Thicker Than Water
by Julad

This was supposed to be a short, stupid story about bacon, for the Culture Clash challenge on sga_flashfic. It charged off into the sunset instead, taking me kicking and screaming with it. Vaguely futurefic, branching from canon sometime prior to The Siege/Moebius. Thanks to Mia, Terri, and Ces, and to the many IRC folk for assorted hand-holding and threats of bodily harm.

It had seemed like the longest day ever. John and his team rescued some nice people from the Wraith, which took three hours longer than was safe, and set them up in temporary quarters in Atlantis, which took three more hours plus a very pointed discussion with Bates about the difference between 'maintaining security' and 'being a dick'. Then the Lord High Nice Person made a very nice speech, which took another three hours or so; Elizabeth made a nice speech back, which lasted a quarter of an eternity, then a Nice Minion came forward to present a humble but heartfelt token of their gratitude which, after another long speech about the legacy of the Ancestors, turned out to be a half-charged ZPM.

After that, time went from slow-motion to fast-forward.

Rodney shrieked, jumped up and down, fainted, got up, laughed incredulously, and burst into tears, all in about twelve seconds. Thirty seconds after that, the shields were powered. Two minutes later, fifteen different defensive and weaponry systems were online. John slept and ate in there somewhere, had jubilant sex with Rodney against a wall in a deserted corridor at some point, got plastered at a party with the Athosians and the Very Very Very Nice People, but it seemed like it was only ten minutes before six of them were walking through the Stargate back to Earth. He went to a dozen debriefings for the next half-hour, got promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and took a phone call from the President. Then General O'Neill clapped him on the back and told him he was on leave for two weeks, and with a lurch like dropping out of Mach 1, time was playing at normal speed again.

The first thing John did was find Rodney. Rodney was yelling down the phone at somebody who was wrong, wrong, wrong, and vowing that if he'd been around to review something, it would have been filed in the trash where it belonged. Insults were hurled, reputations gutted, and the phone slammed down in about six seconds. Rodney was still in fast-forward.

"Did you want something?" he said to John, already dialling again.

John smiled at him. "I haven't seen you for a while," he drawled, anticipating being thrown onto the bed and fucked at Mach speed.

"Yes, well, since I've been gone, the entire field of astrophysics has lost its mind. Hi, get me Dr McIlveney, it's urgent. They've fallen for Roberton's neutrino phase variance bullshit, and I've only got two weeks to make them see reason," Rodney said, and then, "Jason, as physicists go, you used to be reasonably intelligent. My condolences on your colossal brain damage."

John knew better than to try to distract Rodney from being gloriously and magnificently right when other people were tragically and pathetically wrong. He backed out of the door and left him to it.

Bates had already left to see his family, as had the other two scientists-- Nguyen and Thompson -- assigned to the Earth mission. Elizabeth had only used the radio, long enough to greet General O'Neill and to explain that if SGC still had the depleted ZPM, Rodney had a way of reversing the charges for the trip back. Teyla had suffered through long interviews with SGC strategists, and longer negotiations for a treaty between Earth and the Pegasus worlds she represented. In compensation, John had vaguely planned to introduce her to the many delights of planet Earth, but Dr. Jackson, as a flimsy pretext for asking her another eighteen million questions about the Pegasus galaxy, had beaten him to it.

That left him with a lot of time to fill and nobody to fill it with. He caught a morning ride into town the next day, and spent the whole day shopping. Elizabeth had sent a long list of uniforms and other supplies that would be shipped through the Stargate with the next connection, but John got a few pairs of jeans, half a dozen shirts, new boots, workout gear. The fashions were wildly different--the Eighties had come back?--but there were still plenty of basics that looked normal to him. There was a decent Borders, so he got a stack of CDs, DVDs and books, whatever looked good to his unfamiliar eye, or good stuff they didn't already have. On impulse, he bought a mountain bike, thinking of the long, long corridors of Atlantis, and then, thinking further on it, got a skateboard and rollerblades as well.

The day after, he wandered through all the stores in the town, taking notes to pass to O'Neill-- scuba gear would be a good idea, maybe a few jet skis and kayaks, any kind of armoured boat they could dismantle and get through the Stargate. He paused for lunch in a cafe, and kept scribbling all the way through it; Elizabeth had documented their needs comprehensively, but there were already fifty things he'd seen that they could really use in Atlantis, and they were reminding him of all the other times he'd wished for something from Earth.

He gave O'Neill the list that night. O'Neill nodded his way down it, and then frowned. "Aren't you supposed to be, you know, off having fun?" he said suspiciously.

"This was fun," John told him.

On the third day, because O'Neill was eyeing him suspiciously again, John went to a movie. They all looked pretty stupid to him, so he picked one called Underwater, just for the name. It wasn't bad--sharks and submarines and a good CGI monster. Still, walking out, blinking into the bright sunlight, he had to ask himself what he was doing here. He had two weeks off, away from aliens and Stargates and floating cities and subordinates. He could go anywhere on the planet, but he was hanging around this two-bit city, bored.

He almost decided to get on a plane to somewhere wild and uniquely Earth, China maybe, or take in as much of Europe as he could, but the thought of sitting on a train alone, watching France rush past, or walking the streets of Beijing lost in the babble of another language, had so little appeal, he ended up back in his assigned room at the base, reading War and Peace. It was getting pretty good, actually. He had beer and Cheetos for dinner, listened to the two new Jack Johnson albums, and got through another twenty pages. He was thinking of turning in for the night when Rodney poked his head in the doorway.

"Oh, good, you're still here," Rodney said, and John was there in two steps. He grabbed Rodney by the front of his shirt and threw him on the bed, desperate and ravenous. "Okay, yes, exactly," Rodney added, already panting.

John dropped onto him and started rubbing off against his thigh. Fuck, he was starving for it. They'd jerked off hurriedly in a bathroom before some meeting, not long after coming through the Stargate, and before that, in the corridor, but his balls and his skin knew the time between those events measured in weeks, not minutes. Rodney grabbed his face and kissed him, tongue and lips taking everything and giving everything all at once. His hands were the same, groping with the same urgency as John was groping him back. Sighing deeply with relief, John came, and Rodney followed right after.

"So I've written some papers reminding everyone of the gaping flaws in Robertson's theory," Rodney said, brusquely stripping their clothes off. "It'll be a few days before I get the reviews back. Want to come to Canada with me?"

"Oh, yes," John said, as Rodney's cock slammed into him.

They had to change planes in Salt Lake City, and while they waited in the terminal, Rodney dropped back to his normal speed. It happened right in the middle of his third Big Mac. He'd been getting out several paragraphs a second between monster-sized bites, but then he stopped. He put down the burger, tilted his head to the side, and said, "Huh. We're back on Earth."

"Yeah," John said. "I'd noticed that too."

"And we're going to Canada," Rodney added, sounding faintly surprised.

"I was planning to sit in an empty room under a mountain in Colorado," John told him, "but you asked so nicely."

"And I'm going to introduce you to my family."

"You are?" John said. He'd assumed Rodney was going to try to prove that ice hockey was the only True Sport, and that round bacon was the only True Bacon, and other absurdities.

"Well, family as in my sister," Rodney explained, handwaving away the rest of it. He looked confused for a minute, and then panic spread across his face.

"Hey," John said quickly, "it's okay, you don't have to."

"She sounded nice on the phone," Rodney said uncertainly. "She said I should visit."

John was pretty sure nobody had dared mention to General Sheppard that his shit-for-brains kid was even gone, let alone back again. "You don't have to decide anything now," John said calmly, but he was too late to head off Rodney's train of thought. Rodney's face was showing a thousand conflicting thoughts battling for supremacy. John moved around to his side of the booth and slipped an arm around his waist, then distracted him by trying to take the rest of his Big Mac.

Jeannie met them at the airport in Vancouver, throwing her arms around Rodney. "Oh my God, you look so different!" she squealed, hugging him tight. Rodney seemed stunned by this. He hugged her back, all kinds of relief and confusion on his face.

She looked a lot like a female version of Rodney-- a little younger, longish blonde-streaked hair, but she had Rodney's face, and she moved the same way. "I still can't believe you can't tell me what you've been doing all this time," she said, and then shook John's hand. "Hi, I'm Jean, it's so nice to meet you." She was very ... Canadian, John thought, as she handed them each a takeaway coffee, and offered to collect their luggage (they had none), and checked that they weren't hungry, and led them to her SUV, smiling and talking the whole time. "I know you said you'd get a hotel," she told Rodney, almost begging, "but I've got plenty of room, so stay with me for a few days first."

"I, uh, okay?" Rodney said, looking to John for guidance. John shrugged expansively. "Okay, sure," Rodney said.

Jean drove them through snow-ploughed streets, the radio bright with American pop songs and Canadian accents. John sat in the back and half-listened as Jean and Rodney ran through what sounded like the entire family tree-- Uncle Will and Aunt May have moved to Saskatoon, and Alan got married to a very nice girl, and how old is Casey now? Oh, she'd be mid-twenties, she's a kindergarten teacher. John had never heard of any of these people-- Rodney just didn't mention them.

Admittedly, he and Rodney didn't talk. Oh, they talked plenty, but it was all shop talk and geek talk, nothing too personal. Listening to Rodney and Jean, who were now on to second cousins, John had to acknowledge that if he and Rodney had never talked about their lives, that was because of him, not Rodney. He watched outside the window as Vancouver, sometimes postcard-perfect, sometimes grimy and grey as any city on Earth, rolled past them. He tried to imagine what his own cousins were doing. Billy and Ryan would still be in the service; Anna was probably married by now; but it hardly mattered, because they'd never dare ask his father what had become of him.

Jean and Rodney were up to Greg, the son of an old next-door-neighbour, who was in a punk band and giving his mother hysterics, when Jean turned into the driveway of a gracious three-storey house, in what was obviously an upmarket suburb. Rodney whistled.

"It's all Michael's money," Jean said, dismissive, and then added to John, "my ex was an investment banker; he liked his status symbols." There was clearly some bitterness there. John didn't ask.

Jean quickly showed them around downstairs, which was spacious and elegant. In the den, they briefly met Jean's two sons and their babysitter, and then went to the second floor, where there were two guest bedrooms with a shared bathroom.

"I'll let you two sort out who goes where," she said. It was half a question. She hesitated awkwardly, and then left them to get settled.

"Okay, this is a relief," Rodney said, sitting on one of the beds after she'd gone. "You don't mind that I didn't exactly mention that we're--?" He trailed off.

