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

Author's Notes: Many, many thanks to perverse_idyll, the beta of one's dreams.

After their return to Earth, Rodney grows another appendage, and it's called Jennifer Keller.

The team tries a few movie nights with the five of them, but Rodney spends the entire time trying to hide the fact that he's the king of the geeks, even going so far as to insist they watch a Bergman film one night. (John may never forgive him; just try explaining Cries and Whispers to Ronon.) By tacit agreement, movie night falls by the wayside. As does playing with the radio-operated cars. That's also too geeky. Apparently. Chess has the seal of approval—genius and chess are like ham and eggs—but John refuses to play chess if they don't get down and dirty with the cars. It's the principle of the thing. As much as he wants to, John doesn't blame Keller, as it's obviously part of Rodney's schtick to prove that he's decent boyfriend material. And it's not like he can articulate his frustration to Rodney, because there's no way it wouldn't spiral down into John feeling sorry for him, and John has enough respect for Rodney to pity him in private and not to his face.

John fills those empty hours by hitting the gym with a fury. He hasn't been this buff in twenty years, but instead of it feeling good, it only feels obscene. His morning runs with Ronon go from two miles to three miles to four miles. Five miles a day can't be far off. Even though he hates every second of it, he joins Miko and Radek at their three-times-a-week yoga class; he's now as limber as a four-year-old. He has so many hours to fill he even meditates with Teyla.

That's how much time he has on his hands.

Nine weeks after they land in San Francisco, Rodney stomps into the mess around dinnertime—John would bet some serious money that Rodney had been waiting in the hallway until critical mass in terms of filled seats had been achieved—and yells at the top of his lungs, "I'm getting married!" He drags Keller into the room by her forearm to show her off. She's both smug and embarrassed. While John knows this isn't rational, she seems even blonder than usual. John understands why Rodney needs to broadcast that he's nabbed the smart, beautiful blonde with the size 36C tits, but it bugs him. It's a measure of how much Rodney's grown up in the last five years that he's not openly bragging about Keller's cup size.

After all the hooting and hollering and clapping is over, John throws a manly arm around him, congratulates him, and fades away to a corner of the room when the others muscle in to offer their congrats. He doesn't protest at all when Ronon pulls him into the hallway and breaks into a run.

Ronon sets a punishing pace as they run around the city, up ramps and down staircases, lights anticipating both their arrival and their departure. At five miles John pulls away from Ronon, adrenaline and nameless rage pushing him forward. At around seven miles he stumbles and collapses into a heap. It takes him a few minutes to assess that he hasn't broken anything. He debates getting up and moseying back to his quarters, because his muscles are starting to cramp and if he doesn't move soon he'll be in serious trouble, but John finds he doesn't care. Lying there with his cheek pressed to the damp metal, he listens to the foghorns groan.

"You break something?"

Ronon doesn't wait for an answer but hauls John off the floor and props him up against a pylon so that he's more or less sitting.

"You okay?" Ronon grunts out in between soft pants. Even in John's state of near physical collapse, he does a mental "huh," because Ronon's mildly winded. Wow, that's never happened before. John doesn't open his eyes but flaps a hand to indicate 'yeah' and then drops it because, well, hand flapping.

The great thing about Ronon? He takes people at their word. With nothing more than a, "Good. Going back," he trots off. When he can no longer hear Ronon's rhythmic footfalls, John thinks 'lights off' and then says, "No," into the dark. The foghorn moans a long drawn-out B.O., which makes John giggle until he realizes that laughing by your lonesome isn't nearly as fun as sharing the joke with another. Or even better, having that other shrieking that you should donate your brain to medical science because even a fourth-rate discipline like psychiatry would be dying to figure out why a forty-one-year-old man has the emotional age of an eleven-year-old boy.

By the time John hobbles back to his room four hours later—even his shin splints have shin splints—he's himself again. Whatever that means.

A week after Rodney's announcement, Teyla finds John on his pier. Before he can say anything, she puts a finger to her mouth, requesting silence. She sits down next to him, so close that their thighs are touching. Cupping the back of his neck with a cool palm, she brings him forward. They touch foreheads for a very long time. Teyla always smells of spice and sandalwood, and for once John allows himself to inhale and revel in it. He pulls away when she begins to shudder with repressed tears.

"When are you leaving?" he asks.

Stateside Atlantis is still Atlantis. Now that he doesn't have to spend his time off-world, working the charm in the hopes of trading aspirin for tubers that look like potatoes but taste like Brussels sprouts (Rodney glaring at John with every forkful) or playing dodgebeam with Wraith darts or the usual brushes with death that were S.O.P in Pegasus, he gears up the Marines, assigns a linguist to every team, and they start to open up the entire city.

Hallway by hallway, block by block, Rodney is in his element, skipping with excitement, a scanner in one hand, a power bar stuck in his pocket. It really doesn't get much better. This isn't about trying to manipulate Ancient tech so they all see their next birthdays; it isn't about survival. This is pure science. Rodney is at his finest, although everyone with the exception of him, Ronon, Teyla, Lorne, and Radek would disagree.

"You! The one with the stripe on your shirt. Touch that and you will most likely blow your hand off. Not that I care, but I'm convinced that your blood contains stupid cooties and I might get caught in the blowback."

"You! No, not you. The moron with shit for brains."

"For crying out loud, people!"

As a pre-emptive measure, John begins hosting ice-cream socials in the armory four nights a week.

"Good call, sir," Lorne says as he tops two scoops of mint chocolate chip with a handful of gummy bears.

"Yeah, well."

The old-timers know that Rodney's a flaming asshole, but when that flaming asshole saves your life it does tend to put things in perspective. The new batch of Marines, two hundred strong, don't have a history of being saved by McKay's verbally abusive genius, but easing them gently into the McKay "zone" isn't an option; John needs a healthy mix of old-timers and newbies on each team. Unfortunately Rodney, in his zeal to learn and test everything, takes scathing commentary to new heights. No one is more inventive than Rodney McKay at insulting people.

John can only do so much; he has his own command issues to worry about. Three weeks into their new assignment, a good percentage of the Marines are still chafing at being under the command of an Air Force Colonel. He must be doing something right, because the vibes are improving every day. Plus, he's heard from Ronon that Lorne spends the majority of his waking hours telling yarns about Pegasus—not like there's a shortage or anything—where the upshot is that he might not look it, but Colonel Sheppard is Bad. Ass. Still, there are those recalcitrant few for whom he has to prove that his dick might say Air Force on it, but as dicks go it's top dick. Of course, serving ice cream isn't exactly the optimal way to prove he has the cojones to get the job done, but a well-fed Marine is usually a happy Marine. It's the best he can do until the explosions start happening. Which, given the odds, will probably be two days out. When the inevitable hits and a bunch of Marines gets trapped behind some door with only enough oxygen for twelve minutes, Rodney will pull out his tools and bitch and moan at the top of his lungs and save their lives. That sort of thing usually silences McKay's most vocal critics.

"Think it will work?" Lorne waves his spoon at a room full of Marines chowing down on bowls piled high with Chunky Monkey and Phish Food. "Eat a pint of Ben and Jerry's, save the CSO's life today?"

"Can't hurt," John admits. "Reassign Bowles to Zelenka's patrol. Today McKay asked him if he needed arrows on his shoes to point him in the direction he was supposed to walk."

Lorne raises his eyebrows, because this is pretty tame for McKay.

"He didn't take it too well."

Lorne smiles and gives John a small salute.

It's not like Rodney doesn't know he's fucking up with John. Which in and of itself is astonishing, because it shows a degree of awareness that John didn't think Rodney was capable of. Or else John is super lame at hiding his emotions. Which, hello? As Rodney would say. So, wow. Rodney. Bud. Didn't know you had it in you.

John's mailbox pings every morning, announcing the arrival of his daily Sudoku puzzle. These aren't from some generic paperback book that Rodney's scanned. No, Rodney's devised some special algorithm to generate them, because they are the most motherfucking, hardest Sudoku puzzles John's ever worked. In the afternoon his mailbox pings with the McKay version of Physics Jeopardy.

Today was Physics Theory for $30: de Broglie waves.

John knows that the puzzles, the Physics Jeopardy, and the six-pack of Anchor Steam that appears on his desk whenever Rodney makes a trip to the city is Rodney's way of saying sorry. Of saying, look, I've got a girl; are we okay? You're still my buddy, aren't you? Say you're still my friend.

Yeah, of course they're still friends. He couldn't not be friends with Rodney. So even though he's shaking with rage, he types back, "What are large objects that have very short wavelengths when moving and thus cannot be observed behaving as a wave?" Then he grabs Rodney's car off the floor of his room. It's dusty and now his hand is gritty, which only makes him angrier. He heads to the west pier.

"You gonna drown McKay's car?"

That was exactly what he was going to do, but said out in the open like that, it makes him feel like a shitheel.

