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"We're here," John said, the words pulling Rodney from his doze.

He opened his eyes. There was a big white house in front of them. Really big. "I didn't know you were a spoiled scion of the upper classes," Rodney said, the resentment in his tone making him flinch. It was bound to be misinterpreted.

"Yeah, that's me, just another profligate playboy," John said, the edge in his voice causing Rodney to flinch again. John's door slammed shut.

Rodney wondered if it was too late to say that he didn't care if John was rich or had grown up rich. He cared that John hadn't told him. "At least you look the part," Rodney said as he climbed from the car. Opening the back door, he pulled out his laptop bag, settling the strap on his shoulder before accepting the duffel John was holding out to him.

They trudged up the front steps and John rang the bell. The door was opened a moment later by a man about their age. With his neatly combed hair, he looked nothing like John. Nevertheless, John held out his hand.

"John," the man said taking it. "Thank you for coming."

John acknowledged his statement with a small nod, then put a hand on Rodney's shoulder. "Rodney, this is my brother Dave. Dave, Dr. Rodney McKay."

Dave held out his hand and Rodney took it, shooting John a sideways glance. John almost never used his title during introductions. "Nice to meet you," Dave said.

"Same here." Rodney smiled, hoping it didn't come out funny. He felt too tense to smile. Beside him, John was just as tense, maybe tenser. It had been a long drive from the airport.

"Come in. I'll show you to your rooms. Then we can all have a drink before dinner." Dave stepped aside, making room for them to enter. Rodney held back, forcing John to go first.

The foyer had a high arched ceiling and a warm reddish-brown wood floor. There was a mirror over a small antique table on one wall, a couple of high backed -the kind no one ever sat in- chairs opposite it. The entire room spoke of the kind of wealth that didn't need to advertise. It made Rodney twitch and he was relieved when they reached the staircase. It was broad and curving. It reminded him of Gone with the Wind and Rodney spent the climb trying to remember if he'd ever seen Gone with the Wind. John, Rodney was willing to bet, had read it.

 

"The house was built before private baths, I'm afraid," Dave said, opening the door into a room with a double bed and windows overlooking a large lawn. "It's across the hall."

"I'll survive," Rodney said. He could live without a private bath if it meant a bed large enough to actually roll over in.

"Drinks will be in the sunroom," Dave said.

Sunroom. Rodney glanced at John who was looking straight down the hall. "I"ll just freshen up," Rodney said, pointing into the room.

 

Rodney had just finished changing his shirt when there was a knock on the door.

"Hey," John said, when Rodney opened the door. "You ready?"

"Sure." Rodney fell into step beside him as though they were back on Atlantis. "Where are you?" he asked, indicating the rooms they were passing.

"Right next door."

They passed a couple more rooms and a table with a bust on it at the end of the hallway. "This place is like a hotel."

"I know." The tightness in John's voice made Rodney look over at him.

Placing a hand on John's arm, Rodney stopped him. "You all right?"

"Of course. I came here to make things better with my brother and that's what I'm gonna do."

"Okay, well, I guess it's the sunroom then."

"To the sunroom," John said.

Dave was standing in front of two large windows which looked out over an elaborate garden, speaking with a woman. He turned toward them. "John, you remember Elaine."

"Of course," John said, holding out his hand. "I'm sorry I missed the wedding."

"You missed your brother's wedding?" Rodney asked.

"I was on assignment out of the country and I couldn't get leave," John answered, shooting him a glare.

"And I thought I was a bad brother," Rodney muttered, holding out a hand to Elaine. "I'm Rodney McKay."

Elaine took his hand with a small smile. She was pretty in that manicured, not-a-hair-out-of-place way rich women seemed to always have. Rodney preferred women who were willing to get mussed, like Sam Carter. "Nice to meet you," Elaine said.

"Likewise." Letting go of her hand, Rodney glanced around the room. "You have a lovely home."

"Thank you," Elaine said.

"What can I get you?" Dave asked, walking around to the backside of a small bar.. "I have an unopened bottle of Dalmore."

"How old?" John asked, following.

"1965."

"That's older than we are," Rodney said. Looking between them, Rodney added, "What's Dalmore?"

"Scotch," John answered. his eyes on the bottle in Dave's hands. "It's a highland malt. It can be a little uneven, but when it's good, it's very good."

Dave poured four glasses, handing one to each of them.

"Cheers," John said, raising his glass. The rest of them clinked their glasses to his.

Taking a sip, Rodney let it slide down his throat before taking a second. It was surprisingly smooth.

"This is good," John said.

"I've been saving it for you," Dave answered, getting a grin from John.

"It's a miracle we can both still drink it." When Rodney looked at him curiously, John added, "I was thirteen. Dave was eleven. We wanted to know how all that stuff the grown-ups loved so much tasted."

"It wasn't anything like what we expected," Dave said.

Laughing, John nodded. "But we still managed to get a good bit of it down."

"Too bad it didn't stay there."

"Dad wasn't even pissed," John said, sounding as though that fact still surprised him.

"He just held it over our heads for years." Dave looked at Rodney. "Every time one of us went to a party, he'd remind us about that night."

"And he told every date I ever brought home," John said.

Dave gestured in his wife's direction. "He told Elaine that story the first time I introduced them."

"We were going to a New Year's Eve party and Patrick warned me not to let Dave drink," Elaine said.

"I was twenty-five," Dave added.

No one had anything to add and the silence was just starting to get uncomfortable when Elaine looked at Rodney. "Dave tells me you're a doctor."

"Of science, not medicine."

"Rodney, here, has two doctorates," John said, gesturing at Rodney with his glass.

"How did you meet?" Elaine asked.

"That's classified," Rodney said.

"Rodney's a consultant," John said, shooting Rodney his 'don't be rude' look.

"I'm more than a consultant," Rodney said. "I'm in charge of a team of scientists John is charged with protecting."

"So the tall guy with the dreadlocks works for you?" Dave asked.

Surprised, Rodney said, "Ronon?" An instant later he answered his own question. "Oh, right the funeral. No, Ronon doesn't work for me. He's one of John's men, but when I couldn't get free to attend the funeral I asked Ronon to take my place."

John's head snapped up. "You did?"

"I wasn't about to let you attend your father's funeral alone," Rodney answered, annoyed. What kind of friend did John think he was?

"You never said anything about Ronon."

"I figured you'd fight it if I did."

"I probably would have," John said, but he was smiling. "Thanks."

Smiling at John, Rodney replied, "You're welcome." He was vaguely aware of Dave and Elaine watching them, but his attention was focused on John, who hadn't smiled at Rodney like that, soft and affectionate, in a really long time. Rodney had missed it.

"What--" Dave started, before he could finish, a girl with long dark hair strode into the room, stopped in front of Dave and declared, "I hate science camp."

"Patricia," Dave said. "This is your Uncle John and his friend Dr. McKay."

She turned toward them. "Hello."

"Hi," John said.

"Why do you hate science camp?" Rodney asked.

"My rocket blew up on the launch pad."

"Rodney and I could help you with that," John said.

Patricia eyed her uncle suspiciously, as if she'd been told to be wary of men who called themselves 'uncle' and offered to help.

John gave her the charming smile and Rodney rolled his eyes. "I'm a pilot, which means I've spent a lot of time studying propulsion, and Rodney's an actual rocket scientist."

