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one

-x-

 

Sometimes it feels as if the whole thing were a fever dream, something dreamt up after getting sick on cheap beer and stale chips and late night Star Trek reruns leading into black and white horror movies.

 

-x-

 

Cheyenne Mountain is cold and solid and unmoving. It does not smell of the ocean, of fresh air and saltwater fish.

 

It reminds John of boarding school and black marks and the cold silent mausoleum where his mother is entombed.

 

The first time he had walked the concrete halls, it had been like shipping off to a new beginning.

 

Now, it reminds him of failure and loss.

 

It reminds him of endings.

 

-x-

 

Sometimes, if he closes his eyes, he expects to wake up in Virginia on Dave's couch like the first night of leave after Nancy left him.

 

-x-

 

Rodney’s couch is soft and plush, enveloping him like a fabric hug. It’s nothing like the firm chairs in Atlantis or the hard beds of home. The sound of the furnace doesn’t sound right and the air tastes stale and dry.

 

Rodney’s bed, at least, is the same. The sheets feel different, slightly musty and rough, but the mattress is the same.

 

It’s a small comfort, but a comfort all the same.

 

-x-

 

Sometimes, he wonders as if his entire career was nothing more than something he dreamed up while knocking back shots in the back of O'Malley's with his expensive fake ID.

 

-x-

 

It doesn’t take as much to get drunk as it used to. He’d thought it would, expected it to take more if anything. As if a couple years of sporadically drinking Rodney’s Canadian beer and Zelenka’s homemade rotgut would be the same as getting hopelessly plastered when he was off duty and utterly alone.

 

It doesn’t take that much, for either of them. Not anymore.

 

-x-

 

He can't believe that it's real, sometimes. That for all his mistakes and bad decisions, he still ended up exactly where he used to dream about, eating chili cheese Fritos in front of the tv and wiping the dust on his jeans.

 

-x-

 

He can't believe that it's over, now.

 

That for all his effort--and oh, how he'd tried --he was back on Earth with nothing to show for it except black stained fingers, a broken leg, and Rodney McKay.

 

He can deal with the broken leg. It isn't the first time, probably won't be the last. The stain will fade.

 

Rodney. Rodney isn't the same.

 

He's not a thing to be dealt with, something that will wash away.

 

John would never want him to be.

 

Rodney is like flying and falling and cold, hard math. Fascination and Ferris Wheels and moving too fast.

 

When John thinks that maybe he dreamed his whole fucking life up, he focuses on Rodney McKay and knows it had been real, is still real, will maybe be real again.

 

He couldn't dream up the picture that is Rodney McKay. He wouldn't want to--Rodney is more than his dreams could ever imagine.

 

John never wanted to lose Atlantis, the Pegasus Galaxy, everything and everyone there that he cared about. It had been home in a way that nothing had been since he was a kid and Dave was his best friend and his mom was alive.

 

John had lost home before, felt the ache of it twisting inside him. He doesn't think he could have handled the way it had been torn out of his hands again if not for Rodney.

 

Rodney, who sometimes touches the cold, concrete wall of the Mountain and almost imperceptibly flinches back when it doesn't feel right. Rodney, who sometimes touches his fingers to his head for a headset that's no longer there. Rodney, who strings up Christmas lights in his apartment and covers them with pastel plastic lining so the hall lights up a little like Atlantis.

 

Rodney, who hums softly as he wraps his entire body around John, nothing like a song but like the beat of machinery and the slosh of water. Rodney, who presses feather soft kisses down his chest and runs his fingers through his hair and whispers math formulae into his ear. Rodney who slips a hand under the waistband of his briefs and pulls until John is panting into his mouth and...

 

Rodney who doesn't talk about what they are or why they're doing it, doesn't bring up the fact that they'd gone from 0 to 100 in the face of their terrible, horrible loss.

 

Rodney who somehow also means home to him in a way that he'd never expected.

 

-x-

 

Atlantis was like coming home when he didn’t even know he was homesick.

 

-x-

 

Six weeks pass quickly. Six weeks of Rodney’s couch inevitably leading to his bed and six weeks of waiting for the fallout to finally come.

 

Six weeks of stay-close-in-case-we-need-you that feels more like don't-run-away-before-we-decide-if-we’ll-prosecute-for-your-mistakes.

 

Six weeks of not knowing.

 

And then, “take two weeks leave,” and “go relax,” and “there’ll probably be a place on a team for you when you return.”

 

And, “get out of here,” and “go bother someone else for a couple weeks,” and “unfortunately we still need you.”

 

-x-

 

He does his damndest to do the best for the City, to make sure the science staff has what it needs to keep her going.