"Nah," he lies.

"Looks like it."

Ninety-five percent of the time John appreciates Ronon's ability to cut to the chase. Now isn't one of those times. John hands Ronon the car.

"Put this on my desk, will you?"

Ronon nods.

Moral superiority never feels as good as it's hyped up to be. Still angry and with nothing to bestow his crappy mood on, he says, "You have time for some sparring?"

"Yeah, but not with you. You've got that set to your jaw that means you've got something riding you, and when you're like that and we spar, you always get hurt."

John has spent a majority of his life either not reacting or belying his emotions with sarcasm, so he raises his hand to brush his hair back, intending to defuse their conversation with a snarky response. What happens is a frustrated hand gesture and an even more astonishing admission.

"I don't know what in the fuck is going on." John realizes that sounds ridiculously ambiguous. "With me, I mean."

Ronon is also really good at silences. Even better than John. Which is saying something.

"I… uh…"

"I've got your back, Sheppard."

It becomes known that if you want to find Colonel Sheppard, he'll be at his new office: the west pier. He raids the stores and sets up a tent near the water. Depending on the weather, some days he can see the Farallons. Initially he's sure that a table, a chair, and a laptop are enough. Two weeks in, he adds a coffee maker and a mini-fridge stocked with beer. It's a carbon copy of his college dorm room, minus the surfboard. Kate would have had a field day with this. John thinks psychiatry is basically bullshit, but he had developed a great deal of respect for Kate Heightmeyer, and in his opinion it says volumes that the new wigpicker never suggests a session to talk about the fact that he's moved his office—whose threshold he crossed maybe once a week to pick up a pen—to a tent on a pier. John's not sure whether it's evidence of her incompetence or the rest of the senior staff's tacit acceptance of his neuroses; he suspects it's a little of both.

John doesn't get why, but his new office drives Rodney crazy. Every time he comlinks John, Rodney asks if he can hear him above the surf, never mind that there's no surf, just the soft, near-silent shush of lapping against Atlantis. Rodney brings it up all the frigging time: at staff meetings; at the rare times they now eat together; and during reconnaissance missions of the city. Nothing bugs Rodney more than refusing to acknowledge his digs, so for a long time John lets it ride, turning the screws by being upbeat and chirpy.

He's always had a thing for water. At first he thought it was those summers at the Cape, warm, endless days crewing for his mother as they sailed the soft waters of the Atlantic seaboard. In his memories, he's in charge of the tiller; she's in charge of the sails. She's standing on deck, slim—the booze bloat is still a few years off—and agile—John inherited her physical grace—with a confidence and joy so akin to his euphoria while flying that the ATA gene had to have come from her. Just like his single-mindedness and ability to be a supreme asshole should the occasion call for it come from his father.

Now he thinks his love of water is another component of the ATA gene. His connection to the city isn't just restricted to bringing up consoles and schematics. Or knowing when she's "sick" and when she's "well." It's also about her being surrounded by water. Home is where the water is. Now it makes total sense why being at Cheyenne is always torture; it's more than just gritting his teeth while doing the bureaucratic tango. It's physically uncomfortable, like he's dehydrated no matter how much he drinks. His ATA gene is whispering, "Water, John. Water."

When he was at Stanford, he'd either maneuver it so that he didn't have classes on Fridays or cut them if he did. He'd tumble out of bed, make sure his ice chest, sleeping bag, and wetsuit were in the back of his car, lash the surfboard to the roof, and hit a liquor store on his way out of town to pick up a case of Heineken and a bag of ice. By noon he'd be on the waves. The Atlantic of his youth was warm and sailboat heaven. The Pacific? Sneaky and cold. Every year a couple of surfers would drown just from the sheer force of the undertow.

John would sleep on the bluffs overlooking the ocean, getting up with the sun so that he could ride the waves all day. Being on that board? It was the only time his mind would stop thinking thinky thoughts. When being John was enough. Then he found flying, and being John wasn't merely enough, it was more than enough.

Although flying is still the ultimate jack-off, parts are now missing or out of kilter. John has never felt out of kilter before. Yeah, he's been furious (growing up in that house), and stupid (marrying Nancy), and sad (divorcing Nancy), and guilty (marrying and divorcing Nancy), and nearly overwhelmed by self-loathing (for not saving those he should have saved, including his mother), but he's never felt the way he feels now: incomplete. Sitting in his tent, looking out at all that water, gives him a few moments of peace here and there, even though he knows it's like slapping a band-aid on a compound fracture.

Rodney keeps up the razzing for three weeks, the anti-jock jokes getting more pointed until they're bordering on vicious. One day at a rare lunch when it's just the three of them, Rodney starts in again.

"Perhaps we ought to wear flip flops and hideous Hawaiian shirts covered in hurl-inducing patterns to the senior staff meetings so that Colonel Margaritaville can relate to the rest us who prefer to work, oh, I don't know, in our real offices."

Before he can stop himself, John snaps back, "Shut the fuck up about my office, McKay."

Rodney's face crumples and he goes silent. A bad sign. John knows he's completely blown it when Ronon gives him the, "Man, did you screw up" eye roll. John doesn't know why he's supposed to be asbestos all the time while Rodney is allowed to verbally scorch emotional earth like there's no tomorrow. But that's the way it's always been, and the fact that he's changing the rules now is part of this off-kilter crap.

"Sorry," he mumbles. "My bad."

He waits for Rodney to sputter, to berate him for abusing his I.Q. once again. How he must have slept with all his college professors, because it's the only logical explanation for how he graduated from Stanford summa cum laude with a degree in applied mathematics, given he has the vocabulary of a two-year-old. Rodney doesn't say a thing, just shimmies his shoulders in an awkward shrug that seems to acknowledge John's apology, but then he turns his head, refusing to look John in the eye. Oh, this is bad. A silent Rodney is a mortally wounded Rodney. John pushes his pudding toward Rodney, and for one second John is terrified that Rodney won't take it. That he's broken them. Then Rodney takes it and makes eye contact. Rodney's smile is tremulous, but it's there.

John is about to say something, something funny so he can bring them back from the edge, when Keller walks up, plops her tray down on the table, and gives all three of them one of her sweetest smiles.

"What's up, guys?"

He showers off the smoke residue and scrubs his hair six times, the sixth time with his bar soap, but from experience he knows there's nothing he can do about the smell of blasted metal and melted rubber. It will live in his sinuses for weeks. He exits the shower, feeling a bit better but still thrumming from adrenaline. Which means there's no point in trying to sleep and no point in trying to read. He revisits the sickbay to check on Hart and Matthews. Hart cracked three ribs and broke his leg in three places; Keller is still in surgery pinning his leg back together. Matthews has burns up both legs, but they aren't too serious, just hurt like a mofo. All in all, relatively good. It's a far cry from the four-casualty minimum Atlantis usually deals out and, as usual, they have Rodney McKay to thank for that.

Knowing there's no point in returning to his quarters with this much juice in his system, John heads to the mess. The coffee has a three-hours-on-a-hot-burner bite to it, chewing the enamel off his teeth as it goes down. John doesn't care. At least it's hot. He finishes his coffee, debating whether he should swing by sickbay just in case Hart's in post-op, when Rodney walks into the room. He gives John a tired nod and heads straight for the coffee pot. John left enough for a cup, assuming that Rodney would be in at some point.

"Thanks." Rodney holds up his cup in silent acknowledgment of John's generosity. Rodney would have drained the pot had it been him, but John certainly isn't going to begrudge him that, seeing as he saved fifteen of his Marines today.

"Can't sleep?" Rodney asks.

"Nah. Fourth wind. You?"

"Second wind," he says with a tight smile. Rodney knows John can't sleep with anyone in surgery. "How are they?"

"Good. Jennifer is pinning Hart's leg together right now." He forces himself to call her by her first name when they're in conversation, but in his head he'll never think of her as anything but "Keller." Which is pretty weenie, he admits, but that's the way it is. "Matthews is currently riding first-class on the morphine train. Thanks, Rodney."

He's said this too many times to count, but it never says enough. It never conveys exactly what he means. John figures Rodney gets it.

"How's the eye?" Rodney scopes out John's still-blackening eye and can't contain a forehead scrunch of horror. The explosion had blown John back into something with knobs. He's had worse. The ice helped, but it's going to be quite a shiner. John tries to wink but it's too swollen. "Don't do that," Rodney admonishes, both hands gesticulating. Which causes coffee to go everywhere. "See what you made me do?" He glares at John.

The inevitable laugh bleeds some of the tension out of him. Maybe now he can get a couple of good hours in before the debrief in the morning.

"Never change, Rodney."

"What?" Rodney snaps, throwing a handful of napkins down on the floor to soak up the coffee and leaving them there. With a pout, he looks into the cup to see if he's spilled it all; a small smile appears. He slurps up the remains. "Anyway, like I'm going to let them be crushed and incinerated by flaming debris. We were about due. You know. For something to go FUBAR."


