Rating: R for language
Summary: John goes, and comes, home.
Author's Notes: Happy Holidays mad_maudlin There's no actual physics (and probably some questionable dimensional travel, now that I think about it), but I hope you enjoy it anyway! Thanks also to my awesome, invaluable, clever and wonderful beta, who turned this around in just a couple of hours, and who is amazing. Thank you, my friend!
Country Roads (Take Me Home) - Part 1 of 2
It took them a few days to work out a plan.
At first they had mostly hung out and waited, hoping that the device would start to work again on its own. After five days, this had gotten them nowhere but a few nights sleep in a slightly sleazy motel and full of pizza. John was the first one to suggest renting an apartment; they needed some place to stay, but Rodney insisted that meant John was settling down, and John equally insisted that was not the case. John knew what Rodney was afraid of: that John would give up on getting back to Atlantis.
As if that wasn't exactly John's own fear.
But the truth was, John was a man used to not having a permanent home. He had more or less let the Air Force ship him around the country, and the world, for most of his adult life; Atlantis was the longest he'd ever been stationed in one place. He had slept in beds, on pallets, in bunks, on floors; he had been curled up with cold and sprawled out from heat.
All of that, though, seemed like it was for a purpose. The base, the plane, the chopper had been more of his home than his quarters, whether they were his rooms, his house, or his apartment. He was there to do a job, and that gave him a reason for being there.
But this, the hotel with the twin double beds and leaky faucet didn't have a purpose. It was a way station. It was, to John, vagrancy. It wasn't like he needed something permanent, something that was forever -- he'd never had that. But he did need something more than a vague sense of transition, of waiting. It felt too much like camping on an unknown and hostile world to John, and he was itching to at least have somewhere to go.
So he convinced Rodney that even if they left tomorrow, they needed an apartment. A permanent place to stay. Well, semi-permanent place to stay.
Rodney took him to a hardware store, first, where he bought $200 in seemingly unrelated items. (John's paychecks, cashed at Claire Sheppard's bank, were, apparently, at Rodney's disposal.) Rodney used some of them to rig up machines that made John grateful that Rodney wasn't prone to using his genius for evil. He dummied up fake i.d.s for both John and himself: driver's licenses, passports, even library cards. When John had raised his eyebrows at the last, Rodney had noted that a) he had to pass the time somehow and b) the more it looked like they belonged in this world, the better. John didn't argue.
They used the identification to get a bank account and an apartment. They rented a two-bedroom near the Sheppard house. It never occurred to them to get separate apartments; they were too used to living in tight quarters, on base together, to even think about the alternatives. Besides which, John realized that he was the only person Rodney knew here. They were connected to each other in ways no one else knew, and John owed it to Rodney to keep the other man close by. They were united in their uniqueness, their experiences, and their efforts to get back to Atlantis, and John wasn't about to abandon Rodney. For his part, Rodney never mentioned striking out on his own, and it didn't escape John that Rodney was, for all intents and purposes, keeping an eye on John.
For once, John didn't mind someone keeping tabs on him. He felt less able than ever to do it himself.
As for the other items from the hardware store, Rodney spent four days holed up in his room with them, coming out only for coffee, food, and for John to check the occasional proof. Meanwhile, John went to work, came home dirty, and ate condensed soup for dinner.
At the end of the four days, Rodney came into the living room and sighed, holding an oblong cradle in his hands. He set it on the cheap coffee table they had picked up at a garage sale the Sunday before and sat down next to John on the Sheppards' old sofa that Claire had given to John.
"It's not much, but it's the best I can do," Rodney said.
John was tempted to ask what, exactly, it was, but was worried that would only make McKay angry. So he didn't say anything.
Rodney sighed louder, and pulled the Ancient device, which they had taken to calling the TARDIS, out of his pocket. It remained silent and dark in his palm. He handed it to John, and it still didn't light up. John looked at it closely.
"Put it in there," Rodney said, indicating the contraption he'd brought out of his room.
John peered at the machine. "Is that a paper clip?" he asked.
"Shut up and put the TARDIS in the thing," Rodney said. "The area you pointed out is a transporter for radial electrical current." John looked at him. "Yes, and it's a paper clip," he added. "It's fucking 1976."
John shrugged and gently tucked the TARDIS into the machine. For a minute, nothing seemed to happen. Rodney chewed on his lip anxiously.
Then, very faintly, John heard a hum. A hum that certainly had not been there before. Nothing lit up, or started moving much, and the TARDIS certainly didn't begin to glow, but it was humming, the cradle vibrating just slightly from the effort.
"You built a charger?" John asked.
Rodney shrugged. "Only a very, very, very primitive one. I'm not really sure it'll do any good; I'm not sure even the best equipment we had on Atlantis would do any good. But." He stopped. "I had to try."
John nodded. "I miss it too, Rodney."
Rodney hummed non-commitally.
"I do," he said.
Rodney didn't answer. "Do you think they . . ." he trailed off.
"I'm not even sure they know we're gone," John said.
"Great," Rodney said quietly. They both sat looking at the charger for a long while.
