by Kass

Many thanks to Sihaya Black and Sheafrotherdon for beta, brainstorming, general encouragement! Written for McShep Match 2009.

1. Now

"Playing in the mud?"

"Don't be a dick," Rodney says, without rancor, and sits back on his heels to inspect the three small holes he's just dug. Nope: the pots are bigger than the holes. With a sigh he leans forward and carves his trowel into the tightly-packed soil again.

"Seriously, what are those?" John perches on the front step.

"Teyla sent them with us," Rodney explains. "Herb garden."

"She does realize we're only going to be here occasionally, right?"

"Yes, yes, she said we won't have to water them or anything. They're native to some other part of the mainland, I guess they used to grow on Athos, too. Apparently the leaves make a useful tea--"

"Aphrodesiac?" There's a hopeful leer in John's voice.

Rodney rolls his eyes. "Analgesic. For your considerable collection of war wounds."

"You're the one with the creaky back."

"Which is not, I hasten to point out, a sign of increased age; I've had a bad back since I was twenty." There: now the holes look big enough. Rodney carefully decants each herb from its pot and tucks it into the ground, patting soil around the roots.

"You actually look like you know what you're doing."

"Yes, well, botany, not a challenging science," Rodney sniffs.

"I think your ex-fiancée would disagree."

"She never actually said yes! I don't think that counts. And also, will you ever stop bringing that up?"

"Probably not," John says breezily, and grins.

"You are such a pain in the ass," Rodney says, but he can't tamp down his smile in response.

John stands, wincing slightly as his left knee makes an unpleasant popping sound. "Come inside, get cleaned up -- I'll get dinner together."

"Venison stew?" Rodney offers hopefully.

"Yep, and good bread," John confirms. "Of course, if you come to dinner in a bathrobe, I can't make any promises as to your virtue remaining intact."

"Flirt," Rodney says happily, and follows him inside.

2. Then

Rodney had been sitting in the uncomfortable spare chair in John's room for over an hour, staring at his tablet computer but not really processing any of the (very important) material on it. Waiting. Ignoring the way John's Cash poster stared at him.

The door to John's quarters whooshed open and all of the butterflies in Rodney's stomach leapt to attention.


John didn't even pretend to be surprised to see Rodney waiting there. His dress blues were crisp but his eyes were tired.

"The trip is a bitch now that we can't gate there," John said, sitting down wearily and unlacing his shoes. "Helicopters and small planes have lost some of their appeal."

"I'm surprised they didn't let you at least take a jumper. Surely there's somewhere inside Cheyenne Mountain where you could park it."

A shadow passed across John's features, and fear clenched Rodney's heart. Something was wrong. "What," Rodney demanded, already cataloguing worst-case scenarios in his mind. "Spit it out."

"Good news," John said, apparently ignoring his question. "Atlantis is returning to Pegasus!"

For an instant Rodney's joy burned too brightly to register anything else. "That's... amazing," he said. "I didn't think you'd be able to talk them into it so soon. Oh, God, I have to start thinking about resupplying, and at least a third of the personnel need reviews if we're going to re-hire, not to mention the fuel measurements -- we've moved a ton of crap into the city over the last few months, that's going to change our flight capabilities -- when do we take off?"

John didn't reply.

And now Rodney's awareness of John's mood had caught up with him. John's voice sounded brittle and he wasn't meeting Rodney's eyes. The butterflies in Rodney's stomach did loop-de-loops. "Don't tell me," Rodney began, but it was too late.

"I'm not coming with you," John said flatly, looking at his feet. "It finally occurred to somebody in charge that I'm not leadership material -- at least, not the kind of leadership material they want in charge of our one-and-only flying city -- and since I wouldn't take the promotion designed to get me off of Atlantis, they're giving me an early retirement. Honorable, at least."

"No," Rodney said. He felt frozen in place. This couldn't be happening.

"Hey, it's great, I get to kick back and relax while you guys are out there risking your necks." The brightness in John's tone made Rodney want to punch something. "Take up surfing again. Climb Denali." John loosened his tie and unfastened the buttons on his jacket as he spoke.

