Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction, written purely for fun.

Author's Notes:: This is an AU based on the Cary Grant/Irene Dunne 1940s classic movie, "My Favorite Wife." Many, many thanks to perverse_idyll, the beta of one's dreams. This was written for rabidfan for the sheppard_hc holiday fic exchange, who requested a John/Rodney AU, with a happy ending.

"This it, sir? Are you sure?"

The house did look pretty neglected. It had needed a paint job five years ago and still needed that paint job, with five additional years of wear and tear. The peeling window sashes were complimented by a lawn that had turned into mowed weeds. But, yeah, home sweet home.

"Yep. Thanks." John eased out of the jeep and turned around to return the inevitable salute. No sooner did he drop his arm than the jeep tore off, as if the very wheels would melt if the driver stayed a second longer in Berkeley than he had to.

John stared at the front of the house. Even when it was really stupid to do so, he'd thought about this place. Not that he was into property; it was more the memories. Like the Christmas Rodney presented him with a McKay-designed surfboard. Or watching Rodney stand in front of the bathroom mirror, fretting that he was losing his hair. Which John confirmed every single time Rodney whined about it.

Growing up on an estate tended to produce two types: people (like his brother) who got an instant hard-on at the mere mention of the word 'acreage,' the more the better; or people (like John) who turned their backs on all that because 'acreage' meant emotional baggage up the ass. Which went a long way toward explaining why John had joined the military and had lived out of a single duffle bag for a number of years.

This place was basically anti-acreage as far as his family was concerned. You could probably fit all six rooms into the ballroom of his parents' place. Maybe the ramshackle garage and the ten-by-twenty plot of crabgrass too.

The memory of it had kept him going, but it had also haunted him. When the winds blew and the monsoons came and he'd had to lash himself to a tree so he wouldn't be swept out to sea, he'd thought about foggy nights and a fire in the fireplace. Rounding out this picture of sweet domesticity was him and Rodney playing a completely vicious game of Halo, swearing at each other in the filthiest language imaginable. When their thumbs ached (or they ran out of insults), they'd shut down the game and have easy, sweet sex in front of the fire. John had pretended he was warm, dry, and sated from a truly righteous blowjob. Not terrified, soaked to the skin, with his nails dug into the trunk of a palm tree, holding on for dear life. And while it gave him an incentive to stay alive, the longer he was marooned the more painful those memories became. Because what if they weren't replaced by new memories, or at least new memories that weren't about sunburns, bugs, and torrential, hurricane-force rain.

"Excuse me," said a voice, breaking into his reverie.

On the top step of the front porch next door sat a little girl with a book in her lap. Huh, the Wilsons must have sold up while he was gone. This kid had blue eyes. Really blue eyes. No, it couldn't… Maybe? Yeah, Jeannie had just announced she was pregnant right before he'd gone on that mission. And sure, they'd talked about Jeannie and Caleb buying the place next door if Caleb got that teaching position, but…

No way. Nah. But the age was close, near as he could figure, and her hair was that white-blonde that Rodney and Jeannie had both had as kids. John bit his lip because it had been hard enough to keep it together at the sight of his own front porch. But those eyes… Goddamn it, those eyes.

"Are you a burglar? If so, you're really bad at it. Don't quit your day job," she advised. John couldn't help it; he laughed. Amazing how genetics worked. Only five and pure McKay. "Mommy," the child shouted in the direction of the screen door. "Someone's trying to rob Uncle Rodney's house."

"Mads," a voice yelled back. "No one is trying to break into Uncle Rodney's house."

Jeannie. Oh God, it was Jeannie. Yep, that was her Volvo wagon parked in the driveway. Rodney's screeds on what a cliché she and Caleb were had been pretty damn epic, always ending with the reminder that Volvos ran on fossil fuels just like all other cars. At which point, Jeannie would ask him very sweetly if he wanted cranberry relish with his Tofurkey.

"Yes, he is," the girl, Mads, shouted back, all insistent and, well, McKay-ish. God help them when she hit thirteen. Right then and there John decided it might be best to leave the country when that happened, because it was going to be ugly and loud and sarcastic. Maybe he'd convince Rodney to retire to someplace like Yap. Uh, perhaps not the tropics. Marooned there, done that. Maybe somewhere really far away and cold, like the Siberian steppes.

"Madison Marie, you can't just go around accusing stran—" Jeannie came barreling outside, slamming the screen door in obvious irritation. The rest of her sentence went into a full-blown scream.

John gave her a salute. "'Lo, Jeannie."

"Oh my God. Oh my God! John! John!"

Dropping the book she had in her hand, she scrambled down the steps and slammed into John with nothing less than a full-body tackle. Alternating laughing and crying with a bunch of half-finished sentences, "I can't believe—" and "We thought—" and "Dear God!" and "We missed you," they hugged each other for a good five minutes.

When Jeannie finally pulled away, she wiped the tears from his cheeks first, then hers, and slung a possessive arm around his waist, as if he were in danger of floating away. "Come in, God, I can't…" They hadn't taken more than a couple of steps before John said, "Where's Rodney? Teaching today?" He pushed away the thought that the house didn't look shabby so much as if no one was living there and hadn't for a while.

Jeannie stopped and looked up at him. Fuck.

"Thanks," he said automatically in response to the beer thrust into his hand.

"I don't have anything stronger; otherwise I'd pour you a double."

Five years was a long time, but Jeannie's kitchen didn't look any different than her kitchen in Vancouver: lots of jars filled with a variety of oh-so-good-for-you grains lined up on the counters, the same kettle on the stove, the same chairs and table set with the same placemats. The only difference was the presence of Madison, sitting at the table munching on a snack that was no doubt filled with protein and oats, but looked like honey-sweetened sawdust.

"You don't look like your pictures," she noted and took another bite. "You look a lot older."

"Madison!" Jeannie chided.

"Well, he does."

"Yeah, well, I guess I went a little gray." He ran a self-conscious hand through what was left of his hair. They'd chopped off his dreads and given him a buzz. No one had mentioned lice or worse, but that's what everyone had been thinking. Hell, he'd thought it, too.

"That tan is very bad for you. Mommy never lets me out of the house without lots of sunscreen on my face, arms, and legs."

John would bet that between Jeannie and Rodney they singlehandedly supported sunscreen manufacturers worldwide.

"The island where I've been living for five years doesn't have any drugstores."

"Does it have lots of bugs?"

"Yeah." John repressed a shudder.

"Did you have to eat them?"

"No. Ate a lot of fish, coconuts, and bananas." If John never saw another piece of fish in his entire life, it would be too soon.

"Mads, do you have any homework?" Jeannie insisted.

"No." She turned to John. "Even though I'm in a special school for very smart children, everyone around me is so stupid."

John grinned. "I bet."


"Okay, okay. I'll go. It's obvious that you want to talk to Uncle John about Uncle Rodney and why he's up in Yosemite this weekend and how he's seeing that Dr. Keller who is really nice except she treats me like a kid all the time."

"Which you are," Jeannie pointed out.

"Not really. I only look like a child," Madison said sadly as she cleared her place. "Uncle John, I'll be in my room. When you finish with Mommy, will you come and talk to me some more about the island?"

"Sure, kiddo," John promised. They were silent, waiting until they couldn't hear her footsteps. John had just opened his mouth to ask about the house when Madison shouted from upstairs, "I'm going into my room now so you can talk." The windows rattled in their frames as she slammed her door shut.

"She's a pistol," John noted.

"Tell me about it. We've talked about having a second child but… Anyway, I'm not going to sugarcoat this because we don't have time. Rodney left this morning for a weekend up in Yosemite with—"

"Dr. Keller." He tried to keep his voice easy, non-committal, but even to his own ears he sounded bitter.

She put a warm hand on his wrist. "It's not what you think, even though it's exactly what you think. John, he… Look. I'm not defending…" Her hand tightened. "He went crazy when they couldn't find you. Ran algorithms for days, trying to pinpoint where you went down. Didn't sleep for forty-eight-hour stretches at a time. I mean really nuts. He badgered the military to search for six months. When they gave up, he hired his own pilots, spending every dime he had trying to find you. He quit teaching altogether, which is why we moved down here so that I could take over his classes. After three years of this he…" She paused and closed her eyes for a second. "He had a nervous breakdown."

Oh, Rodney. John had spent all his energy trying to survive so he could come home to a very alive Rodney. The possibility of Rodney being dead had never entered his mind. Which was the possibility Rodney had had to face every day.

"He okay?"

"Yes, he's okay." Jeannie said this with such confidence that a knot in John's neck eased a bit. "He refused anti-depressants because he said they killed brain cells and every single one of his brain cells was precious." They gave each other wry smiles. "It took a year for the crying jags to stop. His psychiatrist—"

John knew where this was going.