"I'm an astrophysicist," Rodney said.

"With a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. Put those two together and what do you get? Rocket scientist."

"I haven't built a rocket since I was, well, her age," he said, waving a hand in the girl's general direction.

"Then you can use the practice." Turning back to Patricia, John asked, "Have you got the plans here?"

"Yes."

"Good. After dinner the three of us can sit down and figure out why your rocket keeps blowing up."

"Okay," she said, looking from John to Rodney and back. "Thank you."

"Go get cleaned up for dinner," Elaine said. Patricia started toward the door and Elaine added, "And remind your brother to wash his hands." She shifted her attention to John and Rodney. "All summer, he's been coming to dinner with his hands streaked with dirt, claiming to have washed them."

"He's six now, right?" John asked.

Elaine nodded.

"Sounds about right to me," John said.

 

Most of dinner was spent listening to the kids describe their day at camp. Rodney didn't object, it gave him an opportunity to watch John. To anyone else John probably looked completely at ease, asking the kids about their day, their favorite movies and books, school, but Rodney had known him long enough to read the tension in the set of his shoulders, the tightness at the corners of his eyes. It wasn't a skill he had with anyone else, but since his life often depended on being able to follow John's lead, Rodney had learned to read him. Sort of.

"I've invited Nancy to the cotillion," Dave said when John ran out of things to ask the kids about. "I told her it wouldn't be a problem. She's attended every year for fifteen years."

"It's not a problem," John said, but he'd gone completely still.

"Cotillion," Rodney said.

"The party I told you about, the one on Saturday," John said, turning toward him. He was sitting next to Rodney, across from the kids.

"You said party, not cotillion. I won't have to dress up in a Confederate uniform will I?"

"It's a cotillion, not a costume ball."

"I can't believe you brought me to a cotillion."

John's eyes narrowed, which was surprising. This was the kind of teasing John lived for, and he'd never objected to being on the receiving end before. "It's just a party, Rodney. My father threw one every year."

And this was the first year since he'd died. "Okay," Rodney said.

"How long is your leave?" Elaine asked.

"Almost three weeks," Rodney said, grateful for the change in subject. "We're going up to Vancouver to visit my sister Jeannie and her family and then Hawaii so surfer boy here can indulge himself."

"It's leave. We're supposed to indulge ourselves."

"Yes, well, I plan on indulging myself with room service."

"Just as long as you order something for me."

"As if I'd forget you."

 

Patricia's problem with her rocket was, as Rodney suspected, caused by the fuel. Rodney had spotted it right away, but after a glare from John had kept quiet and watched John walk Patricia through finding and fixing the problem. He was a remarkably good teacher and by the time they were done, she was smiling and calling him 'Uncle John.'

It was still early, but Rodney was beat. Space-lag added to a long flight with a fidgety John and a relatively short but still too long drive with a tense John had Rodney ready to turn in.

Waving good-night to John and Dave, who were talking in the hallway, he opened the door to his room. It was empty.

"I took the liberty of having your bags moved to John's room," Dave said as Rodney turned toward them. Shifting his attention to John, Dave added, "I know you can't tell, but you're among family. I wanted you to know that we'll keep your secret."

John's expression got all soft and weird. "Thanks."

Rodney stared at him.

David smiled, a closed lipped smile that was oddly close to John's. "Good-night."

"Night, Dave," John said, watching as Dave walked down the hall toward his room. John headed toward his own room and Rodney followed him inside. Rodney's duffle and laptop case were right next to John's.

"Your brother thinks we're--," Rodney gestured between them. "And you let him."

"It's not that big a deal, Rodney. It's not like he's going to call up the joint chiefs and tell them I'm gay."

"Did it ever occur to you that I might object to being considered your, your boyfriend? Hmmm?"

"No," John said, looking straight at him, and Rodney knew that look. It was the look John got just before he said 'checkmate.' "It's not like you're homophobic."

"Yes, well, just because I don't hate gay people that doesn't mean I want to play one at your brother's cotillion."

"You won't have to play one at the cotillion. Too many defense guys will be there for that. We'll have to pretend to be a couple pretending not to be a couple."

"Which I would do, why?"

"Because I'm asking you to."

Shoulders slumping, Rodney sat on the edge of the bed. John almost never asked for anything, other than life-saving, last minute miracles and the occasional extra round of video golf. Favors for himself, those were a rarity. "That's playing dirty." He looked up at John. "Why can't you just tell him you're straight? You were married he must know your straight."

"Unless he thinks my marriage failed because I'm gay," John said, sitting next to him.

"Is that why?"

"No." John shrugged. "It was the job."

"So why does Dave think you're gay?"

"Andy Thompson."

"Who is Andy Thompson?"

"He was our butler's son. We were the same age. When we were kids his father caught us in the garden, comparing."

"Comparing what?"

John looked at him.

"Oh."

"Andy's dad quit, taking Andy away and my father decided I was gay."

"How old were you?"

"Eleven, maybe, twelve."

"You were a kid."

"Yeah, well, you didn't know my father. Although, he didn't actually mention it again until I was a teenager, and by that point if it pissed him off, I wanted him to think it."

John had encouraged his father to think he was gay just to piss him off. Which was so typical of Sheppard Rodney couldn't even get annoyed. "Which doesn't explain why you can't just tell Dave your straight."

"He'll think I'm lying. That I don't trust him enough to be honest with him."

"Your family is really fucked up, you know that?"

"I know."

"Seriously, they make my family look healthy."

John nodded and looked at his feet.

If John wanted to fix things with his fucked up family then Rodney would help. But he wasn't going to do it without being perfectly clear about what they were doing. "You want to lie to your brother so he'll think you trust him."

"I know it's fucked up. It's just while we're here. After we go home, I'll write Dave, tell him we've split up." John had it all figured out, which was typical.

"This better work better than your plans usually do."

"My plans always work."

"Just so we're clear, we're not comparing anything."

"Whatever you say, Rodney."

 

Stretching, Rodney settled back into the bed, determined to make the most of the morning. He didn't have any reason to get up. The bed was remarkably comfortable, the sheets were soft. Letting out a slow breath, he closed his eyes.

He'd woken up briefly when John had gotten up for his run.

Rodney had never had a problem sleeping with John. He didn't kick or steal the covers and he stayed on his side of the bed. It was mornings with John that were a problem. The man just didn't appreciate the value of a lazy morning. Rodney suspected he had, once upon a time, and the military had drilled it out of him.

Maybe Rodney could re-teach it to him. Something good had to come out of pretending to be lovers.

His stomach growled. Rodney opened one eye and glared in its general direction. Once his stomach started in, his lazy morning was over.

Pushing the covers aside, he rolled from the bed with a sigh.

John was standing next to the sideboard in the dining room in his sweats when Rodney arrived. Dave was at the end of the table with an open newspaper.

A warm shower had left Rodney alert, but vaguely grumpy. Not that it was John's fault he'd been forced from bed by his stomach.

"Morning," John said, pressing a coffee cup into Rodney's hands. Just as Rodney took the cup, John touched his lips to Rodney's. The kiss was over quickly, lasting just long enough for Rodney to register how soft John's lips were. Rodney opened his mouth, intending to ask what John was doing, when John shifted his eyes sharply in his brother's direction.

Lovers. Pretending. Still, John hadn't said anything about kissing being part of the pretending. John title his head in the direction of the table and Rodney took the hint. "Good morning," he muttered, carrying his coffee to the table.

