Rodney's in Colorado for an aerospace conference, which is a pleasant respite from his instructor duties. At least here he can deal with a different kind of idiot. He arrives Thursday evening, and registration is the next morning, so he goes out to explore. He finds a park that he thinks will be good for his morning run, and a bookstore with overstuffed chairs and an attached coffee shop, and a vast supermarket. He goes in to buy toothpaste and a decent razor (he remembered to bring his presentation materials, and his business cards, and his travel iron, but the toiletries bag is probably where he left it, at the side of his sink, back in Cold Lake). While he's there, with a basket in hand, he figures he might as well pick up some things for the weekend.
He's studying apples, which are not looking like the tempting snack alternative that his doctor says they are, when the scruffy-looking guy with his hands full of cucumbers says, "Hey." Rodney looks up with a pre-emptive scowl. "Can you hand me one of those little bags?" the guy says, and he nods his head to indicate, in case Rodney was stupid, which little bags.
It's such an inexplicable thing to do — who talks to strangers in the supermarket? — that Rodney suspects the bag thing is some kind of a ruse. "Are you hitting on me?" he asks. The guy's cute and exudes a smug obnoxiousness that implies he knows just how cute he is. His t-shirt reads What part of 1 + 1 = 10 do you not understand?, so — no big deductive leap here — Rodney assumes he's also here for the conference. It might be the guy's first time out of graduate housing in a while, but Rodney's not going to be his one-night stand.
The guy rolls his eyes, and Rodney suddenly realises that the social awkwardness is on the other foot, so to speak. His ears start to burn.
"I just," the guy says, trying to balance the cucumbers in one hand, "want one of those bags?"
Americans, Rodney thinks. All his statements sound like questions.
"And about four arms," Rodney snaps. The quickest way out of the humiliation of the exchange is to strip off a bag and hold it open for the guy to roll his cucumbers into.
"Thanks." The guy flashes him a grin as he ties the bag off. "Sushi thing at work," he adds, dropping the cucumbers into his cart and ticking off two items on a long list from his pocket. "Have to go buy a squid. You have a nice day, now." He grabs a ginger root as he wheels away.
Rodney puts two apples in his basket, sighs to himself, and gives up. Who is he kidding? He's going to need real snacks to get through the next few days.
He's debating corn chips versus potato (and ridged or plain? — his mind goes terrible places with that question) when the guy appears, adding cola and cheese puffs and chips — all kinds — with blithe abandon.
"Doritos aren't Japanese," Rodney says, and then kind of wishes he could disappear.
The guy bounces on his toes a little, like a kid with a secret. "They're universal," he says. "Like — " he points — "Coke. And beer. And mixed nuts." He looks at Rodney, and then asks, faux casual as he snags a bag of popcorn, "You're military?"
Rodney maybe needs to get a less severe haircut. People keep asking him that. "Canadian Air Force," Rodney says, and beats down the urge to brag about exactly what he does.
"Cool," the guy says easily. "You like sushi?"
Rodney can't help himself. He checks out the guy's cart, and sure enough, there's a squid in there looking back at him. "Not so much, no."
The guy tilts his head to the side in a suit-yourself gesture and shoves his cart forward, towards biscuits.
"I like Doritos," Rodney blurts out, apologetic because he doesn't know what's going on. Are they talking about food, or is he being invited for dinner? Had the guy been lying about hitting on him, or — oh God — is he now taking pity on him? Probably Rodney shouldn't be wearing his own geeky t-shirt (I'm with genius), but he'd been carried away by the unexpected bliss of free time.
The guy's busy scribbling on a wrinkled paper napkin. "Here," he says finally, and smiles as he passes it over. At the top it says John Sheppard, underlined twice, and then there's a map with a big X marks the sushi. Underneath it all is a very bad cartoon of the guy — John — which looks like a floppy-haired beach ball. The speech bubble is written in binary.
"Yo, later," John says, waves, and disappears in — Rodney will find out years and years later — extreme embarrassment of his own (though to Rodney, at the time, it just looked cool). Rodney hasn't memorised the alphabet in binary, but he figures it out in the car. It says, Now I'm hitting on you.
Rodney goes to the party. He puts the napkin in his wallet, in case he needs to refer to the map. He is still carrying it fifty years later.
John, it turns out, is a letter writer. Rodney suspects him of being a leftie who was switched, because he writes with a backslant that's nearly horizontal. On the one hand, it's eye-strain inducing, but he also knows immediately when he's got a letter from John. He has days when opening the post box is the highlight of his day, though he'd never ever say so.
In the three years that John writes to Rodney (at least once a week, without fail), John finishes his PhD and gets a job with Colson Aviation, which apparently involves a lot of government work and non-disclosure agreements, although John almost always has some random question for Rodney or — knowing Rodney's background in physics — some theoretical engineering problem. Yes, achieving those kinds of speed would be lovely, Rodney writes back, in your bizarre fantasy world. What are you, stupid? John just shrugs the abuse off, positing systems that reduced or cancelled out G-forces (Where's the fun in that?) or manoeuvres possible only if you wanted to rip the wings off your jet in mid-flight (but other than THAT little design flaw, I think you're on to something).