"She's his psychiatrist."

Jeannie smiled. "No, Carson Beckett's his psychiatrist. Jennifer's a colleague of Carson's. Once Carson got Rodney mentally stable again, he slowly introduced him back into the world. Jennifer was often there for dinner parties and—"

"Rodney hates dinner parties." John wondered if all those sessions on a psychiatrist's couch had defanged Rodney. Jesus. He wouldn't know what to make of a nice Rodney. "I mean, sure, he loves food, but he hates being polite. Jeannie, don't tell me Rodney's gone all nice on me."

She grinned. "No, I'm sorry to say that he's still as rude and sarcastic as ever. Jennifer does a really good job of ignoring that aspect of his charming personality."

John's stomach rolled over. Because if—

"John." Jeannie dug her nails into his wrist. "Listen to me. Jennifer Keller is a great woman. I think he—"

He made to get up because he really didn't want to hear this, he really didn't want to hear about how happy and—

With a strength that surprised him, she kept his wrist in a vise so he couldn't stand up without a nail ripping open a vein.

"But she's not you." With that, she let go. "She's not you," Jeannie repeated firmly. The impulse to walk out her door and keep walking passed. "He will never forgive me if I let you run away. Get your far-too-skinny, tanned, gray-haired ass up to Yosemite right now."

For some strange reason, John felt like saluting.

"He got rid of my clothes? Bastard," John grumbled. They were standing in his and Rodney's bedroom. It was stripped of anything personal; the bed didn't even have sheets on it.

"No, he put everything in storage. He couldn't bear to see your things without you."

"So he's living with her." He might as well state the obvious, which was that no one had lived in this house for a long time. He didn't wait for Jeannie's affirmation. "Look, I don't have any money, and I don't have any clothes. I'm just going to wait until they get back—"

"No, you're not." Jeez, he'd forgotten how bossy she was. "You can borrow a shirt and a pair of pants from Caleb." She took in the wife beater and camo pants some airman had loaned him, and didn't bother to hide her sneer. "The only thing missing is a bunch of tattoos; otherwise you're a ringer for some backwoods white supremacist. In that outfit, I doubt the Ahwanee will even let you in the door. Anyway, you should be wearing this when you see him."

She reached into what he thought was an empty closet. Fishing way back, she pulled a garment bag forward. His dress blues.

"I don't know why he didn't pack it away with all your other things, but he didn't."

Once again Jeannie wiped away tears that John didn't even know were wetting his cheeks. "Let's get to an ATM."

"Cam, it's Shep. I need a plane and I need it now."

There were a couple of beats, and he was about to repeat himself when a furious Cam Mitchell replied, "Look, fuckhead. John Sheppard was a good friend of mine and if I ever find your lying ass—"

"Dial it down. It's me." Silence. "Got picked up last week. Some weather satellite saw my bonfire. The Aussies sent out a recon thinking it was a bunch of tanked-up pirates who'd accidentally set fire to their island hideout. Really, I swear, it's me."

Cam didn't say anything, but John could hear fast panting on the other end.

"Okay, remember that beer guzzling contest in Stuttgart?" That got a muffled squeak that sounded like a bitten off 'fuck. ' "The RAF major. Had a hollow leg who drank both of us—"

"Oh, Jesus, Shep. Jesus H. Christ."

He'd better get used to this. This-coming-back-from-the-dead thing.

Jeannie drove him to Concord where a buddy of Cam's berthed a Beech C23 Sundowner he could borrow. With that came a temporary flying license and, man, did he owe Cam big time.

What a hard-on. After five years, to be behind the wheel of a plane again; to feel the drag of air against the power of an engine. He'd missed a lot of things, but other than Rodney, this was what he'd missed the most. Flying hit John in spots that not even Rodney could reach. It wasn't exactly a sense of power; it was a profound sense of right. Just before he grabbed the throttle he had a moment of panic that he'd experience some sort of PTS reaction to going down and that this love of man, machine, and flight would be lost to him forever. But thank you, baby Jesus, no.

Kinda sucked that he had to fly into Fresno and then drive in, but the long arm of Cam was still good. He'd rented John a Mustang convertible. They didn't ask for a copy of his license, just handed him the keys with a smile. Yes, strings had been pulled. This must have gone all the way up to O'Neill, because Hertz didn't hand out cars to guys who looked like they'd been marooned for five years. Which John had, but they couldn't know that. They probably thought he was some homeless man whose general daddy had had him cleaned up so he could come home for the weekend and not shock Mom.

It wasn't a throttle, but the torque of the car maneuvering all those curves managed to keep the hard-on intact as he floored it the whole way. Sure, he wasn't breaking the sound barrier, but when Half Dome is above you on your left and Glacier Point is above you on your right, it's enough.

Rodney kept signaling the waiter to refill Jennifer's water glass. He desperately needed to call Carson but didn't want Jennifer to know he was on the verge of a serious panic attack. He'd just spent weeks convincing her that he was more or less healed. The woman must have a bladder made out of rocks. Why wasn't she going to the bathroom? Jeannie would have excused herself at least six times by now. If Jennifer sniffed out even a little bit of his rising anxiety, he was sure she'd think it was somehow "performance-related," seeing as this was their big night; they were finally going "all the way." He'd packed enough condoms to glove up the 82nd Airborne. His dick wasn't the problem; it was just fine, thank you very much. In fact, it so much appreciated the low-cut dress she was wearing that he was grateful he was sitting down and immobile, because his erection was nearing that point where happy becomes painful. Very shortly he was going to have to conjure up some pretty dire visuals to kill this woody if he wanted to make it across the dining room without humiliating himself.

It all would have been fine, perfect even, except for that man on the other side of the dining room eating by his lonesome. Rodney had slipped the maitre d' a hundred to seat him and Jennifer in the coveted alcove at the very back of the room, which, yes, was romantic. Any other time he would have appreciated the ambiance. Now all he could do was inwardly bemoan the fact that this dining room was over a hundred feet long and his eyes weren't as good as they used to be. Rodney had caught a glimpse of this guy as they were ordering, and only by dint of digging his nails into his thigh had he managed not to throw up.

Of course, Rodney had been doing this for years. Thinking he'd seen John when of course it was never John. For five years, every slender, tall man with unruly dark-brown hair who crossed his path got his arm grabbed, because Rodney was so sure this time.

To make it worse, this might-be-John was wearing dress blues. The only thing keeping Rodney in his chair was the fact that this man had closely cropped gray hair. Otherwise he was a dead ringer for John.

He had thought he was past this.

Usually inept at the social intricacies of relationships, even Rodney understood that you didn't ditch your new lover to make sure your old lover wasn't sitting across the dining room. God, he needed to get a grip. Clearly this was nothing more than a guilt reaction to his nascent sexual relationship with Jennifer. And yet…

Fortunately, Rodney was a god at multi-tasking. He kept debating whether or not he should just get up and double-check—a mere thirty-second walk across the dining room and he'd be sure; then he wouldn't have to call Carson—while answering all of Jennifer's questions and even making the occasional appropriate comment to keep the conversation going. By the end of the meal, Rodney was flirting with a tension migraine. Which sucked. Because, while he might need a temporary erection buster, a full-blown migraine with a visual halo and accompanying nausea would put the kibosh on any sex whatsoever. The decision was taken out of his hands when Jennifer's attention turned to the dessert menu, giving him the opportunity to sneak another quick look to determine once and for all if— Oh. The man was gone. Immediately his headache lifted. Thank god. Thank god, twice!

"Jennifer, let's order dessert in our room. Hmmm?" He picked up her hand and kissed it.

She blushed, gave him a sweet smile, and then leaned forward so he could get an eyeful of her considerable cleavage. At that moment the waiter appeared and opened his mouth to give the dessert spiel. Rodney cut him off.

"No dessert. Charge our dinner to Room 506. Give yourself a twenty-percent tip."

Nothing spelled recovery like wanting to get laid. For years after John had disappeared, he'd stopped getting erections. He'd never mentioned this to Carson because even though he was obviously completely off his nut, Rodney considered his "nuts" something between him and John. It made perfect sense to him that he became essentially asexual. He was waiting for John. Even in the aftermath of the nervous breakdown (something he couldn't remember very well, which he guessed was standard), it had been another few months before "little Rodney" started to make an appearance.

He'd met Jennifer at one of Carson's really boring parties, mandatory affairs that he was convinced Carson hosted so that his patients would have somewhere to go and practice their newly minted psychological equilibrium. Of course, if they began to experience crushing anxiety, their psychiatrist was right there.