 

But John wasn’t trained for this, doesn’t have the luxury of someone teaching him how best to protect it.

 

-x-

 

“Let’s go somewhere,” John says without looking away from the ceiling. The fan above them continues whirring away at a slight tilt.

 

“Go where?” Rodney asks, his breath warm and wet against John’s chest.

 

“Your sister,” John says, “if you want. Or... my family?”

 

“You hate your family,” Rodney retorts.

 

“I didn’t used to,” John admits, and closes his eyes.

 

-x-

 

They storm the City like worker bees, droves of them swarming in through the Gate unimpeded. Allina stands at the helm in a cloak the color of sunset and an intricate crown woven into her hair.

 

“Gather them all here,” she says, her voice an odd vibrato, “and kill those who refuse.”

 

-x-

 

It isn’t planned meticulously so much as thrown together at the last minute. There’s a conference in New York, and they have the time and a chance.

 

A chance for Rodney to prove to himself that he didn’t leave everything good about himself in the City, a chance for John to do something other than stare at his stained fingers and remember.

 

“Jeannie won’t be too far away,” Rodney says, swallowing before he continues packing, “If after you think that maybe...”

 

-x-

 

“You lot are the descendants of despicable traitors to my people and as such must leave to your home galaxy or otherwise become chattel for use in whatever we deem... useful ,” Allina says when the whole of the expedition is brought before her.

 

“Allina, what are you--” Rodney tries,

 

“Silence, cretin. My descendant may have wanted you, but I have no such desire.”

 

-x-

 

They don’t think anything of it. It’s second nature to strap on a gun when they’re preparing to leave, and it isn’t until John walks into Rodney in the doorway that he realizes that something isn’t right.

 

“They won’t let us on the plane,” Rodney says, his voice low and quiet, “not armed.”

 

And it hits John then.

 

It isn’t that he didn’t know, hadn’t had weeks to wrap his mind around the fact that Atlantis was gone, that there was no place called home anymore.

 

But he hadn’t really thought about it, not in terms of now and always and forever .

 

They had saved Atlantis before. Despite how close it had come so many times, there had always been a hope that they would save it in the end.

 

But now they were grounded. They were grounded and the rules on this planet, the one they’d been born on and grew to adulthood on, they weren’t the same.

 

Nothing was the same and nothing would ever be the same again.

 

They couldn’t have the heavy presence of their guns at their side, the cold press of metal like a balm to their souls. They couldn't carry their weight with them into the airport, let alone through to the plane and the bustle of New York at the end.

 

The rules were different here. Life... life was different here.

 

If they were told, at the end of this, that they would not truly be allowed to return to the expanse of space, John didn't know that either of them could handle life as imprisoned as they were in the time before.

 

They had grown to know such freedoms as far reaching and wide as the universe.

 

And now they were grounded and nothing applied the way it had before.

 

-x-

 

John undresses Rodney slowly, peeling off his holster with shaking hands and shuddering breaths. He takes his time, distracting himself with the feel of Rodney’s skin under his hands, the warm press of his body, the sharp scent of him a balm to his soul.

 

-x-

 

The plane is an experiment in keeping control. It isn’t Rodney that bothers John, though the other man’s white knuckled grasp of his armrests during liftoff makes him uneasy.

 

The plane doesn’t sound like a jumper. It sounds like a plane, like one of a number of planes that John has flown in before.

 

The turbulence, the lack of inertial dampening--a hundred other things--they’re normal for planes.

 

He should have loved the experience to being on a plane again, but the thrill he used to feel is too much weighted by the heavy press of longing for Atlantis, and all it was.

 

-x-

 

“You can’t just kick us out and do this! This is our home now!”

 

John doesn’t get a chance to see who protests before there’s a searing flash of heat and light, and an unrecognizable body at his feet.

 

“This is our home, halfwits. It was ours in the millennia before your ancestors were spawned and it will be ours in the millennia after you turn to dust.”

 

-x-

 

The conference hall is full of people. It isn’t the most people he’s seen in one place since the return to Earth--the airport had that particular distinction--but it has far more people than he had expected.

 

There’s the part of him, the part of him that had spent far too long on edge and looking for danger in every corner of the Pegasus Galaxy, that can’t stop thinking about the dangers any of these people could represent, or how excited the Wraith would be to see such an abundant buffet.

 

He can’t do anything about the Wraith. He doesn’t know if they’ve found a path to the Milky Way and even if they have, he’s not in a position where he can do anything to protect the planet.

 

He’s hardly even in a position where he can do anything to protect Rodney, his leg still healing as it is and his gun nearly two thousand miles away.

 

So he makes himself relax, makes himself take in the dizzying amount of math and science and knowledge floating about the hall.