"Sleep well?" Dave asked.

"Great," Rodney answered. "The bed was very comfortable."

"Coming from Rodney, that's a huge compliment," John said, placing his coffee at the seat across from Rodney's. "There are blueberry pancakes."

"Really?" Rodney asked, sitting up a little straighter. "Bacon?"

"And sausage. With actual maple syrup."

Rodney decided his morning was definitely looking up.

 

Rodney made a big circle with his red pen, including two-thirds of the article's conclusion. When the Stargate program finally went public he was going to make these people look like the morons they were.

Shifting into a more comfortable position in the lawn chair, he turned the page.

Across the lawn, John came out of the stables leading a horse he clearly intended to ride. John put a foot in the stirrup and Rodney yelled, "Stop right there." Dropping the journal, he jogged across the really long lawn to where John was waiting, foot still in the stirrup.

"What do you think you're doing?" Rodney demanded.

"What does it look like? I'm going for a ride."

"Without a helmet?"

"I've been riding since I was three."

"And it's been how many years since you were on a horse?"

"It's like a bicycle. You don't forget. Besides, she's a gentle horse," John said, stroking the side of the horse. "Aren't you girl?"

"If you fall off that thing and crack open your head, I'll be the one explaining to all the people whose lives you're supposed to protect that while you might be a brilliant tactician, you're too stupid to wear a helmet."

"She's-- " John started, then stopped. He smiled, widely, perfect white teeth visible between soft lips. "You think I'm brilliant."

"Tactician. I said you were a brilliant tactician and that's entirely beside the point."

"I'm pretty sure it isn't."

"It will be if you don't wear a helmet."

"Fine." Holding the reins out to Rodney, he said, "Here take these."

Rodney took hold of the reins and John walked back into the stables. When he came back out, he was hooking a helmet beneath his chin.

"There," John said, stopping in front of Rodney. "Now my brilliant brain is all nice and safe."

Scowling at him, Rodney handed over the reins, watching as John lifted himself up into the saddle. "Just don't fall off."

"I'm too brilliant to fall off," John said, grinning down at him. "Come on, girl," John said to the horse, and Rodney took a step back as they started towards the woods at a walk. Hopefully, John would be smart enough to keep it at a walk, but Rodney doubted it.

"He'll be fine," Dave said, causing Rodney to spin around. "He's a born rider."

"Among other things," Rodney muttered, glancing at John's retreating form.

Dave took a step closer. "I thought John was a pilot."

Irritated, Rodney glanced at Dave, then back at John, who had almost reached the wooded area at the edge of the lawn. "He is."

"You called him a tactician."

Rodney shifted so he was facing Dave. "He's both. Why?"

"I know nothing about his life. He's my brother and I haven't known where he was or what he was doing for years. He missed my wedding because of work. He missed part of our father's funeral because of work. It's always the same thing. Classified. National security." Dave looked over Rodney's shoulder at John's back. "I just want to know who he is."

"He's a hero."

Dave's eyes were nothing like John's, but Rodney was more than a little familiar with the skeptical expression on his face.

"Colonel Sheppard commands an international military force charged with protecting an international team of scientists, headed by me. He's also in charge of overseeing a bunch of things I can't tell you about." Rodney paused, trying to think about how to describe all that John was to his brother of all people. "He's not the best fighter we have, or the strongest. But his men would follow him anywhere, because they know he won't leave them behind. Because they know he won't ask them to do anything he isn't willing to do himself.

"But what makes him unique, what makes him so good at what he does, is that he can out think the enemy, even in the midst of battle. Especially in the midst of battle."

"He's been in battle," Dave said.

"What do you think he was doing in Afghanistan, having tea and crumpets?"

"I tried not to think about it."

"That makes two of you," Rodney said, looking over his shoulder at the place where John had disappeared into the woods.

"He was always really private," Dave offered. "It drove our father nuts."

"I didn't even know about you or the ex-wife until the funeral," Rodney said. That still stung. John knew the name of every woman he'd ever dated, but John couldn't be bothered to tell Rodney about his ex-wife.

"That sounds like John," Dave said, taking a step toward the house.

As they started up the lawn covered hill, Rodney asked, "What was your father like?"

"Tough, fair, a talented businessman. John saw him differently."

"I gathered that."

"They were both stubborn. Neither of them would ever give an inch. They fought all the time, especially after our mother died."

John talked about his mother even less than he had his father, and that was saying something. Rodney wanted to ask, but he had no idea how.

"I'd be happy to show you some photos, if you'd like to see them."

Physics journals or John's childhood. For the first time in his life, Rodney found himself more curious about a person than science. It helped that the articles in the journals were most likely all wrong.

 

"See?" John said, stepping into the library. "All in one piece."

Rodney glanced up at him, then back at the photo album on his lap.

"What are you doing back here, anyway? It took me forever to find you," John said, moving closer.

"Dave was showing me pictures, but he got called away."

"What pictures?"

Rodney turned the album so John could see it.

With a shake of his head, John dropped onto the couch next to Rodney. "I can't believe he dug those out."

"He didn't have to dig very hard. They were all in that cabinet," Rodney said, pointing to a cabinet in the base of one of the bookshelves. "You really could ride," he said, drawing John's attention to a shot of a much younger John standing next to a horse and holding up a blue ribbon.

"I wasn't bad. I loved jumping."

"Why am I not surprised."

"That was my last win. The next year, I grew about six inches. It threw my coordination completely off."

"After that?"

"After that I wasn't interested in riding anymore."

"How come?" The boy in the picture looked pretty pleased. Wide smile under floppy black hair.

"Things had changed."

There was more to it than that, Rodney could tell, but when John was being evasive the best thing to do was back off. Rodney had learned that years ago. "So is this where you got your love of books?" Rodney asked, indicating the room around them.

Leaning back, John stretched an arm out along the back of the couch, behind Rodney. "This was my favorite room in the house. That chair over there... " John pointed at a leather armchair near the fireplace. "When I was little, I used to curl right up in it. I read Charlotte's Web in that chair."

" made me cry," Rodney admitted.

John's arm slipped onto his shoulders. "I might've gotten a little misty, myself."

"I didn't think I'd ever have a friend like Charlotte. Not that I needed one, since I could spell, but still..."

"You've got one, now," John said and Rodney turned to face him, his gaze meeting John's. The vulnerability in John's expression made Rodney's breath catch, but an instant later it was gone, replaced by a familiar grin. "I hear he's brilliant."

John was never going to let that go, but oddly, Rodney wasn't sure he minded.

From the doorway, Rodney heard the sound of someone clearing her throat and turned to see Elaine carrying a tray.

"David suggested you might want some iced tea," she said setting the tray down on the desk and picking up a pitcher.

"It's lemon-free, right?" John asked.

"I've made certain the staff will not serve anything with lemon while you and Rodney are here."

"That's great. Thanks," John said, removing his arm from around Rodney's shoulders and reaching for a glass.

"You made the risks quite clear."

John actually turned a little pink. "McKay dies on my watch, it'll take me months to finish the paperwork."

"Thank you," Rodney said. "That's very flattering."

"You're welcome," John answered with a slight tilt of his head.