John went to wake Rodney up that Saturday morning at 7:00 a.m. Rodney was in his bed, but sprawled on top of the covers on his back, one arm under his head, the other clutching the top of his pillow. His legs were sprawled, one sock rucked up from when Rodney had tossed and turned in the night. He was wearing a pair of blue and green striped boxers and a black t-shirt with the white socks. John contemplated him for a moment, wondering what kind of person would wear socks to bed in Virginia in the summer. He sighed, knowing there was no good way to do this. Even on missions where he was eager to get back to Atlantis Rodney was hard to wake up; even the most uncomfortable conditions didn't make him any more of a morning person, or any easier to rouse.
"Rodney," John said, poking Rodney in the chest with a finger, hard.
Rodney swatted briefly at John's hand and then settled back into the comforter.
"Rodney," John tried again, this time shaking his shoulder. Rodney moaned and rolled over onto his stomach.
"McKay," John said loudly. "There are three ZPMs behind that lovely blonde."
Rodney muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, "I'll get to that later," but otherwise didn't move.
John sighed, reached over, and pinched Rodney firmly on the ass.
Rodney startled. "God damn you, Sheppard," he said, lifting his head.
"How'd you know it was me?" John grinned.
"Just a guess. You only wake me up like that all the time off-world."
"Are you saying I make it a habit to pinch your ass?"
Rodney glared at him. "It's too early in the morning to have this conversation."
John grinned and shrugged. "Could be Ronon those times."
"If it were Ronon, I'd have to marry him," Rodney said, yawning.
"What? It's Sateda tradition," Rodney grumped.
"I hate you."
"Yeah, yeah. Get up." John handed Rodney the cup of coffee he'd been saving just for this moment.
"Why?" Rodney seemed to be thinking. "It's Saturday." He sat up in order to drink the coffee better.
"We have a swim meet to go to," John answered.
Rodney eyed him warily over the rim of the mug. "I'm not going to like this, am I?"
"The meet? I'm sure it'll be okay."
"You know what I mean. Idiot. Why we're going to a swim meet at the asscrack of God's dawn on a Saturday."
Rodney sighed. "Get out."
"Okay," John said.
"And stop pinching my ass!" Rodney called after John.
"But it's just so irresistible," John said from the doorway, smirking, walking out of the room just in time to avoid Rodney's pillow.
After an hour on the bus that mostly consisted of Rodney pontificating on why his sudden and painful yearning for Starbucks (that overpriced sludge) was inexplicable, they finally arrived at the aquatic center. Claire Sheppard spotted them first and waved them over to a spot in the bleachers.
"Oh, I'm so glad you could come," she said. "John will be so pleased."
John smiled but Rodney said, "I'm sure he will be," and threw John a brief glare as they sat down.
Patrick and David were also there, and John made the introductions. "Dave, this is Rodney. Rodney, this is -- " John stopped just short of using the words my father. My father, Patrick Sheppard. Always with the relationship attached, and sometimes with the title, General, John realized. Never just Patrick. And certainly never just Dad.
John tried again. "This is Patrick Sheppard."
Patrick gave Rodney a scrutinizing once-over that no one missed. Rodney, however, not only didn't shrink under it, but countered it with an appraising gaze of his own. John wasn't quite sure why that surprised him: if anyone could stand up to Patrick Sheppard, it would be Rodney McKay.
"How interesting to meet you, Mr. Sheppard," Rodney said.
Patrick raised an eyebrow, but didn't correct Rodney about his title. John released a breath he didn't even know he was holding. "Likewise," Patrick said.
"Yes, well, I hate to interrupt, but John's heat is about to start," Claire said, pointing to the pool. Indeed, there were about a dozen boys lined up on their blocks. Little John stood out with his unruly hair -- as well as his unruly smile and wave toward the stands. Claire waved back, grinning, while David mostly looked embarrassed to be there at all. John heard Patrick's slight sigh, no doubt at the vulgarity of his family.
"My God, the hair is the same," Rodney said, earning himself an elbow to the ribs from John.
"Oh, please, like that's not impossible under every law of physics," Rodney defended himself.
John glared, and as he turned to face forward, managed to catch the same glare on Patrick Sheppard's face, also directed toward Rodney. John's stomach clenched.
They met Little John just outside the locker rooms, the entire group of them huddled into an alcove near the hallway. He came out dressed but still a little wet, hair dripping into the collar of his t-shirt. Claire met him with a hug and a ruffle of his hair.
"Well done, John. We are so proud of you!" she said while Little John attempted to squirm out of her grasp. He finally managed it, his two medals clinking together where they hung around his neck.
"Thanks, Mom," he said, slightly out of breath, though from the swimming or the attempt at evading his mother, John couldn't tell. As much as Little John tried to look embarrassed, he was obviously pleased, a grin tugging at his mouth.
"What do you want to say, David?" Claire said, affectionately pushing her oldest son's shoulder a little.
"Good job, John," Dave said, with the hesitancy of a big brother, but with no hidden malice. Little John nodded in response, smiling.
There was a slight pause in the congratulations, as if no one was sure who would go next. John stepped up to fill the gap.
"Hey, buddy! Congratulations," John said, offering his hand palm out for a high-five, which Little John promptly gave him with a grin.
"You came!" Little John exclaimed.
"Of course -- wouldn't have missed it," John answered. "You were the star of the team."
Little John blushed. "Uh. Thanks."