John really hadn't expected Rodney to explain the concept of fuck-buddies to his long-lost sister. "Whatever you want is fine with me," he assured him. Rodney was already unfolding his laptop to check his email, so John took a long shower and unpacked all his new clothes in the other bedroom, listening to Rodney start up the shower once he was done.

It had been so long since he'd felt the soles of his feet against carpet, John walked around the room aimlessly for a while, luxuriating in the softness. After a while he paused at the window, looking out at a snowy suburbia under the streetlights, glistening like a fairy tale. He watched as the babysitter headed briskly down the street, huddled in her jacket, and then disappeared into a house a few doors down. There were clanking kitchen sounds coming from below, and shortly, the smell of food drifted up.

Rodney appeared, damp and wearing clothes that were new as well. He must have found time to go shopping, in between setting the entire field of astrophysics to rights. The shirt was green, and it took John a minute to realise how rarely he'd seen Rodney in anything but blue or black. "Jeannie just said dinner's nearly ready," Rodney told him. "Do you want to go down?"

"Sure," John said. He hadn't really thought about food since he'd been back, but now his mouth was watering at the thought of it.

"Is this okay?" Rodney said anxiously, gesturing at the room and shared bathroom. "I didn't ask if you'd rather stay in a hotel, but we could go tomorrow."

"Here's cool," John told him, and leaned in to steal a quick kiss, because he was weirdly glad to be here, in Rodney's sister's ex-husband's house, wearing new jeans and a new black t-shirt, inhaling the faint scent of air-freshener like it was something he hadn't known he'd missed. A certain tenseness inside him was unclenching, just from being here, even as a stranger.

"Mm," Rodney said, and took another kiss. John put a hand on his neck and stepped closer, fairly sure Rodney wouldn't go any further here and now, but willing to try his luck. Rodney's hand settled into the small of his back, pressing him in. That was something only Rodney had ever done to him, and it never failed to make John want to do anything Rodney asked. Rodney kissed him harder, and John opened his mouth to let him in.

"Whatcha doin'?" one of the boys said, standing in the open doorway, one hand on the doorknob and the other holding a toy train. They whipped apart.

"Uh, freaking out?" Rodney said, faintly, but the boy just held the train out.

"It's broken! Mom said you could fix it after dinner but I want to play now."

The boys were kind of terrifying, giving off bursts of mini-Rodney and then subsiding back to polite childishness. Rodney fixed the broken wheel on the train and then they sat on the floor to play with them for a bit. Liam was six, and Nathan was twenty, which Liam said meant four. Liam was a smart, smart kid, and watched Rodney in silent awe until Rodney disagreed with Nathan about the Power Rangers and made him cry.

"Oh, that's just great," Rodney said, as Nathan ran sobbing into the kitchen.

"You're so dumb," Liam told him. "Everyone knows Incisorator's only power is his shield-cape!"

"Oh, please, you're not even intelligent enough to do long division, like I care what you think," Rodney said.

"Our other uncles are better than you!" Liam yelled, and stormed out after his brother.

"Thanks, I'll be here all week," Rodney muttered at his back.

John put his hand on Rodney's shoulder and then yanked it back guiltily when Jean called them to dinner.

They ate, and Rodney went into raptures over the steak. John did too, but quietly. It was really good, and the potatoes were wonderful, and the carrots, and the broccoli, everything tasting new and clean, like he'd been given a second chance to appreciate them.

Jean and Rodney did all the talking, mostly about the boys this time. John smiled wryly at Liam, who was rolling his eyes at every mention of school. Liam checked that his mother wasn't looking, made a face of great suffering, and then smiled back.

After dinner, the boys loaded the dishwasher under Jean's strict supervision, and John could recognise something of Rodney in that-- the insistence that they do their job and do it properly. They watched some new sitcom about a grumpy cop and his crazy wife, the grown-ups groaning at the lameness while the boys laughed long and loud, then Jean put them to bed while Rodney and John made coffee, hunting through the cupboards for mugs and sugar.

"Nephews!" Rodney said in amazement, under his breath. "I mean, I knew she had kids, but I didn't realise how cool it would be."

"They're very cool," John agreed, happy to see Rodney so thrilled.

"Did you see how smart Liam is?" Rodney demanded, and John tried to keep the amusement off his face as Rodney listed all the evidence of Liam's clearly phenomenal intelligence.

When Jean came back downstairs again, she was strangely business-like. She poured coffee for everyone and sat down like she was taking the chairman's seat at a board meeting.

"Okay, now, we don't have much time to get to know one another, so let's just lay it all on the table," she said to Rodney. "I got your video, I cried for a week because you're the only family I've got and I thought I'd lost you too. I know you probably regret saying you wanted to be closer, but I don't care, I'm holding you to it. Michael was having affairs with bimbos from day one but his bitch of a mother blames me for the divorce; I'll have to sell the house because I can't afford the mortgage alone; and I never expected to be raising two boys by myself with a prick of an ex-husband undermining my authority at every turn, so I could really use a big brother right now. So, you know," she waved her hand, and in that gesture looked more like Rodney than ever, "I'm not some big genius or whatever, I don't have a top-secret job in the US military, but welcome to my boring life. I mean, seriously, Rodney, you are welcome to join it. And you can stay here as long as you want, especially if you know how to fix the stupid garbage disposal thing, because it keeps stinking up the whole kitchen."

"Oh, sure," Rodney said, nodding rapidly. "I can fix that."

John stared at her in amazement-- this was such a Rodney thing to do. Rodney was looking a little taken aback at being on the receiving end of it for once.

"Good," Jean said, and folded her arms. "So? The last ten years of your life in thirty seconds, your time starts now."

"All right," Rodney said. He started talking in his 'explaining things' tone of voice. "The military has a way to get to other planets, only it takes a huge amount of power to get to where I am, and it's been really hard to get back. There are aliens, but they think we're food, so I spend a lot of time screaming and running away. John spends a lot of time shooting the aliens that want to eat me, but that's probably not the main reason I'm sleeping with him. I don't know what the main reason is, though, because the sex isn't something we talk about. Did I leave anything out?" He looked at John.

John shrugged. "You could mention that the bit about the other planets is kinda classified," he said.

"And here I thought it was just less interesting than Paris Hilton's sex life," Jean said, eyebrow matching the tone of her voice, "and that's why it's never been on the news."

Rodney frowned in confusion. "Okay, you don't seem surprised, but actually we're not joking. Ask John, he'll tell you I still have no sense of humour."

"None at all," John agreed.

"Oh, please," Jean said. "My whole life, all anybody cared about was how incredibly brilliant you are, and all you cared about was Star Trek and Doctor Who. You'd decide to build some crazy thing and a week later you'd done it-- that robot dog, and the thing where the clothesline played the Batman theme, and the coloured smoke that came out of the radio--"

"Oh, wow, I forgot about that!" Rodney said, and did a little victory dance in his chair. "Analog visualisations, it was so cool."

"Then you were going to write that book on your six theories of interstellar travel, but suddenly you gave up your tenure, moved to Nevada, and only called every second Christmas," Jean finished. "If you've been jetting across the galaxy all this time, I can't even begin to tell you how not-surprised I am." While Rodney was still gaping, she pointed to John. "You, life story, go."

"US Air Force, born and bred," John said, and it was funny how that always came first. "Grew up all over the States, been stationed in Cuba, Cambodia, Syria, Libya, Turkey, Afghanistan, Antarctica, and Atlantis-- Atlantis being on the other planet. I'm ranking military officer there, which isn't exactly easy in a place like that, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. I really like hanging out with your brother, but he's wrong about bacon."

"Oh God, bacon," Rodney said, and lunged for the fridge. "Please tell me you have some."

Jean cooked the bacon while Rodney raided the cupboards, exclaiming loudly over choc-chip cookies and spaghetti sauce and maple syrup, stopping occasionally to shove food at John and saying, "oh, you have to try this!" In minutes, he had the kitchen table covered in opened cans and packets, mouth full of tuna and marshmallows, peanut butter smeared on his chin.

It would have been funny-- hell, it would have been hilarious-- but John couldn't help wondering if he should stop Rodney before his sister got pissed, or decided he was too gross to have in her life.

"The food on Atlantis was pretty weird," he told her, cautiously.

Jean looked over her shoulder at him, biting her lip and kind of worried, like she didn't want to offend her brother by laughing. John grinned at her, and she snorted loudly and started giggling.

"You are so gross, oh my God!" she yelled. "I can't believe you're still this disgusting!"

"Yeah, imagine what Mom would say," Rodney said, looking at the kitchen table like it was a work of art.

"Rodney, if I wanted to live in a pigsty, I'd buy myself a pig!" Jean shouted, outraged, but Rodney just laughed.

"Yeah, or, What if the neighbours drop in, they'll think I never feed you!" Rodney sighed happily. "Oh, peas, I can't believe how much I missed peas."

"So what are your six theories of interstellar travel?" John asked, once they'd glutted themselves on bacon. It wasn't real bacon, but it was still damn good.

"It's very complicated!" Rodney called from under the sink, where he was banging at something to do with the garbage disposal. John was sitting on the floor next to a giant red toolbox, putting tools in Rodney's hand whenever it appeared and snapped its fingers impatiently at him.

"It's very simple," Jean said. "The TARDIS, warp drives, the one from Heinlein, the one from Bradbury, the one where the universe moves but we stay still, and the one from that show with the people with the spotty heads."

"Alien Nation?" Rodney yelled. "No, there was no theory from that! And it's a lot more sophisticated than it was when I was ten."

"Yeah, yeah," Jean said, and then looked at John. "So is he always like this? Even on another planet, with aliens trying to eat him?"

"Don't answer that," Rodney called out.

John was tempted to just say yes, but it felt like that would be... cheap. "He's brilliant," he told Jean. "I guess you already knew that, but when there's only his brain between your people and a worst case scenario, you appreciate it a hell of a lot more."

"Huh," Jean said, looking thoughtful.

"But aside from that, yeah, he's always like this," John added, and grinned at her. There was a lot more he could have said, but he shrugged it off, feeling embarrassed.

It was after midnight before they finally went to bed. Jean's last few years had been tough, a suburban equivalent of the heaven and hell they'd been through on Atlantis, so she had the same hard-earned courage Rodney did, and the same twisted sense of humour about it all. In her own way, she was as much a survivor as they were, so it had been easy to tell her about everything-- the Wraith, the Genii, trying to find a ZPM. And it had been a weird kind of relief to hear about the domestic warfare she was engaged in. It was a humanity more real to John than the American Dream he was supposed to be fighting for.

He'd stripped down to his underwear when Rodney asked if he could come in. John nodded, hesitated, and then switched off the ceiling light, leaving the room lit by the gentler lamp on the bedside table.