Chapter Text

two

-x-

 

“We will go,” Elizabeth says, as steadily as she can manage, “but please let our refugees leave as well. They’re of no use to you.”

 

“Refugees? Refugees?! You invite yourself into our home and then bring in whatever leftover refuse you can find?”

 

“They are people--” Elizabeth yells.

 

Allina raises her hand, white energy forming in her palm, “they are scum, sure as you are.”

 

-x-

 

They’re halfway into a panel when men in black TAC vests, carrying weapons storm the conference room.

 

“Where’s McKay?” one of them asks, the leader if John had to guess. No one responds. Most of the attendees are the type who don't experience situations like this outside the television.

 

“Where is Doctor McKay? Refuse to answer again, and we start killing--”

 

“He’s over there!” A woman’s voice breaks out, and the leader turns his gaze on the group of them forced into the corner of the room at gunpoint.

 

His leg aches.

 

Rodney’s grip tightens, his fingers digging into his arm. It's a comfort, odd as it is.

 

“I’m right here,” John says, stepping away from Rodney. He nearly drops his crutches in the effort.

 

“You're Doctor McKay?” the leader asks, skepticism evident in his voice.

 

“Yes, and if you really wanted to speak with me you could have just called and left a message, it's not like you needed to storm--”

 

“Shut up,” the leader snarls, and John stops speaking.

 

“Sounds like she said he would,” one of the other men says, and John commits the words to memory.

 

She .

 

“If you come peacefully, we won't have to kill all these people slowly.”

 

“If I come with you, you’ll... you’ll let them go?”

 

“Of course not,” the leader says, and John can hear the amusement in his tone, “but we’ll let them die quickly.”

 

It's then that John hears the satisfying crack of someone’s nose being broken, twists around to see Rodney McKay with a gun in his hand and a dark clothed body smacking the floor.

 

“Kill them all!” the leader yells, but it's almost too late.

 

John moves. It isn't easy and his leg screams with pain, but his crutches come in handy when it comes to defending himself. He yells at the multitude of innocent people in the room, tells them to duck and to hide. He knows he can't save everyone, no matter how much it aches inside to know that.

 

But he can try to save some of them. As many as possible.

 

-x-

 

He could try to save them, save all of them.

 

It’s not enough though.

 

He’s never enough.

 

-x-



There's only two men left of the twelve who had quickly corralled them, ten bodies on the floor. John doesn't know if they're all dead.

 

And then the leader is there, a sharp wicked knife at John’s throat.

 

His leg gives out, the man kicking him down to a kneeling position. John yelps without meaning to, drawing Rodney’s gaze back to him.

 

“John!” Rodney says in obvious surprise, and John wishes he hadn't as soon as he hears it.

 

“Not McKay after all, are you? How very brave,” his captor says with a sheen of batshit crazy in his voice, and then he’s deliberately stepping onto his still injured leg, “and stupid.”

 

“Don't hurt him!” Rodney yells, and John stops thinking about a damn thing but saving Rodney.

 

“You must be the real McKay. How very... expected.”

 

“MXR-598!” John hisses out, and he doesn't miss the nod from Rodney at the implication.

 

John may have taken out most of the men in the room with a creative use of his crutches and the taking of a few stolen guns.

 

But he hadn't been alone. He didn't have his whole team, but he had Rodney.

 

He would always have Rodney.

 

It's satisfying to be proven right when Rodney’s shot rings true, just as he’d taught him at the carnival on MXR-598.

 

John doesn't let himself relax until he sees that the last man is out as well. There's a somewhat familiar man behind him, still holding one of the thick conference hall folding chairs in his arms, a smear of blood across it.

 

The hall erupts into a riot of sound and relief, many of the people who had--thankfully--been safely hidden from direct shot immediately making their escape. It doesn't miss John’s attention that they don't all leave. There are more than twenty bodies on the ground.

 

-x-

 

Sometimes when he closes his eyes, all he sees is Elizabeth’s face. Her eyes wide, mouth open in a scream, the blood splattered across her cheek.

 

Sometimes, he wishes he had never gone to Atlantis.

 

-x-

 

By the time the police get done with the interviews, the collection of the injured and the dead, it is late.

 

They'd been forced to stop interviewing at one point to make sure Rodney was fed, though John wasn't certain if it was more because of his protests for it or Rodney’s.

 

The police had seemed competent at least, as had AFOSI team that had taken over.

 

But it's late and John is exhausted and his physical therapist is going to kill him and his leg hurts . He just wants to sleep.

 

Rodney is quiet when they finally manage to get back to the hotel. He's quiet and John doesn’t know what it means, if it means anything at all.

