancer, loved ones moving on without them, and any of the other thousand things that had befallen the survivors of Pegasus. Now, Rodney expected, there was a new military commander who thought he could do so much better than they had, so much better than John, but it was only a matter of time. Rodney gave the man three months before he ended up dead. Maybe the second or third replacement would grasp the danger of Pegasus and how it couldn't just be conducted like a tight military mission, or a walk in the park.
Well, unless it was Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. That was the kind of walk in the park that might hint at what Pegasus was.
The door jingled as he pushed it open and the girl behind the counter glanced up at him, face already brightening. "Hi, Dr. McKay! All out of the croissants and the tarte tatin already?"
"I'm looking for, the uh, chocolate cake. Sort of a special occasion." He didn't want to actually answer that question, seeing as he was out of that. It was dessert, the only sweet thing in the house, and, well, there were two of them now, and not just him.
"Well, today we've got the royal chocolat, which is chocolate mousse and a crunchy almond bast, and we have the larme, which is chocolate mousse and raspberry..." The counter girl leaned down and peeked in. "We have a black forest with whipped cream and grotte cherry, and this one. Chef's calling it chocolate lover, all chocolate mousse and truffle. I think we have some of the pastries in the back with chocolate ganache and coffee butter cream that you liked so much last month."
Right, and wow that was tempting of her, but Rodney eyed the chocolate lover. "This isn't for me, so... I think it was the Chocolate Lover. I'll take a... whole thing." It could live in the fridge and be eaten half-thawed, and stretch out for a week or maybe two or maybe less. Less if John wasn't there when he got back. He'd probably eat chocolate cake thing until he puked which was a shame with a bakery like that.
"Sure thing, Dr. McKay."
The curiosity was visibly eating at her, but she went into the back and brought back a box. It was early enough that the cake in question hadn't yet been cut into slices for the lunch crowd, so she put it in gently and then settled the box into one of the nice little white bags they kept before ringing up the charges.
Rodney didn't even flinch at the cost.
It wasn't that bad, and also it was good food. He'd pay more than that if he tried to get someone to make him something that good custom-done. John had chuckled about how Rodney was spoiling him by not getting Junk At the Grocery Store junk food, but Really Nice junk food. The cost didn't matter. "Thanks."
"Have a good day, okay? And you know we don't mind delivering for you. My mom lives down the street from you." Because of course they had a book with regular customers and their favorite items on file, and Rodney dropped in often.
It wasn't hard to manage a smile at that. "That's all right. It's on the way back from the university." She knew that wasn't true if she remembered where her mother lived at all, and Rodney knew she was in the chemistry department, but. It passed for conversation for Rodney, and he smiled as she ran his debit card through. He liked living there. There were enough places like that where he could go and be a regular, and no one was nosy or annoying.
It was just nice, like having John there was nice, and Rodney wanted to continue having John there. Chocolate cake made a pretty good bribe, he thought, or at the very least a show of conciliatory reparation.
He hoped it worked. He hoped that there was still a John there when he got home, which was his next stop. Home with the cake sitting safely on the passenger's seat. He was halfway tempted to seat belt it in place, or at the very least carefully box it in between his laptop bag and the armrest, using his cane to wedge between the box and the floorboard just in case of sudden stops.
Paranoia was not something he had left behind in the Pegasus galaxy, unfortunately.
The young lady (he could never remember her name, and that was a shame, it really was) carried the cake out to the car for him, gently placing it in the passenger side foot well and arranging his laptop so that it would hold the box in place. He thanked her, and she smiled at him, pretty and sweet and full of happiness. At least someone was going to be happy today. That was something to hold onto as she waved goodbye and headed back into the store while he worked his way carefully into the car again.
The cake and the service were worth navigating the gravel for, without question. He shifted, squirmed, managed to close the driver's side door behind him, and slipped the keys in the ignition. Now, just to get home...
That was easier said than done, in the end. Traffic was a bitch, and even the handful of side roads his GPS led him down seemed impossibly backed up. He was afraid to call John, afraid to call his house. If he did, and no one answered, he might pull off by the side of the road and do something stupid like cry.
Hell, with his handicapped tags, someone might think he'd pulled over from some sort of medical emergency, or, or... Well, he wasn't going to do it. He manned up, kept his attention on the impossible traffic, and finally made it to his subdivision.
John's car was still there.
Honestly, that was the moment where he nearly broke down. John was there. He was still there, and it made him shake, made his hands tremble so that he nearly couldn't manage to keep hold of the wheel.
John was home.
It still made it hard to coast into the driveway, made him fumble putting the car into park, and then the parking brake on, because he'd been preparing himself for the worst and it hadn't happened. But he still didn't know what to do with John now, except there was cake, and maybe everything would be okay.