"Wow," Rodney said, lying down on the bed, arm over his eyes. "Oh, wow, wow, wow." He sat up abruptly. "Do you like her?"

"She seems to be a lot like you, so--" He suddenly wasn't sure what to say next.

"So of course you find her irresistible," Rodney finished distractedly. "I didn't expect this at all, you know. I thought we'd have nothing in common, but we do!" He got in under John's covers. "I checked; your room is furthest from the boys' bedrooms," he added, looking into John's face and mistaking his surprise. "They won't hear anything."

"Ah," John said, and climbed into the other side. "I thought you and Jean hardly knew each other?"

"Well, broken home. We haven't lived together since she was, what, twelve?"

"Oh. I didn't know your parents divorced," John said guiltily.

Rodney rolled onto his side and propped his head up on his hand. "Oh, no, no, no. I mean, yes. But no. We grew up a few hours east of here, but I got into university when I was fourteen, so Mom moved here with me while Jeannie stayed back home with Dad. We had a couple more Christmas breaks as a family, and one very regrettable trip to the Grand Canyon, and that was about all the togetherness they could take. Then by the time they moved here for Jeannie's college and to look after Mom, I'd left for a research fellowship in London, and then for a couple of years I was at MIT, and then, you know." He waved his hand. "Nevada."

"Gotta love Nevada," John said.

"Plus Dad treated me like dirt and Jeannie like a princess, and it took me a long time to realise that was, you know, not her fault. Or mine, for that matter. But after Mom died, I couldn't see a reason to have anything to do with either of them, so I didn't. I went to Mom and Dad's funerals, then Jeannie's wedding, sent cards when the boys were born, and that was all I had to do with her, all these years. I moved around so much, half the time she didn't have my number, and when she did call, I was always in the middle of something." He sighed and looked despondent. "I never thought she was trying to keep in touch."

"Well," John said awkwardly. "It's good that you're here now."

"Yeah," Rodney said. "It is." He slid over and kissed him, warm and clean and dry, smelling sweet. "It's good that you're here too, you know." John ignored how much faster his heart was suddenly beating, and kissed back. They'd only done this in single beds before now, so it felt amazing to stretch out his body, not having to worry about slipping off the edge, or pushing Rodney off. Rodney rolled over on top of him -- another luxury they'd never had -- and pulled John's briefs and his own boxers off. John let his legs fall apart so Rodney could settle in between them, and shivered with delight as Rodney's cock teased at his ass.

They were kissing slow and deep, like they had all the time in the world for this, and it was all new, like the unexpected crispness of fresh broccoli. Rodney's arms around his torso, the muscles of Rodney's back under his hands-- it was a second chance to appreciate them. John felt something inside him expanding, decompressing, as if it had been there all along but there hadn't been room for it until now.

"Fuck me," he whispered, in between kisses, wanting it in a different way than he normally did. There was no fierce itch that needed scratching, just a longing to be even closer.

"I won't last," Rodney warned, sounding reluctant to admit it. He licked the inside of John's lip, making him spread his legs further and arch up.

"I don't care," John choked out, aching, and then moaned helplessly, because Rodney was pushing his knees back, and wrapping a big hand around his cock. He didn't know where Rodney's lube was, but his own was hidden at the very bottom of his backpack-- he knew what Rodney needed, and let himself come right away, shuddering with relief. God, it was good, easy and uncomplicated, a deep kind of satisfaction in just letting go.

"That is so hot," Rodney gasped, as John sighed with mindless gratification. "You're not helping, here." He had a sheen of sweat over his face and upper body, holding himself above him. John ran his hands over Rodney's shoulders and then underneath the sheets to brace Rodney's sides as he got into position. Rodney was panting hard, jaw set in concentration, and his body shook with tension as he pushed inside. John whimpered quietly, expanding inside and out, a sensation that was buried in his gut and sparking on the tips of his fingers. He pulled Rodney down to kiss him again, Rodney's hot breath hitting the back of his throat, Rodney's cock deep and hard inside him like everything he'd ever wanted.

"Shit, I can't--" Rodney said, and then came with a deep, sexy sigh. "Oh, wow," he said, and then collapsed on top of John, face buried in his neck, cock still buried in his ass.

John wrapped his legs around Rodney's hips and held him there, staring at the softly lit ceiling in wonder.

He woke up in the morning with Rodney wrapped around him, heavy and a little too warm. They'd never slept in the same bed before. On Atlantis, with hard single beds and Marines patrolling the corridors, it had never even entered the equation.

Rodney slept like he was dead, mouth open, barely breathing, not moving in the slightest. When John tried to slide out from under him, though, Rodney's eyes opened, and in that instant he was as thoroughly awake as he'd been asleep a second before.

"Hi," he said. "What time is it?"

It was still dark outside. John reached for his watch on the bedside table. "Just after five."

Rodney smiled and stretched a little. "This is really nice." He brushed a hand all the way down John's side and then lightly over his cock, checking. By the time he got there, John had more than morning wood. "Want to do it properly this time?" Rodney asked.

In answer, John rolled over.

Rodney took it slowly, trying to being quiet, and John buried his face in the pillow, just feeling it. He'd felt intimate with Rodney before, illicit sex and the secrecy of brief, hard fucks in tight spaces, but this was a different kind of closeness. It wasn't cramped, wasn't as narrow as Rodney's cock in his ass. It was an intimacy as big as the spacious room they were in, and still expanding.

Once he was all the way in, Rodney sighed happily and lay down on John's back. "I'll just stay here for a minute, if you don't mind," he said. John didn't mind at all. He closed his eyes and relaxed, flexing minutely around Rodney's cock until he was entirely comfortable with it inside, filling him. "Mm," Rodney said appreciatively, and John smiled to himself. As slowly as possible, he tightened himself around him, increasing the pressure until he was clenching down with all his might and Rodney was gripping his shoulders, breathing in tiny, throaty pants. Then John slowly relaxed again. Rodney made a few helpless little thrusts and then forced himself to be still.

"Oh, do that again," Rodney breathed, lips on the back of his neck, moving a little to get in deeper.

It was even better the second time. It felt dirty and slutty and good, like the most private of conversations. John clenched even harder this time round, until he could feel Rodney's whimpering as a tingle all the way down his spine and into his ass.

Rodney took a few deep breaths, getting control of himself. "Okay, now you stay still." John put his face back into the pillow, guessing what this was going to be, and he was right. Rodney drew out of him, excruciatingly slowly, all the way out until John was empty and hurting to be filled again. Then he slid slowly back in, giving John what he needed, but only the tiniest piece at a time.

The second time, it took an eternity, and John couldn't stop himself clenching greedily as Rodney slid back in. The tension was building fast underneath the laziness of it, and he was getting desperate to be filled again. When Rodney was finally all the way in, John moaned out loud at how good it was.

"I could do this forever," Rodney said, and John nodded, because he could too, and because they both knew they didn't have time for that. Rodney started thrusting, still fairly slow, and John squeezed around him, showing his appreciation. "Oh, shit," Rodney suddenly said, and slammed in hard, and then again, even harder. It was incredible, and John lifted his ass up, giving better access, muffling his own noise. Rodney lifted him up further and fucked him for real, like he did it in dark corners on Atlantis, going for maximum pleasure in minimum time, making John writhe and push back as he got exactly what he needed, how he needed it. He saw bright lights behind his closed eyes, felt lightning striking through his limbs.

"Fuck, sorry," Rodney gasped, and John moaned more loudly than he meant to as Rodney came in a blaze of furious thrusts.

John didn't come, but he was desperate to, now. He tried to get a hand underneath them and jerk himself off, but Rodney said "hey, no," and snatched it away. Instead, he pulled out quickly and rolled John over, sliding a couple of fingers inside him even as John protested the sudden, painful emptiness. Then he took John's cock in his mouth.

Rodney could do amazing things with his lips and tongue, but this time he just sucked fast and hard, hot and wet. John thrust up into his throat and came like it was being ripped out of him, clamping his own hands over his mouth to keep the noise down. Rodney swallowed and then licked him clean, slowly letting his fingers slip out, and then collapsed on the sheets beside him and pulled the covers up again.

"That was the best sex I've ever had," Rodney said smugly.

"Mm," John agreed, utterly drained and sleepy now, shuffling over until Rodney put his arms around him. But Rodney was immune to post-coital drowsiness, and he started chirping away about neutrino phase variance and why anybody with half a brain could see it had nothing to do with... something. John half-listened, mindlessly blissed out.

The peace was broken when Jean shouted, "Nathan! What's the rule about using my scissors?" It was a bellow that put Rodney to shame, and he and Rodney jumped to opposite sides of the bed and scrambled out.

"That's going to take some getting used to," John said, as Rodney slowly went red.

They showered separately (Rodney had to check his email first) and dressed quickly.

"You go first," John said, leaning on the bed and gesturing to the door.

"We're not in Atlantis," Rodney said, smirking. "We can leave the room together, you know."

"Oh," John said, feeling stupid. Rodney kissed his cheek fondly, in a way that seemed to mean, 'you're my favourite moron.' They went downstairs together.

Overnight, fresh snow had fallen, so he and Rodney shovelled the drive while Jean made breakfast. "I used to hate doing this," Rodney told him, panting white breath into the icy air, "but it's bringing back so many memories." He stopped and looked up. "The sky, the trees, it's all so familiar." He smiled crookedly, looking somehow crisp in the morning sunlight. "It's funny how I thought it wouldn't be."

John had always thought that Rodney in the labs was Rodney in his element, snarling and poking at things and bouncing when he found something he liked. He'd been wrong-- this was Rodney in his element, wearing a red parka with a thick white scarf, absently rubbing thick-gloved hands together as he looked around at the snow. His cheeks were pink and his eyes were bright, and the snow-shovel resting in the crook of his elbow looked like it belonged there.

"I've never done this before," John confessed. "But it's kinda fun."

The drive was long, and Rodney was too proud to shovel only half of a double driveway, so they were wet and shivering when they finally sat down to breakfast.

"I'll keep it hot, get changed first!" Jean yelled, appalled.

"Normally I would agree, but these are eggs," Rodney said, mouth already full. "Do you have any idea how long it's been since I tasted eggs? Except for those ones that were from a--" he looked at John.

"It was sort of an antelope-y thing," John supplied.

"My point exactly," Rodney said, and kept eating.

John had to agree-- eggs were damn good. Eggs with butter, which tasted creamier than he remembered. Runny yolk, salt and pepper-- the bacon hadn't been bad, but this was beating out the steak as the best food he'd ever tasted.