Elaine was watching them and they were supposed to be a couple who cared about one another, not a couple who hid behind all the stuff John always hid behind. Plus, John had asked for his help, so he couldn't really blame Rodney when Rodney leaned closer and kissed him. After all, it was a little kiss and Rodney was just playing his part.

John went with it, meeting the press of Rodney's lips with a press of his own, then drawing back and smiling shyly at Rodney before looking down at his iced tea.

"It must be a novel thing for you, not having to hide your relationship," Elaine said, handing Rodney a glass before taking a seat in the chair opposite the couch.

"It's, um..." John glanced at Rodney from beneath his lashes. "Kind of nice, actually."

"Yes, it's very nice," Rodney added, sitting up a little straighter and lifting his chin. "Thank you for your hospitality."

Leaning back in her chair, Elaine took a sip of her tea. "Isn't that what family is for? I'm sure you feel the same way at Rodney's sister's home."

"Jeannie thinks John is too good looking for me."

John lifted his head, the bashfulness of a few moments ago gone. "When did she say that?"

"When she was trying to get me to marry Katie. She said something like 'Face it, you're no John Sheppard.'"

"Goes to show what she knows. Katie was all wrong for you. She was a botanist," John said, as though that explained everything.

"A pretty botanist and she named a plant after me. Of course, it was kind of phallic looking."

"Kind of?" John said.

"So how long have the two of you been together?" Elaine asked, cutting them off. She was leaning forward in her chair, resting her elbows on her knees.

"A while," John said, shifting in his seat. "It kind of snuck up on us."

"You can say that again," Rodney muttered.

"W were friends," John said, shooting Rodney a look. "And then one day, we sort of realized it was more than that."

"He kissed me," Rodney said. "Completely out of the blue, which is probably why it was a terrible kiss, but I forgave him and let him try again. He did better the second time around." Rodney could tell John wanted to glower at him, but he couldn't, not with Elaine there. Maybe this pretending to be a couple thing would turn out to be fun after all.

"You know what they say, practice makes perfect," John said.

Elaine smiled warmly, which made her look far prettier than the make-up did. "Dave didn't do such a good job kissing me the first time either."

"Must be a family trait," Rodney said loftily.

"Like the legendary Sheppard staying power," John answered.

"Oh, yes," Elaine deadpanned, "Exactly like that."

Rodney decided he liked her.

 

"Today didn't go so bad," John said, laying back and pulling the covers up to his chest.

"No. It was kind of fun." Rodney shifted, settling deeper into the nice, comfortable bed.

"You just liked telling Elaine I'm a bad kisser."

"Not my fault you didn't think up a story covering how we got together."

"I didn't think anyone would ask."

"People are curious about that kind of stuff. Not that I get it."

"Of course not, you'd never be curious about someone else's sex life."

Rodney turned onto his side. He could see John's profile outlined in the moonlight. "I wouldn't go that far." Rodney was curious about John's sex life, for example. But John rarely talked about. "Can you imagine what Jeannie would ask?"

"I'd rather not."

"Was it weird, growing up here? Other than the library, it's not very homey."

John didn't say anything and Rodney wondered if he'd pushed too hard. Then John said, quietly, "It was better when my mother was here. Warmer."

"How old were you when she left?"

"Nine. Dave was only six."

"She didn't take you with her?"

"My father had better lawyers. Dave always thought she abandoned us. He never really forgave her for it. I don't think she could've gotten custody, not if my father knew."

"Knew what?" Rodney asked, keeping his voice as quiet as John's.

"My mother was having an affair with our horse trainer," John said, turning onto his side, facing Rodney. "I saw them together once in the stable, kissing."

"Adultery probably wouldn't have gone over well with the courts."

John shook his head, pressing his cheek into the pillow. "My father had had his own affairs. The trainer's name was Margaret."

"I can see how that might have been a problem." A lesbian in the '70s in Virginia, there was no way she would've won that battle. "Did they stay together after the divorce?"

"I don't think so, but Mom never said anything about her relationships. I didn't think she had any other than Margaret, but now I hope she did."

Rodney nodded.

"One day, it was just her and I: Dave had stopped coming to visit. I told her I knew. She started to get upset, and I said it didn't matter that I would love her no matter what."

"What did she say?"

"She cried. But it was a good day."

"You were a good son," Rodney said.

"I wanted to be. It's what she deserved." John's expression shifted, showing a hurt that made Rodney want to take it all away. "She died a few months later. A drunk driver. It was the middle of the afternoon. What the fuck was he doing driving drunk in the middle of the afternoon?"

"I don't know."

"I wanted to kill him. My father actually took all of the guns out of the house and hid them until after I'd left for college. For four years, no one fired a gun on this property."

Rodney had known John's mother had died when he was a kid, that was all, nothing about the divorce or when she'd died or how. "You were fourteen?" Rodney asked, thinking how hard that must have been. Even he'd have had a hard time losing his parents at fourteen, and he hadn't even liked his parents that much.

"Yeah. My angry adolescence was a little angrier than most." John tried for a smile, didn't make it. "I blamed my father. If he hadn't divorced her, sent her away, she'd have still been alive."

John's hand was resting just below his pillow. Imagining what the Sheppard household must have been like, Rodney found himself reaching out, covering John's hand with his own and giving it a quick squeeze.

John squeezed back, but Rodney didn't let go.

When John didn't say anything more, Rodney allowed his eyes to drift shut.

 

"Do you have to?" Rodney asked. He knew he sounded whiny, but he really didn't care.

"I need to stay in shape," John said, sitting on the edge of the bed and bending down to tie his sneakers.

"No one's going to believe we're having lazy morning sex if you keep getting up and going running."

"They will if I bring you breakfast in bed when I get back."

Yesterday's breakfast had been delicious and the thought of breakfast without actually having to get up was enough to make Rodney say, "Okay."

Standing, John leaned over the bed and patted Rodney's shoulder. "Go back to sleep."

Rodney closed his eyes, but instead of sleeping he found himself thinking of a young John Sheppard riding horses, curling up in a big leather chair to read, trying to take care of his mother even though he was a kid himself. Rodney wished he'd known John then, because it sounded like John could have used a friend who knew how to spell.

 

"Ah, there you are," David said looking up from the foot of the stairs as they were heading down after breakfast. "I've arranged a fitting for 11:00."

"A fitting?" Rodney asked.

"Tuxes."

"For the cotillion," John said. "Don't you think you should have asked us first?"

"Did you bring tuxes?"

"No."

"So you both need tuxes. You're just lucky I could get you in on short notice."

John closed his eyes. But he didn't count to ten. Rodney could tell because he'd started counting and he only made it to three. "Maybe we don't want to wear tuxes," John said. "Maybe we were going to wear slacks and a polo shirt."

"To the cotillion? You'd be completely out of place."

"So you took it upon yourself to decide what we were going to wear and where we should get it."

"John," Rodney said, curling his hand around John's forearm. Cooling a pissed off John wasn't something he normally did -- usually, he just got out of the way -- but Rodney was pretty sure John didn't want to blow this over a tux.

Tugging his arm free, John took a couple of steps down the stairs. "You're just like dad, you know that."

"And you're just like mom," Dave said, shooting a significant look at Rodney.

John started down the stairs. He was too far down for Rodney to catch him, but Elaine came in from the dining room.

"Dave," she said sternly. "I need to speak to you. Now."

Dave followed his wife into the main parlor, and John turned to look at Rodney.