Maybe John wouldn't mind.
Maybe John would stay.
He worked his way out of the car before moving to the passenger side where he gathered his things -- laptop bag, cane, cake box -- and carefully headed towards the house. The side door into the mud room was locked, but that wasn't exactly surprising. Rodney managed to get his keys in the knob and made his way into the utility room, kicking off his shoes by the door and hanging his car keys on the little rack there before he headed into the kitchen.
It was hard to gauge if John would be awake, asleep, or just willfully ignoring him as he entered the kitchen, scanning the dining 'room'. There was a coffee mug out, and half a pot in the drip maker, so John had been up and about. That was something, right?
"Sheppard!" he called again, and then jumped a little as John came wandering in from the office.
His face was a mess -- the left side was scarred, half an ear missing, an eye patch carefully in place over the one that had been lost in that last fire fight with the Genii. The side that was still okay, still perfect, seemed to light up, though. "Hey, buddy. Overslept this morning. Sorry about the coffee."
"Oh. I, uh." Had actually gotten himself hysterically worked up in fear, and had nearly bitten the heads off of two students in the physics lab as a result. "I brought cake."
"From that place?" It was good to see John's hopeful expression, good to see John, and Rodney honestly didn't know how to express that. "I like the croissants, but I don't think you've brought cake home yet."
"Today's the day for cake, then. I think this is the one you were eyeing when I took you there." He set it carefully on the countertop, still watching John, reaching for words that fit all of the anxiety and anticipation.
"Yeah, well. Everything looked pretty good there if you ask me." Plus, real cake made with real eggs and real milk were a hell of a treat after the reconstituted stuff they'd been getting for years.
"Yeah. They know what they're doing with food. I think the girl behind the counter has mistaken me for some doddering old uncle or something." It definitely wasn't 'chatting up' talk that he got from her, but she helped him and every little bit was appreciated. "But. Should we do cake for lunch?"
There was a gleam of greed in that single bright hazel eye. "Hey, you brought it. There's plenty of it. Sounds good."
He still had no idea what was between them, but it was there and he wanted to see more of that greedy gleam, and maybe all of his worry and all of the subtext from the night before was in his head, because John seemed so... John. "You get the plates, I'll divvy it up."
John didn't move as stiffly as Rodney did; the accident that had taken his looks and his sight had mostly affected his upper body so that he moved pretty easily. "Yeah, I think I can deal with that."
"Was there anything good on TV this morning?" Rodney knew it was going to be a 'no', because there was nothing good on Saturday mornings, but since he'd drawn the short straw with that lab, he'd wondered if they'd started to show good, interesting drivel on Saturday mornings just to spite him.
"Nothin' worth getting up for," John demurred. He moved around the kitchen, scrounging up two of the crazy apple plates that the last owners had left in the back of one of the kitchen cabinets and a couple of forks. "It's Saturday, McKay."
One day Rodney would work out why John liked those bizarre plates as much as he did, when Rodney had perfectly, well, he had plates, even if they were perfectly nothing at all. "Labs aren't worth getting up for, either."
"Yeah, but they pay you to get up and do that. I've got no good reason to drag myself out of bed either way." The plates and forks were deposited on the island so that Rodney could deposit cake on each of them. "Plus, I was, uh. I was up late thinking."
Shit. "Mmm?" he was trying for the most noncommittal 'mmm' he'd ever given in his life, but Rodney knew he'd fallen short, even as he deposited a decent piece of the squared off cake on each plate.
"You, uh. What you said last night. Did you mean it?" John had one of the forks and he was poking gently at the piece he had obviously decided belonged to him. "About me... you know. Staying here?"
Rodney set down the pie-cutter, and licked a little of the rich icing off of his fingers. "Yeah. Yeah, I do. It's completely up to you, but I want you to know that the offer is open, if you want it. I'm not... I, it's not something I'm offering because I don't think you can make it on your own, because I know that if anyone can, hey, it's you, particularly since I've been doing okay here, but you're, John, you're..."
"Hey." He couldn't look away from the cake for a moment, but when he did, John was looking back at him. "That wasn't... I mean, I didn't think that was what you meant. It was...." He shrugged. "I didn't think that was, you know. What you meant."
"I wasn't sure that you, you got that, since..." Well, since they'd argued. It was nice that John had worked through it, through whatever the problem was, because Rodney was willing to do or say what he had to, as long as it didn't grossly misrepresent what he wanted in life, if he got to keep John close. "You almost died. But you're back with me."
Maybe that gave away too much. It almost certainly did, but John didn't flinch, didn't seem to hate that Rodney felt the way he did about him. "Yeah," he said finally, voice quiet as his fork dug into the cake. "Yeah, buddy. I'm back with you."