Jean had to take the boys to school and then go to work, apologising profusely for leaving them alone. She was a pediatrician, John was stunned to find out, and then kicked himself sharply-- just because she wasn't in Rodney's league didn't mean she wasn't smart. She had her own practice in downtown Vancouver, and Rodney hadn't given her enough notice to arrange time away from it. They waved her off and then took a long shower together to warm up, sighing under the hot water. John assumed they weren't going to have sex again -- on Atlantis they didn't do it that often, only when they really needed it -- but Rodney reached for him, and John went gladly.

Back downstairs they boiled another two eggs each and ate them, grinning stupidly at how exciting it was. Rodney fried more bacon, and made such blissed out noises at having his favourite breakfast food in the universe that John got jealous and made hash browns. They ate until they couldn't force another mouthful down, then loaded up the dishwasher-- or, John loaded up the dishwasher, while Rodney pulled the fridge out of its alcove and did something to stop it making that grinding noise. Then he frowned at one of the cupboard doors and rehung it. He was on a bender by then, and went through the entire house, changing washers, oiling hinges, replacing light bulbs, cleaning spyware off the boys' PC, putting air in their bicycle tyres and oiling the gears. John trailed along, entertained by Rodney and all his manly chores. Once he was done with the bikes, they ended up tidying the garage, which was a mess, sorting the piles of tools and spare parts into the stuff Jeannie needed, the stuff Jeannie needed to throw out, and the stuff she should give to Michael because it obviously wasn't hers. John put his foot down when Rodney decided to clean the gutters (in six inches of snow).

They had vague plans to head into town, have lunch and do something touristy, but it had been a long few weeks, and a long eighteen months before that. They made sandwiches ("Tomatoes!" Rodney said. "Oh, oh, cheese.") and then staggered upstairs for a nap.

"Isn't this great," Rodney said, collapsing onto the bed. "It's like I'm some whole other person. I'm the man around the house, the guy who fixes stuff! It's really cool."

John looked at him. "And that's different from Atlantis how?"

"Huh, I don't know." He thought about the problem for a minute. "It feels different; it feels like I'm, hm..."

"It feels like home?" John suggested.

Rodney looked genuinely surprised. "Yeah," he said.

That night, they had a dinner appointment at Great Auntie Ethel's.

"She insisted," Jean said, grimacing, when she saw Rodney's face.

"Oh, God, why hasn't she died yet?" Rodney wailed. "Do we have to?"

"Yeah," Liam said. "Do we have to, Mom?"

"Do we have to?" Nathan echoed, plaintively. "She's gross!"

That, apparently, made up Jean's mind for her. "She's old and alone! It means so much to her when we visit, so don't be ungrateful. And Rodney, that means you too."

"Thanks," Rodney hissed to Liam and Nathan. "In future, please don't be on my side."

Nathan stuck his tongue out at him, and Rodney stuck his out back.

John took Liam aside while Rodney was getting dressed, figuring he'd get the lowdown on Auntie Ethel out of the mouths of the babes.

"She's horrible," Liam whispered, looking genuinely afraid. "She smells bad, and tells us off all the time, and she's mean to Mom."

When Rodney appeared, he was wearing a tie. John swapped his own t-shirt for one of Jean's ex's preppy shirts and a suit jacket, getting more alarmed by the minute.

Auntie Ethel was about a hundred, with a voice as loud and strident as Rodney's. She lectured them on punctuality when they got there, and Jean for not ironing the boy's clothes properly. She told John that wearing jeans with a jacket was appalling, and to go into the bathroom and do something about his hair (he wet it down as best he could). She gave Rodney a clip over the ear for his language, and said he wasn't too old to have his mouth washed out with soap (Rodney had said "hell" when he thought she couldn't hear.) Her casserole tasted like old socks, but she made them eat every mouthful on their plates, keeping a very sharp eye on their table manners and barking at John every time his elbows even brushed the table. She didn't smell bad, but the whole house reeked so much of lavender, Rodney seemed to be developing an allergy on the spot.

After dinner, Nathan asked tentatively if they could watch television, which got him a lecture on how television would rot his brain, and that segued into Jean's divorce, and how the boys were sure to become serial killers without a father to discipline them.

"I'll do my best, Auntie Ethel," Jean said politely.

John was hoping for some coffee to wake him from this nightmare, but Auntie Ethel brought out sherry and then went on for another hour, lecturing Rodney for thinking he was too important to telephone his dear Auntie, and John on the bad influence America's low moral standards were having on Canadian society, and Jean on the rising cost of healthcare and how badly doctors were trained these days. It took Jean and Rodney several tries before they were allowed to leave, not before Rodney promised to visit again before he left, and not without a kiss goodnight from each of them, including John.

In the car, Liam leaned over to John and whispered, "Told you."

John recognised the feeling of shock he got after getting dressed down by a CO, and he was still reeling too hard to respond.

"Was that worse?" Rodney asked Jean, tipping his head back against the car seat. "Was she actually worse than I remembered?"

"That wasn't too bad," Jean said smugly. "With you and John there, I wasn't the main target."

Back home, after putting the boys to bed, they all threw back three fingers of Scotch and disappeared into their rooms to recover.

"I've never felt less like having sex in my entire life," Rodney said, collapsing beside John. Then he sniffed them both and got up again. "We have to shower. I can still smell the lavender, and I'll have nightmares if I don't get rid of it."

"Promise me you won't be like that when you're old," John said, because he could imagine it far too easily for his own peace of mind.

"Dad was like that sometimes, especially near the end," Rodney said, disappearing into the bathroom. "But I'll take after Mom's side of the family, I promise. They just go senile, run away from the nursing home, that sort of thing."

Shuddering, John put their stinky clothes in Rodney's bedroom (now a small office-- where he found the time, John didn't know) and joined Rodney in the bathroom to scrub himself clean again.

The next day, they visited Rodney's mother's grave, in an ugly modern cemetery behind an ugly brick Lutheran church. Rodney was quiet, his face twisted, not in sadness, exactly, but something more like confusion.

"Do you miss her?" John asked, quietly enough that Rodney could pretend not to hear him.

"Not really," Rodney said. "Not at all, actually. It's just funny to think of her body down there, you know? Like she only existed to look after me, and when I went away to grad school I didn't need her any more, so they put her away."

John looked at him.

"It was cancer, actually," Rodney said. "But it never really seemed like that was how it happened." He put his bouquet of tulips down, sighed, and then straightened up and patted the headstone awkwardly. "Okay, I'm done. Where do you want to go now?"

Gesturing around at the headstones, John said, "Is your father--?"

"No, no, he's in a different one, the other side of the city. I don't think I'll go. Not this time, anyway." Rodney shrugged and shoved his hands deep into his coat pockets. John didn't ask any more questions.

They went home and watched sports on the huge flat screen TV in the den, sprawled on gorgeous leather couches. After a while they started making out, nervously, starting at every noise outside. Jean had promised she'd be home from work early, but she didn't know exactly when.

"Okay, this is pointless," Rodney said, and sat up again. "Come here."

John got comfortable under his arm, pressed up against the warm bulk of his body, and closed his eyes while Rodney watched hockey. Their clothes were strange-- Rodney's thick knitted sweater smelled like detergent, not like Rodney. His own sweatshirt was still soft and fuzzy, like no body had ever worked hard inside it. He was warm, though, cozy and secure, with nothing at all he needed to be alert against. It was nice; nicer than he'd thought this shore leave would be; nicer than he remembered Earth ever being.

The boys were going to their father's that night -- he had them for a week every month. Jean had tried to rearrange it, since Rodney was there, but Michael had said no, which she was still fuming about.

To make up for it, they all went to an early dinner and movie that night, Rodney's treat. Jean picked the restaurant, which was a little Italian place tucked away downtown, old-fashioned furniture and food to die for.

"This was my favourite," she said, "Michael and I used to come here, but I haven't been back since--" she glanced at the boys "--since we realised we'd be happier living separately. But I promised myself that on a really special occasion, I'd come back."

They toasted to the McKays.

"I don't even know your last name," John said suddenly, looking at Jean.

"Ha," Jean said. "I never changed it, and if I had, I'd have changed it back, believe me."

"And the boys?" Rodney said, frowning. "What is it, Donaldson?"

"Dobson, and if I could, I'd change theirs, but--" she waved that away.

"I'm Liam Andrew Dobson," Liam said suddenly, and nudged Nathan. "Tell them yours."

Nathan looked confused.

"What's your name?" Liam said impatiently. "I'm Liam Andrew Dobson, you're...?"

"I don't know," Nathan said, in a small voice.

Liam tried again. "Your name is Nathan J-?"

"Nathan John Dobson!" Nathan shouted, and Liam sat back and beamed at John.

"Hey," John said, smiling at them both. "That's a very cool name."

They saw one of the Shrek-type movies, about butterflies who go into space. It was a fucking funny movie, and made even funnier by Rodney's groans of agony at the cartoon physics. He gave the boys a rushed lecture on vacuums and the speed of light on the way to Michael's house, but the boys weren't listening. They were tensing with misery, presumably at the prospect of their parents going another round in front of them. John knew that one too well.

Michael's house was a status symbol to put Jean's house to shame, modern, black and shiny, with artistic lighting on all the architectural features. There was a black Ferrari parked ostentatiously in the drive. "Hey," John whispered to Jean as they got the boy's bags out of the car. "Want me to be your new boyfriend?"

Jean giggled, lifting the worried frown off her face. "Ooh, yes please!"

"No good," Rodney said, wincing. "Nathan kind of might have sort of seen us kissing, sorry. He'll spill the beans sooner or later."

"Oh. Crap," Jean said, apparently not worried about the might-have-sort-of-seen-them-kissing part.

"Just say John's my partner, then he can at least scare the shit out of him."

"Hey!" John said indignantly, and then decided he actually liked the idea.

The boys trudged up the path to the door and ducked inside as soon as it opened, waving over their shoulders.

"Liam, Nathan!" Jean yelled after them. "You didn't say goodbye to your uncle!"

Rodney sighed heavily. "Never mind. I'll write to them when I can."

Michael looked like the boys, dark-haired, very handsome. John would have fucked him, and once upon a time, he might have even fallen in love with him. He knew the type-- charismatic, effortlessly pleasant, made you want to believe in fairy-tales. He'd never been burned by a man like that, but he'd maybe been singed a little, when he was younger.

Michael remembered Rodney's name and shook his hand, asking what he'd been doing all these years.

"Oh, it's all classified," Rodney said airily. "My partner, John."

Michael's lip twitched, trying to sneer, but he smiled broadly. "Pleasure to meet you."