John caught Claire's smile out of the corner of his eye, and heard Rodney shuffle slightly next to him. "Oh, hey, this is my friend Rodney," John said.
"Yeah. Oh, hi," Little John looked up at Rodney, while Rodney looked back and forth between the Johns.
"Right. Hi. Hello. Um. Good swimming today," Rodney managed. John rolled his eyes.
"Thanks," Little John said, ducking his head slightly.
"John," Patrick said softly, though it was clearly a command. Little John looked up at his father.
"You did do a good job today, son," he said. "But not a great job."
John's hands involuntarily clenched into fists; he shoved them into the pockets of his jeans. He caught Rodney's wide-eyed stare, while Claire opened her mouth to speak and then closed it again.
"Silver medals, John, second place. You're a winner, John Sheppard-- you could have done better."
Little John blushed again, but for what John suspected was a completely different reason than before. "Yes, sir," the boy said again.
"Next time," Patrick said. It wasn't an assurance or a suggestion -- it was an order.
"Right," Little John said, voice full of a little boy's promises.
Claire put a hand on her husband's arm and turned to John and Rodney. "We're going to have lunch at the little Italian place down the street. We'd love to have you join us."
John and Rodney exchanged a glance; John caught Rodney's nearly imperceptible shrug. "Sure. Um, yes. We'd be pleased," John answered.
Claire smiled at them and put her arm around Little John's shoulders, while keeping her other hand on Patrick's forearm. "Excellent," she said, expertly steering all of her family members toward the door.
John and Rodney followed at a distance.
"So," Rodney said quietly, almost conversationally. "Your father was an asshole."
"Yeah," John said, his fists still in his pockets.
Lunch had gone surprisingly smoothly, at least in John's estimation. True, smoothly in this case might have meant that there were no showdowns, no gauntlets thrown, no yelling; John had been expecting the worst, so getting the ordinary could be categorized as relief.
He and McKay had been seated together, though through the set up of the table that meant Rodney was closer to the children, and John closer to the adults. John had spent most of the time chatting with Claire; she was taking an art course that she was enthusiastic about, though she was self-admittedly a poor artist.
"Honestly," she had said at John's polite protests, with a laugh and a shrug. "I think my boys could do better, but it's fun."
John had shared some clipped words with Patrick, mostly about the upcoming college football season, which John didn't remember but knew the statistics about. Patrick was, inexplicably, an Ohio State fan, which only served to remind John exactly why he'd always rooted for Michigan.
Rodney did remarkably well talking mostly with David and John, entertaining them with tales of devices from the future, which sounded to John mostly like the Nintendo Wii and the original Donkey Kong. For a man who spent a lot of time worrying about changing the future by their presence, Rodney had no problem discussing electronic games with the ten and under set.
For a long time before dessert was served Rodney and Little John had their heads bent over the table together, using the crayons and tracing paper that had been given to the children to amuse themselves to draw some sort of contraption that John couldn't identify. Dave would sometimes pipe up with a question or correction, even leading Rodney to scribble out a few new equations in blue crayola.
John insisted on paying half of the check, over both Claire and Patrick's sincere protests. Claire's were out of politeness and propriety, while Patrick's were out of something like insult -- he could certainly provide for his family, as well as two random guests. John continued to insist at least in part because it galled Patrick, and he felt no small level of satisfaction when Patrick finally consented, as well as no little amount of shame at the satisfaction, knowing just how petty it was.
Patrick had finally taken to addressing Rodney while they were waiting for the change from the bill, asking after his family, his education, his work history. Rodney was surprisingly straightforward and honest, claiming the two Ph.D.s he would earn years later, as well as some of his various fellowships and teaching positions. The problem was, the more Rodney answered, the more Patrick interrogated, clearly interested in something that John couldn't quite put his finger on, but that Rodney seemed both to recognize and see as a challenge he could meet head on. He answered everything with calm, confidence, a smooth flair that John had only rarely seen; his abrasiveness hadn't disappeared, of course, but it seemed strangely suited to Patrick Sheppard's aggressive pushing.
It was unsurprisingly Claire who finally put a stop to the questioning, as well as the arrival of the change Patrick could put in his pocket. John had the vague feeling that Rodney had somehow won whatever pissing contest had been going on between the two men, and he couldn't help but feel good about that, no matter, again, how petty that might have made him.
The first part of the bus ride home was quiet, at least according to Rodney McKay standards. Rodney had rattled on about the lemon that had arrived in his first glass of water, and how he should probably see a doctor here about epipens just in case. This went on until John reminded Rodney that John always carried at least three on him at all times -- two in his tac vest, which was still on Atlantis, and one in the pocket of his BDU's, which John had been wearing at the time of their traveling -- so they had at least one.
In fact, John still always carried it in his pants pocket out of habit, at least when he knew he'd be around McKay, and he fished it out of his left back pocket to prove it.
"Oh," Rodney said, mouth hanging slightly open and expression unreadable.
"Yeah," John said lazily, sliding the syringe back into his pocket. They'd been on the bus for a while, and after the big lunch, he was feeling sleepy. "Force of habit and all of that."
"Right," Rodney said, pulling at the knee of his pants. He pursed his lips, which was McKay for trying to decide whether or not to say something. John almost smiled -- it wasn't an expression that was on Rodney's face very often.