"Did you not hear me? I said--"

"It doesn't matter what you say." John's voice was quiet. He flicked a quick glance at Rodney and then looked down at his hands. "The IOA doesn't give a damn. It's over, Rodney. Before they redeploy Atlantis, they'll find me a new posting for the remainder of the year, and then I'm done. Bon voyage. Good luck out there."

"Fuck that," Rodney said, and stood up, and walked out. If John seriously thought he was going to stand for this, he didn't know Rodney very well at all.

3. Now

Dinner is over and the dishes are soaking in the sink when Rodney flops on the bed and gazes at the post-and-beam ceiling, his bathrobe coming open a little bit. "I can't believe it took us this long to do this." They've been here for three days and it still feels exotic. The cabin's construction is so different from the familiar glazed metal alloys of the city. And this far inland the air doesn't smell like salt.

"And whose bright idea was this, anyway, hm?" John sits at the edge of the bed, his hand resting on Rodney's ankle. His thumb strokes gently back and forth against the bone.

"Teyla's, actually," Rodney points out. Which is true; she's been badgering them to get a cabin for years.

"Which I supported from the start!" John sounds indignant.

"Okay, so maybe it's a little bit of a challenge to drag me away from the lab."

John snorts.

"But how about you, Colonel 'I-can't-leave-the-city, something-might-go-wrong'?"

"We're both idiots," John says.

"Sometimes," Rodney agrees. John's hand is stroking his calf now and Rodney rolls his thighs apart slightly. Hey, a guy can hope.

"Was there something you wanted?"

"Yes, actually," Rodney says, a hint of ascerbity in his voice, because it's part of the game and John loves it. "You did make some intimations about coming to dinner in my bathrobe..."

"I did, didn't I?" John slides his hand up the inside of Rodney's thigh, under his robe, and cups his erection, rubbing just barely enough.

Rodney hums happily and lets himself sink into the mattress. "You have approximately thirty minutes to stop that."

John laughs. "Like you're going to last that long."

"Hey, I'm not as young as I used to be," Rodney protests.

"Yeah, but you still like this," John says, and climbs over him and slides his mouth down.

Rodney groans. "You may," he manages, "have a point."

John, whose mouth is full, doesn't bother to respond.

4. Then

The mess hall was usually pretty empty by 11pm, but Rodney and Teyla and Ronon sat outside on a balcony anyway, surrounded by the sounds of the North Pacific. The occasional foghorn rang out, warning ships away from shore.

"This sucks." Ronon leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs at the ankle. "Your IOA's had a lot of stupid ideas, but this is the worst one yet."

"That more or less goes without saying, doesn't it?" Rodney knew he sounded snippy, but Ronon wasn't going to care.

"There must be something we can do," Teyla offered. "I will go with you before the IOA."

"Me too, if you want," Ronon offered.

Rodney allowed himself a small moment of comfort in the fantasy of showing up flanked with Teyla's steely determination and Ronon's blaster, but then he shook his head. "You're not part of their system. They're not going to listen to you."

"And they will listen to you?" Teyla pushed back.

"I don't know. I haven't exactly curried favor with the IOA. But I have to try," Rodney said, spreading his hands helplessly.

"We know," Ronon said.

"I just don't understand what the hell they're thinking. Okay, yes, he can be a bit of a loose cannon, but he's indispensable," Rodney fretted.

"Saved our asses more times than I can count," Ronon noted.

"That's my point! Not to mention his facility with Ancient tech."

"In fairness, the artificial gene works well," Teyla pointed out.

"Yeah, but..." Rodney blew out a breath. "It's not the same. The jumpers will listen to me; I think they actually talk to him." But how could he explain that to a room full of stuffed-shirt beaurocrats who'd never interfaced with Ancient technology in their lives? They had no idea what it had been like to walk through that gate five years ago, not knowing whether they would ever be able to come back.

"When you know how we can help, you will tell us," Teyla said. "For now... it is late, and Jennifer will be worried."

Rodney glanced down at his watch. "Right, of course," he said, and pushed back from the table. He felt as if he should say something else. "Thanks," he said, "for -- everything," and walked away without waiting to hear their response.