I've killed more men than you've fucked bimbos, John thought contemptuously, and let it show on his face. "Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard," John said casually, with his best hard-ass undertone, and held out his hand. Michael gripped it firmly, and John squeezed down hard. "I understand you can't reschedule with Jean," he added suddenly.

"It's my mother's birthday this weekend," Michael said apologetically, withdrawing his hand. "She hardly ever gets to see the boys."

"So you'd be able to drop them back on Sunday night?" John said, raising an eyebrow and staring him down. "We're stationed a long way from here. Rodney can only see them every couple of years."

"I'll see what I can do," Michael began.

"Or John and I could pick them up, if that's more convenient," Rodney interrupted coldly, and John didn't bother keeping the smirk off his face. Rodney was his own brand of hard-ass.

"I'm sure I can bring them," Michael said smoothly. "You're staying with Jean?"

"Yup," John said. "Much appreciated." He and Rodney headed back to the SUV to let Jean and Michael talk divorce stuff. John leaned against it with his arms folded, and settled his gaze on Michael. Rodney noticed, and did the same.

"Thanks," Rodney said quietly.

"No problem," John said.

In Colorado, Rodney had promised to take him skiing. This was back when they were planning to stay in a hotel, before they'd met Jean, so John had assumed that plan had gone out the window. Jean brought it up again, suggesting that if they left in the morning, they could get in a couple of days before the boys come back.

"Are you sure?" Rodney said. "Do you want to come?"

"I couldn't, I have patients all day tomorrow," Jean said, "and at least two on Saturday as well. But you only get two weeks on Earth, and all you've done is hang around this house! You should do something!"

"I like hanging around this house," John said mildly. "This is definitely my idea of downtime." They were in the den, on the leather lounge suite. The news was on the huge flat-screen TV with the volume muted. Rodney had slung an arm around his shoulders, and Jean hadn't blinked, so John was relaxing into it, feeling more than a little self-indulgent. For all the crazy, this was like some life he'd read about, but never seen with his own eyes.

"I could ski," Rodney said. "The whole time I was in Antarctica, I was too busy. I still can't believe I never got around to it. I was in Antarctica, and I didn't ski."

"I could ski, if you wanted to ski," John told him, so in the morning they rented a car and drove up to Whistler. Rodney insisted on a five-star room with jacuzzi and wireless broadband; John insisted on paying half.

"Don't be stupid, I have more money sitting in the bank than I know what to do with."

"Like I don't?" John said. "I've had it piling up for years longer than you have."

"Have not, and besides, I get paid more than you!"

"You do not. I'm not some grunt; I'm a pilot, and besides, you've never heard of combat pay?"

"Oh, please. They had to lure me into the Stargate program with all sorts of compensation for not being able to publish my best work. You, they point, and you go there."

"As if you wouldn't have gone for half your salary."

"That's not the point," Rodney said, and put his credit card down. "The point is, I get paid way more than you, so I win. You can pay for dinner."

They dumped their backpacks in their room, bought clothes and equipment, and hit the slopes in under an hour.

It was glorious. Blue sky, bitter cold, and going really fast. As the adrenaline hit, John started laughing with sheer joy, and just kept grinning. They started on the easy slopes, warming up with a couple of gentle runs, and then decided they were way too fit to waste their time there. They inhaled lunch and then tackled the harder ones, racing one another down. It got dark way too soon.

"Okay," Rodney said, hobbling from the slopes to their hotel. "Maybe not as fit as I thought. Ow, ow, ow, and did I mention ow?"

"Yeah, I heard you the first hundred times," John said smugly. He was in a hell of a lot of pain, but if he acted like he wasn't, he could feel better about it. They ordered room service and ate in the jacuzzi.

"Ow," Rodney said, when they finally got out, "but less so. Okay, I have to get some work done. It'll take a few hours, so if you want to go out again, feel free."

John thought about it, but really, his legs were killing him. He was fit enough for hiking across planets and running up and down stairs in Atlantis all day, but skiing was a different game altogether. He lay down on the bed with War and Peace, and half-read it, half watching Rodney work. Rodney was completely absorbed, typing furiously, so after a while John stripped naked and slid in between the sheets. He was bone-tired, but thrumming quietly with exhilaration-- part of his body still felt like it was hurtling down the side of a mountain, lit up like a Christmas tree with the thrill of it.

Watching Rodney carefully to make sure he wasn't disturbing him, John slid his hand down over his cock and gripped it, experimentally. Oh, yeah, he was good to go. He rolled over onto his side. Quietly, trying not to rustle the bedsheets too much, he got his left hand behind himself and stroked over and around his hole for a few minutes, getting the tension to build, while he squeezed his cock rhythmically, keeping his hand as still as he could. He brought out his favourite fantasy, the one he'd used for months and months, the one where he showed up at Rodney's door, horny and desperate, not entirely sure if Rodney did swing his way, but sure enough that it was worth trying. Rodney would open the door, and John would say something casual and vague, like, "hey, I thought maybe we could help each other out with something?" And if Rodney didn't understand him, John (in his fantasy) had some perfectly logical non-sexual thing he could make it about. But of course Rodney would understand him-- Rodney would invite him inside and kneel down in front of him and suck him off slow but hard, exactly how he wanted it.

That wasn't how it had really happened, though. In reality, John had no idea how to go about it. He knew how to steal away from a base, find the kind of bar where nobody asked for names, raise an eyebrow at whoever looked hot, and follow him wherever he led. He didn't know how to approach somebody he knew, somebody he worked with, but that was the only option open to him. That, and jerking off, horny and desperate. He'd tried raising an eyebrow at Rodney, but he never knew if Rodney understood what he meant by that. Certainly Rodney had never nodded back and jerked his head at the men's room-- at least, not until they'd started fucking.

They'd started fucking after MPX-TG5, a little tropical paradise of a planet where the natives welcomed the descendants of the Ancestors with open arms and a feast of fruit and roasted meat. There were no women -- they lived on another island, the men said -- and the men on this island were all warriors, lean, muscled and tanned, and wearing nothing but short kilt-ish things. Very short kilt-ish things, leaving just enough to the imagination to torture John with the possibilities. He'd been in ecstatic misery as they all crowded around him, touching his arms, asking questions, offering to show him weapons and statues and cave-paintings. Unless he'd misunderstood the signals, at least two of them were making eyes at him, but the fact was, he could have misunderstood the signals, and they all carried knives.

After the feast, Teyla and Ford were taken in a canoe to meet the women, while Rodney and John were shown around the ruins. While they were sitting on a log, discussing what appeared to be a carving of a ZPM, Rodney had reached over and put his hand between John's legs. John had nearly fallen backwards off the log.

"Thought so," Rodney said smugly. "Hot, aren't they? Did you see the one with the red tattoo on his back? I think he likes me."

"We can't," John said, strangled, gripping his P-90 to keep from shoving his hand down his own pants.

"Oh, I know," Rodney said, like he was perfectly satisfied just by the thought of it.

After the mission debrief, though, Rodney had followed John back to his quarters. Inside, he hadn't knelt in front of him. Instead, he'd pressed John into the wall, taken John's face between his hands and kissed him. John had come, right then. He hadn't fantasised about kissing. He hadn't fantasised about Rodney fucking him, either, but that was what Rodney did, turning him around, pushing his pants down, and--

"I can hear what you're doing, you know," Rodney said, and John froze, on the verge of coming like a freight train. Somehow, watching Rodney to make sure he didn't disturb his work had turned into forgetting Rodney was there. Rodney wasn't working anymore, and John wasn't discreetly jerking off under the covers. He'd rolled onto his side with his knees drawn up, three fingers in his own ass, and Rodney had turned his chair around, and was leaning forward, watching him. John's stomach rolled. Christ, he was blushing like he'd never blushed in his whole life.

"Come over here," Rodney said, eyes dark.

Mortified, erection and balls throbbing painfully, John got up and walked over. Taking hold of John's hips, Rodney leaned forward and swallowed his cock. John's whole body convulsed violently, and he came hard, choking for air, knees threatening to give out on him. Rodney held him up and sucked him clean, and John leaned heavily on his shoulders, shuddering.

"You make me crazy," Rodney said, opening his pants, and John sank down gratefully onto the carpet. Rodney was already hard, already leaking pre-cum. John licked it away and then sucked down, swallowing greedily. "Oh, wow," Rodney was saying. John tried to back off, take it slower, but Rodney's fingers on his skull urged him back down. "We'll play later, just, please," he said, so John obliged, bringing him off as fast as he knew how. Rodney made a deeply satisfied noise, and came hard. John swallowed quickly, and let Rodney pull him up to sit in his lap and kiss him.

He was naked, and Rodney was fully clothed, and something about kissing like this was making John tremble, an earthquake as tectonic plates shifted inside him. He'd never fantasised about kissing, but Rodney had a way of making him need things he'd never even wanted to like.

Rodney pulled away, reluctantly. "I have to get this paper finished," he said, and touched John's face. "We do what we can to keep conventional physics on track towards everything that's classified, but right now they're about to go off with the quantum fairies."

John nodded. "Sure."

Rodney pulled him in for one more kiss, slow and sexy this time. "Later, maybe we could do the really slow thing again?" he said hopefully. "If you're still awake?"

"If I'm not, wake me up for it," John told him, letting go reluctantly and climbing back into bed. He was still naked, and felt it-- vulnerable, defenceless-- but he closed his eyes, both comforted and unnerved to know that when he opened them again, Rodney would be making love to him.

Time was running out, suddenly; picking up speed again as their two weeks trickled through their fingers. They skied all day, going faster and harder with every run, until they could barely walk through the hotel lobby to the elevator. In their room, they ate and fucked, too sore to move much, but unwilling or unable to stop touching. It was a frantic honeymoon, sealing some sort of contract that John hadn't even signed, let alone read the fine print on.

After checking out on Sunday they had lunch in the five star restaurant, overlooking a jagged landscape, mixed up like broken pieces of coloured glass. It made John nostalgic for Antarctica and neverending curves of white, but Rodney stared out over it as if committing it to memory.

John stared at Rodney.

Rodney's eyes were a little sad; his hair grown a little longer than it usually was, and messy. His lips were chapped from the wind and cold, but his skin was brighter and smoother than John could remember seeing it. He was deep in thought, and John could guess some of what those thoughts contained: what it meant to be home; what it meant to be leaving it so far behind, so soon after rediscovering it. He longed to reach over and touch Rodney's face, but that would wake him from a moment he might never have again, getting lost in his history and his memories.