 

He almost lost Rodney. He almost lost Rodney on Earth and he wasn't even the one who had done the most to protect him. That had been Rodney himself.

 

He was proud of him, angry with himself, and so tired.

 

Rodney hops in the shower when they get into their room, not even waiting for John to finish checking for a surprise attack.

 

John throws back a couple ibuprofen, relaxes back on the bed and waits.

 

And waits.

 

More than twenty minutes pass and the water is still running and Rodney is still quiet and John doesn't know what is taking him so long but he does know that something is wrong.

 

He enters the bathroom without so much as a word, pushes his way inside.

 

Rodney is standing under the shower head, his hair plastered to his head from the steady pressure.

 

John knows the water had been hot at first. The mirror is still steamed up and Rodney’s skin is slightly pink from the heat of it, but it’s running cold now. He isn’t shaking from the chill, though John has no doubt he will if he stays in there much longer.

 

No, Rodney is sobbing into the water, full body shudders that hollow John out and leave him aching inside.

 

They don't talk. They don't speak a word when John stumbles into the shower with him still clothed, when he wraps his arms around him and hugs him tight and hard. Neither of them speaks when John wraps him in an over large fluffy hotel towel and rubs a second one through his hair to dry it out just a little.

 

They don't speak when John strips of his soaked clothing and leads Rodney to the first double bed in their room and lifts the blanket to let him slide under it.

 

They don't even speak when John joins him, still damp from the shower.

 

But they fall asleep like that, John wrapped around his back and holding him tight.

 

-x-

 

John wakes up once during the night to the sound of Rodney’s voice, to the halting tumble of words.

 

“It was easy.”

 

“I knew they were going to kill us.”

 

“I did what I had to do.”

 

“God, I killed someone.”

 

“I killed someone.”

 

“Am I a monster?”

 

And John says, “it's okay, Rodney.”

 

“They were, but we stopped them.”

 

“You saved my life.”

 

“Yeah, yeah you did, buddy.”

 

“I know.”

 

“No. No, you could never be a monster. You would never do something like that because you enjoyed it.”

 

-x-



They don't talk about it in the morning. Instead, both of them act like nothing happened.

 

Like their carefully avoided relationship talk over the last six weeks isn't fraying at the edges.

 

They go back in for another set of interviews, follow up with the AFOSI agents.

 

They're just finishing when someone new takes over, and John freezes without any real intention.

 

His ex-wife introduces herself as Homeland Security, walking inside with a file and a new ring on her finger.

 

She’s just as beautiful as she always was, her long brown hair pulled back into a high ponytail, a few loose strands pushed behind her ears.

 

“John,” she starts, then takes a breath and clears her throat, “Colonel Sheppard, I am here to go over the post-incident debrief on behalf of Homeland Security.”

 

As much as he had missed her--and he had, the divorce wasn’t a lack of feeling between them--he was relieved that she got right to business.

 

He doesn’t miss the look Rodney gives him, or the speculative way he watches Nancy. It doesn’t surprise him, but there’s a part of him that wishes it had been anyone other than Nancy. He doesn’t know what he and Rodney are, but he does know without a doubt that her presence is going to disrupt their careful balance.

 

If John is honest with himself, he’s afraid.

 

He can’t lose Rodney.

 

He almost did already and he can’t .

 

He can’t.

 

“John? Before you... I just wanted to say that it was good to see you again,” she says, smiling at him.

 

She leaves before he can respond, leaving him and Rodney alone.

 

“So... Who was that?” Rodney asks him in the silence thereafter. John shakes his head, but answers anyway.

 

“Nancy? She, uh,” John tells him, “she’s my ex-wife.”

 

“Oh... Well... she’s hot?”

 

John starts laughing, unable to stop himself.

 

-x-

 

It’s a punishment, the beating. Allina or the thing inside her, whichever one is present when the decision is made, doesn’t do it herself.

 

He doesn’t know if that’s better or worse. It still hurts when the metal bar smashes into his leg, again and again.

 

It still hurts now,  when he closes his eyes and remembers.

 

As if he could forget.

 

-x-

 

The trip back to the hotel is uneventful, John still flying high from their sudden bout of laughter. They’re halfway to the hotel elevator when the front desk clerk stops them. She blushes when she meets Rodney’s eyes before she turns to John.

 

“Someone called for you while you were gone. I didn’t confirm or deny if you were staying here, but the man said he was your father and asked you to call him? But I started getting a ton of phone calls since the news broke, so I’m not--”

 

“What news broke?” John interrupts, decidedly not thinking about his dad calling.

 

“The kidnapping attempt at the physics conference yesterday? It’s all over the internet. Have you really not heard?”