Rodney goes on in his usual arrogant rat-tat-tat, "Hey, you know that absolutely insane idea you had last week about modifications to the shields on the jumpers?"

John nods. A couple of knots in his neck ease. This is normal conversation, something they don't have too much of these days.

"Well, it's only crazy, not totally stupid. I ran it by Radek this morning and he thought it worth exploring. Anyway, it turns out that you were ninety-nine percent off base, but the one percent that wasn't hair gel-inspired nonsense headed me in the right direction. If you have some time in the next few days, I'd like you to bring up the flight console—"

"Let's do it now. I need to move." Rodney looks at his watch and John knows he's calculating whether Jennifer is out of surgery or not. "We can do it another—"

"No, we're both up. I'll meet you there. I need to, you know," and he walks away without finishing the sentence. For anyone else the rest of that sentence would be, "I need to take a leak." For Rodney, it's, "I need to pick up my laptop."

Just as they've reached the point in their friendship where Rodney can talk in half sentences and John has no trouble deciphering what he means, John knows that Rodney knows he'll find John seated in his favorite jumper. Despite repeated and often heated discussions about how all the jumpers are the same, followed by Rodney's usual sneering—"Did you give it some sweet little name? Perhaps we should commission Lorne to paint a nude woman on the outside with the tagline, 'Sheppard's Sweetheart'?" —John knows that this jumper is different. That someone who knew how to fly had worked on this baby. Tightened screws with the perfect amount of torque. Welded the seams so that metal met metal in such a way that moving and spinning and diving and soaring aren't just a means to an end, but deserve to be beautiful in their own right. There's no point in debating the issue, but they have a lot of fun debating the issue, so he has no intention of stopping.

John only smirks back at Rodney when Rodney climbs in, rolls his eyes, and pops open his laptop with a, "Surprise, surprise. Why did I know you'd be here? How's Cherry today?" Rodney has a roster of semi-trashy names he uses to ridicule John's devotion. "Oh God, the smirk. Bring it up, flyslut."

John obeys, and the console flashes before them. For an hour, the conversation is nothing but Rodney ordering John to think.

"Do that and don't forget— Okay. Good. Now how about— Damn, can you— And then— What about— Shit. Go back to— Perfect. Now— Oh. Oh. Yes. Good idea. And now— Stop, stop, stop! If I'd wanted you to— Oh. Oh!"

When Rodney's eyes go buggy and the mouth slants upward in a manic grin, John knows it's time to sit back and let the genius think and type. While Rodney happily bangs away on his keyboard, John mentally composes his presentation to Woolsey for next morning's staff meeting. John's come to respect Woolsey. He'll never feel the esteem and love he felt for Elizabeth, and he can't look at him as an equal (which is how he views Sam Carter). But Woolsey's the most competent pencil pusher John's ever worked with. He acknowledges without any hesitation that John is good at his job, side-stepping entirely the usual cock-blocking between bureaucrats and soldiers. Even so, John can't go in there and say, "We entered the room. Things went boom. People got hurt."

And then there's the write-up to follow. John originally thought that paperwork for the sake of paperwork was what floated Woolsey's boat. But it's not. Woolsey views paper trails as ammunition for that inevitable day when someone makes a power grab. Sort of like a P-90 made out of wood products. So Woolsey's insistence on written reports with all the t's crossed and i's dotted doesn't bug John anymore. Unfortunately, it doesn't make writing the goddamn reports any easier.

A tentative, "John," gets his attention.

The use of his first name is rare. John braces himself.

Rodney doesn't look up, just continues typing.


Still not looking up, Rodney does his schizo typing and talking thing. Later, John wonders if Rodney was actually typing anything coherent or was using the laptop as an excuse so he didn't have to look John in the face.

"I'm going to tell Woolsey, but I wanted to let you know first. I was originally going to do it later this afternoon, but after all the, you know, explosion and people nearly getting killed today—oh, I guess it's yesterday by now—whatever. The point is that I'm going to ask for a leave of absence. Just six months. As I said, I was going to do it this afternoon, but Atlantis pre-empted me. Clearly there just haven't been enough shits and giggles lately."

This announcement doesn't surprise John. Although he'd never thought about it, apparently his subconscious has been waiting for this for weeks now. He does wonder when in hell Rodney had planned to let him in on the secret, if he was originally going to tell Woolsey that afternoon. It's moot, he guesses. He's getting the word now.

"I want to write some papers. Of course, the papers that would ensure me a Nobel yesterday I can't write because they're classified and, god, I hate your military. However, there are a number of topics I can do justice to, and I should write them so that people don't forget I'm alive to disabuse them of their stupid notions. At a minimum, I've got a list of thirty Discussions that I have to write, otherwise the field of astrophysics will go in a direction that will take decades to recover from. And you know what it's like here. I don't have a minute to myself and… Anyway. It's just six months, and it's not like I'm a bazillion light years away. Just a phone call. Jennifer wants to spend some time with her father, and there's a teaching hospital in Chicago—"

Rodney keeps this up for another ten minutes. Rambling on, trying to make it okay, when both of them know it's so not okay. It's a test run. It's Rodney trying to hack it on the outside, because Keller doesn't see herself as Chief Medical Officer of Atlantis for the rest of her life. Even though John is dead sure that Rodney did, at one time, see himself as CSO of Atlantis for the rest of his life.

"Radek is quite competent, if a little misguided at times, and I know—"

John likes Radek and enjoys working with him. Plus, with Radek John never has to do an end run around the ego. Rodney's protests to the contrary, sometimes John thinks their IQs are pretty well matched. What is different is that he and Rodney work together in a way that he and Radek can never hope to replicate. Rodney pushes him, refuses to let him hide behind the slouch, and uses his brains unmercifully. Most importantly, Rodney doesn't let John push him around. John's pretty sure he can terrorize Radek without even half trying. John can usually out-fly, out-smirk, out-charm, out-manipulate, and on rare occasions out-terrorize most people. With those he can't, he plays the self-destruct card. His father, Nancy, and a majority of his past COs fall into that category. Rodney, on the other hand, seems impervious to any of John's patented manipulative techniques and fairly immune to John's self-destruct button. Oddly enough, John is similarly impervious to the worst of Rodney's social tics. Rodney is made of Sheppard Teflon and John is made of McKay Teflon, and together they do amazing things. They're like that hokey, feel-good phrase: more than the sum of their parts. He can certainly rely on Radek and work with him, but they don't bring out the best in each other. They just work well together. Which in Atlantis is not nearly enough.

"So six months and then I'll be back."

John doesn't bother to call him on the lie. Worse, Rodney doesn't wait for John to call him on the lie.

"I can get you a measly three percent extra on the shields. Sorry, I thought it would be more."

The typing stops and Rodney looks up, his head leaning a little to the side, as if he expects John to clock him and he's bracing himself for the hit. John realizes that he's clutching the edges of his seat with both hands. He lets go and then mentally lets go. The schematic blinks out.

Three percent can be the difference between life and death.

Suddenly, John gets it.

It's Rodney's going-away present. Rodney knows that Radek is good, but not as good as he and McKay as a unit, and Rodney's doing everything he can to keep John safe. All the anger and frustration that's been building up sentence by sentence dissipates, leaving John limp and exhausted.

He manages to dredge up a smile from somewhere, but can't say anything more than, "Thanks, buddy."

Cupping the back of Rodney's neck with his hand, he brings their foreheads together. To say good-bye.

The first visit occurs that night.

At around one, the chimes to his door start going crazy. As he leaps out of bed (with a quick swipe for the Beretta he keeps on his bedside table) and thinks 'open,' the door slides back and someone walks in. Before the door can shush closed, the light from the corridor spills into the room and he sees that it's Rodney with an impressive case of bed-head; crazed clumps of hair make him look like he's got a bunch of hair horns sprouting out of his skull. He's also butt-baring naked.

John blasts Atlantis with a command for lots of light and barks out, "What's wrong? Why didn't you com link me?"

Rodney turns toward him but doesn't really look at him, focusing on a spot inches past John's head. Although Rodney's eyes are open, they aren't tracking properly, and if John didn't know better he'd swear Rodney was still asleep. John calls his name again, and Rodney opens his mouth. What comes out of it is the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, "My Favorite Things," with Rodney belting out the lyrics in a fairly credible tenor. He gets to the end of the first stanza, stops singing, climbs into John's bed, steals John's pillow, punches it a few times, drags a sheaf of blankets over his shoulder, and starts to snore.

Okay, there are curve balls and there are curve balls. This is so whacko, so bizarre that John stands there for he doesn't know how many minutes before he grabs his com link and makes his way into the bathroom, ordering the door to shut, damn it.

"Jennifer, do you copy? It's John Sheppard."

"Oh, Col— John?" she says in a sleepy murmur. Then the medical training kicks in and her voice is sharp and awake. "What's the matter?"