John touched his own face instead, half-adrift, like he was less sure of who he was without Rodney looking at him. Whatever he was feeling, it was like inhaling deeply of the cold, fresh air until his ribcage was stretching to contain it all. This wasn't his place, except that his place was with Rodney, and it wasn't his home, except that Rodney was fast becoming home to him. The thought left him with a sudden yearning to be back on Atlantis, walking the corridors beside Elizabeth with a shared, purposeful stride, or Ford grinning over his shoulder at him, or Teyla tilting her head to convey a hundred different things. That was his place, only the picture was incomplete without Rodney's broad, sure hand on his back, in a way it had never been before.

When he looked back at Rodney, Rodney was looking right into his eyes. John felt another sudden stretch of his ribcage with that look, and Rodney lifted a hand and placed it on John's cheek, over his own fingers. John leaned into it helplessly. Rodney smiled, slow and gentle, and John smiled back at him.

"Time to go?" he said softly.

"Yeah." Rodney sounded regretful. "It seems like we've had forever, but it's nearly gone."

John slung his arm around Rodney's waist as they left, and Rodney pulled him close.

"You sleep," John told him. "I'll drive."

"We should buy something for the boys before we leave," John said the next morning, as they washed the breakfast dishes.

"Yeah," Rodney said. And then his face lit up like he'd just heard what John had said. "Yeah!"

"No Star Trek!" Jean said, alarmed. "If you turn my children into Trekkies, I'll kill you, Rodney, I swear."

"Cross my heart," Rodney told her, all innocence, which was enough to make Jean take the morning off work to come shopping with them.

They went to Walmart and Chapters and Sears and Zellers and bought things almost randomly. "Do kids still like remote control cars?" John said, from behind his armful of books.

"I'm pretty sure remote control cars are both eternal and universal," Rodney said. He bought one for Liam, one for Nathan, and one for himself. They tottered to Jean's car with chemistry sets and microscopes and so many science fiction books and DVDs that John suspected Rodney would be back on Earth again before the boys finished them all.

"They are not getting all of this at once," Jean said firmly.

"Yeah, duh," Rodney said distractedly. "Birthdays, Christmas, you have to ration this stuff out. I don't want them to forget me if I don't come back for a while."

"I won't let them forget you!" Jean grabbed his elbow and turned him around. "Rodney, I won't let them forget."

Rodney sighed, heavily. "Jeannie," he said in a low voice, "I'm alive right now because I'm brilliant beyond all comparison, but I'm not indestructible, and the Wraith kind of are. I could be back in a couple of years, but a lot of other things could happen, too. So, you know. Ration it, okay?"

Jean had paled. "Okay," she said in a small voice.

"Hey, don't worry," Rodney said, and grinned. "I did say I was brilliant. With me on my side, my odds are pretty good."

John cleared his throat.

"Oh, fine-- and there are a couple of other people who may have on occasion saved my life." He tossed the last of the packages in the car and closed the door. "Come on, I should get a few things for myself while I'm here."

'A few things for himself' meant getting two high-end Thinkpads and six external hard drives and a five-thousand-dollar gaming system with dual 64-bit processors and a twenty-inch flat-screen monitor. And a massive stack of software, and two dozen games, and a projector, and two spare DVD burners.

"Didn't Elizabeth arrange for new computers to be shipped through the Stargate?" John said cautiously.

"What? Oh, yes," Rodney said, grabbing a couple of keyboards and handing them to the slack-jawed clerk. "This is just in case I need extra."

John heaved a huge sigh of relief when they were done, only to have Rodney spot an Apple store on the way to the car. Twenty minutes later, Rodney had bought another stack of software, an X-Serve ("just to try it out!"), a Dual-G5 with cinema display, one each of the twelve-inch, the fifteen-inch and the seventeen-inch Powerbooks.

"Okay," John said, taking Rodney's card. "No more laptops for you."

"They're not all for me," Rodney lied.

"Of course they're not," John told him sweetly. "They're gifts for people who didn't get to visit home. Because if you kept them for yourself, that would make all the people who didn't get to visit home very unhappy, wouldn't it?"

Rodney's face contorted in agony as he looked down at his huge pile of treasure. "I have to share?"

Jean snorted at him. "Think of yourself as the geek Santa Claus, Rodney, bringing joy to all the boys and girls."

Rodney brightened. "Ooh! I can pile it all around one of the naquadah generators, and read out a list of who's been naughty and who's been nice." He tilted his head to the side dreamily. "And everyone can sit in my lap, except Kavanagh."

John caught Jean's eye behind Rodney's back. "Nice try," he whispered.

At lunch, Rodney handed a hastily-scribbled cheque to Jean. "I didn't get you any presents, but will that be enough to pay off the house?"

She made a small squeaking sound.

"Oh, don't even argue," Rodney interrupted her, before she could say anything. "It's not like there are shopping malls on Atlantis, and besides, it's from the US military, it's like Monopoly money. Hey, maybe I should buy some shells or feathers or something that we could trade for food." He looked at John. "What do you think? One of those little mirrorball keyrings could be worth a month's supplies. Or some gold necklaces, they might impress the big tribal chiefs. Gold-plated would probably do."

"Maybe you should leave that stuff to Elizabeth," John suggested. Jean had put the cheque away, and was quietly drinking coffee with tears in her eyes. "We should think about what food you can take back with you," he said, to keep Rodney distracted. That small error in judgement led to three hours in the supermarket, and another hour trying to convince the Canadian postal service to deliver three shopping carts full of breakfast cereals and ramen noodles to an Air Force base in Colorado by Wednesday.

They went ice-skating that night to celebrate the successful family reunion. John's legs had barely recovered from skiing, which made it hard for him to get into the groove on ice, which made it hard to go really fast, which made it not nearly as much fun as it should have been. Going slow sucked.

Jean was excellent, spinning and twirling like a pro. "High school skating star," she said proudly.

"I hate skating so much," Rodney announced, and promptly fell over. Liam started lecturing him on proper technique, and in a few minutes, Rodney was wobbling in slow circles around the rink, the boys circling him like satellites, telling him what to do.

Jean jerked her head at John, and he followed her to the little cafe next to the bleachers.

"Two coffees," Jean said to the guy at the counter. She grinned at John. "I want to give Rodney some time with the boys." Her mouth twisted wryly. "And give the boys time with a male role model other than their father."

They sat at a table together and watched Rodney and the boys skate. Liam and Nathan were naturals on the ice. Rodney was hopeless, flailing his arms around and stumbling, but he couldn't seem to stop smiling. John smiled watching him.

"So have you called your family, since you've been back?"

John tore his eyes away from Rodney reluctantly, and shrugged.

"Sorry. It's none of my business," Jean said, looking sideways at him.

"Mom died when I was ten," John found himself saying, staring out at the ice. It was a shock to hear himself say it aloud. He hadn't even told Rodney this yet, but he'd seen Jean's own family mess from the inside out. "Dad had to take a desk job, to look after me. A grounded pilot is never happy, but he had this rage, you know? He never stopped being angry-- at Mom, at me, at everything."

"He couldn't get over losing her?"

John laughed, bitter. "He wanted perfect discipline and obedience, and Mom was the wild, crazy type -- opposites attract, right? But it was hell. Every day he shouted at her for embarrassing him, and she screamed at him for bossing her around. You have no idea how much they hated each other." He sipped his coffee and shrugged. "When she died, she got the last word, she chained him to the ground, she won. He was never going to get over that. The whole time I was growing up, he could barely stand to look at me."

Jean sighed heavily and tipped her head back. "Mom always used Rodney as an excuse to get away from Dad," she said. "She was too spineless to just divorce him, or maybe she still loved him, I don't know. But Dad made Rodney's life hell to punish her for that, and spoiled me to punish Rodney. I was always afraid that he'd turn on me, too, so I cooked and cleaned and looked after him, just like Mom did for Rodney. Then when Mom got sick, he turned on me anyway. He made my life hell while I nursed my dying mother. That's the kind of man he was."

"A real piece of work," John said.

"Yeah." Jean sighed. "I ended up married to a charming, charismatic asshole just like my father, and it took me years to realise what I'd done." She rubbed her hands over her face. "Rodney's a lot like Dad, too, but somehow he learned how to be a decent human being. It's a miracle, when you think about it."

"Nah," John said. "Rodney was born decent."

Jean smirked at him. "Shows what you know. He might have been born decent, but he was a self-centred prick for most of his life. He didn't care when Mom was dying, when Dad was dying-- he just got on with his career and left me to deal with all of it. That's why he's so amazing now. He's turned himself around entirely."

John looked out at Rodney, now trying to skate backwards, protesting loudly that terrible things were going to happen, Liam and Nathan each holding one of his hands.

"Combat changes people," he said thoughtfully. "War changes them. Sometimes for the worse, but not always. Rodney's lucky. I wasn't, so much."

Jean studied him, sympathetic. "It changed you?"

"For the worse," John admitted. "I was pretty bad, and I got a lot worse. But Atlantis changed me, too. Rodney's changed me, more than I knew."

"I'm glad," she said, and took his gloved hand in hers. "I'm glad you'll be with him, when he goes away again."

"Don't worry," he told her. "I'm watching out for him."

The next night, after dinner, Jean gave them each a set of keys.

"Oh, shut up," she said to Rodney before Rodney could object. "You paid for my house, of course you can have a key to it." Then she threw her arms around him. "Thank you," she said, suddenly sobbing. "Thank you for coming back to me."

"Jeannie, I'm here," Rodney said, stroking her hair. "I'm here now."

John picked up Nathan and jerked his head at Liam to follow him out of the room. Nathan was upset, starting to sniffle, and Liam looked pinched and miserable, the look Rodney got when it was all too much, but he had to keep going anyway. He was too young to have to look like that, but he was too smart not to pick up on all the things that had gone wrong for his mother.

"Listen," John said to him, crouching down, still cradling Nathan. "I know it sucks, I know how much, but it's better this way. My parents didn't get divorced, and that was ten times worse. Every day they were fighting in front of me, until I prayed one of them would die." Then his mother had died, of course, blew her brains out with his father's 9mm, but John didn't say that. "Everybody thinks you're too young to understand what happened, but I bet you do."

"Yeah," Liam said hoarsely. "I know all the stuff Dad did. Dad says stuff about Mom, too, and it's not true."

"Don't antagonise your father," John said. "Believe me, you'll piss him off plenty without even trying. Just live your own life, and try to get along with him as best you can. That's not easy, but it's all you gotta do, okay?"

Liam nodded. "Okay."

"Shake on it," John said, and held out his hand. Liam shook it solemnly.

He fetched the set of South Park DVDs he'd bought in Colorado, and put it on. He doubted it was appropriate for kids their age, but then, he'd never understood why kids had to be protected from TV when nobody could protect them from reality. They loved it, and forgot about everything else, which was all he cared about.