 

How ?” Rodney’s voice comes out strangled, but John kind of agrees with it.

 

“I mean, it was being recorded for the Science channel, so they weren’t lacking for cameras. I think it was mostly hacked security video that got leaked though.”

 

Damn it, ” John blurts out, almost tempted to punch the wall.

 

“You think... I mean, they probably already know , but...?” Rodney asks, with a shrug that John shouldn’t recognize but does.

 

“Thank you for letting us know,” John tells her with a wan smile.

 

“Of course. Do you want me to keep telling people to try somewhere else to find you?”

 

“Yes, yes. Except, well. If... If Jean... uh... Miller calls for Meredith, you can send her call up to our room,” Rodney answers, pressing the elevator button and studiously ignoring the woman’s confused look. And also John’s , for that matter.

 

“Um, okay?”

 

“Thank you,” John tells her again, and follows Rodney into the elevator.

 

-x-

 

“Do not worry for us, John. We will be well,” Teyla whispers as she takes his face in her hands and tips her forehead to his, “and we will never forget the kindness of your people.”

 

“Tey--”

 

“We are kin, John Sheppard,” she says, pulling him into a tight hug immediately afterward.

 

He has to swallow before he can reply, “We won’t forget you either.”

 

-x-

 

John isn’t as surprised as he thinks he should be when the SGC is furious with the sudden revitalization to Rodney’s career. It isn’t that they don’t believe his talent warrants attention--if that was the case surely they never would have hired him. But the sudden bright lights on his newly public badass-image was drawing undue attention on where he learned it.

 

They’re requested to stay away from the public, which isn’t something John minds in general. Except, he can see it being an issue for them. They’d spent weeks cooped up between Rodney’s apartment and the Mountain, and now they're being asked to stay hidden in a hotel room.

 

They're used to Atlantis and Pegasus and traveling a galaxy . And now they're being asked to stay in a three hundred and fifty square foot room for the foreseeable future.

 

-x-

 

“Are you prepared to return,” Allina asks, arching a perfectly manicured eyebrow, “wretch of the Tau’ri?”

 

He doesn’t miss the way Rodney freezes at the name, his body going tense under John’s shoulder. It takes him longer to reconcile it with the myriad of files and video he’d been tasked with going over before the expedition first left.

 

“Yes,” Rodney says, breathless. A lie, John would know that anywhere.

 

-x-

 

The call comes in the evening. Rodney barely twitches where he’s asleep, snoring loudly a foot away.

 

John thinks about not answering.

 

“Hello?”

 

“... you’re not Meredith...” a woman’s voice says on the other end, suspicious and somewhat annoyed. It’s not Rodney’s voice but he would recognize the tone anywhere.

 

“Jeannie, right? Rodney’s sister?” John asks, relaxing back onto the bed next to Rodney.

 

“Where is my brother?” she asks, and it sounds like a plea and an accusation.

 

“He’s asleep,” John says, putting a finger to his mouth to quiet Rodney in the process of blinking awake next to him. Rodney looks annoyed but refrains from grumbling.

 

“It’s barely past nine. My brother isn’t exactly the kid of genius who goes to bed any earlier than three in the morning.”

 

“It hasn’t exactly been--” John retorts, almost angrily. He’s cut off by a solid knock on the door in the beat of Shave and a Haircut .

 

“Open the door, Meredith!” Rodney’s sister’s voice echoes through the door and the phone. John hangs up, sliding off the bed and palming his knife with one smooth movement.

 

“Don’t stab my sister,” Rodney hisses at him groggily following him.

 

“--you’re the other guy. The one who took most of them down.” Rodney’s sister says when he opens the door, “and that’s a big knife.”

 

-x-

 

It takes an absurdly long time to get Rodney’s sister to calm down, her voice rising in pitch as she argues with her brother. John knows they have issues to work through, but John really isn’t in the mood for the screeching.

 

“I can’t believe you’re a spy,” she finally says in a much more sedate tone, possibly due to the sheer amount the two of them have drunk from the oversized minbar.

 

“A spy--I’m not a spy ,” Rodney’s tone is all offense at the suggestion and only a little drunk, “I’m just the chi--”

 

“McKay!” John interrupts sharply, “you can’t tell her that.”

 

“Oh... Right... Why are you here, Jeannie?”

 

“I saw my big brother’s life being threatened and then he shot someone . Forgive me for needing to make sure you were okay.”

 

“That’s not what I--”

 

-x-

 

“Clear the Gate Room,” John says into the radio when the connection finally stabilizes, “we’re evacuating the city.”

 

“Colonel Sheppard, are you coming in hot--”

 

“It’s not the Wraith,” he says, answering the unasked question, “we don’t have time to explain.”