The door let him in, but Jennifer was asleep when he got to her room. Sleep erased everyone's laugh and worry lines; it made her look younger. He stood for a moment and watched her, feeling an uncomfortable combination of tenderness and anxiety, and then left. He was too antsy to sleep tonight, and he had work to do, anyway.

He stopped on the way for coffee from the all-night mess hall self-serve station. If he was going to hit the IOA in the morning he needed arguments. Powerpoint presentations. Surely he could make a case based on how many times John had saved all of their skins -- how many suicide missions had John flown over the years, anyway? They needed John; he just had to make the IOA see sense.

And if anyone could do it, Rodney could. He had to believe that. He sat down at his laptop, took a first long gulp of coffee, and got to work.

5. Now

When Rodney wakes up, their last morning at the cabin, John's already out of bed and the few clothes he brought along are folded and stashed in their bag. Rodney takes a quick shower -- the endless supply of hot water in Atlantis will be nice to return to, even if he's oddly not all that excited about getting back to work -- and washes the few dishes in the sink. When he steps outside, John's sitting in one of the bentwood rocking chairs on their tiny porch, and he has his radio headset on.

Rodney sighs an exaggerated sigh and puts his on, too.

"Nobody burned the city down while we were away, right?" John says.

"Everything's in good shape, Colonel," Lorne answers. They're on a private channel, but Rodney has access. He's not sure Lorne knows that, so he keeps quiet. "We're ready to welcome you back."

"We'll be there within the hour," John promises. "Sheppard out," and disconnects.

They sit for a while. It's quiet here. The sound of wind in the trees is almost, but not quite, like the sound of the waves.

"Shall we?" John asks, standing up, and Rodney shrugs.

"Guess so," he agrees, and picks up their bag, and follows John to the clearing where their cloaked jumper waits to take them home.

The halls are full of people. It's overwhelming at first, even though they've only been away for four days. Somehow the city seems even busier than it was when they left, though that's just because they've spent four days in relative isolation. It's kind of alarming how quickly Rodney could get used to not having people around. Except for John.

Everyone greets John as they pass. "Colonel." "Sir." They nod to Rodney, too -- "Welcome back, Doctor" -- but John's more approachable, somehow. Probably because he didn't spend his first several years in the city alienating underlings. Not that Rodney regrets a moment of it; browbeating is a time-honored scientific tradition and an excellent way to motivate new discoveries. Though Zelenka would probably still disagree with him on that.

Rodney walks John to his office, and Teyla's there waiting for them. "Welcome home," she says, coming to press foreheads with each of them in turn.

"It wasn't exactly a lengthy journey," Rodney protests, but she's having none of that.

"I am glad that you went, and I am glad that you have returned," she chides, and the warm affection in her tone makes him want to duck his head. He manfully resists.

"So what'd we miss?" John asks.

"Nothing interesting. Lorne will be in presently to brief you. I'm just here to ask whether the two of you would do Ronon and me the honor of dining with us tonight?"

Something in her tone makes Rodney look up from his tablet. Is she up to something? "Anything...special going on?"

"We would like to hear about your vacation, and surely your first day back will be busy."

"We'll find some G-rated stories to tell," John promises.

"Excellent. Otherwise I would ask Torren to dine elsewhere. Perhaps with the new Marines."

Rodney snorts. "Like he's going to get age-appropriate stories from them."

"It is good for him to know the new generation of -- how would you put it? -- 'action heroes,'" Teyla points out. "Now that we are on our way toward becoming elders."

"Speak for yourself," John retorts, out of habit. It's what he always says.

Teyla smiles warmly. "I will see you this evening," she promises, and departs.

Rodney feels weirdly reluctant to go to the lab. God only knows how many email messages he has waiting for him, not to mention the obligation to check out what everyone's been doing since he's been gone. "See you at lunch?" he offers.

"Assuming I can get out of here, yeah," John agrees. Their kiss is quick and chaste, but Rodney still blushes when he turns to leave and sees Lorne standing in the doorway.

Lorne grins. "Howdy, Doc."

"Morning," Rodney replies, and pushes his way out the door.