After his fourth conversation of the night trying to convince people that global warming was not a bunch of desperate academics making up numbers in order to get government funding, he began heading for the door when he caught sight of this blonde standing next to the buffet table helping Carson decorate a Christmas tree. With a start he'd realized it was Christmas time; with a second jolt, he'd found himself noticing how pretty she was. His dick had noticed as well. Which was something of a miracle, as his dick hadn't noticed anything in, well, forever. Before he met John, he'd been a total fool for curvy, petite blondes with big tits, and this woman, being all four, was a ding-ding-ding. He'd moseyed up to the table, ostensibly to get a glass of punch, but stopped short. Was Carson insane? Did he think copious amounts of cheap brandy would negate the effect of the orange rinds floating on the top?

Rather than giving Carson a piece of his mind, he'd ignored the punch bowl and said, "Merry Christmas. I'm Dr. Rodney McKay. And you are—?"

Rodney was never sure how much Carson had briefed Jennifer on his history—lover a U.S. Air Force Colonel lost in the Pacific on training mission, Rodney's subsequent nervous breakdown after all attempts to find lover failed—but she never alluded to Rodney's crazy. Which made Rodney eternally grateful, because he was so sick of people treating him as if he was sick. She'd asked about John in a casual way, like you would about someone's former lover. How they'd met, how long they'd been together, that sort of thing. Even Jeannie tippy-toed around the subject of John, and it had been a relief to talk with someone who didn't think the mention of John's name would send him into another psychotic tailspin.

He'd moved out of Jeannie's spare bedroom (his and John's house had become intolerable) and into a vacant studio in Jennifer's building a few blocks away. He wasn't up to a full teaching load by a long shot, but by this point a graduate seminar down at Stanford was manageable, and he'd been thinking about taking on a grad student or two. Word had spread that Rodney McKay was back. He had at least twenty research proposals in his inbox right now, requesting that he be the P.I. Four of them were worth considering.

Yes, he was back. And if he woke in the middle of the night crying, well, that was to be expected. John Sheppard was someone worth crying over in the middle of the night.

Jennifer only improved on acquaintance. Not only was she pretty, but very bright (Rodney's second question had been to query her about her Mensa credentials). Why she wasted her brains on the field of psychiatry was something he would never understand. Blessed with a quiet and indulgent sense of humor, she had an amazing ability to ignore or at least not get irritated by his constant social gaffes (a trait John had shared). And miracles of miracles, she seemed genuinely attracted to him. One night while they were watching Dr. Who, she'd said, "I find intelligence very sexy." Rodney also happened to find intelligence a big turn on, and if that wasn't an invitation he didn't know what was. He'd kissed her, his psyche grateful that she was tiny, soft, and blonde, and nothing like John.

Jennifer never pushed, waiting for him to make all the sexual moves. They necked on her couch for weeks before he found the nerve to winnow his hand under her shirt. After that it was only a matter of time before they segued into full-blown sex. When she'd suggested this weekend away, Rodney had leaped at the idea. Sometimes it was a bonus having a girlfriend with a Ph.D. in psychiatry. Not that he had any respect for it as a scientific discipline. All right, maybe a little, considering he was no longer curled up in a ball staring at the far wall. So yes, every now and then he'd grudgingly admit that while it was basically voodoo, in rare cases it could be successful voodoo. In this instance he didn't care if it was voodoo-inspired or just plain common sense. Yes, Yosemite would be perfect. No memories of him and John there. He and Jennifer could fuck like teenagers and Rodney wouldn't feel guilty.

Except he couldn't get the image of that man in the dress blues out of his mind, even when Jennifer waved a slinky pink negligee in front of him with a whispered, "I'm going to get comfortable, okay?"

Rodney managed what he hoped was an appropriate leer. He waited until she had closed the bathroom door before frantically checking his email. Nothing. His eyes darted over to the phone. No blinking light. God, where's a paper bag when you need one? Okay. Not John. It wasn't John. Just someone in military blues who looked like John. John with gray hair. Mystery military guy with a tan worthy of someone who'd been marooned on an island for five years. Although convinced this growing panic was nothing more than a guilt-ridden neurotic response to betraying a man who had been dead for five years, he was also sure that that man had been John. A knock on the door stopped Rodney's pending tears of frustration.

He opened the door, half-expecting to see John Sheppard in the flesh.

It was room service. Had Jennifer ordered dessert without him realizing it?

He slipped the waiter a five and lifted up the dome.

Two Jello pudding cups sat on a plate. Nothing else.

Oh, John, you bastard. You alive bastard.

Tamping down the hysteria threatening to strangle him, Rodney managed to shout through the bathroom door, "Jennifer, I need— I need— Uh… Toothpaste! Yes, I need toothpaste. I'm out, and I had that Caesar salad. Swimming in garlic. Swimming, I tell you! I'm just going to run down to—"

He hurtled out the room to the elevator.

Battering the elevator button eleven times in rapid succession before saying fuck it and racing down the staircase, he kept telling himself to slow down, that he was in danger of breaking his neck, but it did no good. He barreled through the door to the lobby, racing into the dining room and scanning the few diners left. Not there. He ran into the lobby with the great fireplace. Not there.

Goddamn you, John Sheppard. Where are you?

Rodney found him in the bar, sitting in the corner, staring at the untouched drink in front of him. Rodney's knees nearly gave out from the shock. God, it was him. Gray and so much older, and not tan, but weather beaten. No matter. He was still so goddamn beautiful. Rodney opened his mouth to call John's name. His jaw dropped and his tongue pushed against the back of his teeth to pronounce the "J" and rounded with the soft hush of the "o" and "h," and then his teeth came together with the final "n," but nothing came out, no sound. He tried again, tried to shout it, but still nothing came out.

Maybe John would have looked up anyway. Maybe John heard it nonetheless. Maybe John figured the pudding would have been delivered by now, and where in the hell was Rodney?

"Rodney," he mouthed with about as much success as Rodney had had, and stood up. Then it was nothing but a blur. Later Rodney would find his legs covered in bruises from bumping against tables and chairs in his desperation to get to John.

"The pudding cups. Nice touch."

John found that his ability to smirk was still in fine working order.

Rodney's devotion to chocolate pudding was the stuff of legend at Cheyenne. One year a video spoof of "Rodney McKay and Raiders of the Lost Pudding Cup" had appeared in everyone's inbox. For months, various people had filmed Rodney in secret, ranting at something here, in food orgasm over lunchtime pudding there. Due to some fancy coding on Zelenka's part, it had taken Rodney at least twenty minutes to find the directory where the video was located and delete it. (Not that John didn't have back-up copies.) The beauty of it was that Rodney hadn't known whom to kill first: John, Radek, or Elizabeth. After deleting the file, Rodney had stomped into the conference room for the usual morning meeting, ready to rip into the first person he saw, and found them all waiting for him, eating chocolate pudding cups. John had even saved him one. Some days were just perfect.

"Why didn't you call me? Email me?"

John kept running his hands over Rodney's shoulders and down the length of his back. The reality wasn't anything like his memory. Rodney had gotten so thin. John didn't like it.

"Well, you haven't cleaned out your inbox in something like—"

"Five years."

"And it's full. Your phone message says, 'Whatever you want, tough shit.'"

Rodney gave him a look.

"Okay. Yeah, maybe I didn't try that hard, but they wouldn't let me make any calls until I got debriefed and deloused and de-whatevered. Fortunately, I got flown into Vandenburg. They offered me a ride, so I thought I'd just come home."

John had pictured this reunion a million times. His fantasies hadn't included sitting on a bench in the garden of the Ahwahnee Hotel, with Rodney wearing his suit from dinner with his girlfriend and John in his dress blues with a pair of Caleb's Rockports pinching his toes. But he'd gone over and over what would happen after the initial shock had worn off and it had always involved lots of hands down pants and frantic kissing, relishing the beard burn. Sure, they were in a public space and the wedding party to the left probably wouldn't appreciate John dropping to his knees and pulling out Rodney's dick, but he found he wouldn't have done that anyway.

Although they sat thigh to thigh, shoulder to shoulder, both hands intertwined with each other, it wasn't sexual at all. Even if they'd been in their living room, the curtains tight against the windows, phones turned off, computers on standby, it still would have been like this: tender, raw, the two of them breathing each other's scent, relearning the curves and planes of each other's hands.

John was about to ask, "Can we go home?" because nothing sounded better to him than waking up with Rodney butted up against him and listening to those little snorts Rodney made in his sleep, when he heard an, "Ahem."

It was the concierge, a stern-faced man with a shiny bald head and a pink waistcoat, whom John had dealt with earlier. He'd taken one look at John's uniform and hadn't even blinked when John smiled and requested a table in the dining room. The sort of man John would have liked under his command. "A table for one? Now? No problem. Let me call the maitre d'."