"Come on, let's go get a fucking tux."

Rodney sighed. And the day had started out so well.

 

"He's just like our father, scheduling everyone else's life for them," John said, hitting the steering wheel with his open palm.

"I think they're easier to drive if you actually hold onto the wheel."

"Yeah, I'll give that a try. Thanks, Rodney."

"I'm not taking sides, and if I were I'd never take his, you know that." Rodney waited until John nodded once before continuing. "I don't see what the big deal is. We need something formal for the party. Neither of us brought anything, so Dave made arrangements."

"Without asking us."

"Were you really planning on wearing a polo to this cotillion thing?"

"No."

"Well, then."

"What he said about mom was way out of line."

"Probably," Rodney agreed. "Listen, I am about as far from being an expert as you can get on this stuff, but I don't think you can fix things with Dave if the two of you keep taking sides in your parents' divorce."

"Yeah," John said, "You're probably right."

Reaching over, Rodney patted his knee.

"It's getting kind of hot out. Maybe we should pick up some swim trunks while we're in town, get some lunch."

"Sounds good," Rodney said, even though they'd just had breakfast. French toast tasted far better when delivered in bed.

 

Dave was sitting on the stairs in the foyer when they walked into the house. Standing, he asked, "Can I talk to you?"

"Sure," John said.

Rodney squeezed John's shoulder. "I think I'll go change for the pool," he said, stepping past Dave.

After changing into his trunks, Rodney dug out his sunscreen and began applying it. Hopefully, John and Dave would manage to work things out. If John was like his mother and Dave took after their father, Rodney could totally see why that marriage hadn't worked out.

When they got to Vancouver he was going to have to do something nice for Jeannie. Like take her out for a nice, steak dinner. She was a McKay and McKays were not meant to live on tofu alone.

Finished with his shoulders, he bent his elbow and reached behind him. The last thing he needed was a sunburn in the center of his back.

The door opened and John stepped into the room.

"Well?" Rodney asked, lowering his arm.

"He apologized for scheduling the appointment, for what he said about mom. It was a good talk."

"What did you say?"

John pulled off his shirt and dropped it on the bed, not bothering to fold it, and sat to remove his sneakers. "Not much. I accepted his apology, and admitted that maybe sometimes I felt like I had to defend mom because I was the only one who would."

"And?" Rodney asked.

"And he said he felt like he couldn't defend mom. Like I had taken on caring for her and her memory and wouldn't let anyone else help."

Which sounded exactly like something John would do. "It's good you talked then," Rodney said with a nod. Picking up the sunscreen, he resumed trying to reach the middle of his back.

"You look like a halfhearted attempt at a pretzel." Walking over to Rodney he held out his hand. "Let me."

Rodney handed over the tube, and a moment later there was a warm hand on his back, moving in slow, circles. John's hand was warm and his touch was perfect, not too firm or too light. It was the Baby Bear's bed of touches. Corners of his mouth curling up in pleasure, Rodney leaned back into John's hand.

John patted his shoulder. "There. All set."

"Thanks," Rodney said, trying not to sound disappointed.

"Here."

Rodney turned to take the sunscreen from him and stopped. John's chest and feet were bare and his jeans were open. He looked like he needed someone to push him back onto the neatly made bed behind them. Rodney jerked his thumb at the door. "I'm going to head down to the pool."

"See you there."

"Right, sure."

John frowned at him and Rodney felt his face heating. "I'll just be at the pool, then," he said, turning and opening the door as quickly as he could.

 

By the time John got down to the pool, Dave and Elaine had joined Rodney on the deck. John sat in the chaise lounge next to Rodney's and leaned back. Rodney waited, watching, but John didn't pick up the sunscreen or ask Rodney for it. "Did you put on sunscreen?"

"Not yet."

Reaching under his own chaise lounge, Rodney picked up the tube and handed it to him.

"I think I can go a few minutes."

"I've calculated your lifetime radiation exposure and no, you can't 'go a few minutes.'"

Sighing, John accepted the tube. He started with his legs, which were lighter than his hands, creating an interesting contrast. John's legs were skinny, and Rodney could clearly see the outline of each muscle in his calf.

"I was just telling Dave and Rodney that I gave the staff the day off," Elaine said, and Rodney quickly shifted his gaze to her. "I have some steaks some marinating, if you and Dave are up to grilling them."

The two brothers exchanged a glance. "I think we can handle that," John said, squirting some lotion into his hand and rubbing it into his chest. His chest hair moved with his hand, coiling around his fingers. It looked soft, which made sense since chest hair was usually soft, at least Rodney's was. Although Rodney's nipples weren't anything like John's. John's were brown and nearly concealed by hair.

John looked up and their eyes met.

Rodney jerked his gaze over to Dave. "So, how deep is the pool?"

"Ten feet at the far end. Three feet in the shallow end."

"That's a good size," Rodney said. It sounded inane, but not even could sound like a genius all the time, especially with his not-boyfriend rubbing lotion all over himself just a foot away.

John leaned forward, reaching behind his back. He was doing as well at covering his back as Rodney had. John had helped him so really the right thing to do would be to offer to help John.

Sitting up, Rodney patted the spot in front of him. "Come here."

John gave him a weird look. Rodney looked right back. After all, John had been the one who wanted to play boyfriends.

Handing him the lotion, John sat in front of him. Squirting some sunscreen onto his fingers, Rodney pulled in breath and began rubbing it into John's shoulder. John's skin was warm and smooth, but Rodney could feel the tension in the muscles beneath his hand. Using both hands, Rodney pressed his thumbs into John's shoulders. Then he squeezed with the whole of his hand. After a second squeeze, Rodney felt the tension ease.

John dropped his chin to his chest. "Feels kind of nice."

"Yes, well, one of these days I'll give you a full-blown massage." Rodney squirted more sunscreen onto his palm, rubbing his hands together before placing them back on John's shoulders. He rubbed slowly, was rewarded when John relaxed even more.

"Sounds good." John's voice was low and rough, and for a moment Rodney could picture him spread out on a bed while Rodney straddled his hips and rubbed his back.

Blinking away the image, Rodney slid his hands down John's sides before bringing them to the small of John's back. "There. You're done."

John turned toward him. "Thanks, Rodney."

"You're welcome," Rodney answered, waiting for John to get up and move out of his space. But John didn't. Instead, he leaned in and kissed Rodney softly, lingering in a way he hadn't before. It was a sweet kiss. So sweet that when John pulled back, Rodney had to stop himself from following.

John stood and Rodney looked up at him, wondering what it would take to get John to sit back down. "Now that I'm all sunscreened up, I think I'll go for a swim. Care to join me?" John asked.

It had to be at least 35 in the shade and the water looked cool and inviting. "Sure," Rodney said, rising to his feet. "I'll race you. We'll start in the shallow end, see who can get to the other end first."

"You're on."

 

It wasn't even a contest. Rodney's hand touched the far end of the pool at least three strokes ahead of John's.

Brushing the hair from his face, John said, "I had no idea you were such a good swimmer."

"One of the benefits of growing up in Canada," Rodney said, treading water. When John looked confused, he added. "In high school we had our choice of gym class. Most of the others involved being outside."

"In Canada," John said with a nod.

"In the winter."

"And you picked swimming because it was indoors and warm."

Pointing at him, Rodney smiled. "Precisely."

John grinned back.