When Rodney leaves for a six-month rotation to Yugoslavia, John sends actual care packages. Rodney's never gotten a care package before — his family prefers to remember him with cards at Christmas and his birthday — and he discovers that they are very, very good things indeed. Rodney gets the latest hockey scores and badly-baked pseudo Nanaimo bars (which nearly start a riot) and bags of Doritos, as well as letters that tell him inane things about John's life: getting a speeding ticket, meeting the ex-wife's new boyfriend, shopping for a cell phone, researching adoption (wait, what? Rodney writes), going skiing, winning the office football pool.
Rodney's absolutely baffled as to why John does this. They've only met once, and they didn't even sleep together.
Because I worry about you, you idiot, John writes back, with a cartoon of himself in the margin, rolling his eyes. Tell your CONGRESSPERSON then, Mr AMERICAN CITIZEN, Rodney replies (he's had a rotten day). The next box he gets has pictures of the bumper stickers on John's car (American politics on the left and Support Our Troops stickers, American and Canadian, on the right), a case of Crunchie bars, and an industrial size bag of Smarties.
My squadron has all broken out in spots, Rodney writes. I'm thinking I should start trading chocolate for sexual favours.
The next box contains absolutely no chocolate. None. There is, however, a note from John that says, Hey, Rodney. I have lots of chocolate, followed by a cartoon that might indicate a sort of leer.
What are you, six? Oh and by the way, you can stop sending stuff, I should be back by the end of the month.
He has two weeks of leave time before he starts at NFTC, ostensibly to visit his family and readjust to Canadian life. He figures one week of collective McKays will be more than enough, and calls John on the telephone to see if he can get away for a few days.
Their original plan is to rent a car and. . . go somewhere. Take the Trans-Canada as far as they could, retrace the last tour of Hard Core Logo, find the hand of Franklin, whatever. The real Canadian experience, John says, despite the fact that his work with the US Air Force has him spending so much time in Moose Jaw that he has to show Rodney around. The plan is revised, very early on, to stay in Rodney's apartment and have as much sex as possible. Rodney thinks this is a good plan. John's as scruffy as he remembers, except that the long hair has been hacked short and tends to stick up as if semaphoring for help. Rodney's always liked round-faced, blue-eyed blonds, male or female. This sudden lust for someone who's completely opposite to his type he finds baffling. He blames it on the chocolate.
John leaves tomorrow, back to Colorado now that his business trip is over, but he keeps slipping up, keeps calling Rodney's house home. Each time he visits, it gets harder to say goodbye: it's like a spring wound so tight that it's about to snap its casing. Even the cat has started noticing when he's gone.
"Here's the thing," John says. He's been packing, but when Rodney wanders in he sits down, pressing his hands down hard to keep his knees from jittering. "I could work from here."
Rodney lets out the breath he'd been holding. "Move in?" He doesn't say please, but he can hear it in his voice anyway.
"I could." John's hands curl in on themselves. "But it's. . . it'd be serious. To me."
Rodney knows John well enough by now to interpret serious. Joint-Christmas-present serious, meeting-the-family serious. Starting a family serious, because he knows that's what John wants. And he also knows, looking at how utterly miserable John is, that John expects him to say no, so long, I prefer my boyfriends without conditions, thanks. Or — even worse — to say come if you want, but it won't be serious to me, and let John decide how much he's willing to compromise his dreams.
"Just how many kids do you want?" he asks, trying not to look terrified. He once flew with a student who had such a near miss that Rodney could count the rivets on the other jet. This is not, he tells himself, worse.
"One?" John says. Rodney opens his mouth to blast him for being dishonest, and John raises his hand. "Ideally, three or four, but that's greedy and kind of crazy, considering. I think I could handle one kid." He looks at Rodney, his head to the side. "Nancy and I never — I just assumed. . . you know. That kids would just happen. That that was why people got married."
"How old were you?" Rodney asks, because this sounds ridiculously naïve, and John concedes the point with a shrug. "I'll bet you never talked about condoms or money or who cleaned the toilet, either." Rodney still doesn't understand John's marriage. He suspects it was the last-ditch attempt to stay in the family graces. There had probably been some black-sheep bonding as both of them — what rebels! — refused to get MBAs. "I'm not good with kids."
John nods easily, as if he hadn't expected anything different, and Rodney could hate him for being so damned accepting.
"I've been practicing," he says. "Talking to kids, and things. And I asked Jeannie what she thinks."
John's so surprised he momentarily loses control of his eyebrows. Rodney savours the moment. "What does Jeannie think?"
"She thinks Meredith would be a cute name for a girl."
"It takes years and years anyway," John says, and Rodney can see that he's pretty much talked out. The strain shows at the corners of his eyes. He shrugs — ha! Rodney knew there was a shrug impending — and adds, "I. . . it's good to know, that the option's open."