"Dr. McKay?"

Rodney looked up and blinked a couple of times. "Who are you and go away."

"I would be delighted to comply. Unfortunately, Dr. Keller," the concierge stared pointedly at the two of them plastered against each other, "the woman you had dinner with," he gave a stagey cough, "is looking for you. She's concerned that you may have had an accident. Shall I tell her you were involved in a collision with," here he leaned forward to check out John's insignia, "an Air Force Colonel?"

Rodney leaped up. "Oh my God! Jennifer. John, I'll— Let me— Stay," he ordered and ran off across the lawn.

"It's not what you think."

The man lifted one eyebrow, waited three beats, and then gave John a dry, "Oh, really?" The guy's timing was perfect.

"Uh, not exactly. Okay, maybe a little."

"I've been here for twelve years. You see a lot in twelve years. I have to admit this is up there."

"Look, pal—"

"Colonel, all I ask is that there not be any public scenes, and that the inevitable," he paused, "catfight be relatively quiet. I should warn you that a lamp in one of the hotel rooms will run you five hundred dollars should someone hurl it in a rage."

John stood up and wondered if his drink was still on the table. "No one's going to throw any lamps."

The concierge adjusted the knot on his already perfectly knotted tie and then brushed the lapels of his jacket. "Another thing about this job. You develop a sixth sense about things. My sixth sense is telling me that lamp throwing will be the least of your worries."

John shrugged because, pretty much. "I'm, uh," he jerked his head in the direction of the bar, "going to, you know, finish my drink."

"We honor your service to our country. On the house, Colonel."

So frantic that he ran up five flights of stairs to their room, Rodney fell against the door and more or less tumbled in when Jennifer opened it to the thud of his body hitting the wood. Crawling into a chair, he wheezed for a full three minutes before he was able to utter a sound.

"No…" Wheeze. "No…" Cough. He flapped a hand. "Tooth…"

"Rodney, I have toothpaste you can use."

He flapped his other hand and closed his eyes. Of course she did. God, how was he going to tell her?

He opened his eyes to find her leaning over him, checking his vital signs. Her breasts were right in his face, which normally he would have been most happy about. Now? Not so happy.


"Yes, Rodney," she said in a distracted manner as she grabbed his wrist, put her thumb on his pulse point and began doing the mental math.

"You know that… earlier… before… back when… when I was…"

She stood up and cocked her head. God, she was gorgeous, the negligee so sheer that he could see her nipples through the fabric. They were dark and broad just the way he liked them. Except he couldn't like them because they weren't attached to John. Whose nipples he also happened to like a great deal. His head was going to explode. He closed his eyes.

"Rodney, is something wrong?"

Please, please, could someone with a laser just disintegrate him or latch onto him and transport him to some cave where a bear would eat him for dinner. Anything to get him out of this—



"Bears. I left food in the car and they're going to fine us. The… The signs. They are all over. Bears. Signs. Fines." The vise of a panic attack wrapped around his chest and began squeezing.

"Rodney, you need to breathe slowly and deeply." Jennifer's voice, soothing but determined, was now all doctorish.

"No, I don't" he insisted, even as he began panting around his racing pulse. "Not…panicking," he lied. Pulling his wrist away, he tried to ignore the pounding of his heart. "Bears and cars. Like ham and eggs. I left a bag of Cheetos in the back seat and those huge gigantic paws will rip off the doors and then we'll have to hire a car to get back to the Bay Area and I bet that they will charge an arm and a leg and yes we both have plenty of money but it's the principle of the thing and have I mentioned that I hate bears and whales and fortunately whales don't live in Yosemite otherwise I'd have to—" He leaped up from the chair and out the door.

"Why didn't you tell her?"

They were back at the bench in the garden, except this time they weren't sitting on top of each other. John was pacing back and forth and Rodney was still panting, on the tail end of the panic attack.

"I couldn't. She was dressed in this, well, never mind how she was dressed. But I just can't. Not here. This was supposed to, well, never mind about that either."

John stopped pacing and stifled the urge to haul back and punch him. "Did I fuck everything up for you, Rodney? You want me to re-maroon myself so you can go back to having romantic weekends away with gorgeous blondes?"

"Don't you dare, John Sheppard!" Rodney snarled. "Life might have stopped for you, but it didn't stop for me. I tried to make it stop, I tried to wait, and it nearly killed me. Don't blame her. Don't blame me."

What had made him think this would be a cakewalk? Jesus, he was an idiot. He turned to walk away, wondering if he could get a room somewhere else in the Valley.

"No you don't. You are not fucking going anywhere. Look. John." Then in a tortured rasp Rodney begged. "John? Please?"

One of Rodney's impossibly large hands grabbed his wrist and pulled him down on the bench next to Rodney.

"Please," Rodney whispered.

John resisted, made to get up, and then above the sharp aroma of the pine trees was the smell of coffee on Rodney's breath as he panted out the last of his panic attack. And it was so Rodney, so familiar, and so wonderful that John could smell it and not imagine that he was smelling it that he went limp. John had survived five monsoon seasons, a shark attack, several cases of near-fatal diarrhea, and sunburns so severe that if he didn't have skin cancer at some point soon it would be a miracle. He could wait one more night. Wrapping his arms around Rodney and snuggling his head in the 'L' of Rodney's shoulder. Rodney hugged him back. This felt so good. The best.

"You're skin and bones."

"Thanks, McKay. Lodge a complaint with desertedtropicalislands.com."

"I'll tell her. I promise. When we get back."

"Really promise?" John whispered in Rodney's ear, trying to ignore the fact that this woman just Rodney's type: pretty and blonde with big tits.

Before Rodney could reply, a loud cough interrupted them.


It was the concierge again. They pulled apart.

"Not you again! You put a man in a waistcoat and he immediately has delusions of grandeur. You had better—"

"Rodney," John interrupted, and smiled at the concierge. "What can we do for you?"

"Dr. Keller has asked that the front desk alert the park rangers. She's afraid Dr. McKay has been dragged off by bears. The last time I looked, bears did not parade around the park in full military dress."

That was a little snide, but not like John could blame the guy.

"What?" Rodney jumped up. "That's ridiculous! How could I— Why would she— Oh, maybe I did— I'll— John, I'll see you at home."

Together John and the concierge watched Rodney march across the lawn and back into the hotel.


"After you."

They headed back to the lobby at a leisurely stroll.

"What's your name, by the way?"


"John. Were you in the service, Michael? You're a pretty cool customer."

"Marines. The first Gulf War. Will you be staying in the Valley, sir? We're booked solid, I'm afraid, but I'm sure I could find you a room at the Lodge."

Right. Anywhere but this hotel.

"Nah, floor show's over. I'm heading home."

The concierge reached for the door handle to the lobby and then stopped.

"Such an irritating man, and yet he has two extremely attractive and obviously intelligent people wrapped around his little finger."

"He grows on you."

John got a salute.

"Have a safe drive home, sir."

By the time the wheels of the Cessna touched down on Buchanan Field and he found a cab, and then found a cab that would drive him into Berkeley, dawn was winking at him over the Berkeley hills. He debated waking up Jeannie, but then decided that was dumb because he doubted the Hide-a-Key had been moved. And, nope, it hadn't. Jeannie had made up the bed. Nice. He face-planted on the comforter.

When he woke up, he ran one hand over the other side of the bed. No Rodney. Worse, there hadn't been Rodney at any point because he'd been checking as he flitted in and out of a rotten sleep. Fuck, he might as well get up. Jeannie had thoughtfully outfitted the kitchen with staples. By his third cup of coffee the caffeine had fed his mood and he went from irritated to annoyed to angry and now furious. He was about to completely lose his shit, just start wrecking walls and smashing plaster, when Madison knocked on the window and shouted at him that breakfast was ready.

"Where's Uncle Rodney?"

Caleb coughed and Jeannie glared at her.

"Mommy, why are you giving me that look?"

John added more syrup from organic maple trees. It was the only way to make these whole wheat waffles edible.

"Caleb, would you and Madison return the library books?"

"Now?" Caleb looked at his half-eaten waffles. John would have leaped at the chance to drop off the books and then drive straight to Happy Donuts on San Pablo and Gilman. Right about now a couple of jelly donuts smothered in powdered sugar would have hit the spot.

"Yes, now, Daddy. She needs to talk to Uncle John. We have this down, Daddy. Get with the program."

John waited until library books had been collected and they were out the door before saying in a low voice, "She's a little scary."

"I know," Jeannie admitted. "The only person who can handle her is Rodney. He says it's like watching a rerun of his childhood. More coffee?" He shook his head. "John, what's happening?"