"What?" John asked.
Rodney eyed him speculatively. "Nothing," he decided.
"No, what?" John asked again, picking his head up from where it was leaning on the railing behind him. "Seriously, what is it?"
Rodney bit his lip.
"Okay, now I'm scared. Am I dying? Did my father admit he was declaring war on Canada? Did ordering the lasagna accidentally erase my future existence?"
"That erasing your existence thing isn't funny," Rodney said.
John looked at him. "Rodney."
Rodney looked annoyed. "Jesus Christ, don't whine."
"So tell me."
Rodney sighed. "Your father couldn't figure out what we're doing together."
John thought for a minute. "Okay."
"Me, two doctorates, brilliant career, here in Virginia being buddies with some worker of manual odd-jobs."
"Also Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force and military commander of an expedition in an alien galaxy."
"Yes, well," Rodney practically huffed, "he doesn't know that. Or that as Chief Science Officer I'm invaluable to that mission. Or that we're stuck here thanks to some wacky alien hijinks and are just waiting to go back to the lost city of said wacky aliens, Atlantis."
John smiled slightly. "That, too." He looked at Rodney. "So did he come to any conclusions?"
Rodney looked away.
John frowned. "Rodney."
Rodney sighed again. "He thinks we're gay."
"As in . . ." John trailed off.
"As in carefree and happy, the friends of talking chipmunks," Rodney snapped.
"As in the sex has got to be mind-blowing because why else would I be tagging along with you, Sheppard."
John was quiet for a long moment. Finally he said, "And?"
"And what?" Rodney said.
"And that's it?"
"What do you mean, 'that's it'?" Rodney asked.
"I mean, is that all?"
Rodney stared. "You don't have a problem with that?"
"Do you?" John asked.
"I'd prefer your father didn't assume that I only think with my dick, but I don't care who he thinks I sleep with, male, female, whatever."
"You know what I mean," Rodney snapped. "And you didn't answer my question."
John shrugged, closed his eyes. When he opened them, he said flatly, "I'm used to it. My father's been thinking that about me for years."
Rodney snorted. "And you never disabused him of that notion?"
John's lips thinned together. "He never actually said anything, and I never actually answered. The original Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
John could see Rodney's brain working. "But --"
"The best I could do was get married."
"That didn't convince him?"
John sighed. "It didn't convince me."
"Oh," Rodney said. "Oh."
"I had that non-argument about it with him for twenty years, right up until he died." John sighed. "Neither one of us could admit that he was right. For all kinds of reasons." He looked at Rodney. "So I'm kind of used to him thinking I'm gay, yeah." He shrugged again.
"Oh," Rodney said again "Well."
"How did I not know this about you?" Rodney blurted out.
John looked out the window. "I don't tell."
"But," Rodney started, and then paused. He took a deep breath.
John continued to look out the window, feeling Rodney's gaze on him, but he didn't turn back, and Rodney didn't say anything else for the rest of the ride home.
Rodney started coming to work with John more often. He helped out in whatever way John needed, or at least whatever way Rodney thought John needed. He didn't do much of the carpentry work, but he was an engineer, knew about structure and integrity. He was also good with his hands, able to fit the pieces together to form a coherent whole. This, of course, was no surprise to John, who had seen Rodney at work on fragile Ancient equipment, swapping crystals at lightning speed with delicacy and precision, even under gunfire or threat of imminent death.
At first, John thought that he might mind the intrusion, but it turned out he didn't. Rodney was familiar. He was a nice buffer between John and his family, especially since no matter how much time John spent at the Sheppard house, he never got used to seeing his relatives from that angle - himself as a child; the way he and Dave got along, played together, fought like regular siblings; his father's simultaneously gruff and affectionate appearances; the way his mother managed her sons, her husband, and her household.
He had never known her as a person, of course. During his childhood, she had simply been Mom, sometimes Mommy when he was feeling particularly affectionate, or needy, or as he discovered with surprise one day when Little John was angling for a trip to his friend's house that his mother wasn't willing to give, angry. But Claire Sheppard didn't tolerate tantrums, John found, from either her sons or her husband, no matter what you called her.
John still didn't know the deepest parts of Claire Sheppard. He was the hired worker, after all, not her secret confidant. And that's mostly what he did around the house, anyway: work. But he saw glimpses, things he'd never seen through his childhood eyes. She was almost always home, at least during the day. She didn't hover over John and David, but she was also never far, either, should one of the boys need her. She read a surprising amount, and a large variety. John was always coming across her with a book in her hand, or the books she was reading, left about the house, usually in the last place she'd been. She read more than one book at a time, books that ranged from romances to Crime and Punishment to Agatha Christie mysteries. She read non-fiction, mostly science books, on everything from biology to physics. John found himself picking up the books he came across; they were turned down, open to the place where Claire had left off. John would pick them up, read for a few pages before common sense or the need to go back to work returned to him, as if the secrets to his mother's personality were hidden within the pages.