That's Rodney's escape, right there, and he wilfully ignores it. "It is," he says, and lets John finish up his packing. They're both kind of raw for the rest of the evening, taking refuge in their ongoing argument about hockey over dinner. John's wild in bed that night, leaving Rodney memories that still make him blush weeks later.
John moves in in late May: he brings hardly anything beyond his clothes and some CDs. He works out of Building Ten, which is generally called the mysterious Building Ten in a wavery, Twilight Zone kind of voice. People go into Building Ten and sometimes don't come out for days, and there are no windows. (As a joke, someone once taped a sign to the wall that reads, If the building's a-rockin', don't come a knockin'. The sign has been there for years, now, which is pretty creepy in and of itself.) Rodney doesn't have high enough clearance to get in the door.
He tries, once, to pick John up for lunch, and is repeatedly told at the reception desk that Dr Sheppard is unavailable. Furious, he goes outside and rings John's cell phone. John sounds as if he is in the bottom of a well on the other side of the world, and there is an annoying intermittent beep that tells Rodney the call is being recorded. If Bob says I'm unavailable, I'm unavailable, John says, sounding lazy and amused. I'll be back by five.
So Rodney decides to hate John's mysterious uber-classified job, but at least his hours are reasonable. John takes over most of the household tasks, and Rodney thinks — but is certainly not fool enough to say — that he should have got a wife years ago. He's eating better and he has sex whenever he wants to and there's something to be said for a companion who can talk back and who never sheds white fur on his black trousers.
They're spending the week after their second Christmas together in painful awkwardness with Rodney's parents and his sister when John gets the call from the adoption agency. John shakes so badly he drops the telephone, which means Rodney has to do all the talking, scribbling notes and schedules all over the memo pad that Jeannie shoves in front of him. John paces the kitchen, back, forth, twitch twitch twitch. Well, Rodney says to John, as he hangs up. We're having a baby.
John, who has always been so careful to never even be on the same side of the room as Rodney, much less touch him, at his parents' house, grabs Rodney and kisses him absolutely and thoroughly breathless. Rodney's father opens a bottle of wine and tells everyone about the night Rodney was born and the terrifying but true story of how Rodney was saddled with Meredith. Rodney's mother and Jeannie traumatise John with shopping the next day. When they go home, the car is weighted down with things that are apparently essential, like clothes and blocks. Rodney spends the first few hundred miles telling John how utterly baffled he is: he'd expected the family reaction to be cool disinterest, the way they've reacted to every one of his promotions and to Jeannie's doctoral programme. John mutters something about gift horses and turns the radio up.
Rodney refuses to be superstitious about the fact that Mckayla Sheppard is thirteen months old when they bring her home, but she starts walking within the week, and by the end of the month everyone calls her Max. She's going to be a demon when she's sixteen, he tells John after one catastrophic bedtime slash grudge match. You should be the one to teach her to drive. And give her the sex talk.
John, from where he is lying on the floor in a puddle, whimpers.
Max's first word is up. She can't get enough of up, whether in arms or on tables or perched on shoulders or the challenge of stairs. I blame you, John says, and Rodney bounces smugly on his heels as his daughter tries to grab planes out of the sky.
Her second word is daddy. She has no idea what it means: it's a generic noun. The cat is daddy, as is the mail carrier and the tree on the corner. But one day they take her to the park and she runs at Rodney full-tilt, each step looking as if she's going to face-plant into the grass.
"Up, daddy," she says, holding out her arms, and as he launches her skyward he catches John's eye. John's eyebrows go slanted, either in question or in amusement.
"Okay, this kid thing? Might not be a bad idea," Rodney says, and John looks away, his mouth mashed together to hold in a grin. "Do not gloat," Rodney says. "Or I'll be forced to exact revenge."
When Max is three, Rodney is offered a position as the Canadian Air Force liaison with the SGC. He is unaware of this until he is actually underground in Cheyenne Mountain Operations Centre. He thinks he'll be working at NORAD, and the mountain of non-disclosure agreements he's asked to sign aren't a surprise.
The whole Stargate thing, now that's a surprise. Travelling across galaxies, meeting and fighting aliens, learning how to use alien and capital-A Ancient technologies — it's pure science fiction. He's given the spiel by a Major Carter, who's apparently the SGC's golden girl. She shows him beautifully-printed full-colour specs for planes made with alien technology and videos of these planes in flight, both in atmosphere (not, Rodney suspects, Earth's atmosphere: the landscape is all wrong) and in space. Rodney's impressed, and he's smug that his genius is being acknowledged, but he's also getting really, really suspicious.
After lunch with a couple of the test pilots, who tell Rodney that, yes, inertial dampeners and super-powerful metal alloys are used in all the aircraft, Carter takes him on a tour that includes the control room overlooking the actual Stargate. There's a magnetic whiteboard in the corridor, showing the departure and arrival times for the various gate teams and their off-world destinations. Carter's in SG1: apparently, her trip to M3A-111 has been moved to Friday. He asks if the gate teams have rosters. They do, pages and pages of crossed-out and written-in names taped to the wall of the gate room lounge between the telephone and the Coke machine. Carter buys him a mineral water, and one for herself as well, and tells him he really doesn't have the clearance to be too nosy.