John's eyes looked really green in the sun. Despite his efforts to push it aside, he had wet hair clinging to both cheeks and his grin was lopsided. He looked like the perfect not-boyfriend. So Rodney kissed him.

 

"You need to let the coals get a little hotter."

"I know how to grill, John." Dave pointed his tongs in John's direction and John took a step back, lifting his hands.

"You're right. It's your grill."

Rodney closed his eyes and relaxed a little deeper into the chaise lounge.

"So," Dave said, his voice quiet enough that Rodney had to strain to hear him. "This thing with Rodney. Is he the one?"

"It's too soon to tell," John answered.

Too soon, Rodney thought, they'd been friends for almost five years.

"He's certainly got you trained, the helmet, the sunscreen."

Rodney did not have John trained. John was untrainable. It was part of his charm.

"It's Rodney's job to think up the worst case scenario," John said.

At least someone recognized that fact, Rodney thought.

"I bet he's really good at it."

"He is."

"He told me you were a hero," Dave said and Rodney pressed his lips together to keep from pointing out that some conversations were private.

"He did, huh?"

Dave didn't answer, or when he did it was too quiet for Rodney to hear.

"You cannot tell him I said this," John said, "but the truth is, so is he. He's saved my life a couple of times."

"It was more than a couple," Rodney said.

John looked over at him. "A few times."

"About the same number of times you've saved mine."

"It's not a contest, Rodney."

"Of course it is," Rodney said and closed his eyes again.

"So, serious then," Dave said.

"Apparently," John answered.

 

Leaning back in his chair, Rodney took a long pull on his beer.

The night was still too warm, but the breeze was cool and the stars were bright.

"Nice night," John said.

"It is," Dave agreed.

That seemed to be about as much conversation as anyone had the energy for, which was good with Rodney. Elaine had taken the kids up to bed and the resulting silence was kind of restful. He took another drink of his beer. The mild buzz in his head was restful, too.

"We need to take some of this back with us," Rodney said, holding up the bottle so John would know what he was talking about.

"You should," Dave said.

"Usually, he has Budweiser."

"Don't mention it tomorrow night. They kick you out of the country club for that," Dave said.

"Seriously?" Rodney asked.

Dave nodded. "You should see what they did to the guy who served those little canned sausages at a party."

"Tough neighborhood," Rodney said.

John turned his head in Rodney's direction. "He's teasing you."

"Ah. Guess you two have something in common after all."

"Guess so," Dave said, pushing himself up from his chair. "I should turn in. Busy day tomorrow."

"Good-night," Rodney said, John echoing him.

John snagged them each another beer and Rodney leaned back in his chair, staring up at the sky. He considered suggesting they go for a late night swim, but that would involve moving.

Turning his head, he watched John take another drink of his beer then tilt his head up, eyes closed. The features were so familiar Rodney could probably draw them in his sleep, if he'd had any artistic talent. At the same time, it felt like every time he looked at John's face he saw something new there.

John took another drink of his beer and Rodney watched his lips close around the mouth of the bottle. John had really soft lips for a man.

Not that Rodney had kissed any other men.

He wondered if John had.

John looked over at him, eyes soft with affection, and Rodney decided not to ask.

The quiet mood from the lawn followed them inside and neither spoke as they undressed. Thanks to air conditioning it was nice and cool inside, and Rodney pulled the covers up to his shoulder as he settled onto his side facing the wall.

Sliding up behind him, John placed a hand on his upper arm. "Rodney?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks for today. In the car."

"You're welcome."

John squeezed his arm and Rodney let the lingering buzz of alcohol tug him into sleep.

When he woke John's body was molded to his, his front to Rodney's back, his bent knees behind Rodney's bent knees. He should probably wake John and tell him to move over, but it felt good, and it wasn't like he was hurting anyone. Besides, pointing out to John that he was holding Rodney in his sleep would just embarrass them both. Far better to just close his eyes and enjoy the feeling.

 

"I can't believe I'm getting dressed up in a tux for a cotillion."

"If it helps, neither can I."

"You grew up around this stuff," Rodney said, leaning close to the mirror and retying his bow tie.

"Why do you think I left?"

Rodney turned to look at him. John's tux was perfect. He looked like he'd been born to it, which, Rodney supposed, he had. "At least we won't have to pretend to be lovers tonight."

"Technically, we have to be lovers pretending not to be lovers," John said, coming over and taking hold of Rodney's tie. He was close enough that Rodney could feel John's breath on his cheek and Rodney found himself starting to lean a little bit closer.

John patted his shoulder. "There."

With a last glance in the mirror, Rodney said, "After you," and followed John to the door.

 

Dave had hired a full jazz orchestra. Some guests were dancing on the lawn, while others just mingled. The alcohol was good, the food even better, and Rodney had John for company. As parties went, that was pretty much the best Rodney could hope for.

"Prepare to schmooze," John said, wiping his hands on his napkin.

Rodney stopped contemplating which item on his plate to try next and looked up. Dave was leading some bald guy towards them.

"John, I'd like you to meet Congressman Robert Wittling. Congressman, my brother Lt. Col. John Sheppard and Dr. Rodney McKay."

"Nice to meet you," John said, holding out a hand.

Rodney stepped back, content to sit this one out.

"Same here," Wittling said. "Your brother tells me you're a pilot."

"I am."

"What do you fly?"

"Anything they'll let me."

Wittling chuckled. John gave him a pained smile.

"I thought about going into the Air Force myself, but the family business needed tending."

John shot Dave a look.

"I'm on the military affairs committee," Wittling continued. "We've got a bill in front of us to repeal don't ask, don't tell. I was wondering what you thought of that."

"To be perfectly honest, it's a stupid policy. It makes liars of gay and lesbian personnel and their colleagues. I've served with troops from the Canadian military as well as several European countries. They all allow gays and lesbians to serve openly. From what I've observed, it isn't a problem for them, and I don't think it'd be a problem for our troops."

"That's an interesting perspective," Wittling said.

"John always has an interesting perspective," Dave said to Wittling. "You started a new political action committee recently, didn't you?"

Wittling nodded. "I did."

"I haven't made any donations yet this election cycle. I was hoping you could tell me more about your committee," Dave said.

"Be glad to." Nodding at John, Wittling added, "Thank you for your opinion, Colonel. I'll certainly keep it in mind."

"You're welcome," John answered.

Rodney watched as Dave led Wittling away. "That wasn't subtle," he whispered to John.

"These things rarely are," John said.

"It was nice of Dave, though."

"Yes," John said. "It was."

"Where's your ex-wife?" Rodney asked, because he'd been wondering and now was as good a time as any to ask.

John craned his neck, searching the crowd. "Over there," he said, pointing to the right. "Dark green dress."

"She's pretty."

"Yeah," John said noncommittally.

"What ended it? I know you said it was the job, but what about the job?"

"I was never home. When I was home I couldn't talk about what I was doing. She hated the secrecy, felt I put my job ahead of her."

"Did you?"

"Yes." It was a more direct answer than Rodney had been expecting.

"At least that's not a problem with us," Rodney said. "I put my job ahead of you, too."

Laughing, John patted Rodney's shoulder. "I'm glad you do."

 

"This is just like in that movie," Rodney said, following John into the remotest part of the garden. "The one with Humphry Bogart and what's her name, the skinny one."