"Rodney's in my quarters."

Rodney has never broken day and night into the times he works and the times he doesn't. There's work, and everything that's left over gets shoved into the corners. Which includes sleeping.

John will have the occasional bout of insomnia and patrol the halls, only to find Rodney working in the lab at three a.m., investigating an idea that has just occurred to him. One night after they'd had too many beers, Rodney confessed that some of his truly great ideas come from his middle-of-the night piss. Apparently his brain's had enough REM to clear out thoughts that are in and of themselves interesting, yet are competing for brain time with the truly brilliant ideas. His epiphanies often occur when he's shoving his dick into his shorts. That Rodney's not in bed next to her probably isn't a surprise to Keller.

"Is he all right?"

John's pretty sure that Rodney's fine but he opens the bathroom door a smidgen, hears a chorus of snores, and shuts it again. "Yeah, he's fine. I think he was sleepwalking. His eyes were glassy and unfocussed, and, uh… He must have come straight here from, uh, his, uh, your quarters, because he's naked." He hears a little squeak and thinks, lady, that's not even the good part. "He walked in, stood there, didn't respond to my voice, and then started singing."


He hears the note of disbelief in her voice and it irritates him. Like he could possibly make up this shit? "Yeah. The first stanza of 'My Favorite Things.'" When she doesn't respond, he says, "You know, by Rodgers and—"

"I know who wrote it, Colonel. I'll be right there."

Being military, John wears a tee-shirt and his shorts to bed. There's that being miked in the middle of the night that a Wraith hive ship is within range thing, and there's the leftover habit of sleeping with forty guys and no one wants to see your morning wood on the way to the shower thing. Which means all he has to do is pull on a pair of pants and he's semi-decent. He waits in the corridor for Keller to arrive.

She's there in no time. John always has to control a little hitch of surprise when he sees her in civvies instead of the ubiquitous scrubs. The velour track suit has "I'm off duty" written all over it. Although not as pretty as Sam Carter, she's got a lush quality about her that gives Sam some serious competition. The fabric hugs her curves just the way it should, and in no way does she do anything for him. If he weren't in the front row seat of Atlantis: the Rodgers and Hammerstein Years, starring Dr. Rodney McKay, he'd be a little worried about his libido. That thought is immediately erased when his eyes can't help but fixate on her feet. She's wearing the fuzziest pair of pink slippers John's ever seen, so furry they look like clown shoes. She sees him eyeballing these things, and based on her uncharacteristically sharp tone, "What? They're comfortable," Rodney obviously gets a tremendous amount of play out of insulting them.

"Nothing, they're just really, uh, pink," he says with Sheppard easy smile number four. "Shall we?" He doesn't wait for an answer but palms open the door.

In the four minutes that John's been in the hallway, Rodney's taken over the bed. He's turned over, and a leg and an arm are flung as far as they can go, as if there's another person next to him and he has every intention of smothering them with as many limbs as he can manage.

They listen to him sleep for a bit, before Keller puts a gentle hand to his forehead to check for fever. Giving John a tiny shrug to indicate that whatever is wrong with him, it's not medical, she hikes a thumb in the direction of the door.

Once they're out in the corridor, John raises an eyebrow in question.

"No fever. Has this been an issue before? I mean the sleepwalking, not the…" She flails a hand.

John suppresses a smile at the thought of "Atlantis: the Musical" and shakes his head. "Not that I know of. Certainly not in the last five years." Rodney walking through the halls stark naked in the middle of the night would have had the gossips in a state of glee. "I've seen this in combat situations, in soldiers who used to sleepwalk as kids. The extreme stress. Was Rodney a sleepwalker?"

She gives a frustrated sigh. "I don't know, and it's not like he's under any more stress than usual. Less, actually."

John goes from the mild indifference he's always felt towards her to hate in one-tenth of a second.

He can't let this go. He's not sure if Rodney's told her that he told John they're leaving, but tough shit. It's all he can do not to grab her and shake her and scream that leaving Atlantis will be like ripping out an organ for Rodney, and does she even know what she's asking? John very rarely uses his ability to destroy people with a few choice words. It's too close to his father's abuse of choice, but every now and then it's the only weapon he has at his disposal, and John's never been afraid to fire with both barrels when necessary. He opens his mouth to lay her low, to destroy whatever naive, immature fantasy she may have about her and Rodney being June and Ward Cleaver, when the door slides open and Rodney marches down the hallway, glassy-eyed and silent. And still naked.

Keller runs after him.

John goes to the armory, checks out a .45-cal M1911 handgun, and empties ten clips into a target until it's obliterated, nothing but shreds of paper on the floor. He doesn't feel any better than he did when he started, and he realizes that this is much larger than Jennifer Keller, but damned if he knows how or why.

The next morning he and Keller trade a series of terse emails, the upshot being that she's absolutely certain that the likelihood of this happening again is nil, that it's better to forget it and, most importantly, that they're not telling Rodney. John basically signs off on the whole thing, especially the bit about not telling Rodney. John can imagine how humiliated he'd be if he'd gone into some fugue state, barged into Rodney's quarters au naturel singing show tunes, and then bogarted his bed. It's a testament to how worked up John is in general that he can't even laugh about this, even though on the face of it, it's hiccup-inducing hysterical.

That night, John waits. Even though he knows it's ridiculous, John watches the digital display on his watch turn to 1:00, then 1:15. By 1:30, he's convinced that, yeah, it was just that once.

He's not sure what time it is when the bed sags in response to another person's weight. Something sharp pokes him so that he moves over, and Rodney climbs in. Immediately, a leg is thrown over his, and a hand holding something is slung over his chest. There's no other word for it: Rodney snuggles against John so that he's nearly on top of him, brings his mouth to John's ear, sings in a near-whisper the first stanza of "If I Loved You," and then starts snoring. John knows it's not wise to wake up someone when they're sleepwalking, but he isn't sure if the same rules apply to sleepsinging. He makes to get up, and Rodney lets go of whatever he's holding and grips John's shoulder so he can't move. The "something" clatters to the floor.

The beds of Atlantis are built for one (which says something about the culture that not even Elizabeth could parse), and since John's on his back, a good hunk of his side is hanging over the edge. It's not like he hasn't "slept" with Rodney before; in tiny cold cells with only each other to stave off hypothermia, and that one time they were stranded on the planet of 110-degree days and 20-degree nights. But never with half-assed intent.

And never after being personally serenaded with a choice selection from Carousel.

Rodney sleeps with his mouth open, and fairly quickly drool dampens John's shirt. The side of him that's half off the bed doesn't have any covers, because in addition to being a bed hog, Rodney's an Olympic-grade cover stealer, and somehow he's also commandeered most of the pillow. One of John's calves is threatening to cramp and his neck is at an odd angle, but if he moves it half of his head will be dangling over the side. He pushes even closer to Rodney. Then he brings a hand up and curls his fingers around Rodney's. He's not lain with anyone like this for years. Since Nancy, actually. Just lying in bed listening to someone sleep; two bodies curled up around each other after a long day, with nothing between them but a few snores and some drool. Peaceful and simple and contented, like a pair of tabby cats.

He has one guilty thought before he slides into a light doze. "Sleep tight, buddy."

After about an hour, Rodney gets up and leaves without a word. John notices in the light from the corridor that he's wearing shorts and a tee shirt, so Keller wasn't as sanguine as she appeared to be. He would like to have heard that conversation, her convincing him to wear a minimum amount of clothes, but not alerting him to the fact that the previous night he'd been wandering the halls with his dick waving in the wind.

Right before the staff meeting, John hands Rodney the screwdriver he'd used to, first, sabotage John's door, and second, poke him in the ribs so that he'd move over.

"Oh, thanks. Where did I leave that?"

"In the mess," he lies and doesn't look in Keller's direction.

Less than five minutes after the staff meeting's finished there's an email from her in his inbox, wondering if he's free and requesting a meeting later that morning.

He agrees to meet her in sickbay, because he doesn't want the visual of her in his office/tent.

"I've emailed Jeannie."

That was smart, but then she's a smart woman.

"As a child, Rodney's sleepwalking was something of a family legend. That's not surprising given his intelligence, so there's a history here."

He doubts that a ten-year-old Rodney had manipulated Ancient tech and crooned Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes while sleepwalking in his parents' suburban Vancouver ranch burger, but John's willing to go with the general concept that this is something Rodney does under stress. "Okay, so where do we go from here?"

"He was in your quarters last night, wasn't he? The screwdriver."

By the purse of her mouth, John knows what it costs her to ask that question. John has never uttered stealth and Rodney together in the same sentence before, but whatever's propelling him to sleepwalk also seems to be giving him a physical ease completely lacking when he's awake. Clearly he slipped out and then snuck back in without Keller being any the wiser.

He nods.

"Was it the same behavior?"