He thinks she knows. He thinks he's furious.
He asks if they have some kind of teleportation technology, like Star Trek's beam-me-up.
Carter prevaricates. She says that if he works here, he'll be expected to relocate to Colorado Springs and commute by car like a normal person. But some people (he asks), some of them commute via alien technology?
"I have a motorcycle," Carter says brightly, and takes him upstairs for the meeting with the civilian contractors who work with the US Air Force.
He manages to interrupt — not too rudely — at sixteen-twenty, and asks where the toilets are. He's pointed down the hall. He snaps the tether on his visitor's pass for verisimilitude and tucks it into a pocket as he takes the stairs down. He's in uniform and he looks purposeful, and security this far into the complex is crap. He's in the corridor when the klaxon sounds at precisely sixteen-twenty-five (offworld activation), and he's in the gateroom when SG-24 walks out through the wormhole. He hasn't exactly planned what he was going to do next; there are a lot of variables.
John, in navy coveralls and wearing a thigh holster, looking over and straight into Rodney's eyes and saying, "Oh, shit," well. Confronted with those variables, Rodney's body reacts before his brain does, and he punches John right in the face.
"I can't believe that you're doing this — " he waves with the hand that doesn't feel like John's cheekbone broke it. "I can't believe that you've been lying to me for years. I can't believe that we're talking about having another child while the first one is in daycare because you're on another planet."
John looks down at the floor. Rodney belatedly realises that he's creating a scene. The Marines who came through the gate with John have moved to protect him, and Rodney finds himself not-so-gently being escorted from the room by a Colonel who says, sotto voce, "I understand the temptation to hit the scientists myself, Major, but maybe you could take up a more socially acceptable alternative to violence."
"That's my boyfriend," Rodney protests. "Oh, don't look like that, it's been legal since 1992. Sir," he adds, belatedly. The hole he's digging for himself keeps getting deeper and deeper.
The Colonel steers him into an airless meeting room, where Major Carter is waiting. She looks at Rodney like he's the world's biggest asshole. He's coming down off the adrenaline now, and he kind of thinks she's right. He says nothing by way of exculpation, nothing but Yes, sir and No, sir for the duration of the entire dressing-down. When Carter escorts him out at the end, his legs are shaking as if he'd been running hard, he has a letter going in his permanent record, and he has a job starting in two weeks.
Fortunately, he won't be working with Carter. Much.
Rodney is back home in Moose Jaw the next day (beamed back, after a day spent learning how to fly spaceships; he's been pinching himself all day). He's just in time to be late for dinner. John acts as if nothing's wrong, even though his face is bruised and swollen. Rodney eats quickly and does the washing up while John gives Max her bath. He takes a shower when the bathroom's free, puts on his ratty-but-comfortable track suit, and goes downstairs to knock on the door to John's office.
"It's open," John says. So far, he's never locked Rodney out once.
"So," Rodney says. John turns his chair around, looking up only as far as Rodney's knees. Rodney sits down on the bed. It's still stripped and dusty, which he's thankful for: things aren't so bad that they'll be sleeping apart. "It was explained to me that you couldn't tell me anything. Something about treason in wartime."
John shrugs. "There is that."
"But I think you'd have told me anyway, if you'd wanted to."
John's head comes up at that, and his smile is mean as he angles his head. "I'm building spaceships. I'm having the time of my life. And I have no idea what I'll do if you die in one of them." The smile flickers into anger. "So. No. If I had my way, you would never have heard of the SGC and they'd never have heard of you. There's a war coming."
"Wow," Rodney says. "I thought I had the monopoly on over-protectiveness in this relationship. You realise that I'd never forgive myself if, for lack of my genius, the bad aliens got a foothold on Earth." He frowns. "Okay, that last sentence sounds too stupid to live."
"That's a stalemate, then," John says. Rodney won't let him get away with that.
"No no no, because this isn't a win-lose game, it's like one of those trust exercises." (John's eyebrows go up at that: he knows just how much Rodney hates those kinds of things.) "I trust you already to make sure my spaceship doesn't go boom and to give me an edge over the enemy. My life, your hands, done deal. And you have to trust me to do the best I can do, and did I mention, genius?"
"Genius at what?" John says. The leer he gives Rodney isn't up to his usual standard, but that's probably Rodney's fault, for damaging him.
"Are you trying to use sex to get out of this conversation?" Rodney asks. John rolls his eyes.
"Yes?" He gets up and crosses the room to flop down on the bed next to Rodney, knees spread wantonly and his leg pressed warmly against Rodney's. "I blame you. You say all that romantic stuff and it just makes me want to devour you."
"Devour," Rodney says; it's hard to sound properly scornful when his body thinks that sex would be a perfect way to elide the past few days.