He shrugged. "I don't know."

"Oh, really?" Rodney must have come in when Caleb and Mads had exited. He was still wearing the suit he'd worn to dinner, with his hair standing up in tortured tufts. Based on the shadows under his eyes he hadn't been to bed yet. "That seems to be the theme today. Because I don't know who in the hell Ronon Dex is!"

Rodney threw Saturday's newspaper onto the kitchen table.

The front page headline in forty-two-point type read: "Famous Survivalist Ronon Dex Found!" Beneath that was a smaller headline and a picture of John. "Credits Air Force Colonel with His Survival."

"Look, I would have told you. I just hadn't gotten around to it."

They were in their living room, John flaked out in his barcalounger and Rodney in his barcalounger, pounding away on a laptop and bringing up Google image after Google image of Ronon.

"My God! The man has a forty-eight pack and… Oh. That's impressive." Rodney kicked John's ankle, forcing him to look. Of course, it wasn't like he hadn't seen it before. Like, every day for two years.

"Wow. Do you think that's legal? I mean having those pictures on the Internet?"

Rodney leveled his most scathing "hatehatehate" glare at him and yanked the laptop back.

John pulled the lever and his footrest popped up. He really could have used one of these on the island. It would have helped a lot. Maybe he could take a nap while Rodney surfed the web for the rest of the day, feeding his insecurities image by image.

"I was alone on that island for three years, Rodney. Three goddamn years before he floated in on an airplane seat. And no, we didn't do anything. Not a single thing. Unlike some people I know." John got his own glare in. "For one thing, he's not gay!"

"You have a way of turning perfectly hetero men into raging homosexuals. I should know."

John gave him a look.

"Okay, cheap shot. Perhaps I wasn't completely hetero so much as not in touch with my bi."

"You think?"

"Look at this. He's gorgeous!" Rodney shoved his laptop in John's face again. "How could you not want him? Besides being ridiculously hot, he's famous for that television show where they drop him by parachute into the wild and he survives by eating snakes and using their fangs to do his own root canals."

Tired and angry, he really didn't feel like massaging Rodney's ego right now. He grabbed the laptop and threw it on the floor.

"Hey!" Rodney protested and then saw the look on John's face.

"I said nothing happened. You know, we were more concerned about starving to death. Or getting swept out to sea during monsoon season. Or dying from some fucking bug bite. Even if we had, why in the fuck would it matter? His survival skills came in mighty handy and that's the only skill set that mattered. Speaking of skill sets, did you tell her?"

Rodney's shoulders curved forward in a defensive hunch.

"I didn't get around to it!" Rodney whined. "First of all, there was a twenty-mile back up outside Merced because a semi and a van collided, with the result that the semi turned over and two metric tons of tomatoes blocked the highway. We had to wait for bulldozers to come in and shovel all that tomato sauce off the road. It took us eight hours to get home. She was in doctor mode the whole drive because the only way I could get us out of that hotel room was to tell her that my, well, equipment wasn't working. For eight hours I had to field questions about why my dick was limp. Now she thinks I have some sort of chronic sexual dysfunction and—"

"Cry me a river. Like you ever have a problem getting it up."

"I did. When you're catatonic, getting boners isn't a priority. She's probably writing me a scrip for Viagra right now and— Stop changing the subject! What about this Dex character?"

"You stop changing the subject, asshole. I told you, nothing happened. And even if it did, that's not the point. This isn't Sexual Jeopardy, fidelity for fifty bucks. You know, I really don't give a flying fuck if you're fucking her. Those five years—"

"Right," Rodney snorted in disbelief. "You don't give a flying fuck. That's why you've got your 'kill' face on."

He realized his fists were clenched and he slowly unfurled his fingers. Rodney was wrong. They weren't teenagers. John didn't really expect Rodney to be some sort of monk.

"That's not why I want to pound your face. Besides, why do you care if she thinks your dick doesn't work? What matters is… Jesus, I wish I had a dollar for every time I've had to listen to you moon over some blonde's knockers. She's just your type." Rodney blushed all the way to his hairline. "Yeah, I thought so."

"That was before," Rodney made a bunch of frantic hand gestures between the two of them. "Besides, pot, kettle, Colonel Married." John rolled his eyes, because Rodney never missed an opportunity to bring up John's ex-wife, even it if made no sense whatsoever.

"That was five years before you and talk about left field. Leave Nancy out of this," John warned.

That marriage had been the worst mistake of his life. Nothing like trying to prove to your father and yourself that you aren't gay by getting married in St. Patrick's Cathedral with a full Catholic mass, a special blessing from the pope, and six hundred guests. It hadn't fooled his father and had only fooled Nancy for a couple of years. The second his divorce decree had been granted, John vowed to stay single and unattached. For five years his sex life had consisted of a few one-night stands here and there. Occasional sex with no strings. He'd been cool with that. Of course the quality of the sex was always an iffy proposition, but then John had come to the conclusion that there really wasn't any bad sex; there was just better sex.

Then he'd met Rodney.

On sabbatical from Berkeley for a year, Rodney had stomped his way through the halls of Cheyenne with plans for revamping the entire stealth jet prototype program, alienating everyone he came in contact with. Except John. Who'd had no intention of giving in to a growing attraction until Rodney had appeared at his apartment one night with a pizza in one hand and a six-pack of Keith's in the other.

Before John could even open his mouth to say 'Hey,' Rodney had said in a rush, "I'm absolutely straight, but you are the hottest man I've ever met. You're not only gorgeous but smart. I'm not attracted to anyone with an I.Q. below 120, and I peg you at about 130, 135 on a good day. I'd love to give you a blow job. If you don't want one, there's pizza and beer."

John had thought, okay, a blow job is a blow job; plus he was hungry. Despite the semi-skanky beginning, after a year John couldn't imagine life without Rodney's grousing and brilliance. John had a tendency to be taciturn and Rodney had a tendency toward megalomania. Rodney ignored John's moods and John had an unfailing ability to bring Rodney down a peg or two. As Rodney said one day, "You know why this works? You make me stop thinking and I make you start feeling." Which pretty much summed them up.

And then John had gone out on a fairly routine mission, testing a prototype plane that was more prototype than plane. That Rodney had designed.

"I'll tell you what matters here. Not that you have a boner for her. She's really pretty and seems nice. It's that you couldn't tell her about me. You just spent eight hours in a car. Plenty of time to lay it on her. You know, maybe it's just me, but I'd much rather tell my girlfriend that my boyfriend was just rescued than speculate about why my dick died."

Rodney grabbed a pillow and began clutching it like a security blanket.

"My dick didn't die! Besides, I planned on telling her as soon as we were in her apartment. As I was hauling her suitcase through the door—who knew that negligees were so heavy; my back is killing me—I saw her newspaper on the doormat with picture of Dex on it and a mug shot of you. I made some lame excuse about getting a text from Jeannie and that I needed to... Here I am and here you are," Rodney shook the newspaper in John's face, "with Conon Your Barbarian!"

"He's not my barbarian," John said through gritted teeth. "Do you—"

Suddenly it sounded as if someone was using a battering ram on the front door.

"Shep. You there? Need to thank you, man!" boomed a voice through the door.

Rodney responded with that googly-eyed thing he did when the point he'd been trying to prove proved itself.

John opened the door and was immediately engulfed by two hundred pounds of Dex.

"He is gorgeous, but his table manners leave something to be desired," Jeannie whispered in John's ear.

Jeannie couldn't make the waffles fast enough. Ronon was on stack number four, with no signs of slowing down.

"Your man saved my life," he said to Rodney. They all looked away, as this was said with a full visual of half-eaten waffle and syrup. It was the strawberries that upped the 'ew' factor tenfold.

"He's good at that," Rodney sniffed.

Ronon finished chewing, then looked at Rodney, then John, back at Rodney, then back at John. "He think we fucked?"

"Caleb!" shrieked Jeannie, who leaped up from the table and dragged Madison out of the kitchen.

John shrugged a 'yeah.'

Ronon turned to Rodney. "Wouldn't matter if we did, but don't run that way." He turned to Jeannie. "Got to be a female hand for it to work for me." Jeannie blushed and slid her hands off the table and into her lap.

The doorbell rang.

All of them except Ronon stiffened when Madison's high voice wafted into the kitchen. "Oh, hello, Dr. Keller. Everyone's in the kitchen discussing sex."

"So, um, this is, um, John. Colonel John Sheppard." Rodney waved a hand between then. John allowed himself a second of amusement. At least that hadn't changed. Despite Rodney's hatred of the American military, being a complete title whore, he always insisted on trotting out John's rank.