"Pretty much." He doesn't go into the detail about how Rodney had strong-armed him into staying in bed and how he'd sung in his ear.

"Did he sing this time?"

"'Surrey with the Fringe on Top.'" John's an awesome liar. He gives his mother a mental hug, because who knew that her love of musicals would come in this handy. "Maybe we need to talk to him. Leave out the first night, and, uh, maybe the singing. Just tell him he's sleepwalking and does he have any clues about how to stop it."

"He won't sleepwalk tonight." She says this with such determination that John's convinced she's going to borrow some restraints from the sickbay and tether Rodney to the bed.

Which frees John from any guilt he might have felt when he emails Jeannie. Right after his meeting with Keller.

Hey Jeannie:

Rodney. Show tunes. Specifically, Rodgers and Hammerstein.


Dear John:

We're all fine. Thanks for asking.

I imagine this has something to do with a recent email from that Jennifer regarding Rodney's tendency to sleepwalk manifesting itself again. And I'm sure you'll tell me in good time, because I can actually find you now. At Teyla's suggestion, I'm taking Taekwondo three times a week. It's a great stress buster, plus in less than four months I'll be able to kill you with a blow to the back of the neck.

Now that we're on the same page.

I'm not sure how much Rodney has told you of our childhood, but when I saw Albee's, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," I said to Kaleb that we should get a cut of the profits because clearly he'd used my parents as role models. George (aka, Dad) was a mediocre academic. Martha (dear old Mom) was the really smart one, but she'd gotten pregnant with Rodney during grad school. Managed to finish her Masters, but in those days, when you had a kid you were done. Which, in hindsight, gives some context for Rodney CUTTING ME OUT OF HIS LIFE when I got married and had Mads, so maybe I'll only maim him the next time I see him.

There's lots of twisted dynamics that I could bore you with vis-à-vis my mother's ever-escalating hatred of my father and how she used Rodney's brilliance to castigate him for his middling intelligence—destroying the possibility of any sort of functioning relationship between father and son—and how my father, in retaliation for getting verbally castrated by his wife several times a week, used his daughter as a foil—thereby destroying the possibility of any functioning relationship between mother and daughter. But, like I said, I won't bore you with the details.

Music became the barometer. When they were fighting, my mother would put Rachmaninoff piano concertos on the stereo, the volume cranked up loud enough to rattle the windows. We could STILL hear them yelling at each other. Sometimes they'd fight through side one and then get so engrossed in hating each other that they wouldn't flip it over to side two. When it was that bad, Rodney would fill our ears with toothpaste so we wouldn't have to hear it.

When they were happy, my mother would play show tunes. Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe. Early Sondheim. Rodney heard more show tunes and I heard a lot more Rachmaninoff.

John, what in the hell is going on?/


That Jennifer, huh? So Jeannie doesn't like Jennifer. More likely it's that Jeannie doesn't like Jennifer for Rodney, because there's nothing inherently unlikable about Jennifer, even as John privately acknowledges that he can't return to his former assessment that she's intelligent, sweet, and kinda generic. Which, yeah, she is, but it still doesn't stop him from actively disliking her at this point. He has to mine way deep to act like things are status quo between them.

Dear Jeannie:

Not so fine, but I can't talk about it yet. And I don't know.


Dear John:

One night, when I was about five, my parents screamed at each other all through dinner and kept at it until after midnight. Not even the toothpaste helped. When they'd finally screamed themselves hoarse, Rodney and I fell asleep. I woke up to find Rodney throwing clothes into a suitcase. Had he actually been awake, he might have packed more than our bathing suits and a few pairs of socks. He mumbled some nonsense that I couldn't understand, got me into my coat, and we walked to the bus station. I didn't realize that he was sleepwalking; I thought that my big brother was taking me on a trip where adults didn't yell at each other for hours on end. I do remember being taken back to the house in a patrol car. Years later, Rodney told me that our parents' explanation to the cops was simply that Rodney was a child prodigy and prone to this sort of behavior. Of course, you and I know that even if Rodney had had the IQ of a turnip, he still would have tried to save us, but maybe it wouldn't have manifested as sleepwalking.

So the kicker of this story is that as we're walking to the bus station, Rodney's singing "Cock-Eyed Optimist" to me.

Love, Jeannie

John leaves his door open and plays endless games of solitaire, waiting for Rodney to appear. He's got faith in Rodney, that whatever is propelling him to John's room in the middle of the night will win out. When Rodney marches through his doorway at 2:32 a.m., resplendent in that ratty bathrobe of his and no shoes, John doesn't bother to hide his grin. Which turns into a grimace when Keller appears behind him, wearing a negligee that leaves just enough to the imagination to be completely hot. John has a fleeting thought about how stupid she's being, compromising her authority by running around the halls looking like a Victoria's Secret model; then he realizes that maybe that's the least of her worries. Because Rodney's eyes are bloodshot like he's been crying, and Keller's still crying. Rodney doesn't say anything—he doesn't even sing anything—and his eyes have that unfocussed glare to them they've had for two nights running. Ignoring John, he makes a beeline for John's bed, climbs in, and pulls the covers up over his shoulders.

With a silent jerk of his head, John indicates that the hallway is the best place to have the conversation he and Keller need to have. When the two of them are outside, he thinks the door shut and turns to face her.

"What happened?"

The small victory of having Rodney in his room turns hollow when she runs her palms over her cheeks to wipe away the tears.

"He tried to leave, I tried to wake him up, and he got hysterical. Started shouting about how much he hates Rachmaninoff and demanding toothpaste for his ears."

She rubs one of her forearms like it hurts. Fuck.

"Did he hurt you?"

"Not really," she insists. "He just… just grabbed me." And then she starts sobbing.

His guilt over his initial glee multiplies a hundred times. John fails at comfort as a rule, and here she is wearing, well, basically nothing, but he has to at least attempt to comfort her. Because if he doesn't he'll not only feel like an asshole, he will be an asshole. He hugs her, and in between sobs she confesses that Rodney's confused ramble contained a lot of accusations about how she was trying to hurt him and/or destroy him, followed by threats that if she ever hurt John he would kill her with his bare hands.

John might be an abysmal hugger, but over time he's learned how to say the right things. He doesn't do the usual patting on the back because she's not wearing much, but he must have the basics down, because Keller stops crying after about five minutes. She pulls away, embarrassed, sniffs up the snot, and again uses the palms of her hands to wipe her face clean of tears.

"Sorry, Colonel."

"Hey, no worries."

"Will you…" She pauses, and for a second there's a minute tightening of her upper lip and a hardening of her gaze, and then it's gone. Huh. She dislikes him as much as he dislikes her. Not that he can blame her, because John might not understand what in the hell is going on with Rodney, but it involves him, and Rodney was willing to hurt her on his behalf.

"Yeah, I'll get him back safe."

Before she walks off, she tightens her arms around the front of her chest to hide her cleavage, which only accentuates the plump curve of her breasts.

"Jennifer, wait. You can't—"

He pulls off his tee shirt and hands it to her. This is his last clean shirt, otherwise he'd palm open the door and get her a completely fresh one. However, he hasn't worn this one for more than a couple of hours, and he showered before he put it on.

"It's clean. More or less."

She takes it from him, but a little gingerly, like she's not sure what to do with it. There's a couple of beats where she just looks at him, her head cocked to the side, like she's trying to suss out his motives. Finally, she pulls the shirt over her head.

She gives him a wan smile. "Colonel, I look forward to the day that I've finally got you figured out. Thanks. I'll return it in the morning."

Padding down the hallway in her bare feet, the glossy material of her negligee bright against the matte black cotton of John's tee shirt, from behind she resembles a little girl playing dress-up and wearing her Daddy's clothes.

You can't be a successful soldier without basically having a Ph.D. in compartmentalization. So John puts his guilt in a mental box labeled, "Do not open for two hours," and slides into bed next to Rodney. Whatever subconscious voodoo is going on here, Rodney is at least sufficiently aware to leave John enough room so that he can lie on his side without his ass hanging off the edge. No sooner does he get settled than Rodney throws a leg over him and one hand starts batting around. John catches Rodney's hand and weaves their fingers together. Rodney emits a small, happy snorfle and snuggles closer.

At first John thinks that Rodney has a little whistle in his snore, but after a bit he notices that the whistle is actually somewhat melodic, and then he recognizes it. Rodney is humming, "On the Street Where You Live." For a few minutes John has fun wondering what other Lerner and Loewe tunes Rodney could appropriate for this crazy-ass situation. He's about to drop off, relaxing into the sweet scent of Rodney's hair, when he realizes that it's not Rodney's shampoo he's smelling. It's Chanel No. 5, the same perfume Nancy used to wear and that apparently Keller does, too.