"Please," John says, holding up a hand. Rodney wishes, sometimes, that John could talk: he occasionally finds himself rereading John's old letters, just for the reminder that John does have feelings in there, just well-coded ones. But he takes John's hand, and John pulls him down, and he may not be allowed in John's head but John's generous with his body. Rodney supposes that it might just be that John's a slut — it's possible — but it feels like trust, that he can ask and John gives, and John asks and Rodney gives, until John goes all to pieces beneath him, coming without anyone touching his dick, coming just from Rodney being in him and coming so hard that tears leak from his closed eyes. And he doesn't scrub his face against the pillow immediately. He lets Rodney see just what he does to John, and that's what sends Rodney flying.
Rodney's not there the first four times John wakes up, but he is there the fifth, and he tells himself that's good enough. John's really dopey: he's got tubes going in and out, and apparently this freaked him out those other times. But Rodney thinks it might just have been because he wasn't there. Yes, yes, ego as big as the Northern Territories, he knows.
Still, he stands where John can see him, and as soon as John blinks him into view the tension leaves his face, replaced by a terrifying faith, as if now that Rodney's here things will go right. Rodney touches John, palms his cheek, brushes his fingers along a badly-shaved jaw, traces sticky lips.
"Hey there, Sleeping Beauty," he says, and John moves his mouth experimentally. "Probably talking's not such a good idea right now," he adds, and tries to soothe away the worry that John's showing now with one slanted eyebrow. "You're okay, you're in the hospital, but you're okay."
The nurse said that there might be some confusion, that John might have some memory problems. Rodney's not sure how much John understands about his injuries. He's checking now, trying to move his arms and legs and head, and not succeeding.
"You're tied down," Rodney says, trying to sound annoyed. "At least, everything that's not in a cast is tied down. Apparently you decided that what I really wanted this year for my birthday was hardcore bondage. Stop that," he says, and reaches over to uncurl John's hand. John gives him an I'll be good look which Rodney absolutely shouldn't trust, but he undoes the restraint around John's wrist anyway. "Your naqahdah engine went boom. You're bruised all over. Max was here drawing a picture of you. She gave up and coloured you all blue in the end."
"Shit," John mouths, or maybe fuck. He turns his hand in Rodney's and traces something across Rodney's palm. Rodney makes him do it again, because he's never been much good at these kinds of puzzles.
"a-a-y," he ventures on the third pass, and John rolls his one visible eye. "d-a-y?" John pats his hand in sarcastic praise. "Today? Today is Friday. Almost Saturday. You've been lazing about here for a week, exactly."
John spells something, writing large and slowly.
"Oh, don't give me sorry," Rodney says, and catches himself. It would be too easy to be really, really angry with John, just out of sheer relief. "I have this huge and inexplicable love for you," he says, and this is why he has to have that focal rage, because when he lets it go — damn. He can feel his chin start wobbling. "Damn."
John looks distressed. Rodney tries to smile, and that makes John even more upset. "Come. . . here," John breathes out, tugging on Rodney's hand.
"You're not exactly huggable right now," Rodney says, but the Kleenex box is on the other side of the bed. He leans down to wipe his face on the sheet and then stretches a little, letting his forehead rest on John's shoulder. He places his hand over John's heart, and John makes an encouraging noise and touches Rodney's hair. "You're not supposed to talk," Rodney informs him. "Don't take this the wrong way, but when I get you home, I'm going to wrap you up in bubble wrap and duct tape you to the sofa."
"Home," John says, probably just being contrary. He hates being ordered about. Physical therapy is probably going to be like a lower circle of hell for him, Rodney decides: John'll want to get back in shape as fast as possible, but he'll hate having to do what he's told. Rodney's not sure if that makes him want to laugh or cry again. "Love you," John says. Rodney knows John's not dying (not anymore), knows it's just the drugs talking, but he still needs John to shut up with all that, right now.
"I know," Rodney says. "I know." He rests his hand curled lightly against John's cheek and wills John back to sleep.
Rodney had thought that the war was supposed to take place on a higher level of existence, where apparently people swanned about in bathrobes and either used their superpowers (for evil) or eschewed them (for good, which made no sense). But apparently just killing the gods isn't enough to make people stop believing in them. Oh, no. The true believers have to go through the drama of sending a fleet of ships through the supergate to eradicate the place of God-killing evil that just happens to be the planet that Rodney called home.
Over his dead body, and really, he hates saying that and meaning it.
Colonel Carter is in charge of the Inspiration, and Rodney has four squadrons of F-302s and X-303s. Between them both they're supposed to keep the fighting in the middle ground while Daniel Jackson tries something fiddly with one bit of Ancient technology back in Ori-land and Jack O'Neill uses another dodgy Ancient technology to shield the entire planet. Rodney isn't too worried about the details right now, because he's discovered that one of the defects of the X-303-betas is that they leak atmosphere when the missile ports are empty. He will kick John's ass for that if he ever gets back to Earth.