 

-x-

 

When Jeannie finally leaves, it’s with her cell phone number written on the complimentary notepad from the bedside table and the key card from a motel down the street. John has no doubt that the SGC is watching her, and he doesn’t blame them.

 

He’s confident, at least, that she’s safe. Rodney, however, is steadily making his way through the remaining alcohol from the exorbitantly expensive minibar.

 

John tries to stop him, but the longer they sit in their expensive prison and stare at the fake paintings on the wall, the less he’s inclined to do so.

 

“Pass that last beer?”

 

-x-

 

Chapter Text

three

-x-

 

“What happened, Colonel Sheppard?” the General asks, staring down the table at him.

 

“They came and we couldn’t stop it,” John says, a taste like ash in his mouth.

“Who came?”

 

“The Goa’uld,” Rodney answers as he sets down his mug with a solid thunk, long cooled coffee splattering from within.

 

-x-

 

“You know,” John whispers into Rodney’s mouth, the taste of vodka on his lips, “I’m kind of stupid over you.”

 

“What?” Rodney says between wet kisses, a thread of confusion and annoyance in his words.

 

“I... I can live without Atlantis,” John admits, pulling back and just watching Rodney.

 

“No shit,” Rodney snaps, “why aren't we still kissing?”

 

“McKay!” John snaps back, staring at the ceiling.

 

“What? I know I'm a poor substitute for Atla--”

 

“There's nothing in the universe I need more than you.”

 

“What...?”

 

“I can handle losing Atlantis. But you? That can't happen.”

 

-x-

 

The sex afterward is hurried and frantic and full of hard kisses and tight grasping and heavy breathing.

 

They fall asleep in a tangled heap of sweat and spilled alcohol and whispers of affection they’ve never dared say in the daylight.

 

But like a hundred times before, when morning comes they don’t talk about it.

 

Rodney grimaces and complains about the stickiness between them, as if nothing had happened at all.

 

-x-


Jeannie joins them for brunch, knocking on the door to their hotel room with a kid holding her hand.

 

“Kaleb is running a few errands,” she says when John lets her inside, “but Madison wanted to meet her uncle.”

 

It’s awkward, the kind of uncomfortable that makes John’s skin crawl and Rodney blurt out all kinds of inappropriate things.

 

But he’s trying, they both are, and John thinks, perhaps, that makes a difference.

 

By the time Jeannie’s husband shows up, John has stopped two fights and counted to one hundred with Madison.

 

It’s weird, different. But not all bad, he supposes.

 

-x-

 

“You allowed--”

 

“I tried to stop it!” he blurts out before he realizes he’s going to say anything at all.

 

He knows before he finishes that it’s a mistake.

 

-x-

 


“Look,” Kaleb says, interrupting what would have likely been yet another loud argument between his wife and Rodney, “obviously, you both have issues to work through. But I don’t think screaming at each other is going to help.”

 

“But I like screaming,” Rodney huffs under his breath, too low for anyone but John to hear. It takes more than he’d like not to laugh.

 

“Kaleb--” Jeannie starts, a familiar tone in her voice that John would recognize anywhere.

 

“My parents have a cabin, not too far past the border. It’s pretty secluded. Why don’t you two go spend some time away from all...” Kaleb gestures toward the muted television, where another news broadcast about the attempted kidnapping plays, “...that, and we can meet up again before you’re due back in... Colorado, was it?”

 

“You... you would do that?” Rodney asks before John can even really put to mind what they’re being offered. There’s surprise in his words, and something like gratitude.

 

“You’re family, right?” Kaleb asks, as if that means something.

 

And maybe, to him, it does.

 

-x-

 

Their request to head to the cabin is accepted immediately, something that surprises John more than it probably should.

 

The first day is mostly an exercise in frustration. They get lost on the way twice, barely managing to get in before nightfall.

 

The cabin itself is fairly small, but not claustrophobically so. It's a well maintained mix of old world charm and technological advancement. There's running water and electricity, but no built in phone line. There's a huge television, but no cable or internet access. It's okay though, he thinks.  Maybe this is exactly, somehow, what they need. Something's removed, something apart. Seclusion, together alone.

 

There's only one bed in the attached bedroom, a queen sized mattress with two sets of carefully stacked lavender colored sheets. He attempts to manfully sleep on the slightly musty smelling couch that first night, but it only results in the kind of stupid argument where neither of them says what they're actually arguing about but somehow they both get in a roundabout way anyway.

 

John ends up crawling into the bed with Rodney before midnight regardless, claiming a chill that neither one of them remotely believe and don't discuss.