6. Then

Early morning. Rodney walked fast through the halls of the city, on his way to the helicopter pad on the southwest pier. His suit tugged uncomfortably at his chest and biceps as he walked -- apparently he'd had a slightly different build, back when he used to wear suits with regularity -- and he thought wistfully of being able to return to science clothes, gate team clothes. But not until he'd seen this through.

"Rodney!" John's voice, coming from behind him.

Damn. Rodney turned around. "I'm about to be late," Rodney began.

"Stop doing this," John said. There were shadows under his eyes and he hadn't shaved in a couple of days; he looked like hell.

"Doing what? I need to meet with the IOA. We have things to discuss before the city's re-deployed." Rodney felt his chin rising, his shoulders going back. The best defense was a good offense, right?

"Bullshit. Rodney, let it go."

"Sorry," Rodney said, aware that he didn't sound sorry at all, and turned to walk away.

"I'm okay with this," John called after him. "I've let it go. You have to let it go, too."

Rodney turned back to face him. "You may not be aware of this about me, but I don't do 'letting go.'"

A shadow passed across John's features. "I kind of knew that, actually."

"Just because you've taken the short-cut straight to depression and acceptance doesn't mean I need to skip the anger and the bargaining."

"Wow, you actually listened to Heightmeyer, who knew."

Rodney didn't dignify that with a response. "And secondly, hello, have you met me?"

"This isn't something you can fix with coding and control crystals." John sounded desperate. As though he really wanted Rodney to give up. Which was so not going to happen.

"See you later," Rodney said, and turned on his heel, and walked away.

Jennifer was slumped in the chair in his quarters when Rodney got in. The book she'd been reading was open on her lap but her eyes were closed. Rodney thought "dim" at the lights as he stepped inside and loosened his tie, but the sound of his footsteps woke her.

"You're back," she said sleepily, and sat up.

"Hey, I'm sorry -- did we have a date tonight?" Rodney racked his brain. Jesus: one more reason to feel like he was failing at life this week.

But Jennifer was shaking her head. "We didn't. I just..."

"You didn't have to wait up," Rodney said.

"Rodney, you have to stop this," Jennifer said quietly, and Rodney felt his stomach sink. He sat down heavily on the edge of his bed. "You've been meeting with the IOA every day for two weeks. Everybody knows what you're doing and everybody knows it isn't going to work; you're just digging yourself into a hole."

"I can't leave him behind," Rodney said.

"I think you're going to have to." Jennifer's voice was gentle and her face was kind and it made him want to cry.

"I can't do this without him." The words were a surprise as they came out of his mouth; he hadn't meant to say that. "John's been here from the beginning. I can't imagine Atlantis without him. We've lost so many people -- I can't lose him too." He willed her to understand.

"It's a lost cause," Jennifer argued. "You're going to damage your career. Are you angling to get yourself thrown off the project, too?"

"No! Of course not." What a horrifying thought.

There was a pause. "John doesn't even want you to be doing this," she tried.

"I know," Rodney said. "But I don't care."

Jennifer gave a sad little laugh. "That stubbornness is one of the things I love about you."

A weird calm descended over Rodney. "But," he prompted, suddenly certain that a "but" was forthcoming.

"Rodney, I can't... this isn't working," she said. "For me. And I can't shake the feeling that if I were the one not coming back to Pegasus, you wouldn't be moving heaven and earth like this for me. That's kind of petty, huh?" She was sniffling now.

"No, no," Rodney said immediately. He reached a hand out, unsure, and Jennifer crossed to the bed and sat down next to him and leaned against him. He put his arm around her. It felt comfortable, familiar. "Look, it's hard enough -- I'm pretty much married to my work, I realize that."

"I think you're married to your work and you're married to John, whether you know it or not," Jennifer said, and dug in her pocket for a tissue and blew her nose.

Hearing that should have been surprising. But it wasn't. And there was nothing he could say.

"I'm sorry," Rodney said, and Jennifer turned and wrapped her arms around him and held on tight.

"Me too," she whispered.

"I do love you," he murmured into her hair, and she squeezed him hard before letting go.

"I know. You, too." There was a pause. "Please take care of yourself."