"We should probably sit down." Or Rodney should. Because he was the master of saying all the wrong things at all the wrong times, and honestly, his knees were killing him. The weather had been a bitch, unpredictable and rainy off and on for the last week.
"Oh, hey." John picked up both plates and headed for the den with them. "There was a comedian on earlier. Hate you missed it." He glanced down and then grinned. "Cake or death?"
"Cake is the obvious answer to that." Rodney trailed after John. Sometimes he stubbornly gave up on the cane and tried to navigate from furniture piece to furniture piece, but it always ended badly, and he wasn't up to that. "If a Wraith made that offer, I'd be suspicious that it was human cake or something."
"Especially if it tasted like chicken."
Thank God John seemed, well. More or less like himself. Rodney was so relieved that there were no words, no way to express how grateful he felt for that fact. "Sit down, would you?" He didn't make any allusions to the fact that Rodney might fall over if he didn't.
He didn't have to, since when Rodney did sit down, it was heavily, and the sofa cushions would have groaned if they could've. "Sitting." Snagging his plate back from John was easy, and so was watching him fidget with the remote and there was no sane way to express that he was head over heels for John. None.
"So." John cleared his throat and turned the TV on, holding his plate in his lap when he settled down next to Rodney. "Uh. You know. I was kind of wondering."
"Wondering...?" Rodney finally got a fork into the cake, and the top layer of chocolate frosting almost immediately melted to the roof of his mouth and god that was heaven. That was it, right there, on a plate. "Mm."
"Wondering. Last night. Since you asked me to move in." And okay, yes, he had, he'd asked exactly that, but it was startling to hear it in as many words. "I wondered if you meant it like it sounded."
"I, uh, how did it sound to you?" Because Rodney wasn't sure if it had sounded 'kept man' or whether he'd just sounded exceptionally gay when he'd said it.
"Sounded like maybe you might've been interested. Once. Before, I mean." Before his face was messed up, obviously, before John wasn't pretty anymore the way he had been.
"I..." Rodney shifted, turned, and there was a paperback book worth of space between them, which didn't stop Rodney from leaning in and hesitantly reaching towards the side of John's face. "Now."
"Now?" It wasn't hard to see that John was skeptical, didn't understand, and Rodney only knew of one way to solve the problem.
"Still interested in you." The words came out in a rush, and he leaned in to kiss John hard, because it was probably going to be the only kiss he got in, ever.
John's lips parted, though, and the feel of it, the feel of that soft lower lip, John's tongue gently prodding against his own, nearly gave him a heart attack. John was kissing him, kissing him back, and it was all mouth and tongue and gentleness, and Rodney was shaking to pieces.
It tasted chocolate, and soft, and just a little wet when John let his lips part and kissing tongue to tongue was the best thing in the world that had 'French' in the name. It was even better than Affaire du Coeur and that was saying something. That was saying a lot, and Rodney reached up, cupped the left side of his face with a gentleness that couldn't be denied, and John broke and broke beneath his touch, and came back together underneath his mouth.
"We should have done this a lot sooner." Rodney wasn't sure he even said that. He might have mumbled it or just thought it really loudly. It didn't matter, because they should have done it sooner, yeah, but it didn't matter that John was scarred. The eye patch was kind of sexy for that whole rakish pilot look, which John definitely had going on. He let his thumb drift, trace the furrows of the scars.
John flinched, and Rodney could see the way he turned away, just a little, just enough so that the side of his face that hadn't been marred remained in his line of sight. "McKay...."
Rodney exhaled, and pressed a kiss to the side of John's mouth that John turned towards him. "What?"
"Just..." John shook his head, and kissed him again, and Rodney thought he'd let him get away with that for now.
He wasn't going to chase that one down, not when he was mouth to mouth with John, and god he was glad that he wasn't barking up a tree that was actually a fish. A shift to try to get just a little closer to John imperiled the cake, though. It was fantastic cake. It was expensive cake, and then John's hand cupped the back of his neck, his nose nudged at Rodney's cheek, and Rodney realized that he actually couldn't care less about the cake or the expense or the carpet when it hit the floor.
He could taste John and when he leaned in he could feel him and sitting side by side on the sofa like that things like weak legs weren't a problem. They weren't even in the picture, because he only needed hands to slide up John's arms, feeling him, feeling the way he shook as if he might break, and that was...
Rodney pulled away gently and looked at him, really looked. Maybe kissing him had broken John somehow, because he was pale, his mouth was loose, his eyes a little dilated, and it wasn't all sex. Some of it was something else -- fear, maybe, or anxiety. He wasn't sure.
"John?" He pitched his voice low, careful, watching John's face and hoping that John took it as a helpful question and not a freaking out question.