Nothing about Rodney was hidden, however - at least not to John. He was a comfortable presence, familiar, solid. He interacted with the Sheppards the same way he interacted with everyone else: with bluntness, egoism, and honesty. Claire took him in stride, though, granted, he was not at full McKay capacity, at least in John's estimation. With no minions to frighten and no real work to do, Rodney did the best he could not to be at a loss, but he also had less reason to yell, which John found he actually missed, not that he would ever say so to Rodney.
If sometimes John felt that Rodney was keeping an eye on him, he didn't say so. If McKay was hovering, he didn't admit to it. Just as they didn't talk about why it was they felt the need to live together, they didn't talk about why McKay started coming to work with John, at least not beyond the occasional jokes about boredom.
It was just another unspoken agreement in John's life.
Rodney was working on a plan for the wiring of the new office. John had gotten most of the frame up, and Rodney was beginning to move from sketching out plans on paper and clearing them with Claire to spending more and more time at the hardware store, buying parts. David, who had taken to tagging along at Rodney's heels, went along, helping to choose switches, knobs and hardware. John could almost swear he'd never seen Dave so excited as the day Rodney let him choose the hardware for the lighting in the new office.
They were in the new office one day in late June, John working on making sure the last of the framing was in place while Rodney started measuring for cables and wiring. Little John was on the poured concrete floor, reading a comic and controlling the radio, switching channels as he deemed necessary. David had been with them until Claire had to drag him away for baseball camp, holding levels for John and doing some calculations with Rodney.
Rodney would sing along with the radio, usually under his breath and slightly out of tune, but it made John hide a smile. He didn't object when Little John changed the channel, or to any of the song selections; Little John hummed along, the line of his melody following more closely with Rodney than the song on the radio. John kept the beat with his foot, or if he was working, with his hammer, which made Little John giggle and Rodney roll his eyes.
Rodney had already started singing before John recognized the song, Little John humming the notes up and down the scale.
Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains
Shenandoah River -
Life is old there
Older than the trees
Younger than the mountains
Growin' like a breeze
John looked up from where he was shaving off a bit of extra wood. Rodney was over by the doorway, fiddling with the area that was going to hold the light switches. "John Denver?" John asked, throwing Rodney a look.
Rodney didn't answer, just started to sing louder.
Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads
Little John looked up at Rodney and grinned, turning the radio up.
All my memories gathered round her
Miner's lady, stranger to blue water
Dark and dusty, painted on the sky
Misty taste of moonshine
Teardrops in my eye
Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virgina, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads
Finally, John joined in, Rodney and Little John already singing at full volume.
I hear her voice
In the mornin' hour she calls me
The radio reminds me of my home far away
And drivin' down the road I get a feelin'
That I should have been home yesterday, yesterday
Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads
Little John had to stop, he was laughing so hard, rolling slightly on the floor. John and Rodney carried along with the radio until even Rodney faded out, leaving John with the last three lines alone.
Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads
Take me home, now country roads
Take me home, now country roads
Little John was still laughing softly, though he turned the radio down after the song ended. John ducked his head, rubbing the back of his neck; he looked up to see Rodney meeting his eyes, a soft smile quirking at the corner of Rodney's mouth.
John ducked his head again, but this time, he was smiling.
John got up in the middle of the night; he often did these days. He slipped on a t-shirt to go with his sleep pants, one he had run through the washer at the laundromat about fifteen times, trying to get it as soft as the washers on Atlantis got his clothes. It still wasn't even close, but it was better.
He padded out into the living room, thinking of both the milk and the brandy they kept in the kitchen. The living room was dark, but John was careful; they didn't have a lot of furniture to trip over or for him to stub a toe on. He made it halfway across the room before he noticed the Rodney-shaped lump on the couch.
Torn between continuing on to the kitchen without disturbing Rodney and curiosity about what Rodney was doing there in the first place, John quietly walked over until he was a few inches from the couch.
Even that, apparently, was enough to wake Rodney, who stirred and said, "Sheppard?"
" 'Sme, Rodney. I didn't mean to wake you."
Rodney rolled over onto his back, his eyes searching for John in the dark. John moved closer.
"It's okay. Wasn't sleeping well anyway." Rodney yawned.
"You all right, McKay?"
Rodney nodded. "Fine. Just." He paused, sighed. "The bed's too big."
"The bed. In my room. It's too big. Not like on -- " Rodney stopped.
John sighed. "Yeah."
"It was good at first, but now . . ."
There was silence for a moment.
"I miss the ocean," John blurted.
Rodney sat up.
"Without the waves . . . it's hard to sleep." John sighed.
"Oh," Rodney said, and looked down at his lap. "Yeah."
John crossed his arms, shuffled his feet.
"You could . . . we could. If you wanted." Even in the dim light from the window, John could have sworn he could see Rodney blush.
"You could sleep out here, too, if you wanted. Like we were on a mission? Just for the company. Might help us sleep." Rodney cut himself off before he could really start babbling.
John looked down at his bare feet. He knew what Rodney was offering -- and what might come from it. Whether Rodney did or not, John couldn't be sure, but Rodney, for all of his social ineptness, wasn't that stupid. John's chest constricted.
John breathed out a shaky breath. "Yeah. Okay." He nodded. "Yeah."
"Well, come on, then," Rodney said, scooting over on the couch.