 

They have sex without really even discussing it, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, press open mouthed kisses against each other's skin without a word. And maybe they don't have to; maybe it is the most natural thing in the world. Like they were John and Rodney and they were always leading to this .

 

Perhaps he should be more surprised by the idea, but in all honesty, he isn't. Neither one of them is the most open of people, not even Rodney, who complains loudly about anything without a care.

 

In the morning, John climbs out of the bed before Rodney’s awake, searches for his long abandoned cell phone and finds the sleek black device hooked up to charge on an outlet in the kitchen next to Rodney’s.

 

He only has two contacts in it--Rodney’s number and the switchboard for the SGC. So it's unexpected when he picks it up to open one of the games Rodney downloaded for him and sees a missed call and a voicemail waiting retrieval.

 

He takes it outside with a glass of water after he turns the coffee pot on, settles down onto the handmade swing on the porch and takes in the mostly still dark woods as he looks at the phone number in the call log.

 

The number isn't saved in his phone, but he can wager a guess who it is by the area code--three familiar digits from his childhood.  

 

He listens to the slowly awakening forest, to the chirps of birds he couldn't identify if he was paid to, and takes a long, slow drag of water before he presses play on the fancy touchscreen.

 

“John,” his father’s voice falls out of the line, a drawn out pause after his name as if he isn't sure what to say.

 

John thinks he knows what's coming anyway. “I saw you on the news,” and “I'm worried about you, son,” and “come home where it's safe.”

 

John, however, is wrong. So wrong.

 

“Nancy called me last night,” his father says instead, “she said you probably wouldn't answer if I called. I don't... I don't blame you, Johnny.”

 

John has to set his glass down on the dusty porch and steady himself at his father’s words.

 

“I just wanted to say that I'm proud of you, kid.”

 

He loses track of what else his father says, caught up in the surprise and pool of warmth in his chest at those words. “I’m proud of you, kid.”

 

He has to listen to the voicemail four times before he catches it all. “There’s always a place for you here, your friend too, if you need it,” and “if you need anything, Johnny,” and, gruffly, “I love you, kid.”

 

He saves the number in his phone, types Dad into the contact name field, and locks it without ever opening his game.

 

He sits there, in the early morning quiet, just staring out into the woods, until Rodney wakes up and finds him there, a mug of coffee in his hands.

 

-x-

 

“She had a crown,” he says, trying to make sense of it, “like some kind of queen.”

 

“A crown?” someone asks, confused. John doesn’t know who the man is, even though he knows he was introduced.

 

“I can draw it,” Lorne says, “I saw it too.”

 

-x-

 

They spend the day trying to relax, shuffling their way through Kaleb’s parents sizable movie collection and, in Rodney’s case, making fun of the science within. There’s still a hint of uneasiness there, whether because they’re not home or because of the attack at the conference, John truly doesn’t know.

 

They make stir-fry for dinner that night, chicken and broccoli and peppers, and it’s good but it’s not... quite right. It’s not the first time they’ve thought that, not the first time they’ve said it.

 

But it’s like they never really had a place to belong until Atlantis and now that it’s gone, nothing is the same.

 

They fall asleep pressed together on the couch watching Serenity and it’s good until they wake up with sore muscles and aches.

 

The second day passes much the same, and the third, and it’s good except... except they’re not talking about it .

 

They don’t talk about what John said, what he confessed to. They don’t talk about what it means, if it means anything to Rodney at all. If they are anything now, or just... sleeping together, because they need something to hold on to

 

-x-

 

“Report back in two weeks, Sheppard,” the general says, as soft as he can manage, “We’ll find a place for you when you return.”

 

“What about Rodney?” he blurts out, unable to help himself from asking.

 

“McKay? Oh, right, you’re... friends. He’s too important to leave the program. He can come back when you do.”

 

-x-

 

The days start to bleed together, nothing but movies and chess games and boredom. It isn’t bad, exactly. Rodney is his best friend and his lifeline and everything John wants and everything he needs .

 

But, there’s that undercurrent of uneasiness that won’t leave, that clings to the back of his throat and his heart like a metaphorical burr.

 

He wants Rodney in the now and forever and always and obvious ways, and he doesn’t know where Rodney stands at all. He thinks of that in the silences and the shower and when he’s trying to push his leg too far and...

 

And he thinks of that when Rodney kisses him with chapped lips and need, when they fall together without discussion or worry.

 

-x-

 

Things break on the eighth day.

 

Surprisingly, somehow, it's Rodney that has enough of the feeling of not-quite-right and snaps. They're cooking, John cracking a third egg into the skillet while Rodney makes a precise, clean cut down the length of the green pepper, and then the knife just makes a soft clang-thunk on the cutting board.