"I'll try," Rodney said, and then, as she stood up, "and if I don't, you'll be here to patch me up, right?"

Jennifer managed a shaky laugh. "That's my job."

"Goodnight," Rodney said, as the door closed behind her.

All through his shower, he replayed the conversation in his head. Her assertion that he was more-or-less married to John should have been shocking. John was straight. John was in the Air Force. John didn't do that kind of thing. For that matter, neither did Rodney -- not in the last fifteen years, anyway, and he would have said that a bit of youthful experimentation didn't really count in the grand scheme of things.

But she wasn't wrong. And how bizarre was it that it had taken his girlfriend -- ex-girlfriend, he amended, wincing slightly -- to point out that John was the most important person in his life?

Ex-girlfriend. God: another relationship down the tubes. Though this had to be the most amicable breakup in Rodney's history. It hurt, but it was going to be okay. They were going to be okay. Their friendship might actually survive this intact. Maybe that was exactly because she'd been the one who saw why Rodney's heart wasn't entirely his own to give.

Still, he couldn't stop thinking about the way her voice had sounded when she said, "Are you angling to get yourself thrown off the project, too?"

After five years in the Pegasus galaxy, Earthbound life would be... well, he knew what it would be. Like the six weeks they'd all spent after they'd been kicked out of Atlantis, trying to piece their lives back together but not knowing how.

But better him than John. John needed the city; John needed to fly. The thought of leaving Atlantis -- leaving Ronon and Teyla -- leaving the wealth of Ancient technology still to be explored and unearthed -- those hurt like hell. But not as badly as the thought of John being exiled from it. Rodney could handle the solitude, the alienation, if he knew John were where he was meant to be.

Maybe getting himself thrown off the project was the right idea. He had skills the IOA wanted. He could build things for them that they didn't even realize they were dreaming of. And that was a bargaining chip. Maybe the only real bargaining chip he had.

Rodney set an alarm for morning. Now he had a Plan B.

7. Now

Returning to the lab isn't as bad as Rodney thought it might be.

"So! Well-rested, I hope?" Zelenka asks.

"Reasonably," Rodney says, and tries not to turn red when Zelenka waggles an eyebrow. "I really wish you wouldn't do that."

Zelenka shrugs expressively. "There are many things you wish I would not do. Perhaps someday you will become accustomed to me."

"I'll look forward to that," Rodney snipes, though he can't help smiling. God: he's turning into a marshmallow. "Please tell me you made some kind of major breakthrough on something unquestionably important while I was away?"

"Not exactly," Zelenka says mildly, "though Ibn Abdulaziz improved the efficiency of the desalination plants by a third."

"Hm," Rodney says, impressed despite himself. He doesn't really know the guy; Abdulaziz has been here less than a year. "And the energy requirements?"

"No greater than they were before." Zelenka smiles broadly.

"Not bad," Rodney admits.

"Go, check your email, get out of my hair." Zelenka shoos him toward his office.

"What little there is of it," Rodney says, as he heads for the door.

"You should talk!"

Rodney makes an obscene gesture over his shoulder, and Zelenka laughs. It is, he realizes, good to be home.

Most of his email is junk, @lantis list mail he doesn't really care about (does it matter to him which sporting events will be re-aired in the west pier theatre this week? no, it does not), and/or already irrelevant, but he siezes on the one piece of personal email gratefully.



subject: visit soon

Hi Mer! I'm writing to give you a heads-up that Kaleb and the kids and I are hoping to come to the city next week. Madison and Joshua are on spring break this week and next, and they say they would much rather come see their uncles than hang out here.

Don't worry, we're not going to dump them on you -- we realize you have work to do. But you said it was a standing invitation, so I hope you meant it. We can keep ourselves busy, and the kids have sworn up and down that they understand confidentiality agreements and won't tell a soul where they're going, so -- I think we're going to do it! Joshua's first gate trip -- I'm so excited. He'll never want to fly on a plane again after this.

I hear through the rumor mill that you and John finally got talked into a vacation place. Maybe we can get you to show us around if you have a minute while we're there. If not, no worries -- one of those dashing young pilots can fly us over, I'm sure.