"John," he amended and held out his hand. He managed a smile, but he knew it didn't make it to his eyes. Which wasn't fair, but fair had stopped being an option about twelve hours ago. Up close, she was even more gorgeous; Rodney-swooning material in spades.

"John," she said in a small voice, then took his hand and gave it a limp shake. She studied him for a second. "Were you in the dining—"


They both turned to glare at Rodney. Everyone had stood up when Jennifer came into the room, except for Ronon, who was polishing off waffle stack number five.

"I didn't know," Rodney protested.

John narrowed his eyes. Jennifer Keller put her hands on her hips.

"At first," Rodney admitted.

"Have a seat, Jennifer," Jeannie insisted.

"No, I don't think so," she said in a slow voice and dragged a hand through her hair. "Colonel Sheppard, Mr. Dex, welcome home." It would have cost him a lot to say that if he'd been in her shoes, and John's estimation of her went up a bunch of notches. That took class. "Rodney, at some point we need to talk."

With that she left the room, Rodney on her heels like some snappish terrier, apologizing profusely, and with every word he uttered making it a hundred times worse.

John felt a hand on his arm.

"He's confused, John. Give him some time."

He shook it off. "Jeannie, I've just lost five years of my life. I'm not feeling too generous with my time." Jesus, what was he going to do now? Maybe sometime at the beach house would be a good idea. "I'm going down to the beach house. Wait, do we still have a beach house?"

He'd left it to Rodney in his will, but there were no guarantees that Rodney hadn't sold it.

Jeannie nodded.

"If he wants to find me, that's where I'll be. Ronon? Later, man."

"You want a ride?"

John shook his head. For so many years he'd craved the sight and sound of another human being. Ronon's arrival had helped but still, lonely didn't even begin to cover it. And now all he wanted was to be by himself. Life was such a bitch.

Rodney babbled apologies all the way from the kitchen until she reached her car door.

"I don't want to talk about this on the sidewalk, Rodney. I'll meet you at my place."

Without waiting for his reply, she got into her car and drove off.

Rodney followed her Prius in his BMW—the only car that fit John's specs for handling and his specs for crash-test data—trying to come up with a way of saying that since John was back that they were history. But either Rodney was having a stroke or he was majorly conflicted, because words wouldn't come; Rodney was beginning to wonder if John had a point.

They walked up to her apartment in silence, ignoring the mews of the neighbor's cat as it wove in and out of their legs looking for a chin scratch. Once inside, she threw her car keys against the far wall of the dining room and turned to him. With the exact same tone of outrage and frustration as John, she demanded, "Why didn't you tell me?"

His response to her wasn't any more articulate. "I don't know."

"Are you getting back together with him?"

"I think so?" Rodney knew that his response shouldn't end up in a question mark, but for the life of him he couldn't help it.

"Are you breaking up with me?"

"I think so?" There was that question mark again.

"Rodney! Will you please give me some answers?"

Then she started crying and then Rodney started crying and he found himself on the sofa comforting her and she comforting him.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled into her shoulder.

"I know," she mumbled back, which only served to make both of them cry harder.

When they'd finally cried themselves out, she got both of them wads of Kleenex to blow their noses and dry their eyes and then said, "Look, you need to come to terms with how you feel about him." Using both hands, she brushed his hair away from his face. "If you find that you don't love him anymore, you know where to find me."

Rodney nodded even as a panic attack threatened.

"I think we could be happy," she added.

Rodney nodded again. "I'm really sorry."

"Did he make you happy?"

Rodney didn't even think before he uttered an emphatic, "Yes."

This was said with such conviction, with such passion that it was pointless to say anything else. Because Rodney might be confused and unconsciously sabotaging his relationships with both of them by seemingly refusing to choose, but the one given in this scenario was that he'd been so happy with John that the thought of living life without him because Rodney had screwed up his notation became intolerable, and Rodney's mind had said, okay, out of here.

The surety in his voice jump-started another round of sobbing. Asking him to leave and refusing to listen to any more of his apologies, she shoved him out the front door. The click of the deadbolt could be heard above her crying.

As he drove back home, block by block, stop sign by stop sign, the farther away from Jennifer's he got, the greater his anxiety. There were no tropical islands in Jennifer's future, nor would she be ejecting from jets or going on secret military missions. Conversely, the closer he got to John, the greater his joy. Without a doubt Rodney McKay would have been happy with Jennifer Keller.

But only a total idiot would trade away joy for mere happy.

After exchanging manly grunts resembling speech that they should have a beer sometime—which in normal speak meant that when John's personal life wasn't in shambles, he should give Ronon a call—John sat on their back porch running through his options. There was no way to get down to the beach house except by borrowing Rodney or Jeannie's car, and the way he was feeling now, he wouldn't ask Rodney to spit on him if he were on fire. Being socially conscious meant that Jeannie and Caleb only had one vehicle, so asking them for the loan of their car for a few days was out. Then he contemplated hitchhiking—something he hadn't done in twenty-five years—then wondered if he could borrow a few thousand from Cam to get a beater. Then he realized he had been super stupid and should have asked Ronon for a lift.

"Jeannie says you're going down to the beach house."

Rodney's eyes were red, like he'd been crying. John didn't remember Rodney being this much of a weeper.

"You find a backbone? I hear they're on special at Safeway."

"Very funny. I know most people think that I've had my empathy bones removed, but you," Rodney pointed a finger at John, "should know better. Yes, I did. I explained about us."

"There's an 'us'?"

"Don't, John."

"Don't what?"

"Now you're being a total jerk. After I left I could hear her crying through the door. I did exactly as you asked and I feel like a total shit. Beach house?"

John and Rodney had never really had any fights because Rodney usually only got nasty with people he considered stupid, and John didn't fight because why fight when you could just walk out. This was different. John wasn't being stupid, and he didn't want to walk out on a life that had been wrenched from him. Maybe this wasn't his call in the end, but he also wasn't going to let Rodney paint him as the asshole in this scenario.

"I didn't want you dump to her because I asked you. This isn't about me, Rodney. You should have wanted to dump her because you want to be with me. Now who is being a total jerk? And yeah, I'm thinking about it. Figured I'd get some surfing in. My boards and wetsuit still there?"

"Yes, and are you insane?" Rodney shouted. "You've just spent five years marooned on an island and you want to go surfing?"

"Clears my head. You should try it sometime."

"You can't surf without me." Rodney flushed, embarrassed. "Our, um, rules. You know that."

Over the years, John had succeeded at doing an end run around most of Rodney's phobias. His death by surfboard-related drowning had been one that he hadn't been able to circumvent. They'd reached a compromise where Rodney would sit on the bluff and watch John surf, making sure he was safe by the power of his brain waves. Which they both knew was dumb. If John went down it wasn't like Rodney could save him, as Rodney couldn't swim more than three feet without getting a stomach cramp, but it was a fantasy they could live with. Rodney might rail large at the suck that constituted his immune system, but he had ultimate faith in his brain waves.

"I thought I knew a lot of things, but I guess I was mistaken." Time to get this show on the road. John stood up and started walking toward Jeannie's place. Over his shoulder he said, "I'm going to call Cam. See if he can rent me another car. Catch you later. Maybe."

"John," Rodney barked in a voice that used to mean that John was getting close to a line he really didn't want to cross over.

John stopped for a second and then thought, fuck it. He had no intention of hanging around for Rodney's little emotional wingding. He knew he was being petty and childish, but, Christ, give a guy a break. Having just spent one thousand, eight hundred, and seventy-five days facing his own mortality, he really resented being the one who had to man up here. He started forward but Rodney grabbed his arm.

Before he could say something along the lines of "let go of my arm or I'll break your fucking wrist," Rodney said, "Take the GTO."

Okay, the last time he'd looked they didn't have a GTO.

"What GTO?"

"In the garage. Key's under the mat. I started it last week and it turned over fine so…"

Like most older Berkeley homes, their house had been well-built but the garage had been put together with nothing more than spit, nails, and prayers. John pulled open the doors with caution, half-afraid they'd fall off in his hands.

Holy mother of... There sat a 1965 cherried-out bright red GTO Pontiac. Although covered in dust, the paint job was so primo that it couldn't hide the sheer awesomeness of the color.

"Manual transmission. 365 horsepower. Max speed 150 miles per hour."


"I did things like this. Bought you stuff. Bought you stuff that I knew you'd love because I thought that if you knew you had a car like this, you'd come home. That the universe would send you home because you behind the wheel of a car like this were meant to be."

John could only stare.

"I know it was crazy. But then I went crazy. Black interior, by the way."

"Goddamn, you, Rodney McKay," muttered John to himself as his anger began to dissipate. "How bad was it, Rodney? The crazy."