A whole series of horrifying thoughts begin to tumble together. Oh, Christ, that negligee. Is she trying to sexually exhaust Rodney and bust the stress levels that are making him sleepwalk? Oh no. Oh, fuck, please no. Because what if that great negligee… If they… Maybe that's why she's so upset: because no amount of sexy times is making a goddamn bit of difference. And maybe Rodney is naked underneath that bathrobe and smelling of her and him and, goddammit. Because, hey, thinky thoughts. Hiya. The visual of Rodney pounding into Jennifer Keller, that fabulous ass of his in motion, brings John to full erection in ten seconds flat, so much so that even though he's lying down, he's light-headed from the blood pounding into his dick. And he knows he should be visualizing Keller's legs wrapped around Rodney and her fabulous tits shiny with sweat and peaked in arousal and perhaps her fingers raking Rodney's back.

He is so not. It's the Rodney's Ass Channel in hi-def.

John figures that he might as well be hung for the skankiest sheep as a lamb, and has Keller actually drop her legs so that nothing interferes with his mental image of Rodney's ass. And since he's being so fucking inappropriate that they'll have to invent a new word for it, he adds the audio: the sounds Rodney makes when he's eating chocolate pudding. John comes this close to shooting his load in his pants right there and then. One more visual pass of Rodney pushing his hips forward with a moan and he'll be done for.

Thank fucking Christ, the beginning of a stress headache is forming behind his left eye, and his erection wilts. Just a fraction. But enough. He's safe. He can deal with this. He can—

Rodney stops humming and tilts his mouth up to kiss John's forehead.

"Rodney," John whispers and comes in his pants.

At which point Rodney gets up and leaves the room singing, "Can't Help Loving Dat Man."

After Nancy, John said, "No more." People plus John equals epic fail. He doesn't even care why. Yeah, he can point to his mother; the kids of alcoholics have a lock on relationship fail. Then there's his father. Whatever the reasons, it's easier to flirt and charm and leave it at that limited level where the closest he gets, happily, is a one-night stand.

Then he comes to Atlantis. There's Elizabeth and Carson and Ford and Teyla and Ronon and Rodney. He's always had people's backs, but no one's ever had his. He's never let anyone have his back. Now he has to, whether he likes it or not. And what's even worse, he does like it. Double worst squared? He needs it.

He doesn't know whether to pound the city's walls until his hands are bloody or mentally bless her. He goes to the west pier, washes his face in salt water, pulls back the flap on his office/tent, and brings up his computer.

Today's the day that Rodney is supposed to submit his leave request at the senior staff meeting. With his face and hands still damp from the sea water, John sends Jennifer Keller an email at 3:48 a.m., telling her it's time to tell Rodney he's sleepwalking again, and that the two of them need to take a week's leave pronto. They should go up the coast. Or down the coast. Or fly to Mexico for a week. Or maybe Hawaii. John really doesn't care where they go. They just need to go. Maybe by the time they come back Rodney will have rebooted.

She replies at 3:52 a.m. that she agrees and she'll meet him in the sickbay at 7:30 a.m. with Rodney in tow.

He doesn't tell her that things are happening between him and Rodney. That Rodney is wooing him with show tunes. That he's letting himself be wooed. That this off-kilter sensation that's been hounding his every waking moment for weeks dissipates the nanosecond Rodney climbs into his bed. He can't bring himself to even speculate what in the goddamn hell is going on in Rodney's brain. Because that's really dangerous. He sits on the pier, waiting for the sunrise, wondering if his father kept his mother's sailboat. And if Dave inherited it. And if he can have it.

Rodney hasn't yet had his first cup of coffee and is borderline surly. They both know that an uncaffeinated Rodney is a grumpy and grouchy Rodney, so they ignore him. Keller lets John do ninety-five percent of the talking. John does not tell Rodney that he's sleepwalking and sleepsinging his way into John's bed every night. He keeps it generic, as if Rodney is meandering the halls aimlessly. Of course, being Rodney, he sputters his outrage and disbelief. At which point John brings up camera surveillance footage of Rodney stomping down the corridor near John's quarters, naked and glassy-eyed. As John intended, Rodney's humiliation is so profound that he will agree to anything. John assures him that no one saw him but John, and that no one else knows but him and Jennifer. The two of them should take a week off, chill for a bit. Have a good time. John will swing it with Woolsey.

John really should give Jennifer Keller more credit because she totally outmaneuvers him. In spite of Rodney's blush and the grudging acknowledgment that of course he's overworked, followed by more grousing about when hasn't he been overworked, hello, this is Atlantis, and yes, a few days off would be appreciated and he might get some of those Discussions written, Rodney's capitulation is followed by a glare that's directed solely at John. He half-expects Rodney to hiss, "Judas," in his ear as he exits the sickbay in search of coffee and breakfast. By letting John take charge of this whole subterfuge, Keller's made him the patsy for Rodney's sense of betrayal.

He wants to call her on it, to say something sarcastic and cutting. She undermines him by handing him his tee shirt. It's folded into a perfect little square. He bets her dresser drawers could pass a military inspection. Organization and an eye for detail are traits that he wants in his doctor, but he can't help but think of Rodney's quarters, which always look like the aftermath of a recent earthquake: old physics journals thrown in the corners of the room, drawers half-opened with clothes spilling out onto the floor. It's obvious that Rodney puts on the first shirt he lays hands on—dirty or clean—the catsup stains a dead giveaway.

The faint whiff of Chanel No. 5 wafts up from the shirt. He remembers Nancy daubing perfume first in the valley between her breasts and then at the pulse points on her neck and wrists. The way he could smell its sexy yet elegant scent when he zipped up the back of her dresses or hooked closed the clasps of her necklaces.

He's not in a position to assume any moral high ground here. Instead of going with nasty, he opts for conciliatory. "Shall we join Rodney? He's probably had his first cup of coffee by now."

They return after only three-and-a-half days.

On Monday afternoon, shortly after lunch, Lorne mikes him to say that his presence is needed on the east dock. The tone of Lorne's voice tells him something's coming down. John didn't shave that morning, because to be perfectly honest he's not sleeping, which means he's been oversleeping, and today he had to make a choice between running and pruning back the bristle. Christ, the last thing he needs right now is a surprise visit from the brass.

He doesn't need a mirror to know he's looking pretty scruffy.

"Major, do I have time to shave?"

"No, sir, you don't."

Instead of the boatload full of three-star generals he expects, it's Keller with a hypo in her hand and Rodney twenty seconds away from a psychotic break.

"Get any closer and I swear I'll kill you. Don't you try and stop me, you, you, Russian!" All the Marines have their hands poised on the grips of their P-90s in ready position, waiting for an order from Lorne. Someone's cinched their belt around Rodney's ankles. Ronon's got Rodney in a body bind with Rodney's arm hiked back so tight he can't move.

Despite the fact that he's surrounded by Marines about to riddle his body with bullets, Rodney's threats are clearly aimed Keller, who's standing in front of him, talking calmly over his ranting, telling him that he needs to sleep, and she just wants to give him a little something to help him do that. She's not speaking to him in her indulgent "Oh, Rodney" voice. This is her "I'm Doctor Keller and You Will Now Be a Compliant Patient" voice.

Rodney has never been a compliant patient in his life.

"Hey, buddy. What's up?"

At the sound of his voice, Rodney stops mid-rant. "Thank god you're here. Do something, Colonel! I'm exhausted and I need to sleep, and these morons won't let me and it's way past my bedtime, and I'm going to kill the person who's playing the piano, and she," he gives Keller a McKay If-Only-My-Eyes-Were-Lasers glare, "wants to pump me full of drugs, and I don't need that because I'm perfectly capable of sleeping on my own, and I hate Napa, those vines made me sneeze, and I got stung by a bee and nearly died and…" He runs out of steam at this point and sags against Ronon.

Keller's face isn't telling him anything, and Lorne is clearly waiting for him to make the next move.

"I'm going to free your ankles, and then Ronon and I will get you to bed. Okay, Rodney?"

Rodney doesn't raise his head, but makes a sound that's a cross between a whimper and his name. John kneels down to undo the belt circling Rodney's legs and braces himself for the kick he's half-expecting; it doesn't come. After handing Lorne his belt, he and Ronon half-carry Rodney to John's room. He doesn't check to see if Keller is behind them. Ronon initially makes for the corridor where Rodney's room is located, but at John's embarrassed, "Uh, no, my quarters," he falls in line with John's footsteps without saying a word. Rodney's snoring by the time John palms open the door.

"So, I guess you're wondering—"

Ronon holds up a hand. "Sometimes good shit has a bad shit component to it. This is one of those times. Jennifer's a nice woman but maybe not the person, no matter how much McKay wants her to be."

"I didn't… I don't… I'm not…" John sputters in frustration.

"Too late."

He lies with Rodney for a couple of hours, just to make sure he's okay, humming over and over the song his mother used to sing to him before she turned out the light: "You'll Never Walk Alone."