 

“What is this?” Rodney asks, waving a hand between the two of them as if to signify the thing they don't talk about, “what... what are we doing?”

 

“Making breakfast,” John tries, even though he’s fully aware of what Rodney means. It's just, he doesn't want them to end, and his first instinct is to avoid the conversation entirely.

 

“No, you idiot,” Rodney says, and he suddenly looks ten years older and tired.

 

“It's,” he starts, turning to throw his egg shell in the trash before he continues, “it's whatever you want it to be.” And it's the truth, truer than John meant to be.

 

“Whatever I want? What's that supposed to mean?” Rodney asks, sounding a little angry but mostly, honestly, confused.

 

“It means whatever you want it to mean, McKay,” John bursts out, a little angry himself, “I already told you what I--”

 

“Told me what?” Rodney interrupts sounding annoyed.

 

“Damn it, I can't lose you.”

 

“So you thought you would take advantage of how I felt and sleep with me so I wouldn't go off to Nevada or Antarctica?”

 

“Take--what the hell are you talking about, Rodney?”

 

“You said you were being stupid when you were kissing me, that you couldn't lose me--”

 

“That's not what I said!” John interrupts him, even though he only has vague memories of their conversation that night, “I said I was stupid in love with you, dumbass.”

 

“In love with--what?” Rodney starts, John picking up on and responding to some of Rodney’s earlier words at the same time, “Wait, you said, take advantage of how you felt?”

 

They're silent for a long drawn out minute, just staring at each other. John’s about to move forward and kiss the stupid bastard when he smells the smoke, his eggs burning quite badly in the pan behind him.

 

They don't manage to salvage the eggs, but they are able to finish the conversation.

 

It isn't easy, but John has come to find that the things worth having rarely ever are.

 

-x-

 

“Why didn't you just shoot the bastards right away, Sheppard?”

 

“I didn't have my gun, sir. I was on leave and New York law says--”

 

“Yeah, yeah. Next time, keep your gun and we’ll handle the fallout.”

 

“Next time? There's not going to be a next time. He almost died.”

 

-x-

 

John doesn't know how long he's loved Rodney. Sometimes, it feels like he always had and just had to nearly lose him to realize what it was.

 

Rodney tells him that night that he didn't know a time since they met that he didn't have feelings for him. That John meant something before Rodney really even understood what that was supposed to mean. That he realized he loved him--really truly totally loved him--in the beats between “so long, Rodney,” and “Atlantis, this is Sheppard.”

 

Their confession and the subsequent commitment doesn't mean that it'll be easy. Neither one of them is stupid enough to think that it will be.

 

John knows this though: Atlantis was like coming home for the first time since he was young and things were good. Rodney... Rodney is like the thrill of the drop and the steadiness of the sea and like clear blue skies as far as he can see. He's not like coming home, but like being home.

 

Rodney McKay is worth any amount of trouble and he's glad that he gets to keep him.

 

Because that's just it. Now that he has him, knows he has him, he has no intention of letting anything come between them. He has no intention of letting go.

 

And if Rodney is being honest, which John hopes and thinks and believes he is, Rodney has no intention of letting John go either.

 

-x-

 

Their leave isn't up but they get called back to Colorado anyway. They hunch over Rodney’s laptop while they wait for their plane, connected to the airport’s wireless internet and secreted away in a staff lounge because the news is still playing the video from the conference on repeat. Details on either of them outside their employ is scarce, likely because of the SGC’s need to keep its secrets.

 

Neither of them really mind. The important people know and well, that's all that matters.

 

The entirety of the Sheppard family news conference consists of his father, David, and Nancy telling the press to kiss their ass and leave John alone and he finds himself dialing his father before they've even finished watching the five minute video. He leaves a message for them on their old answering machine, his mother’s voice still on the message.

 

Rodney screen downloads the video of de Grasse Tyson saying he wouldn't want to meet Rodney in a dark alley, and would like to meet Rodney’s physical trainer.

 

By the time they get back to Rodney’s apartment, it's late in the evening. They crawl into bed together without hesitation, and it's good and real and bliss.

 

-x-

 

“We’re sending a ship out to Pegasus. We’d like you to be on it.”

 

“You're going to free Atlantis?” John asks in surprise, his mind whirling.

 

“If it's possible. Are you in, Sheppard?”

 

“I--” he starts, and he wants to say yes but... “Only if McKay comes with me.”

 

“I know you and McKay are friends--”

 

“General, there's no one I want at my six than Rodney McKay. He's in, or we’re both out.”

 

-x-

 

“We’re going back home?” Rodney asks him, his grip on John’s arm tight and just on the edge of painful.

 

“Yeah,” John says, his voice rough, “we are.”