John walked over, easing himself onto the couch next to Rodney. They settled into a semi-comfortable position, Rodney facing the back of the couch, John carefully spooned behind him, the blanket over the both. Rodney sighed a little, and snuffled very softly into the pillow he'd brought from his bed. John pressed his nose to the nape of Rodney's neck, and tried not to give himself away by breathing too deeply.
The last thing John remembered before drifting off to sleep was Rodney picking up John's arm and putting it over his waist, trapping John's hand under his own on Rodney's stomach.
John woke up the next morning feeling uncomfortably hot and a little squished. He and Rodney were still on the couch, in virtually the same positions; John's foot was numb from getting trapped under Rodney's leg, and he was hot, sweating a bit into the neck of his black t-shirt.
He was also half-hard. He slowly started to pull his foot out from under Rodney's calf.
"Don't even think about it, Sheppard," came out slightly muffled by the cushions on the back of the couch.
John scooted away a little, anyway, at least as far as he could without a) falling off the couch and b) earning Rodney's wrath.
Rodney shifted, turning over to face John, an act accomplished with more grace, and less flailing of limbs, than John would have ever imagined. Rodney's eyes were big, close, and impossibly blue.
"I can't believe you're making me do this," Rodney said.
Rodney sighed. "Not . . this . . ." Rodney said, gesturing in the very little space between them. "Making me . . . I'm not. I'm not supposed to be the sensible, emotionally stable one in. You know. These situations." Rodney sighed; John felt the warm breath on his cheek.
"Sorry to put you out, McKay," John managed, voice still gruff from sleep.
"Damn straight you're sorry," Rodney said, though there was no bite in the words or the tone. He reached a hand up to cup John's jaw, his cheek. John twitched under the touch, but didn't pull away from it.
"What is this?" John asked. He saw Rodney search his face, eyes moving, finally settling somewhere near John's nose.
"What do you think?" Rodney replied.
"You know, you're not supposed to answer a question with a question," John said.
Rodney sighed. "Don't," he said.
"Okay," John said, softly. He took a deep, shaky breath.
Rodney leaned in slightly, just barely pressing his lips to John's. John pressed back immediately, unconsciously, opening his mouth just enough to taste. The sound of his stubble scratching Rodney's own rasped in his ear as he pulled away slowly and rubbed Rodney's cheek with his own.
"So," John said.
"Yeah," Rodney said, moving his hand to John's shoulder.
John leaned in and kissed him.
If their routine had seemed domestic before, John thought, it was nothing compared to what it was like when they spent every waking moment together and started sleeping together. They took turns with chores and things like grocery shopping; John cleaned the kitchen and Rodney the bathroom. The carpet got dingy because they both hated vacuuming. They went to work in the morning, gigantic mugs of coffee already drunk, the remains waiting in the sink for washing. They mostly ate out, or sometimes Rodney cooked simple meals: steak, spaghetti, grilled cheese and soup. They read or watched t.v. in the evening, spent the night in what had been John's room, having sex and sleeping like the dead after, until the alarm clock went off and they started all over again.
They never talked about Atlantis.
John found Rodney, of all places, out by the pool. He had been looking for Rodney to finish the last of the electrical wiring to the new addition, had checked the study and the kitchen; the last place he expected to find Rodney was out by the pool during the August heat. But there Rodney was. Granted, Rodney was wearing a bucket hat and shorts, which John would never have guessed Rodney would wear in a million years, and he looked suspiciously barefoot. Even from this distance, though, John could see the sunscreen that hadn't been rubbed in properly on the back of Rodney's neck, near his shirt collar. The haze and the heat in the air made sweat start to prickle on John's forearms, and he checked his back pocket for the epipen before he realized he was doing it.
As he rounded the corner, though, John could see Rodney wasn't alone -- Little John and Claire were also there. All three had pulled up chairs to one of the patio tables; Rodney seemed to be holding court, a pad in front of him and a pencil in his hand, though John saw him hand the pencil to Little John a second later. Claire smiled and exchanged a glance with Rodney as Little John bent his head in concentration.
"Am I interrupting?" John asked, coming to a stop next to Rodney.
Claire looked up at him her smile nearly as bright as the day. "Of course not, John."
"We're just doing a little trig," Rodney said, looking down at Little John's paper and tapping the paper near a number gently. Little John offered a soft, "oh," and then started erasing, putting something else in as soon as he was done.
Claire turned her head and looked at the paper, too. "Good! Better!" she said, and Little John beamed at her.
"Well, if it's math --" John said, smiling a little, a quirk of the right side of his mouth.
"Did you need something?" Claire asked, looking back up and using her hand to shield her eyes from the sunlight.
"I was just looking for Rodney to check the last of the wiring, but it can wait. The meeting of the Mensa club can continue," he said, grinning. He saw Rodney roll his eyes, and Rodney couldn't quite hide his own grin completely, either.
Claire laughed. "John's been going to math camp, but it hasn't been very challenging."
Little John shot a look at John. "Multiplication," he said, in a tone of voice that bordered into revulsion. John laughed.
"So Rodney's been giving him a little extra work on the side." Claire reached out and ruffled her son's hair, earning a highly embarrassed and slightly nasal, "Mom," for her trouble.
"It's not much," Rodney added.
"Nonsense," Claire countered. "We all enjoy it."
"We?" John asked.