When, he tells himself, ordering Red to fall back. He has five ships inoperable, and he tells Blue to angel-lift them back to Inspiration — about the only thing that the useless hyperdrive system is good for. His inertial dampeners are failing; he's pretty sure that's why it's getting so hard to breathe, that and the fact that environmental tells him that it's 35 degrees and rising in the cockpit. He has visual on Chan and Chumley and Chaplin (and yes, the cha-cha-cha jokes never get old), they're with him, providing cover fire for Green. Green drops their nukes, one and two and three, just beautiful, right down over the mothership's central engines. Rodney gives the jump order as they pull up (and damn, he can feel that in every vertebra). The hyperdrive makes a mockery of formation flying: the manoeuvre for coming out of a jump is called starburst, but really that's a euphemism for for God's sake do whatever you can to not hit anyone.
They've starbursted to the far side of Inspiration, but Rodney can see the fireworks on his HUD as the explosions from the crippled mothership drive it into the other. He's lost his own power, now, and leans his head back, trying not to pant, as one of the 302s (one of the good ships, with hull integrity) picks him up and brings him on into the hanger bay.
It is just his luck that when the gravity kicks in, he's upside down. At least the oxygen starvation makes him feel peaceful and one-with-the-universe. It's kind of nice to not have to worry about where John is, or who's watching the children, or whether humanity is going to be annihilated before dinnertime.
But then he's out and Carter sends him down to Armaments. He is somewhat of an expert in naqahdah-enhanced weapons systems: he's seen them modelled out of Play-Doh at the kitchen table, in fact. He likes that there are no picture-window size viewscreens to watch from where he is. He doesn't find the bombardment of Earth's defences — the other ships and the fragile, impossibly vast shield around the planet — inspirational in the least.
Three more motherships slide in from hyperspace, the PA announces, and Carter calls him up to the bridge to discuss the feasibility of using the Inspiration to ram the other ships. The disadvantage would be horrible, fiery death, but if they detonate the engines at the right time and if they hit at the right angle (Carter's metaphor is playing 3D pool with hand grenades), then. . . they might buy someone, somewhere, a few more hours of time.
This is why Rodney is in the engine room doing suicidally insane things with naqahdah when the sirens start and the ship drops into auxiliary power. He doesn't usually swear, but he feels free to indulge himself. He needs more time.
And then all the doors lock down — the breach of hull protocol — and all communications go out — and hadn't John said that all systems should be redundant, damn it — and there is nothing but silence.
Cursed, cursed silence in poor lighting in a locked room. With explosives.
Rodney's just finished browbeating his minions into agreeing that they should blow something up — nothing big, just the doors or maybe the ceiling — when Carter's voice comes over all frequencies, ordering stand-down. Peace has, apparently, broken out. SG1, saving the day. Again.
It only takes a few more hours for them to be freed. By that time, the corridors are full of exuberant shouting, wide grins, and the cacophony of people too young to remember the 80s singing You're the Inspiration. Rodney wishes that he was back in the locked room, because all that the averted apocalypse means is more repairs and more paperwork. He writes a brutal assessment of the combat-readiness of the X-303-beta for fun. The wounded have been beamed down, and the tech teams start to beam up. For the first time since they arrived on the battlefield, the toilets are clean. Hurrah for the triumph of freedom, and justice, and the Canadian way.
He doesn't think that he's actively incompetent, but a woman named Ng takes over for Carter and orders him back to Earth as well, for at least the next 72. He would argue with her — he can tell by her face that she expects him to — but he's a little worried that it might be Thursday. He's supposed to cook dinner on Thursday.
He has no idea where the children are. He'd had the time to make one phone call before he left, to alert Military Family Services that he was being deployed. Hopefully, someone picked Max up at school and Bean (Sean, he corrected himself: he was not raising a legume) up from daycare. Hopefully, the kids are together. He doesn't even know how long he's been gone. He left Earth on Monday. John had been gone since Friday.
He has to shower and change and pass through Medical before he's free to go, and there's a queue. The only mercy is that he's not a member of SG1: the programme has gone public in a spectacular way, and Carter was whisked away for some kind of very serious news conference. Rodney's just one of many, here, and he thinks that gives him a chance of getting home tonight.
He's got two black eyes from the stupid inertial dampener failure, but Medical waves him through, and he can wear John's sunglasses from the glove compartment. It actually is a sunny day here in Colorado. He enjoys the warmth as the car crawls through the traffic. There are already nuts in campers parked along the roadside with their The end is nigh banners and hemp sandals, and satellite-feed trucks for every major news agency. Absolute madness.
John's car isn't in the driveway, but the living room is a disaster. There are Barbie accessories on everything, videos out of their cases, piles of laundry on the sofa. Either there is a six year old girl in the house, or they need to move back to Canada immediately because the burglars in Colorado are twisted.
"Hey," Rodney yells, and upstairs there's a noise like a stepped-on cat, followed by a thunderous pounding of feet.
"Daddy," Max shrieks, using the stair rails to achieve maximum speed. She hits him with enough force to spin him halfway around. "The sky was red, Daddy. Where's my present?"
"Nice try," he says, getting one hand around her waist and dangling her like that, twisting and laughing, as he makes his way across the room. "Where's your other dad?"