John ended up putting them to bed, since Rodney and Jean were still talking, and then went to bed himself. He was exhausted.

Rodney woke him up later, getting in next to him.

"Everything okay?" John asked, blinking.

"Yeah," Rodney said tiredly. "Just talking about stuff. Mom and Dad left us pretty fucked up."

John rolled over to let Rodney spoon up behind him. "I know what that's like." In the dark, it was easy to make that confession.

"Yeah, I figured you did." Rodney pressed a kiss to his shoulder blade. "I still can't believe it, you know. That I have a family I don't hate. I never thought it was important, but, huh."

"I never thought it was important either," John said quietly. "Stupid, huh?"

"You'll like what Jeannie said," Rodney said sleepily. "She said, if blood is thicker than water, that just makes it harder to get the stains out."

"Bloodstains are the worst," John mumbled, drifting off.

In the morning, their last day in Canada, John made a decision. While Rodney was downstairs force-feeding his nephews one more episode of Dr Who, John snuck upstairs and pulled out his laptop. He Googled his way through a dozen military sites until he found what he was looking for: General Leyton Sheppard appointed to an inquiry on military expenditure. From there, he was able to find an email address and a phone number.

He waited until Jean and the boys had left for the day, and Rodney was still engrossed in Daleks and Time Lords, and shut himself in his room with Jean's cordless phone.

He dialled the number and listened to it ring.

When it picked up, a Sergeant Smith barked a greeting at him. Smith sounded exactly like the kind of man his father would hire as a secretary.

"This is Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard," John said. "I'm calling for General Leyton Sheppard."

"Yes, Sir, I'll see if he's available," the secretary said. "Can you hold?"

"Sure," John said, and listened to the classical music. It only took half a minute, and John barely had time to wonder what he'd say before the line picked up again. He inhaled sharply.

"The General may be able to return your call tomorrow, Sir," the secretary said. "Can I take a message?"

"Put me through to him, Sergeant. I want to speak to him myself."

"I'm sorry, Sir, but I'm not authorised to do that."

John was already shaking his head; he knew that his father never returned calls to subordinates. "Get authorisation," he said firmly. "I'll hold."

Smith paused, that soldier's moment of calculation when orders conflicted and no matter which one he followed, somebody was going to be pissed. "One moment," he said.

John stared out the window and waited.

"Sir, if you can wait on the line," Smith said, "the General will take your call when his schedule allows."

"Thank you, Sergeant," John said.

The music was tantalisingly familiar. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies, he thought, and rolled his eyes. The next piece he knew from years ago, from the commercials for-- he couldn't remember, and it itched in his head. Some kind of car? The piece after that, he didn't recognise, but his mouth was dry. He cradled the handset under his chin and got a glass of water from the bathroom, then sat back down on the bed to drink it and wait.

An hour later, the secretary came on the line. "Do you still want to wait, Sir?"

"Sure," John drawled at him. "I love waiting."

"The General is a very busy man, Sir," the secretary said. "If you'd like to leave a message, I'll make sure he gets it."

"Sergeant, I appreciate the offer. I prefer to wait."

"Yes, Sir," he said, and John was listening to hold music again. He copied down his credit card number for Jean, and the time and date of the call. He made a few notes about supplies, and then emailed them to O'Neill using Rodney's account. He looked up the NFL scores for the last two seasons.

By the time Rodney poked his head in the door, he was pacing the carpet.

"Hey," Rodney said, and raised an eyebrow. "Is that the SGC?"

"I called my father." John shrugged. "I'm on hold."

Rodney beamed at him. "That's great!" he enthused. "So much could have changed. Maybe he regrets it, whatever it is..."

"Don't," John said sharply, and then tried to be more gentle. "You don't know him, okay? You can't even imagine--" He stopped, because he had enough hints of what Rodney's father had been like. "He's not the sort of man who changes his mind," he finished, lamely.

"I could talk to him," Rodney offered. "I'll tell him about--"

John shook his head, not even tempted to drag Rodney into it. "Bring me something to eat?" he said instead. "I think I'll be here a while."

"Sure," Rodney said, then kissed his cheek, awkwardly, bumping the phone. John smiled at him, grateful, and settled back on the pillows. Stubbornness was settling down into his gut. He could wait five days at a freezing cold, windy airstrip in Christchurch for engine repairs. He could wait two weeks in the scorching desert for orders. If his father thought he wouldn't wait a few hours on the phone, John thought grimly, he needed to get to know his son better.

Rodney brought him coffee and a sandwich, and put them on the bedside table with elaborate silence.

"It's fine," John told him. "I'm still on hold."

"Do you want the newspaper?" Rodney offered cautiously. "It's downstairs."


Rodney fetched the paper, and then brought two of his new laptops in, sat cross-legged on the bed, booted them up and started configuring them.

John read about the new wars in the Middle East, and the new politics in Europe and America, and all of the sports pages, and the gossip about Canadian teen heart throbs he'd never heard of.

The phone clicked. John sat up abruptly, and Rodney sat up too.

"Are you still there, Sir?" the secretary said.

"Yup, still here," John drawled at him. "The General sure is a busy man."

"Sir, I'm afraid the General has gone to lunch. Are you sure you wouldn't rather leave a message?"

"Oh, I'm very sure," John said, gritting his teeth. If all he was to his father was a red light on an intercom, blinking, he'd be it. The music came on again.

"What's going on?" Rodney whispered, after a few minutes of silence.

"I'm still on hold. It's like the Blue Cross claims department in my father's office." It was supposed to be a joke, but Rodney didn't laugh.

"You'll have to switch to another phone," he said, frowning. "The battery won't last on that handset. Come into the kitchen."

John picked up the phone in the kitchen and stretched the cord until he could sit at the kitchen table. Rodney took the cordless back to the charger and then started the dishes, quietly.

"Is this my fault?" Rodney asked, frowning.

John avoided his eyes. "Is what your fault?"

Rodney shifted guiltily and went back to rinsing coffee mugs. "Bringing you here. I wanted you to be here for me, in case it went badly, and then I was glad you were here because it was going so well, but I never really considered how it would make you feel, so I was--"

"Hey, cut it out. I'm glad you invited me." John reached as far as the cord would stretch, which just let him hook a finger into Rodney's waistband, and tug. Rodney resisted for a minute and then let himself be dragged over. John kissed his stomach, which was all that he could reach. "There's nowhere else I'd rather be," he said firmly. "I just, I have to do this, okay?"

"Okay," Rodney said, and bent over to kiss his cheek, like John was still his favourite moron, after all this time. John smiled at him.

While Rodney dried the dishes and put them away, John started drumming his fingers on the table, in time with the Sugar Plum Fairies.

"Are you annoying me on purpose?" Rodney said, and John stopped, but a few minutes later Rodney was glaring at him, and he looked down to realise he was doing it again.

"Sorry," he said sheepishly, and spread his hand out flat on the table.

"It's only another twenty minutes until the cordless is charged," Rodney said, and moved to sit in the chair next to him. He held John's hand in his lap the whole time, intently manipulating the joints and feeling the tendons move. John watched him study the mechanics of it with a wry sort of gratitude, and then closed his eyes and just relaxed into the touch.

"I have a really ridiculous crush on you," Rodney blurted, and then started babbling. "This whole thing between us has been so good, but I haven't exactly had the best role models for doing relationship stuff, so I don't know what I'm supposed to do about it except continue to have incredibly good sex with you, but if there's anything else I should be doing you should tell me because otherwise I won't know."

"Nah," John said, and felt the warmth of the smile on his own face. "We're good."

Finally John could switch back to the cordless, and they curled up on the couch and watched a boring documentary about sharks, John still pressing the phone to his ear, remote in his other hand with his finger resting on the mute button.

"I could listen for a while," Rodney offered. "You should take a break."

"I can't," John said. "I have to be here when he picks up."

By the time he'd eaten lunch one-handed, though, his arms ached and both his ears were numb, so he let Rodney hold it while he took a shower. Rodney stayed right outside the glass door, and sang along with the hold music at the top of his voice to reassure him. "Bom badda bom biddi dadada bing bing," he sang, and by now John knew the melodies well enough to sing along. His own voice was okay, but soon Rodney was showing off horribly, pompously in tune and with a truly obnoxious vibrato. It echoed in the bathroom until it sounded like an entire orchestra.

"When did you learn to sing?" John yelled, when they'd been through the entire twenty-minute Hold Cycle. He turned around under the spray for one last rinse, starting to worry about how long he'd been away from the phone.

"When I was a kid, bom bom bom," Rodney sang back. "I studied music for years, dada dum dada dee."

"Huh," John said, surprised, and shut off the water. "I played air guitar. I was going to be the next Hendrix, but I couldn't make any noise at home. When I finally moved out and bought a real guitar, it took me three days to realise I'd never be any good." He grinned at the memory. It had never seemed funny before.

Rodney passed him a towel, left-handed, phone still glued to his ear. "Actually, you probably would have learned fast, if you'd stuck with it. You're smart and guitar's not too hard; six months and you would have been decent."

John dried his ears and his hair, then wrapped the towel around his waist and reached for the phone. Rodney handed it to him, and the Sugar Plum Fairies were back. It was beyond grating on his nerves, now, and starting to sound like genuine torture. "So what did you play?" he asked Rodney.

Rodney took another towel and started rubbing him dry. "Piano, mostly. Trumpet, a bit of sax when I thought it would make me look cool, which it didn't, and guitar didn't either. I gave it all up in high school. I haven't played in forever."

"Maybe you should," John told him. "Don't take this the wrong way, but on Atlantis, you really need to get a hobby."

Rodney smirked and ran a hand over John's chest. "I did get a hobby." Then he paused and thought about it. "Jeannie will have a piano here somewhere. She was the one with all the musical talent."

While John dressed, he went hunting, and came back victorious. "It's in the basement, come on."

They sat side-by-side on the piano seat while Rodney played in stops and starts, wincing at wrong notes and pausing to frown in concentration. John held the phone to his ear, the Sugar Plum Fairies sounding alien and mechanical, like the music wasn't even music any more. The basement was lit by a naked light bulb, and they were surrounded by boxes stacked higher than their heads. It smelled dusty and a little sharp, like mothballs.

John put his head on Rodney's shoulder and wondered how much longer it would take for his father to pick up.

After a while, Rodney's playing sounded less like a broken record and more like music. "Okay, now I've got it," he said, and then quietly, "this was one of my favourites."

John didn't recognise it, but it was intricate and sad. "I like it," he said, when Rodney finished. "Play more like that."