Claire actually flushed a bit, and John didn't think it was from the heat, though he wasn't sure what it was from. "Well. I trained to be a math teacher in college, and Patrick was a chemistry major. David has quite the head for numbers, but I think John has the imagination for math." She smiled again.
"They're a family of math geeks," Rodney said. John cuffed him on the back of the head. "What? They are!"
Rodney was saved from John's reply by a tug on his sleeve by Little John. "What do you think, Rodney?" Little John looked so earnest John had to look away.
"Oh, well. Let me see," Rodney said, pulling the pad back toward him so he could see it better.
John looked between the three of them, all bent over the pad of paper. "I'll. Um. I'm going to go back inside," he said.
Rodney waved a hand in John's general direction. "Sure. I'll be there in a minute."
"Yeah. No problem," John said, walking back inside. It was cool inside, but John couldn't seem to catch his breath. The dining room was cool and dark, and John stood just inside the doorway, his head resting on the wall. He was still there when he heard Rodney come in, probably looking for him. He took a deep breath and pushed out from the wall, trying to find a smile at the same time he went to find Rodney.
It was Saturday afternoon. John was doing dishes while Rodney sat at the kitchen table, paying some bills and doodling equations in the margins of the Sunday paper.
"Yeah?" John replied absently, rinsing one of the dishes from lunch. He glanced over at Rodney, who was working on something on the front page of the sports section.
"Your -- Claire." He paused. "She knows the head of the science department at the community college, and she set me up with him." John looked up and over at Rodney. "Anyway, he has an opening in physics, and offered it to me. I think I'm going to take it," Rodney ended, glancing between John and the newspaper.
John put the dish in the drying rack. He reached for the dish towel, wiping his hands. But he didn't turn around. "You're taking a job?"
"Yes. Is there a problem with that?" Rodney's voice had already gotten louder.
John turned around and leaned against the sink. "Maybe."
"Maybe. Maybe. Maybe."
"Yes, McKay. Maybe."
"Jesus, John." Rodney stood up, the chair skittering across the kitchen floor. "You've been working a job since we've been here! Since before I've been here! While we were both still in the goddamn Pegasus Galaxy!"
"That's different!" Even as he said it, John knew it sounded ridiculous. But it was true.
"Are you kidding me?" Now, Rodney was yelling. "How the fuck is it different?"
"It just -- it is," John stuttered.
"Why? Because I'm not working for my dead parents?"
The silence in the kitchen was suddenly deafening. "Fuck you, McKay," John said and left the kitchen.
John was halfway out the front door by the time Rodney caught up. He chucked something at Rodney that Rodney fumbled before he managed to get a secure grip. Rodney opened his palm as the door slammed: it was the TARDIS, the charging cradle made by Rodney sitting, now empty, in its spot on the coffee table.
The front door clicked open and shut just before midnight. John walked in the dark into their bedroom. Rodney was either asleep or feigning sleep, though the lamp on the nightstand was on, and Rodney was on top of the blankets. John went on into the bathroom, flicking on the light. He brushed his teeth, washed his face; he looked tired even to himself. Turning the light out he padded back into the living room. He was pulling the blanket down from the back of the couch when he heard Rodney's voice from the bedroom doorway.
"What happened, John?"
John turned, blanket in hand. "If I say none of your fucking business, will you leave me alone?"
Rodney crossed his arms in front of his chest. "No."
John sighed. "That's what bars are for, McKay, when people need places to go that aren't their house."
"You're not drunk," Rodney noted.
"No," John said simply.
"And that's not what I meant," Rodney said.
John grimaced. "Well. Someone like me can't be expected to keep up with your genius, Rodney."
Rodney sighed, but didn't rise to the bait. He stepped forward, though still well away from John. "What happened to Claire, John? What happened to your mother?"
John drew in a sharp breath, but it didn't help; he still felt like he couldn't breathe. He didn't answer.
"She's why we're here, isn't she? I mean, why you ended up here, or why you stayed. Your father, I mean, he's fine, but he's also an asshole, and I'm sure that didn't get any better after she." Rodney stopped. "After she was gone."
"If I say it's none of your fucking business, will you leave me alone?"
"No." Rodney stepped closer.
John looked down at the blanket in his hands. "I need you to want to get back to Atlantis."
"If you don't -- "
"But you -- you're settled in here, too. Taking a teaching job." John paused, tried to suck in another breath. "With the family."
John looked up sharply, dropped his gaze at the openness on Rodney's face. "Sure. With me."
"This. Us." Rodney sighed. "It doesn't end here. It doesn't have to -- if we get back to Atlantis, we can still . . ."
"I --" John started.
"Fuck Don't Ask Don't Tell. No one needs to know, and if they do, they won't care," Rodney said.
"It's not Don't Ask Don't Tell," John said.
"It's me. I'm not sure. I." John stopped. "This is. This is. All of it. This is what I can't have," John grit out.
"What? Me? Your family?"
John looked up, startled. Rodney's mouth twitched, and for a second John thought he was going to smile.
"Seriously, Sheppard. Who says? God? The universe? You?"
"It's not funny, McKay."
"No, it's not," Rodney said softly.
John looked down. "I." He blew out a breath. "The horses, they're hers, you know."