"Audrey Hepburn," John said. "Sabrina." They'd reached the little alcove created by a bunch of bushes, and John turned toward him. He poured champagne into the two glasses in his hand, holding them out toward Rodney, who carefully took a glass.

He sipped his champagne. Dave definitely bought the good stuff. "That was a good movie. Maybe we can rent it when we're at Jeannie's. She'd like it."

"She's probably seen it." Rodney's face must've fallen a little because John added, "Can't hurt to see it again." Turning, John set the champagne bottle on one of the two benches lining the alcove and undid his bowtie with a single tug. Undoing the last of the knot, he opened the top button of his shirt. Then the second. Catching sight of Rodney watching him, he said, "What?"

Rodney shook his head. It was good to see John like this, relaxed, looking content, maybe even happy. "I'm glad I came."

"Me, too." John's answer was accompanied by one of John's rare, breathtaking smiles, the ones that were pure fondness and always made Rodney's toes curl.

"They danced. In the movie. Hepburn and Bogart, they danced."

John swayed his hips, a small movement but still pretty attention-getting. "We could dance."

The champagne had clearly gone to John's head, but he didn't look drunk, just loose, almost carefree. In five years, Rodney had never seen John look carefree, not even almost. "We could," he said, moving closer, but not too close. He'd seen John on a dance floor and something about music made those long limbs of his anything but graceful.

With a quick grin, John tilted his head back and downed the rest of his champagne. A shake of his head and Rodney followed suit, holding out his empty glass to John who put them both on the bench.

The band chose that moment to wrap up the funky, up tempo jazz they'd been playing. A new song started, slower, more sensual, all that trumpeting brass replaced by lush woodwinds inviting the listener to sway. He and John couldn't dance to this, but John was moving closer.

"Shall we?" he asked, placing a hand on Rodney's hip.

"Sure." They'd been playing lovers for the last three days; they could probably manage a single dance. Except Rodney had no idea where to put his hands. With a woman, he'd have put his hand on her waist, but John's hand was already on his hip. He was still trying to sort out where to put what when John took hold of his hand and used the hand on Rodney's hip to guide him into a small step.

Rodney put his free hand on John's shoulder. Muscle and bone curved beneath his hand, solid but breakable.

John turned them in a slow, easy rhythm, almost managing to be in time with the music. They were close enough that Rodney could feel John's heat, but with enough room between them that if Rodney shifted just a little he'd be able to see John's face. He looked over John's shoulder instead, at the surrounding plants, the lights from the house, the darkness that wasn't quite dark enough, not when his cheek was only a few centimeters from John's.

Sliding his hand from Rodney's hip to his waist, John rested it on Rodney's back, not the center, just far enough around Rodney's back that it pulled them a little closer together. Rodney could feel the heat of it even through his jacket. His own hand was kind of sweaty, so Rodney moved it a little farther back on John's shoulder. Closing his eyes, he let John guide him, the two of them swaying in a slow circle.

With each turn they seemed to shift a little closer. Even as a small part of his brain tried to figure out what they were doing, why they were doing it, what the hell was happening here, the rest of him went with it, letting John draw him closer, drawing John a little closer in return.

John's body was more or less flush against his, and Rodney's cheek was touching the side of John's neck. He could feel John's breath on his own neck, warm and moist.

Rodney was so tense he was almost shaking with it. John was right there, in Rodney's arms, and the temptation to give in to the feeling, to meld his body to John's was almost irresistible.

The music stopped, and after one more step, so did they. Breathing deep, Rodney slowly lifted his face until he could see John's. John was looking at him with an odd expression, soft eyes and parted lips. Rodney had no idea which of them moved first, maybe they moved at the same moment, but John's lips were touching his, soft as always, but this wasn't for show. There weren't any spectators, just them. Just John's lips moving against his, careful and a little unsure, but still enough to make Rodney tighten his hold, press his body to John's, part his lips and invite his friend inside.

John's tongue touched his and Rodney wrapped both arms around John's shoulders. Rodney returned the touch, a little unsure himself.

A twig snapped, and John pulled away. Releasing him, Rodney turned to look behind them in the direction of the sound. A couple stepped into the clearing. They were young, probably in their twenties and had clearly escaped from the party.

"Sorry to interrupt," the woman said, catching sight of them.

"No problem," John said smoothly. Picking up the glasses, he nodded at the champagne. "Keep it."

"Are you sure?" the man asked. "We can go somewhere else."

"We were just about to head back. Right, Rodney?"

"Right," Rodney said, unsure if he was relieved or disappointed.

"Have fun," John said, giving them his smooth smile, and together they started back toward the house.

The silence was strange and Rodney wanted to break it but he had no idea what to say. "Some kiss, huh?" wasn't going to cut it, but it was all Rodney had.

When they were still about about five meters from the party, John stopped. "I don't really want to go back there, do you?"

Rodney didn't. "No, but shouldn't we at least say good-night?"

"You're right. Come on." John started walking.

Feeling bizarrely like he was on a mission, Rodney followed.

They found Elaine supervising the clearing off of one of the food tables.

"Seems to be winding down," John said.

She rested her hand on John's arm. "Thank goodness. I can't wait to get out of these shoes."

Rodney thought about asking why she bought them if they hurt, but didn't. He was too busy wondering what would happen once they were away from the party. Probably nothing. They'd undress and get into bed, just like they had the last few nights. Nothing had changed so there wasn't any reason for them to do anything different.

Except for the kiss. But they'd kissed before.

"We're gonna turn in. We've got to be at the airport pretty early tomorrow."

"Of course. Sleep well, John, Rodney."

"Good-night," Rodney said.

"John," someone said from behind them.

Rodney turned and there she was. The ex. She was even prettier up close.

"Nancy," John said. Rodney was sure the enthusiasm in his voice was fake. Mostly sure.

"I was hoping for a dance."

"Of course." He turned to Rodney. "I'll see you upstairs."

It wasn't like he could argue, so Rodney nodded. "Sure. I'll leave the light on for you."

John squeezed his arm before following Nancy to an open space in front of the band.

"He doesn't love her anymore," Elaine said. She was standing to Rodney's right. Her gaze following his. Rodney looked down at her and she smiled up at him. "And he does love you."

He wanted to tell her she was crazy. John didn't love him, because they weren't together. Except John did love him Rodney knew that. John loved him like a friend. Which, kisses aside, was exactly the way Rodney loved John.

Nancy smiled at him and John spun her gracefully around.

Rodney fled.

 

He undressed carefully, folding each piece of the tux as he removed it. If he concentrated on the folding, maybe he could stop his brain from going around in circles.

Circles in which he and John were dancing, and John was warm and close... Circles in which John's lips were on his...

He was down to just his boxers and what felt like the thirtieth circle when John stepped inside.

"Sorry about that," John said.

John didn't owe him an apology. It wasn't as if they'd been coming up here to do anything other than sleep. "It's not a problem."

"She asked me about you."

"What did you tell her?" Rodney asked.

Looking down at the floor, John stuffed his hands in his pockets. "That we fit well together. That we're in sync." Which they were. In the field. Even off the field. "She, umm, she asked if I was happy with you."

"Oh." Rodney looked around the room. There had to be something he could look at other than John in his tux with his undone tie and his open shirt with soft little hairs peaking out of it.

"I told her I was."

"Good," Rodney said, lifting his gaze. And how had John gotten that close, because he was right there.