Anyway: if there's anything you want us to bring you from Canada, let us know! Otherwise we'll show up with maple syrup candy and our shining selves.

Love, Jeannie.

Who the hell told her about the vacation cabin? Is she in touch with Ronon or Teyla? That's probably not a good sign, Rodney decides; God only knows what kind of havoc the three of them could wreak if they're in cahoots. He'll have to make a mental note to warn John before next week when the kids show up. See if Teyla will let Torren babysit Joshua.

Before he knows it, his stomach is rumbling. Lunchtime. Rodney stands up, grabs his coffee mug, and steels himself to face the ravening hordes.

8. Then

Rodney's door whooshed open. "Okay, how'd you do it?"

"Hm?" Rodney turned around and couldn't help smiling. John looked alive again, excited, like a pilot who'd just been given permission to fly.

"I never thought you could do it, not in a million years," John said. "Even O'Neill told me I was through."

"The IOA turned out to be open to the right form of persuasion," Rodney said, keeping his voice mild even though he wanted to shout and to weep at the same time. "I take it you agreed to the promotional ceiling?"

John waved a hand. "Whatever, fine, they can make me a full-bird Colonel in a few years if I haven't gotten myself blown up, and then I'll stay there. I don't need to be promoted beyond that. Who cares about the rank?"

"If you could kindly not get yourself blown up, I'd appreciate that," Rodney said. His voice came too close to shaking for his own comfort, so he turned around and started folding clothes again.

"Yeah, well, y'know, it's never the plan, I just -- " There was a pause. "Are you packing?"

"Your powers of deduction never cease to amaze me."

"Rodney." Now John's voice was all flint.

Rodney took a deep breath and turned around. "I'm going to be doing some work for the IOA. They want a weapons platform I'm pretty sure I can design in my sleep, and a few other things, too -- should keep me relatively busy."

"Oh, no you don't," John said. His expression was wounded, betrayed; apparently it hadn't occurred to him that Rodney had needed to bargain.

How often had Rodney actually managed to surprise John in their five years of... whatever this was? Rodney gave him a tight smile. "If one of us is going to be grounded, it ought to be me."

"What is this, the gift of the goddamned Magi?"

"Literary reference, very impressive," Rodney tried, but John was having none of it.

"Put on your suit," John ordered.

"Didn't know you had a necktie fetish," Rodney said, but there was no arguing with that tone of voice; he headed for the closet. "Let me guess: back to the IOA?"

"I think it's high time they talked with both of us together," John said grimly. "They're not getting what they want from either one of us unless they send us both back to Pegasus."

Walking through the steel-plated underground halls of Cheyenne Mountain felt different with John by his side. They'd sat for a long tense hour in an anonymous waiting room after making their case, waiting to hear, and waiting, and waiting. And now it was over. Rodney was reeling, giddy. Some part of him wondered whether this was all a hallucination, or a dream.

A door clanged open behind them. "Sheppard! McKay!" Jack O'Neill's voice rang out in the hallway and both of them stopped in their tracks. Rodney turned to see the General jogging briskly down the hall to meet them.

"You're lucky you didn't just get yourself court-martialed," O'Neill said to John. "And you," to Rodney, shaking his head, but he seemed at a loss for words; he didn't finish the sentence.

"We were aware it was a gamble," John said. "Sir."

"Damn right it was," O'Neill agreed. He quirked a grin. "Then again, you've always liked dangerous flying, haven't you?"

"Gets the job done," John agreed. His face was composed but his eyes were laughing.

"Thank you for your support," Rodney said, and O'Neill turned his gaze back on Rodney.

"Who says I supported you?"

Rodney resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Barely. "Ah. No one, sir."

"Right," O'Neill agreed, and clapped them both on the back. "Well. What are you waiting for? Go pack your things and get the hell off this rock before somebody changes their minds."

"Will do," John confirmed, and then startled Rodney by throwing his shoulders back and snapping a crisp salute.

O'Neill returned the gesture, turned on his heel, and walked away.

9. Now

The first day back from vacation is always exhausting. When dinnertime rolls around Rodney's grateful to push back from his desk, close his office computer (he can check mail on his second tablet PC, the one he keeps in their quarters, later tonight) and join Ronon and Teyla and John for the walk to the mess.