"She loved them. Loved riding. I. She was out one day. It had just started to rain, so I went out to get her, bring her inside. When I got there, the horse. The horse got spooked. Everyone always thought it was the weather -- lightning, thunder or something." John twisted the blanket in his hands. "She tried to keep control. But she fell."
"Head injury?" Rodney asked.
John shook his head. "Broke her neck."
"How old were you?"
"Nine. It was the summer after . . . well, after this one."
Rodney blew out a breath. "It was not your fault."
John looked up into the certainty on Rodney's face. "You don't know that."
"Yeah, I do. Genius, remember?"
John shook his head. Still looking down, he was surprised when Rodney's arms suddenly enveloped him, drawing him into a hug.
"You stupid, stupid bastard," Rodney said. But he didn't let go.
John eventually reached up, put his arms around Rodney in return. "You sure know how to sweet talk a guy, Rodney," he said.
"Damn right," Rodney said, turning his face into John's neck.
If Rodney kept going to work every day with John, no one mentioned it.
And if Rodney started carrying the TARDIS around in his pocket, no one mentioned that, either.
It had been a long day. They'd been putting up the rest of the drywall in the last of the new rooms. Drywall was a dirty, dusty job that John had always hated; the stuff got everywhere -- he was sure he'd be showering it out of his hair for the next week.
"Serves you right for the amount of product you put in there," Rodney had smirked.
Still, it was payday, and John was looking forward to a cold beer, a good cheeseburger, and Rodney, more or less in that order. Rodney was already in the kitchen drinking a glass of water when John got there. Claire was opening the drawer where she usually kept her checkbook.
"Thanks, John and Rodney," she said, writing out the check. "I know it was a lot of extra work this week."
Rodney opened his mouth to reply but John cut him off with a pinch to the arm and put on his best "aw sucks ma'am" smile. "It was no problem, Claire."
Rodney said something under his breath that John barely caught, probably along the lines of, "Just my genius being wasted."
Claire smiled. "Good." She snapped her fingers. "Oh, right. Wait. Rodney, I have something for you." She turned back around to the junk drawer.
"A Nobel?" Rodney asked, again in a low tone, though John made it out clearly this time.
Claire turned back toward them, holding up a key. "It's a key to the house. It only makes sense for you to have one, in case John can't be here one day or something."
"Uh, sure," Rodney said, taking the key from her.
John rolled his eyes. "This is the part where you say thank you, McKay."
"Yeah. Okay. Thanks."
Claire looked amused. "You're welcome."
"Here, let me -- before I forget." Rodney started fumbling in his pocket, pulling out three quarters and two dimes, the TARDIS, and a keychain. He threw the change and the TARDIS on the kitchen counter and started to put the key on his keyring. "I tend to forget doing this kind of stuff. Don't want to lose it or anything," he said. He threw John a "look how thoughtful I'm being" look.
John figured he'd show Rodney just how much he appreciated Rodney's thoughtfulness later.
"Oh, that's interesting," Claire said, reaching for the TARDIS. "Does it do anything, or is it just part of your keychain?"
"Don't touch that!" Rodney snapped, probably partly out of habit and partly out of the same panic John was feeling rise in his chest.
John was opening his mouth to say something, too, but it was too late; Claire had already picked up device.
It was already glowing a deep yellow in her hand.
"Oh, that's pretty," she said, turning the TARDIS around in her fingers.
Rodney was gaping like a fish, though John thought wildly that he couldn't talk, seeing how gobsmacked he was himself.
"What is it? A flashlight?" Claire asked.
Rodney started snapping his fingers. "You -- you," he pointed at Claire, still snapping.
"Rodney," John started.
"And you," Rodney said, still snapping and pointing at John.
"I. You." Rodney turned back to Claire. "You're -- I mean. He had to have gotten it from somewhere, I guess, but -- "
"Rodney," John snapped, distantly aware of how much like his father's military bark he sounded.
Rodney turned to John, gesticulating. "She. She's like a damn Ancient charger! In the flesh! We could've -- I should've thought of this weeks ago."
John took in Claire's confusion and groaned.
Rodney whirled back to Claire. "But. But you're not going anywhere."
"Where would I go?" Claire asked.
"Yeah, Rodney, where would she go?" John managed in his best "do not tell her exactly where she would go" voice. Meanwhile, the TARDIS reached a shade that could only be called amber.
"I don't know, she could -- the possibilities --" Rodney started.
"Where would I go? I'm exactly where I want to be," Claire said.
John and Rodney just looked at each other. There was silence as Claire turned the device over in her hands, examining it once more.
Finally, it was Claire who broke the silence. "Is it a flashlight?" she asked.
John answered while still looking at Rodney. "Yeah," he said softly. "It's a flashlight. It lights the way home."
"Home," Rodney said.
John turned to Claire. "Thank you," he said. He stepped forward, brushed his lips softly across the coolness of Claire's cheek. "Thank you," he repeated, gently taking the device out of her hands.
He held his other hand out to Rodney, who took it and entwined their fingers, warm and steady.
"Let's go," John said, and thought Home. Home. Home.
When they landed in the lab, the lights flashed brightly as if to welcome them back.
When they landed in the lab, John cupped Rodney's face in his hands and offered up a welcome and thanksgiving of his own.