"You know me. How crazy do you think it would make me if I knew that the plane that I had designed had killed you? How crazy would you go if you thought I was dead and you had killed me?"

John crushed his nails into the curve of his palm, trying to wrap his mind around that and couldn't.

"Yeah. Get in."

When they were buckled in, John turned to Rodney. Whatever was going to happen, he owed Rodney this. "It wasn't the plane. It was the damping system that Hallings had designed. The plane fought it long enough that I had enough time to eject out. If you hadn't designed the plane, I would have died."

A cry, like something snapped or broke deep inside Rodney's chest, filled the car's interior. Then Rodney took John's face in both his hands and brought their heads together. "Thank god," he murmured. "I never would have forgiven me." Then he let go, leaned back in his seat, his head back, and his closed his eyes. He flailed a hand until it found John's shoulder and let it rest there. John resisted the urge to kiss a fingertip and put the car in gear.

Rodney was asleep before they reached the freeway onramp, doing his usual sleep/slump thing against John's shoulder, which made shifting gears something of a chore. Which was stupidly endearing. And then John had to half-carry Rodney into the house, which was also something he always did, along with listening to Rodney whine about how exhausted he was, grumbling non-stop from the car to the bedroom, where he'd collapse and John would have to undress him and tuck him in.

Per the usual, Rodney was snoring even before John got his shoes off. He managed to wrestle off the suit jacket and pants—not that Rodney made it easy—but left Rodney in his dress shirt, shorts, and socks. Too wired to sleep, he made a recon of the house, half-expecting to see make-up in the bathroom drawers and bras in the dresser.

Shocked, he realized that the last time they'd walked out the front door had been the last time anyone had set foot in here. Rodney had gone all Miss Havisham on him. The laundry basket was filled with dirty clothes from five years ago. The DVD collection was the same. A book of Sudoku puzzles that he'd left half-done lay on the coffee table, its spine cracked at the last puzzle he'd been working on. He opened the refrigerator and immediately put a hand over his mouth. Mold had covered the interior as abandoned food rotted slowly over time. Well, that explained the musty smell.

He threw open all the windows, emptied the cupboards of food—cans and all—filled the dishwasher, began the first of many loads of laundry, then wrapped a dishtowel over his mouth and attacked the refrigerator with pure bleach.

Four hours later the kitchen was pristine, he had some clean clothes, fresh towels, and the worst of the dust bunnies had been vacuumed up. Silently thanking Rodney for insisting on installing a tank-less water heater when they'd bought the house, he took a super-hot shower, trying to steam the smell of mold and bleach out of his sinuses.

Pulling on a pair of sweats and his favorite black tee-shirt, he couldn't help but smile at the memory of Rodney ranting: "They're all the same. You have hundreds of tee-shirts, all Hanes, all black. You say you have a favorite just to wind me up." Which was kinda true. John brushed his teeth until his gums bled and decided shaving was too much effort. He was bone weary. Finally. Maybe he could sleep.

John had every intention of sacking out on the living room couch, because although he might be tired enough that putting one foot in front of the other was now an effort, he still wasn't sure what was going on with them. But when he stuck his head into their bedroom to check on Rodney, he saw that Rodney had rolled onto his side at some point, leaving John space to lie next to him.

He crawled under the covers.

When he woke up it was dark, except for a faint glow from Rodney's bedside lamp. Rodney's cheeks were wet with tears, and he had his palm to John's face.


Rodney turned over, away from John, and began to weep in earnest. The sort of crying that's ugly and loud, where it sounds like every molecule in someone's body is in the deepest grief.

"Whoa, buddy, whoa," he whispered as Rodney shook and sobbed. He butted up against him, shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh.

Eventually Rodney cried himself out. John turned off the light, and they lay in the dark. The wind must have been right because John could hear the surf though the open window.

"I cry at the drop of a hat these days. Ever since you… Anyway, I know I was a jerk and I'm sorry."

It still didn't feel like enough, but John didn't have the energy to call him on it. Not like John was going to contradict him. "Rodney, you know I'm real bad at this shit. I'm trying to understand what in the fuck is going on. You want to stay with Jennifer, stay with her. You want—"

"I don't want to stay with her," Rodney protested. "But, you know, 'things.'"


Rodney sighed. "Relationship things."

John really didn't know what in the hell Rodney was talking about, because they'd had a tacit agreement to avoid anything remotely related to relationship things" the entire time they had been together, which John considered a blueprint for their success.

"Not getting this things thing. You haven't been back here. Uh, since?"

At that Rodney wiggled over, turning the light back on as he did so. John hadn't really had any long, quiet moments with Rodney all to himself, and now he could see that time really hadn't stood still, this house notwithstanding. Five years ago there had been only hints that Rodney was going bald. Now it was pretty obvious that in another five years he'd have hair like a medieval monk, one of those bald dome heads surrounded by tufts of hair. His mouth slanted even in rest, and maybe it was the dim light, but had the wonderful blue of his eyes faded just a little?

"Are you kidding me? This was, no, is our place. This probably sounds like mental backpedalling, but I would never have brought her here. Ever. Have I completely screwed us up?"

John wasn't sure. He knew he probably had his own mental warehouse of issues to deal with, and in two weeks he started mandatory daily psych sessions. Could he blame Rodney for being confused? He didn't know. He wasn't confused, but then Rodney had been right. Time had stopped for him. He'd loved Rodney before he strapped in and started up the engine of that plane, and nothing had happened in the interim to change that other than getting up close and personal with palm trees and sand crabs. Rodney had been his constant. His North star.

"Maybe. I don't know. What happened while I was gone? "

"I searched for three years, convinced you were still alive. I generated a six-hundred-page Excel spreadsheet detailing why you couldn't be dead. Then the military declared you officially dead in the line of duty and I went crazy. It started out with a phobia about planes. Every time I saw a plane in the sky I'd go into a full-blown panic attack. I went to Kaiser's ER six times in ten days, sure I was in massive heart failure, until some quack told me that what I needed was a psychiatrist, not a cardiologist."

"This is where that Carson Beckett came in?"

"Not yet. Not until my crazy began adding any references to the U.S. military, the sight of a uniform, then American flags waving in the breeze, and since you can't live in this country without being bombarded by references to its glorious military—" This was said with the regulation McKay scorn set on 'blazing.'

"Rodney," John warned.

"They gave up on you!" Rodney shouted, then grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. "Bastards."

John ran a soothing thumb over Rodney's forehead, and the grip eased.

"I guess my psyche couldn't handle going into monster panic attacks eight times a day, so I just shut down completely. I don't remember too much of that period. I wasn't completely catatonic, more like catatonic light. Are you going to tell me what happened? I imagine it wasn't exactly Gilligan's Island."

John had always been a loner, even when he'd been married, but there's nothing like being alone on a tropical island for years to make one realize that humans are tribal in nature. The first year was bearable, and then at the thirteen-month mark all his mental defenses had disintegrated, accompanied by the awful realization that he could die of loneliness.

"No Ginger, no Mary Ann. I lived on fish, crabs, seaweed, and coconuts: the four major food groups."

"Don't joke." Rodney thumped him in the shoulder.

"Jeez, five years later and you thump like a girl."

"I do not!" Rodney protested. "I'm still a superb thumper and stop derailing the question. What happened?"

"Every year when the rains came I didn't think I was going to make it. And then I'd pretend you were with me, ranting about the amount of rain, yelling at the clouds, telling Mother Nature that you were done with the rain and the sun could now do its thing. And I'd make it through another day. It…" John swallowed, trying to concentrate on the here and now, not the then. "It got easier when Ronon washed up."

"Knowing you this just meant it was only hell, not hell squared."

"Pretty much." And while John had welcomed Ronon with hysterical joy, there was the simultaneous epiphany that they now had to feed two people. "The brass has me scheduled for daily psych sessions for the next six months."

Although he still wasn't sure where they were as a couple, he couldn't resist running his hand over Rodney's hair. There was less of it, but what was left was so fine and soft, like it had always been. "Think it's too late to get some dinner? Does that steak house out on the highway still exist?"

Once they'd been seated, Rodney pressed his knee against John's. John looked at him for a few seconds, as if he were weighing exactly what this meant, and then pressed back, his face inscrutable. Nobody did inscrutable like John Sheppard, so it wasn't exactly a welcome so much as a, "I'm not going to kill you with a thumb to your throat this time, and maybe, just maybe, I feel like pressing back. But don't count your chickens, asshole."

John couldn't seem to manage more than a few bites of his steak, a spoonful of baked potato, and half a beer. Rodney didn't eat a thing—just pushed his food around—and filled-up the silence with a monologue on Mads, and how it was dij` horrible, watching her emotionally five self trying to cope with this unholy intelligence. Jeannie and Caleb were much better parents than his had been, but still. When the waiter offered to make them up doggy bags, he nodded.