He finds Jennifer in her office, which is a personal mental whoa, because only now that he's earned her hatred for all eternity does he think of her as Jennifer. He doubts she thinks of him as John. She's sitting at her desk, no data pad in her hand, her computer screen on stand-by.

"Is he okay?" Her voice is tired and flat, all pretense gone.

"Yeah. I just wanted to let you know he's in a deep sleep. I'll go back—"

"He's in your quarters, isn't he?"


She picks up the first thing her hand finds and throws it at him. Fortunately it's only her pen holder and not her coffee mug. He's expecting something like this, so he's ready and deflects it; pens and pencils go flying all over her office.

"He's been awake since we left Atlantis. Which is why he's hallucinating that I'm Russian." John thinks it's a lot more loaded than that, but doesn't say anything. It does tell him that Rodney hasn't confessed to her why he was a chronic sleepwalker as a kid. Which is really good news, although he doesn't know why. "Once he gets a few solid hours of rest, he'll be fine. I've resigned." John expected that. "I'm going to ask Rodney to come with me. To choose." She looks at her engagement ring so that John will look at it too. It's gaudy, with a lot of carats. Rodney paid a shitload of money for it.

He has to say this, because it's not just about him and she needs to know that. "It's Atlantis, too."

"Oh, for fuck's sake. Do you think I'm stupid, Colonel?"

If she's fully aware of how great a sacrifice she's expecting Rodney to make on her behalf, then the answer is clearly, "Yes." It's about so much more than movie night or playing with the radio-controlled cars on the pier. The apology that he's been constructing ever since he entered this room doesn't get said because he doesn't feel sorry anymore. Rodney is as much Atlantis' child as he is.

"I'm going to check on him. FYI, I helped him pick out that ring." He kicks a pen out of his way as he exits her office.

Rodney sleeps for another six hours before waking up John by singing, "I Can't Say No" into his ear. John opens his mouth to laugh, and Rodney seizes the opportunity to shove his tongue into John's mouth.

God, he's a greedy kisser. He's also something of a stereo kisser, as in, his hands are grabbing John's ass at the same time he's making obscene noises and mauling John's mouth with what John can only term a Rodney-esque confidence and delight. John doesn't think anyone has ever enjoyed kissing him this much. There's a chorus of "ohs" and "yeses" squeezed in between the short breaks he takes to nibble on John's ears and kiss his eyelids before returning to John's mouth with a swipe of hot, wet tongue.

John's never kissed a guy before, and in some ways it's the same and in some ways really different. There are the standard components of lips and tongue, duh, but it's a lot rougher—beard burn is probably the rule, not the exception—and it's so much more physical. Plus all the extras are different. Grabby big hands and strong thighs and muscles physical. Ignoring the nudge from his conscience reminding him that he's being a first-class skank, he maneuvers his leg between Rodney's thighs in search of an erection. Houston, we have lift-off. Shoving both of his hands under Rodney's shirt so that he can run his palms over the length of those shoulders takes it up another few notches.

Kissing/mauling each other turns into old-fashioned humping, the angling of erection against erection and that compulsion to push against and move into. John might not have ever kissed a guy before, but this sweaty, frantic rutting isn't rocket science, and for the second time in a week John comes in his pants; which sends Rodney over. Terrified he'll wake up Rodney, John doesn't dare move, not even to shift the seam of his shorts, which is rubbing painfully against a now really sensitive spot on his dick. He even hyperventilates a little as he tries not to pant. Rodney is sleep-panting and singing, almost whispering "Some Enchanted Evening."

John can't help but agree.

When he wakes up Rodney is gone. John reaches for his comlink and then stops. He needs to shower before the dried semen turns into semen cement and he rips off half his pubic hair in an effort to scrub himself clean. Ow, he's got fabric burns up the length of his dick. Which makes it impossible to ignore that he's just done really gay shit with Rodney. Huh. Is he freaked about finding out at the ripe old age of forty-one that he's bi? Strangely, no. It's typical of Pegasus. After all, he's been a bug. Discovering that his sexuality has a few more dimensions to it? Cool. Or at least it felt pretty damn cool at the time.

While his het cred obviously has some monster holes in it, he's not sure about Rodney's. Aside from the "Oh My God, I Betrayed My Betrothed," there will be a sequel: "Oh My God, I Betrayed My Betrothed by Having Gay Sex"; and then the sequel to the sequel. "Oh My God, I Betrayed My Betrothed by Having Gay Sex with Sheppard!" And yeah, Rodney had initiated all of this behavior, so his subconscious must have been screaming, "Come here, Colonel Hand Job," but that doesn't mean Rodney will readily admit it. He has a lot to lose by admitting it.

John learned early that you can't bargain yourself into happiness: that not stepping on cracks for a solid six months didn't stop his mother from drinking; that ignoring how much of a weenie Dave was didn't make him less of a weenie; that jumping at his father's orders for three months straight didn't make him love John, nor did marrying a woman who was Patrick's ideal; that living in suburban Virginia with Nancy and pretending to be America's happiest couple didn't make him the happiest husband.

He also learned that he sucks at compromise. Suffer through the Saturday afternoon barbeques with the red-neck neighbors and appreciate his fine wife in the privacy of their bedroom at night? No can do. Follow orders and give up three soldiers in enemy territory because if you send in your best pilot to get them, said pilot might not come back? The idea being that you save your pilot for the day when you need him to save forty lives. Fuck that. John knows how it works, but it doesn't work like that for him.

And yet as he's toweling off, he knows that he will bargain and he will compromise. That as much as he wants Rodney and possibly needs him, he will give him up to Jennifer. If Rodney stays. If they stay. Because it's time to face the fact that Rodney can't—mustn't—leave Atlantis. Because if he does, off-kilter won't even come close. Something will break in John. Permanently. He is willing to bargain, to compromise, to deny himself. Even though when he does, it always bites him in the ass. Even though he now knows what it feels like to have Rodney's hands on him, that improbable mouth all over him. He hasn't wanted in years because wanting always ends in gigantic, scarred-for-life failure. And now he wants Rodney.

The thing is, once you start wanting, you realize how hungry you are, how hungry you've been. John is fucking starving.

But he will compartmentalize and deny his hunger like he's never compartmentalized in his entire goddamn motherfucking life. Whatever it takes. Just so Rodney stays.

Yeah, he needs to find Rodney. He's lacing up his shoes when his chimes start going crazy.

Rodney's just showered—John can see beads of moisture on his neck near his hairline—and by the pink tinge to his skin he had the water on near boil. Even though he's really tempted, John bites back a, "Washing off the gay?" He's glad he did, because when Rodney opens his mouth he realizes that the too-pink cast to Rodney's skin is because he's furious, not because he scrubbed his skin raw. Dealing with a furious McKay. S.O.P.

"Can someone tell me what the hell's happening here? Jennifer's resigned. She's delivering these ultimatums about us leaving Atlantis. For good." Okay, so Rodney never intended to leave forever. That makes him feel a little better. "And there's some bullshit about the sleepwalking that I do not understand. And then. Then." Rodney gestures furiously between the two of them. "I wake up next to you and… Well, stuff!"

John will never know what Rodney sees in his face, but then Rodney whispers in voice with nearly the same level of dread he uses when speaking of the Wraith, "Tell me."

It still feels like a kinda shitty move, but John can't blame Jennifer for laying this on his watch, because he's really the only one who knows what happened; all of it. He'll start out with the basics and maybe it won't go beyond that.

"You've been sleepwalking—"

"Yes, yes, I know that. So? What does this have to do with Jennifer—"

"You've been sleepwalking to my quarters and singing and then sleeping in my bed for a couple of hours. Then you leave."

"Sleeping in your bed."




That gets the definitive McKay snort of scorn. "What, I just let loose with a few bars of the Star Spangled Banner and then we let off fireworks and—"

John suppresses a grin because, sort of.

"You know, songs."

"Colonel Inarticulate has arrived, ladies and gentlemen. Park your brains at the door. Do these songs have titles?"

Now John's getting pissed, because why should he bear the brunt of Rodney's irritation when it's his goddamn neurotic response to leaving the city he adores? And possibly John. John hasn't gone there yet. Not really. But he might have to.

"Show tunes. You sing show tunes." Rodney reels a little, as if John had slapped him. Before Rodney can shut down, he says, "I emailed Jeannie about the sleepwalking, and, well, I know. About your parents."

"Oh," Rodney says in the smallest voice possible and yet be audible. Rodney is so unnaturally quiet and still that John feels as if time has stopped. He's about to say something, fuck knows what, when Rodney adds, "I sleep in your bed?"

John nods.

"Where are you?"

Even now John debates lying, but what direction to lie in? Fuck it.

"We've been sharing."

The light bulb is starting to go on, John can tell. And it's not a good "on."

"Me and you."


"What have I been singing?"

"Rodney, it's not—"

"What the fuck have I been singing, John!"