"Wiffa Bean," Max says in a kind of burp, and Rodney sets her upright quickly, hoping that he hasn't made her nauseous. The agreement he had with John — that he'll do the toilet training if John handles all other body-fluid accidents — has been derailed for as long as John's on crutches.
"Is Bean sleeping?" Rodney asks, heading up the stairs. He tries to set a good example of quiet climbing, but Max, on his heels, makes enough noise for three, slapping her hands on the rails to accompany each resounding step.
"Bean could sleep through the Second Coming," John says, leaning in the doorway to the kids' room. They're both afraid that it's because Bean doesn't hear all the cacophony of life around him, but still. Rodney puts an arm around John's waist and bends over to look into the crib. It must be nice to be able to sleep like a baby.
Max shoves in past them, and Rodney has to make a fast grab for John's crutches. She pulls books out of her bookcase, opening each one randomly to the middle and frowning. Nothing seems to be right, but the discards make a nice wobbly tower on the floor.
Rodney kisses John right below his ear, because that's the most convenient place. John tastes like sweat and antibacterial soap, which is a weird combination.
"I'm gross," John says, very quietly. "Antarctica was a bit cold for washing."
Rodney kisses him on the mouth to shut him up. John doesn't lean into the kiss so much as stagger into it — his natural grace is gone and he's exhausted on top of his injuries, but he has no reservations. Rodney has no doubt that right now, John is exactly where he wants to be most of all, with the people he wants most to be with, and that John was just as terrified as he was of losing it all.
"This one," Max says, shoving a book up and catching Rodney in the elbow. He's not sure how long she's been trying to get their attention. He's having trouble tracking time.
"Yeah, okay," John says, his mouth sort of sliding across Rodney's cheek; and at the same time Rodney says, "No, you go take a shower, I'll read her a story."
"It's Captain Underpants," John says, in warning, and then grins at the face Rodney makes. "And you thought you'd get respect after saving the world."
"Is it Thursday?" Rodney asks, trying to make the sad face that John does so well. "Do I have to make dinner?"
John shakes his head and gives Rodney's hair a fond ruffle. "The babysitter left a casserole in the oven. Mushroom," he adds, and Rodney rolls his eyes.
"Mm, nutritious mushrooms," he says to Max, waving her towards the bed impatiently. If he sits down on the floor he will never again get up. "Will you be okay?" he asks John, because it would be beyond stupid to survive the war only to be done in by a fall in the bathtub.
"Sheesh," John says, limping off. It isn't an answer, but at least it won't get their daughter expelled from kindergarten when she teaches it to all her friends. Rodney settles down with the book. It's about as enjoyable as toilet humour can be expected to be, but it makes Max happy. He'd expected more drama, screaming or tears or something, but he supposes the babysitter lied her head off about what was going on. He would have, in her place.
Max is warm where she presses against him, and loud when she laughs, and he just knows that she'll pick each and every mushroom out of the casserole at dinner. Bean is sucking on his knuckles as he sleeps, making a contented slobbery sound, but after half an hour he'll piss himself and wake up screaming fury. He'll refuse to eat in a chair, and John will refuse to feed him on the floor (even though it worked like magic for Rodney that one time). The way Rodney feels right now, he suspects that by seven o'clock there will be a Disney video on the television.
He's glad to be alive, he thinks, and falls asleep between one page and the next.
When Max is a rebellious sixteen and Sean is ten (plus the ever-important and a half), John is teaching part-time and working with Sikorsky on PA3-763 three days a week. It's a punishing schedule, but John forces it to work and still finds time to go to soccer games and PTA meetings and teach Max how to drive.
Rodney's promotion means even more administration, more meetings, more paperwork. Whatever he wishes he was, the fact is that he is — by total accident — the head of the Canadian Stargate programme.
He hates it.
He is in Ottawa, having to talk to politicians without sounding condescending. It's April, and outside the dark-panelled conference rooms spring is happening. He wants. . . he wants something, desperately.
He's eating alone in the hotel restaurant when the woman joins him at his table, inviting herself into his life with a you look lonely, too. She's a geneticist, in pharmaceuticals. They're both wearing wedding rings. It's spring, and he's unhappy and far from home, and he hasn't slept with a woman since the first time he cheated on John.
They go up to her room. She runs her keycard through the lock, and the bolt recesses with a dull, expensive thud. She opens the door, and Rodney breathes in the loud confusion of her alien scents — perfume, shampoo, deodorant, fabric softener.
"I can't do this," he says, feeling miserable and like a liar.
"Your wife?" she offers, stepping back and away. It's entirely inadequate to the way he feels, but he says yes because it's not her he needs to explain himself to.
He goes back to his room and has the front desk send her a box of chocolate, and then he calls John.
"Hey," John says. He sounds so happy to hear Rodney's voice.
Rodney suddenly doesn't know how to say anything. He wonders if John will believe that the phone died if he hangs up.
"I miss you," he says, which is safe and also true, but something in his voice must have given him away.
"Rodney?" The emphasis has changed: this time his name means What have you done now? Rodney wishes he could say he insulted the Prime Minister or made a diplomat cry.