"She gave me some advice, too. Told me to actually try and communicate sometimes." John's expression was unusually serious and there was something in his eyes that wouldn't let Rodney look away.

Rodney nodded. "Communication is always--"

John's lips covered his. There wasn't a whole lot of uncertainty in this kiss. In fact, there wasn't any at all. John was kissing him like he knew exactly why he was doing it. Rodney wasn't sure he cared why John was kissing him, as long as he didn't stop.

Sliding his arms around John's shoulders, Rodney kissed back.

John's hands moved over his back, warm and sure.

Rodney pressed his body tighter to John's and kissed him a little more deeply.

By the time John drew back, Rodney was breathing faster than normal. So was John. "I like kissing you," John said.

At this point, John was stating the obvious, but Rodney let it go. "Me too."

"And the other stuff."

"The touching," Rodney said. "Sleeping together."

"Hanging out together."

They hung out together all the time on Atlantis. "We do that at home."

"And I like it. In fact," John licked his bottom lip, "I like you. And maybe, if you like me too, we could try naked liking."

"I like you. And the parts of you I've seen naked. And touched. Touching naked you was nice. Really, really nice. More than nice." It had been. And he'd seen John in swim trunks and boxers, which meant there wasn't much of John he hadn't seen naked. Just the part that was pushing against him through John's pants.

Instead of answering, John kissed him like a man who'd just gotten the best assignment ever. Rodney was happy to go with it, really he was, except when he tried to touch John he kept getting the damn tux.

"Okay," Rodney said, pulling away. "Naked liking requires naked people. And you are way too far away from naked."

One side of John's mouth curled up, then the other. It was a gorgeous smile. Sexy as hell, in fact. "You want me naked."

"Yes, preferably soon. Because I'm pretty sure we've just had three days of foreplay. So, come on." Rodney tugged on the shoulder of John's jacket. "Off with it."

Taking a step back, John shrugged out of the jacket, letting it fall to the floor. He began unbuttoning his shirt, one really annoying button at a time.

After several hours, it joined the jacket on the floor.

Dropping to a knee, John untied his shoe. Then he stood before dropping to the other knee and untying the other shoe.

"Oh, for--" Grabbing him by the arm, Rodney maneuvered him to the side of the bed. "Sit." Kneeling, he pulled off each of John's shoes in turn, followed by his socks. "There," he announced, sitting back on his heels.

John leaned back on his elbows. The change in position put the outline of his cock directly in Rodney's line of sight. Or maybe Rodney dropped his gaze. Whichever. "You missed some."

"I wouldn't have had to do any if you weren't so slow," Rodney said.

"I'm still not naked. And neither are you." There was a challenge in John's voice. Rodney knew that tone all too well. That tone led to near war between two countries who weren't even supposed to be real, and souped up race cars, and evenings on the pier when Rodney had work to do.

Climbing onto the bed, he straddled John's thighs and undid the button on John's pants. The zipper followed. Then he reached his hand inside.

John pushed his hips up, his cock rubbing against Rodney's palm through his boxers.

The angle was awkward but Rodney rubbed back as best he could. "Just think, this is only semi-naked liking."

Laughing, John curled a hand behind Rodney's neck and pulled him into a kiss. Then he slid his lips along the side of Rodney's neck and Rodney closed his eyes, his hand tightening around John's cock.

John teased him with soft kisses and tiny nips, and Rodney leaned into it, making encouraging noises.

Rolling them so Rodney was on his back, John shifted to the other side. He slid a hand over Rodney's chest, brushed a nipple.

Rodney held onto John's cock, caressed John's back with his free hand.

John kissed him again, deep this time, wanting and lust-filled. Groaning into the kiss, Rodney pushed against him, rubbing as much of himself as he could against John.

"Still not naked," John said when they parted.

Rodney stared at him. John's hair was mussed and his lips were shiny. His eyes wide with arousal. "Whose fault is that?"

"Pretty sure it's yours," John said, lifting himself up on his hands and looking pointedly at Rodney's hand, which was still in his pants.

"Like you object to it being there." Although it wasn't like Rodney could do much with it, not with the way they were pressed together.

"I don't object at all," John said, sitting back and pressing his own hand to Rodney's cock.

John's hand was warm and strong and John's, and it wasn't Rodney's fault if he groaned. In fact, it was totally John's, because John was looking at him like a boy who'd put his hand in the cookie jar and found a whole batch of fresh chocolate chip.

John moved his palm up the length of Rodney's shaft then back down. It would've been perfect if his damn boxers hadn't been in the way.

"You were right," Rodney said, sitting up. "Off, off now."

John backed off the bed and stood. In one movement he pushed his jeans and boxers to the floor. And then he was naked. Rodney slid his gaze from John's shoulders, down over a nicely muscled chest to a hard cock to lean legs and long feet and then reversed himself. When his eyes met John's, John bent forward and tugged at Rodney's boxers. "You need to lose these."

Pushing himself to his feet, Rodney took hold of his boxers and shoved them to the ground then stepped out of them. "There. I'm all ready for naked liking."

"I can see that," John said, sliding his arms around Rodney's waist and finding Rodney's lips with his own. "Just so you know," John whispered, "I plan on doing this all night."

All night was probably a little ambitious, but they had a lot to explore. The touching alone could take hours. "We'll sleep on the plane."

"Good plan," John said.

Rodney was too busy moving his hands over John's skin to answer.

 

Three years later

John took a long drink of his iced tea and watched the inner tube Rodney was floating on spin slowly in a circle. There was definitely a canon ball in Rodney's future, just as soon as John was ready to move from the chaise.

"Hey, Dave."

"Yeah?" Dave asked from the chaise lounge next to John's.

"Thanks for the whole don't ask, don't tell thing. I know you put on some behind the scenes pressure and I appreciate it."

"It was a stupid policy." Dave turned his face toward John's. "And you're welcome."

John was feeling warm and mellow and Dave had played politics for him. The least he could do was confess. "Want to know something funny?"

"Sure."

"Remember when we first came here and you thought Rodney and I were together? We weren't. I didn't know how to tell you, so I convinced Rodney to go along with it."

"You are together now, right?" Dave asked, but he didn't really need to use that tone, the one which implied John was more than a little strange and possibly from an entirely different gene pool.

"Oh, yeah, but listen, I haven't gotten to the funny part." Resting his weight on the arm of the chair, he leaned closer to Dave. "What do you think Dad would say if he knew I hooked up with my boyfriend at the annual Sheppard cotillion?"

Dave stared at him. "You didn't."

"I totally did."

Dave burst out laughing.

Leaning back in his chair, John smiled to himself.

"I think," Dave said slowly, laughter subsiding, "that as long as you were happy, Dad would be happy."

"You think so?"

"He loosened up a lot the last few years. Getting older seemed to give him some perspective."

A tinge of regret caused the smile to slip from John's face. "I'm glad for you. He wasn't always easy on you either."

"No."

The silence was getting awkward and John was just about to get out of his chair and canon ball Rodney when Dave said, "I'm happy for you."

Surprised, John turned toward his brother. "Thanks." He smiled, a little tenuously.

Dave smiled back. "You ready for a beer?" he asked, pushing himself from the chair.

"What do you think?"

Dave handed him a beer and John studied Rodney's floating tube, determined to find the approach that would create the biggest splash.