The light through the grimy windows faded, and the shadows got deeper and starker. Rodney's music got darker and angrier, in more and more contrast to the tinny chirping out of the phone. John buried his face in Rodney's neck and tried to listen only to the piano.

Without warning, Rodney stopped playing and slammed the piano lid down.

John sat up, alarmed. "What's wrong?" he said.

"Give me the phone," Rodney said.


Rodney grabbed the phone from his hand, pressed the off button, and hurled it across the basement. It crashed and clunked somewhere in the shadows. "Your father's an asshole," Rodney hissed fiercely. "He's a piece of shit, he's a selfish fuck, you should forget him, you should forget he ever existed!"

"I know," John said quietly. "But then you and Jean worked out, so I thought--" he shrugged.

"I'm sorry," Rodney said, looking embarrassed. "I'm really sorry. I wanted it to work out for you too."

And fuck, he wanted to be angry at Rodney. It had been something they had in common, having no family; something they had silently assured one another didn't matter. But it did, family did make a difference, it was important on some fundamental level, and now Rodney had it and John didn't even have the false assurance any more. He got up and walked in a tight circle between the boxes, ran his hands through his hair and checked that he was breathing evenly. The whole day, he'd thought he was calm, he'd told himself he'd expected nothing better, but fuck, he was fucking livid.

"Hey," Rodney said, and stood up suddenly, fidgeting nervously. "Do you like Jeannie? The boys, do you like them?"

"Sure I do," John said, using everything he had not to sound bitter. "They're great, and I'm really happy for you." His anger dissolved, suddenly, fading into the background static of his mind. He put his arms around Rodney and kissed his neck, sighing. "I'm really happy for you."

"Because maybe -- I just thought -- Did you know they legalised gay marriage in Canada? Because maybe if you wanted we could get married and then I could share them with you. Would that be something you'd like?"

The words hit him hard, locking his muscles and knocking all the breath out of him. Rodney looked embarrassed and earnest and miserable. John hugged him hard, and Rodney hugged him back harder.

"I can't be happy if you're not," Rodney said, sounding just how he'd looked. "I know it sounds stupid on the face of it, but it might be a good solution."

"God, Rodney," John said, into his collar, feeling turned upside down and inside out and backwards. "I can't. I'm military."

"Oh. Of course, sorry, I didn't think of that. I guess it was stupid after all." Rodney tried to disentangle himself, but John didn't let him go.

"Hey, no. It's not stupid, it's perfect. It's just impossible, that's all."

"Right, one minor flaw," Rodney said despondently, stiff in his arms.

"I love you," John said, finding the words in his mouth, ready to be spoken. "You're family to me." Rodney's body relaxed, and John relaxed his grip on it and pressed his forehead to Rodney's.

"Good," Rodney said softly. "I want that."

John kissed him, and Rodney smiled.

They boarded their flight that evening, with painful goodbyes. Rodney pressed his face to the glass and watched Canada disappear beneath the clouds. John rubbed Rodney's neck until he relaxed and finally fell asleep.

They changed planes in Utah again, and arrived back at the SGC in time for breakfast.

General O'Neill found them eating eggs. "McKay, Sheppard. Come with me." He led them to the gate room and pointed to the huge stack of cornflakes and ramen noodles by the gate. "I got your package," he said.

"Oh," John began, and then trailed off.

O'Neill frowned at him. "You forgot the Lucky Charms. You want to be a leader, Sheppard, you can never forget that soldiers work twice as hard if they have marshmallows for breakfast."

"Ah," John said. "Yes, Sir."

"I've sent a team to procure some. In the meantime, maybe you can check over the other supplies, see if we've got everything?"

"Sir," John said, in awe, "yes, Sir."

He sent Rodney to check the scientific supplies, and started going through the munitions.

Teyla arrived back at the base a few hours later, incredibly jet-lagged and bouncing with excitement.

"I miss my people, and my own home," she said, "but yours is a place of many wonders." She'd liked Tokyo the best, and the markets in Marrakech. Dr. Jackson was a very clever and thoughtful man, she said, but he asked so very many questions.

Nguyen and Thompson turned up at lunch, loaded up with shopping bags and presents, chattering excitedly. Bates turned up soon after. He was subdued-- his mother had died while he'd been in the Pegasus galaxy. Hearing this, Rodney clamped his mouth shut, and let John talk dispassionately about skiing and shopping instead.

They had back-to-back briefings the rest of the day and all of the next, right up until they were due to connect to Atlantis. Time was speeding up again. John, in addition to meeting his thirty new Marines and being presented with a foot-high stack of plans, procedures, and strategies, had three hours with Pentagon tactical experts, about the war with the Goa'uld and how the Wraith could impact on that.

"And vice versa?" John said, eyebrow raised.

"Obviously it affects how much assistance we can give you," one expert said, which told him all he needed to know.

Rodney checked on the equipment and subroutines that would connect them to the Pegasus galaxy, yelled very loudly at the morons who had fiddled with them, pulled the whole thing apart and built it again from scratch. Then he sat down with Samantha Carter and sketched out a theoretical framework for establishing a permanent micro-wormhole between Atlantis and the SGC, one just large enough to send data.

"And possibly bacon," Rodney whispered to John at the final debrief. "I think we could do it."

"We should definitely be aiming for bacon," O'Neill agreed loudly. "It could mean major breakthroughs in intergalactic relations." He didn't seem to be joking. He checked his watch and clapped his hands together. "Okay, kids, time to get this show on the road."

The new Marines were already in position in the front of the Stargate, shifting restlessly under their disciplined stillness. Rodney was incredibly paranoid about draining the ZPM, and had set a strict five-minute time limit on connections to Earth. Each Marine was hitched to a cart loaded with supplies, and this morning John had watched them rehearse the march through the wormhole. They got it down to three minutes and fifty seconds.

They were due to dial at 9pm, Colorado time. John spent his last five minutes on Earth listening to O'Neill and Jackson bicker over whether Jackson could go through, just for "one teensy tiny visit, that's all, Jack!"

Rodney had been hovering nervously over the consoles, but he touched John's arm as the chevrons encoded. Home, he mouthed, and bounced on his toes. John grinned at him. Home, with spaceships to fly really fast, and Wraith to shoot, and the beautiful feeling of jogging through an alien wilderness with a P90 in his hands. Earth had been great, for once, but it was nothing compared to the Pegasus galaxy.

The wormhole splashed into existence. O'Neill leaned over the microphone. "Atlantis, this is Stargate Command. I suppose you want your people back?"

"Command, this is Weir," Elizabeth began, and John and Rodney ran down the stairs and up the ramp, hesitating right at the event horizon.

"You're good to go!" O'Neill called, and they dived through.

"Hey," Rodney said, coming into John's quarters, exuding triumph. "I got the internet running! I had the stunningly brilliant idea of using wireless instead of trying to plug an ethernet cable into the DHD, which was dumb, dumb, dumb, and if I'd known that was what Simpson was trying to do, I'd have taken the project from her months ago. It takes more out of the ZPM than it should, but Zelenka's working on it."

"Wow," John said. "That was dumb. And also, wow to the world's first intergalactic internet service."

"Yup." Rodney sat down on John's bed and opened his laptop. "Now everyone can download porn to their heart's content. Or not, since right now it's only one wireless connection shared between two hundred of us, so anyone on Kazaa will be hunted down and flogged. I'm going to email Jeannie; do you want to write it with me?"

"Sure," John said. He sat down on the bed next to him, and pressed in close to keep from falling off the side. He tipped his head down onto Rodney's shoulder and read the words as they flowed out behind the cursor. The usual greetings, and then stories about what they'd been doing, some of them structured to leave out the part where they were in another galaxy-- "I read a great story where people were looking for a magic power crystal..." and, "I had a dream that these evil aliens attacked..." This segued into a dream Rodney actually had, where he was naked and his P90 turned out to be an umbrella, and his boss, who was sort of Elizabeth and sort of the head of the Russian agency, was trying to kill him, and from there into a Freudian interpretation of it, Rodney's many anxieties laid bare, and from there into two pages on psychoanalysis, and then whether closed system theories were inherently flawed or if it depended on the system.

It was an epic email, but they got letters from Jean in the monthly databurst from Earth, and hers were much the same. The last one had contained divorce drama, the boys' swimming lessons stroke-by-stroke, Canadian and American politics, weird patients, explaining to Nathan why that duck was trying to sit on top of the other duck, and one blind date that had taken her four pages to describe as it went from bad to bizarre to disturbing to faking a phone call from her crazy, violent and very overprotective older brother, who needed her to come down to the police station and post bail for him.

"Your turn," Rodney announced, and handed the laptop over, having concluded his own contribution with a meditation on the difference between managing and leading (this week he felt like he was just managing).

John didn't feel he had much to say, by comparison, but he wrote Hi, and How are you, and There was great skiing at this out-of-the-way place they'd just visited. He corrected some of Rodney's more outrageous exaggerations, and told the story about Zelenka and Kavanagh's battle for the last spare hard drive, which Elizabeth had eventually decreed they settle by chess. The game had lasted three days, and Rodney had missed the thrilling finale-- Zelenka takes Kavanagh's bishop! Kavanagh moves knight to C7 and declares checkmate! Chess pieces are thrown!

Then he wrote Take care, love John, and gave the laptop back to Rodney, who corrected some of John's lies about Rodney's exaggerations and then sent it off.

"It's going to take forever to go through," Rodney said, frowning at the status bar. "Every mail program in the city is probably downloading three months' worth of spam. I'll have to get a compression algorithm working with the wireless protocol and set up another dozen routers before we get decent bandwidth." He put the laptop on John's desk, came back to bed, and lay down with his head in John's lap.

"God, I'm tired of idiots," he said, and cracked his jaw with an enormous yawn.

John ran his hands through Rodney's hair, and Rodney made the hopeful "mm mm mm" sound that meant he wanted a scalp massage. Smirking to himself, John flexed his fingers, and got to work.

"I love you," Rodney said, groaning happily. "I love you, and did I mention I love you?"

"You want a neck massage too," John accused.

"I love you forever and ever until the end of time?" Rodney said hopefully. John got out of the way and let Rodney roll onto his stomach, then straddled his back.

"Ohhhh," Rodney said, as soon as John started work on his shoulders.

"Should we be moving this to your quarters?" John said archly. Rodney had, through a combination of browbeating, pleading, and bribery, acquired a very spacious hand-carved Athosian bed. It was John's favourite place to be.

"Don't you dare stop," Rodney told him, and groaned again. "Oh, you are the best thing ever. Marry me?"

Leaning forward to kiss his neck, John smiled. "I think I already have."

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