"I'm almost fifty," he says, accusative, as if it's John's fault.
"So am I, buddy." Rondey can hear water running and children arguing. Then it's cut off, muffled, and he pictures John hiding out in the office with the mobile tucked under his chin.
"I don't — " he starts, "I'm not — " and he very nearly says I love you, except that before, John did the math of stammering plus guilt plus hotel room, and the answers he came up with were, unfortunately, true. John refused to talk about it, ever, which Rodney understands — who was he to say, let me tell you all the details, and then you can tell me how that makes you feel — but it's still, to this day, a stone he can feel in his stomach, sometimes. "I want to retire," he says now, and then blinks. He hadn't known he was going to say that, but it feels right. It feels like flying. He hasn't flown, not really, in so long.
There's a pause, and squeaky noises. He pictures John sitting down in the swivel chair and rocking in idle arcs, left to right, before he gives in to the temptation to push hard and pull his feet up and spin all the way around. "Okay," John says. It's not drawn out like a conditional; John says it short and true like a nod, like a done deal. "Today? Now?" John's gearing up to rescue him, Rodney realises, proper procedures be damned, and he'd laugh if he wasn't feeling so. . . in need of rescuing.
John's saved the whole damn planet, shielding it from devastating attack. If Rodney's not careful, John might wreak serious havoc. He's an overachiever.
"I have meetings tomorrow," Rodney says. "I just need to know — "
"There's light at the end of the tunnel?" John says, distracted by something. Rodney thinks he can hear John's fingers abusing the laptop's keyboard. "Can you wait another half an hour? And wear pants or something."
When he hangs up, Rodney's grinning, and he thinks he might make it through the next few days. He takes a shower and brushes his teeth and puts on his track bottoms and makes sure the door is locked. He is reading his book when the hotel room suddenly dissolves out from around him. It's very hard to go from seated to standing while being beamed across Canada, but John catches him.
"I'm pretty sure this is illegal because I made it illegal to abuse the nifty alien technology for personal use," Rodney says. He's landed in the Transmissions room at Building 10, and on a weekday in peacetime there are only a handful of technicians visible through the wall of windows.
John shrugs and smiles wickedly, steering Rodney out with a hand on his elbow. "You forgot to sign the quarterly performance reviews before you left," he says, opening the door to his office and waving Rodney in.
"That's because my secretary, your secretary, you, and both our children can forge my signature well enough to keep everyone's paycheques coming. Plus they're not due for another week." Rodney pauses. "In fact, I don't think they're even written yet."
"Well. . . yeah." John turns from locking the door to thread his fingers through Rodney's still-damp hair and pulls him into a kiss. It's a hard and hungry kind of kiss, and Rodney's fine with letting John set the pace. "I'd go on my knees for you," John says, eyes in shadow and voice rough, hands no longer content with stroking over Rodney's bare chest and back (John hadn't said anything about wearing a shirt; Rodney's not sure if he's annoyed about that yet, or just grateful). His thumbs slip below the waistband of Rodney's pants and tug.
"I want you on your knees for me," Rodney says, because it's true, if incomplete. John's knees make that impossible now, but he wants John any way that he can have him. "I want your mouth on me and your hand on your dick and I want to come first."
"Jeez, you're bossy," John says, pushing Rodney towards the desk and shoving the chair into place.
"Take your shirt off," Rodney says. "Leave your glasses on. Don't take your trousers off, just unzip."
Halfway through shrugging off his flannel shirt John's body language suddenly shifts fluid, and Rodney recognises that he's stripping. Rodney's fine with that. John tosses the shirt on the desk in a lazy underhand, and then peels off his undershirt like an invitation. John's offering and Rodney touches, and touches, and knows he can have everything.
They do it just like dirty secretary porn, with Rodney perched on the desk and John working Rodney's dick with his mouth and one hand, and every now and then looking up over the dark frames of his glasses and rolling his tongue around as if he's lost his place and what was he supposed to be doing now, again? It drives Rodney crazy. He wishes he could reach John's dick and make him just as desperate. Instead, he tells John just what he looks like, hand shoved in his pants awkwardly, mouth stretched full, eyes nearly as black as the glasses frames. There's power in the fact that he can make John sweat and shake and pant with just his voice; he tries not to think about it but it's too much of a turn on and it tips him over the edge.
When he thinks he can move without falling over, he pulls John up and returns the favour. John has perhaps the fastest orgasm ever experienced in western Canada. Rodney is vastly smug about this, and steals John's flannel shirt while John is still breathless.
"Mine," John says, trying ineffectually to keep Rodney from buttoning up.
"And your point would be what?" Rodney says, and John pulls him in close to kiss him. He can't kiss away all the things that are driving Rodney nuts, but he makes a very good effort.
"So where are we retiring to?" John asks, and Rodney likes the sound of that.
"I haven't thought that far yet," he admits. "Wasn't someone talking about finding Atlantis?"
John laughs, pulling his shirt on and finger-combing his hair into a semblance of order. "Sure," he says, giving Rodney one more good hard kiss before opening the door, "I'd follow you there."