"I just..." His tongue darted out, ran over lips that shouldn't be dry, lips that were still glistening from kisses passed back and forth between them. "You just... How can you want...?"
"No, no, no, there's no question of how I can want this, you, cake on my carpet. You want to get into the looks argument, you can argue against me. But..." He moved his hand again, barely touching the scars. He'd flinched the first few times he'd looked at them, but they were familiar now, and so was what detail John had shared about what had happened. The surgeons had done a good job, and it was all clean and nothing had been infected. "You got shot in the face. It doesn't change you. You're the guy I used to get dressed up for when we played that civ game that wasn't, but. If I have to make a numerated list, I will."
John gave a funny bark of laughter, coarse and real. "That was... that was you dressing up?" His mouth twisted a little strangely on the left side, but he let Rodney touch him, and that was something. "That was, uh. Yeah. Me, too."
Oh, as if Rodney hadn't noticed.
"Black pants, shiny black shirt, yeah. I wasn't sure if you were getting out of uniform because I was, or what. I actually had some pretty fantastic paranoid conversations in my head about whether you were trying to trap me in some bizarre American military scheme, but uh... Now that I've been away from Atlantis, and you're here, that seems a lot less likely as a possibility." He pressed a kiss against the strange twist, almost brushing his own thumb.
The touch of John's nose against his own felt good, but the soft press of his lips was better. "We're friends, Rodney. I wouldn't try to trap you into anything."
"Right, well, that was nervous breakdown paranoid talking at the time. It's only when you get a chance to step back from it all that you can... get it together again. Took me the better part of a year. You stop flinching, eventually." He liked that, that set of kisses, slow and tasting and skin against skin, making Rodney want more skin against skin, but hey, nose and lips and cheek were all amazing.
"Even when you touch me there?" Not any particularly sensitive place, but the scars, the ones that marred everything John had ever seen in the mirror beyond recall. "You think?"
"Yeah. Not being shot at helps." He tried to smile when he said that, but it was true. When imminent death faded away to cake and day to day work travails, Atlantis seemed hazy, impossible in some ways. Like he'd never been there, or... or maybe that was just him. Disconnected, separated from what had been his life for so damn long.
Separated from the things that had seemed to give his life meaning, and he wondered if John felt that way, too.
Maybe. Maybe not, because he was reaching up, smoothing a thumb over the line on Rodney's forehead where a feathered dart had come too close, tipped with some kind of crazy-making drug. He'd been high for days, and Keller had only been able to wait for him to come down.
"Yeah. Maybe it does."
He didn't flinch at the touch against his forehead, but he did turn his head a little, pressing closer to John. "Give it some time." By the time John had readjusted to civilian life, the SGC would realize what a horrible mistake they'd made, but.
Until then, there was this. There was John, letting him touch, John and chocolate cake and kisses. Rodney wasn't an idiot, even if everyone else was. He wasn't going to let the opportunity slip past, not now that he finally had it. "We, uh..." Uh, and god, he wanted to do more than just kiss, but that was one of those things that never happened like it did in porn, the step between mouth against mouth and maybe mouth against chest or mouth against dick.
"Yeah." John smiled at him, bumped his nose against Rodney's lips. "We should eat some cake. It'd be a shame if it spoiled."
Maybe cake was that step in between, or maybe they'd forgotten how to get there, or maybe John just wasn't ready. Any of the above was an okay answer, better than okay, because it was John, and he'd move at John's pace for things. Rodney exhaled, and smiled. "Yeah, it would. Let's see..."
"Hey, McKay?" John smiled back, and the tilt of his mouth wasn't the same anymore, but Rodney still loved it. "Yeah. I'll move in with you."
"I think that's the best news I've heard in a while. Well, and that you were alive. And that you, uh." Where on the scale between moving in and alive did he place the fantastic news that John was into men? Nowhere, Rodney guessed, if he was sane, so he just swallowed the words and grinned stupidly. "Oh, cake! Right, I think we can salvage part of yours..."
"Hey, Rodney?" John caught his hand, and then kissed the palm, right in the center. "I think... screw the cake after all."
His heart jumped. Rodney was sure that it was his heart, because his ulcer never made his fingers shake like that when he leaned in to John again. "How do you feel about going back to bed?"
Their foreheads touched, gentle, easy. "I think that sounds like the best thing I've ever heard."
He could smell John's shampoo, and it was so much better than any one-night stand. John was his friend, John was trusted and John was sliding a hand behind his back, steadying him as they stood up. Rodney was glad that he hadn't gotten himself a cat yet, because if he had he would have had to worry about getting the plate up immediately. As it stood, he could just step over it and turn the TV off, and it was just the two of them, hand in hand.
It couldn't get better than that.