Once they entered the house they did their usual night-time chores. John checked the locks on the windows and doors while Rodney checked for gas leaks. And, like usual, when John said, "We're good," Rodney checked the dials on the stove for the fourth time.

Rodney pointed at the kitchen table. "Sit. I hate making scenes but I can't spend another second…" At John's raised eyebrow, Rodney admitted, "Okay. I like making scenes where I save people from their rampaging stupidity but not this kind of scene."

John slid into a chair, but Rodney suspected he still had the car keys in the palm of his hand.

"I'm not mad anymore," John said in a still sort-of-mad grumble.

"Oh, so that tone in your voice is just for shit and giggles? Plus, you weren't exactly Mr. Generous with the knee action in the restaurant."

"I…" John hit the table with the flat of a palm. "I need to know, Rodney. I need to know why you couldn't tell her. I'm real close to saying fuck it and getting into the car and just taking off."

This is what people never understood about genius. Over the years Rodney had tried to explain that he wasn't a jerk because he wanted to be a jerk, but that his genius held him captive in a way. In a lot of ways. It was like people around him were speaking another language that sounded like English but really wasn't English. It wasn't even a dialect. It was like fake English. He didn't want to be selfish and intolerant; it was just that he literally couldn't understand why people were so slow and needed to be mollycoddled all the time. Would they please just use their brains?

It wasn't until he'd reached thirty that he realized he might be an intellectual genius but he was an emotional Neanderthal. And it wasn't until he'd turned thirty-five that he discovered this mattered to him. Yes, John Sheppard had flipped some switch, but that didn't mean Rodney was automatically more emotionally mature; it just meant that he now cared when he hurt people's feelings. Mostly John's, but other people crept in there as a result: Jeannie, Caleb, even Elizabeth and Radek. Which had been a huge step for him. Which John had seemed to get. Of course, John wasn't exactly Dr. Phil in camo, but somehow the two of them had managed to forge a relationship that a lot of people envied, and not just because the balding geek got the hot pilot.

"I swear if you do such a thing, I will hunt you down. I will program military drones and hire detectives with packs of snarling German Shepherds, no pun intended, in tow. I lost you for five years and some day we are going to celebrate. I wish it were today, but given that I've been an idiot..." Rodney's mouth slanted to four o'clock. "I'm sorry about Jennifer. And not because I started to fall in love with her. As you pointed out, we are both adults here. Emotionally stunted adults, but still. I think that after five years no one would have the right to tell me that I couldn't start my life again." Rodney leaned over the table to run a thumb over John's bottom lip. He had missed this mouth so much. "Not even you, John. And my ranging insecurities aside, if you and Ronon had fucked like rabbits then I'd be more or less okay with it."

John smiled; the first normal smile Rodney had seen in twenty-four hours.

"All right. I'd be horribly jealous and say mean things about him for the next forty years, but I would know, even as I uttered them, that I was being a total dirtbag. Anything that would have made those five years more bearable, you have my blessing on. Even though now I feel totally inadequate, having seen those pictures. My God—"


"Sorry. I had the right to jump start my life, but I didn't have the right to treat you the way I did, like coming back really screwed up things. Because it didn't. Because the sight of you… I really haven't had a decent breath in five years and now I can breathe. That's how I feel. For making you think that I feel any differently than that I am really, really sorry.

This time the apology worked. The knots in his neck eased a bit. Maybe it was the visual of Rodney ordering a bunch of dogs to track him down.

"But why couldn't—"

"You don't get this because I know you wouldn't do the same thing. Go crazy, I mean. You'd just sign up for increasingly suicidal missions until at some point the statistics got you. But John, I literally went crazy when you went missing. I mean, I hid it for a long time, but I went full-blown nutzoid the minute Elizabeth called me to tell me you'd gone down."

John leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes. He was so tired.

"Okay, let's just forget—"

"I need to say this, because you need to understand. I'm very attracted to Jennifer Keller, and if you hadn't pulled that Ghost of John Future thing in that dining room, I'd be fucking her right now. I'm halfway in love with her. And I think that the reason I didn't tell her—"

John was not listening to this. Not—

Rodney grabbed his wrist to keep him from getting up.

"The reason I couldn't tell her right away is because I know you. The minute your leave is up you're going to be back in a plane or a jet or something that flies, that's specifically designed to break the laws of physics and…and…if you go down again. I couldn't stand it. I couldn't… It was hell, John." Rodney began to cry again, soft cries this time. "With…with Jennifer…she's not going to… She'll come back." Rodney's voice got louder. "She'll come back to me. And if she doesn't…" His voice trailed off as he sniffed up a truckload of snot.

John had always been the one to leave in every relationship he'd ever had, with his parents, with Nancy. Go to college. Yeah, I'll write. Go to Colorado Springs. I'll try to call every couple of months. Get on a transport. Call you when I arrive. Strap into a harness. Will email you when I can. Before Rodney, leaving was always so easy. He got up, ripped off a square of paper towel, and handed the section to Rodney before sitting down again.

"Maybe, maybe not. Nothing to stop her being hit by a bus. People do. Get hit by buses."

Rodney wiped his nose and then crumpled up the paper towel and threw it at him.

"Thank you for that. Asshole. Yes, people get hit by buses or get cancer or have heart attacks and die." John had been wrong; the blue of Rodney's eyes was still awesome, the color of sky. "And I know this sounds really fucking selfish of me, but the thing is if something does happen to her, I'll grieve. But I'll grieve like any normal person. She's…" Rodney reached for John's hand and kissed the inside of his wrist. "You taste the same, you bastard. I'd be horribly sad, yes, but I wouldn't go crazy."

No matter how hellish the last five years had been, it wasn't enough to stop him from flying. He couldn't not fly, even if it meant that he might jettison out of a plane with the engine in flames and end up on a tropical island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean again.

"It's what I do, Rodney."

"I know. It'd be like you asking me to abandon astrophysics and sell socks at The Gap."

They sat there for a bit holding hands—John had always liked this kitchen—until Rodney sighed and started fidgeting. John needed to say something right there and then, something about them and coming back and being there or they'd be done.

"I can't stop flying. I can't. But I'm the best, Rodney. I've got this gift. Any other pilot would have gone down with that plane. I knew that I wouldn't be able to fly out of that failure and I ejected. It's like flying genius. You know how you can look at a solution and know it's wrong? I'm like that in a plane. I know when things are right and when they're wrong. How far I can push and when I can't."

Rodney didn't say anything, but he stayed in his seat.

John didn't know how this had flipped from him thinking it was time to walk away to him actively championing their relationship, but Rodney did that to him. It was just like his ironclad determination not to get involved in another relationship, period. Rodney had appeared at his door and two months later they were house-hunting in Berkeley. He still wasn't the guy who stayed put, but he'd become the guy who wanted to come back.

"I'm one determined guy, Rodney. If there's a .0000099 chance, I'll come home."

"What if you don't?" Rodney pouted.

"Really determined. I nabbed the genius, didn't I?"

Rodney snorted. "Please. I propositioned you."

"All part of my cunning plan. Part of my determined, cunning plan."

"You're being determined now."


Rodney's eyes got wet around the edges again, and even though in slant, John could see his lips trembling just the tiniest bit.

"I really missed you, John. Like nervous breakdown kind of missing."

God, he wanted to take that mouth and kiss the holy fuck out of it.

"I know, Rodney. I missed you too. Took me a while, but I came back. And I plan on coming back every time. Let's go to bed, genius."

Rodney splayed his hands and ran them all over John's body. He fingered the new scar on his shoulder, courtesy of that run-in with a shark, the shrapnel in his calf he'd picked up in Afghanistan, and the flat plane of his stomach. His fingers pinched the tips of John's pointy ears, and he ran his thumbs over John's collarbone, eyelids, and the curve of his lip.

"You're real," Rodney whispered.


"I'd dream we were down here, doing this. Lying in bed. Touching each other. And then I'd wake up alone." One of those broad, capable hands swiped the curve of his ass. "We were a lot happier in my dream," Rodney said in a small voice. "Did you have a fantasy about coming home?"

John rolled on top of Rodney and lined up their dicks so they were snugged up against each other. Maybe coming down here was absolutely the answer. Because they were starting from where they had left off five years ago. It couldn't possibly be that simple, but maybe they could pretend for a few days that it was.

"Sorta like this. Except you're too thin. I can feel your hip bones."

"Oh, don't even start," Rodney snapped. "Because if we were to make a scientific comparison between—"

"Shhhh," murmured John before pushing forward, then back. "I feel a celebration coming on." He covered Rodney's mouth with his own.