"'My Favorite Things,' 'If I Loved You,' 'Can't Help Loving Dat Man,' 'On the Street Where You Live,' 'Some Enchanted Evening,' and 'I Can't Say No.'"

Rodney stiffens at that, because it's really hard to misinterpret that playlist as anything other than what it is: commentary on how he feels about John.

John's geared up for a lot of reactions, but what he doesn't expect is what Rodney says next.

"You're lying."

"No, I'm not."

"Yes, you are."

At any other time he would have started riffing the Monty Python dead parrot routine, "That parrot's dead"; "No, it's not," except this isn't funny at all. Rodney's calling into question John's integrity. And you do not fuck with John Sheppard's integrity.

"Look." He points a finger at Rodney. "I understand you might not want to deal with the fact that your engagement to Dr. Kildare is in jeopardy, but you came into my room, used a screwdriver to dismantle the codes on my door, crawled into my bed, and then snuggled up to me."

"No, I didn't." Rodney begins to adopt that bantam rooster thing he does when he's determined to stand his ground even when he knows he's wrong. John repeats over and over to himself, "Patience, dial up some patience here," until Rodney sniffs and snorts, and then says with the sarcasm on overload, "Do I strike you as the snuggling sort, Colonel?"

At which point John loses it, ignoring the blown-out flare of Rodney's pupils, which only happens when he's really frightened.

"You know what? You sure as hell are. Start thinking about how you can't stand to leave Atlantis or leave me. So much so you either go into some crazy-ass sleepwalking state that I swear to Christ not even a bomb would have woken you from or you refuse to sleep because you're afraid if you wake up we won't be here. Plus, Dr. "I Didn't" McKay, you kissed me and you humped me like you were dying for it, not—"

Good thing John's reflexes are quick otherwise that right hook that Rodney laid on him probably would have broken his jaw as opposed to only bruising the holy hell out of it.

Dear Atlantis:

I am on personal leave for a week visiting my sister up in Vancouver. Dr. Zelenka is in charge. If anyone blows up anything, breaks anything, so much as scuffs the floors, I will personally strangle them until their eyes hit the opposite wall.


John intends to dismantle his "office," but there's the sunset, and then the moonrise is cool beans, and then the stars came out. Maybe tomorrow. But he's keeping the tiki lamps. Fall is right around the corner and with that comes the warm weather. Maybe they can have a luau out here.

An email to Dave confirms his expectations. His father had sold their sailboat the day after his mother died. John ignores all the background whining (Mom only took you sailing), and forces himself to send back a polite and (for him) fairly warm response. Not the, "Well, if you didn't puke at the sight of a sail, she might have taken you out more often," that he's tempted to type. Because as hard as it was being the son of an alcoholic mother who adored him, it must have been ten times harder being the son of an alcoholic mother who loved him but not nearly as much as his brother. Because Dave was too much like his father. So yeah, time to cut Dave some slack.

Some web surfing turns up a cute little thirty-four-foot "J Boat" for sale down in Long Beach that he can afford. With an eleven-foot beam and a six-and-a-half-foot draft, she'll cut through the water like a hot knife through butter. Berthing her at T.I. would work. He's about to call it a night—the fog is starting to drift in and the temperature's dropped—when he hears someone walking toward him.

Even at a shuffle, he'd know the sound of Rodney's footfalls anywhere.

"May I sit down?"

It's awful that Rodney has to ask, but they've come to that point.

"Sure, buddy."

"Are we still buddies? I mean, I think we are. I brought you a beer. Here." He hands John an ice-cold bottle of Anchor Steam and then groans and moans as he plonks himself down next to John on the pier. In a small voice, he asks, "How's the jaw?"

"Okay." Which is true. It hurts to shave but that's about it. He tends to chew on the other side anyway.

"I, uh, Jeannie says hi."

John raises his beer bottle. "'Lo, Jeannie."

"She says I'm an idiot, and it only took three days of her yelling at me to get it through my head that, yes, I'm an idiot. Because only an idiot couldn't connect the dots between the sleepwalking and the Rodgers and Hammerstein and calling Jennifer a Russian. And, uh, that, uh, stuff between you and me."


"Look, I—"

"—will you shut the fuck up? Listen. Okay, things happened between us. Sex, uh, things. And if you want to label it gay, go to town. But we don't have to do anything again. Ever. Got it? Just stay. Even if you work things out with Jennifer. That's all I ask. Stay."

John braces himself for Rodney getting all outraged on him, so he's completely unprepared for the quiet, "You never ask. For anything. Except for ordnance and C4. You never have enough of that."

"Yeah, well."

"So you're telling me that if I stay and maybe even convince Jennifer to stay—which is not going to happen short of her being in a permanent coma and me pretending that her random blink is a 'yes, sure,' but suppose that I could—you'd be perfectly happy."

"Not perfectly happy, but I'd deal. Yeah."

"So even though you're asking, you're also denying yourself. It's a twist on Newton's Law of Motion—to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction; Sheppard's Law of Martyrdom—to every desire there is always an equal and opposite renunciation."

"Well, when you put it like—"

"Jesus fucking Christ," Rodney groans and then cuffs him on the head.


He cuffs him again.

"I cannot believe what a martyr you are. After all these years, you still have the capacity to surprise me with what a completely and utterly fucked-up person lurks behind those Rayburns or Raybums or whatever the hell brand of glasses you wear."

"Raybans. Cock-eyed pragmatist. That's me."

John grins. In the faint glow from the tiki lamps, John can see Rodney grinning back. Then the smile falls.

"I'm sorry. For hitting you and calling you a liar. I was just… I just wanted normal, you know? I've never had normal. Been normal. This was my chance. And she's a wonderful person."

"I know." John had chased that for a while. He knows how old it gets watching the normal through abnormal glasses. "But normal people don't get to call Atlantis home." John reaches up to touch Rodney's face because there's such sadness there—sadness he understands and shares—but then drops his hand. Because maybe he misunderstood; maybe it's not going in that direction.

"It was good? I really don't remember." It's too dark to see the blush on Rodney's cheeks, but he can hear it in his voice.

John nods and brings his hand back up to cup Rodney's cheek. Rodney hasn't shaved in a couple of days and the bristle tickles his palm.

He leans forward and kisses Rodney's forehead.


He kisses one cheek.


He kisses the other cheek and then hovers over Rodney's mouth with his own, waiting for a sign. A breathy, "John," which is about as close to begging as you can get, is all he needs before he whispers back, "Good," and kisses Rodney. These are small kisses, nibbles really. The sort of kisses you give someone when you're young and unsure. Not that John's unsure (or young), but he wants to give Rodney some space, some time to wrap his mind around the two of them. Still. Sweet Jesus. That mouth. Rodney awake is as great a kisser as Rodney asleep, agile and greedy. John breaks it off before they can get to the wild tongue stage.

"Whoa, buckaroo. We've got time. Let's take this slow."

Rodney laughs a little and gives John's earlobe a sharp suck.

"Yes, I agree, and I—" John has no idea what Rodney was going to say, because the sentence segues into a big yawn, followed by, "I'm so tired," as he leans his forehead into John's. "I didn't sleep a wink the entire time I was at Jeannie's."

"Come on, scootch in front here. Lean against me. Take a load off."

There's swearing and whimpering and complaining and grousing, in other words, standard McKay speak, as Rodney maneuvers around and plants himself in the vee of John's legs. Rodney is warm, solid, and so, well, Rodney. John wraps both arms around him and says silently to the back of Rodney's neck, "I've got you."

"Ah, that feels better. What did I do in a past life to deserve such a sucky back? Don't answer that. We need to get Teyla back. I can't stand it that she's not here. Do you think we can convince Woolsey to have a toddler on Atlantis?"

"No, but we can make her a civilian and she can commute from the city."

"That might work. Why do I suspect that you're going to offer to be her chauffeur?"

"Puddlejumpers R Us. This could be the start of a whole new career for me."

"Does that mean you'll have to wear a tux? I bet you're really hot in a tux. John? Where'd you learn to identify all those show tunes? I mean, there's a continental divide between Lerner and Loewe and Johnny Cash."

Rodney's giving up normal for him; maybe it's time he gave up something, too.

"My mother. She used to sing them to me."

There's a pause, maybe thirty seconds, and then Rodney says, "What was she like?"

"Pretty. Real pretty. I look a lot like her. She was tall; slender. With dark hair—"

"Did she slouch like you, have hair like a muppet, and have those weird-colored eyes?"

"No and no," and because he can, he returns the favor and cuffs Rodney's head, reveling in the inevitable squawk. "And they're called green, asshole. I'm sure I got the ATA gene from her. She could sail anything."

"That makes sense. Objects through time and space."

"She loved five things in this world: me, Dave, her sailboat, her garden, and martinis made with Boodles gin, shaken not stirred. When I was ten—"

After Rodney falls asleep, John hums to himself, "I've Grown Accustomed to His Face."

Normal is so overrated.