In hindsight, he should have realized something was up. Teyla's just-slightly-too-polite dinner invitation. Jeannie's "advance warning" of their visit. But Rodney's still gobsmacked when they walk into the mess hall and the place is packed with far more people than should be on Atlantis on any given day. Plus there's bunting. Everywhere. And a giant banner reading "Congratulations!"

Rodney turns to Ronon, who's grinning at him unrepentantly. John turns to Teyla, who smiles and gestures for them to enter.

"Hi, Uncle Mer," chirps a little boy's voice. It's Joshua, standing next to his big sister Madison (who is -- Rodney always forgets this -- a teenager now, and is currently trying and failing to look bored in classic teenaged fashion), both of them next to their parents. "Hi Uncle John!"

"Hey," Rodney says, and gives them all slightly awkward hugs. "I thought you were -- you said next week...?"

He turns to John but John is already on the other side of the table, shaking hands with a man Rodney only recognizes from photographs as John's brother Dave.

Looking around the room, Rodney recognizes a lot of Atlantis personnel who don't serve here anymore. Woolsey is here, and Sam Carter. Milgrom, Singh, Dosic -- none of them have been stationed here in years. There are at least three tables of Athosians, and a small smattering of friendly Genii, and a table of Satedans.

"Okay, seriously, what the hell is going on?" Rodney asks.

Ronon and Teyla steer John to the small podium, and, confused, Rodney follows.

"You've been in command of Atlantis for ten years," Ronon says, and the whole room quiets down.

God, Rodney thinks, has it been that long? But of course it has.

"During that time we've normalized relations with the Wraith and ushered in a new era of prosperity for the galaxy," Teyla says.

Rodney opens his mouth to point out that everybody here knows that, then closes it again.

"Your own military is disinclined to promote you beyond Colonel," Teyla says. From the far side of the room, Sam Carter yells "Not my fault!" and a ripple of laughter runs through the mess hall.

"But we," Teyla smiles, "have no such compunctions."

"Wait a second," John begins, but Ronon shakes his head: don't argue with me. And miraculously, John doesn't.

The lump in Rodney's throat is making it difficult to breathe. All of these people are here to celebrate John. If the goddamned Air Force won't promote him, they're going to do it themselves. He makes a note to come up with a really, really nice present for Ronon and Teyla. As soon as he can think again.

Ronon reaches into his pocket and pulls out an insignia made of stiff dark braided leather. "This is the insignia of a Brigadier General in the Satedan army," he says, and the Satedans across the room all rise as one. John holds perfectly still as Ronon pins it to his chest, and the Satedans shout something in unison that Rodney doesn't understand.

"And this," Teyla says, "is the mark of a warrior and an elder among the Athosians," and she pins something made of beads to John's sleeve. The Athosians stand in respectful silence, beaming.

"In recognition of your years of service to the city of Atlantis, and to the peoples of the Pegasus Galaxy," Ronon shouts, and gives a nod, and the assembled military personnel -- from two galaxies and four worlds -- yell "hooah!" loud enough to rattle the windows.

"I...don't know what to say," John manages.

"Let's eat," Rodney offers, and then everyone is laughing and applauding and whooping as they make their way to their table.

"That was exhausting," Rodney says as the door closes behind them. John's already toeing off his boots and faceplanting on the bed.

"Tell me about it," John says, his voice muffled by pillows, and then rolls over.

"Kinda nice, though," Rodney offers, shrugging out of his jacket and his shoes.

"I can't believe they did that."

"I can't believe nobody told us. Zelenka didn't even let on!"

John shrugs one shoulder. "Our friends are kind of sneaky."

"Yeah," Rodney says, and surprises himself by yawning.

"C'mere," John says, and Rodney does.

When Rodney's hand ghosts along the curve of John's ass, John squirms and pushes back and murmurs "please" into the crook of Rodney's neck.

"Hm," Rodney says, "I've never fucked a Brigadier-General before," because he knows it'll get a rise out of John. And it does: John pushes back, glares at him, and then rolls over onto his belly.

The sight of John waiting like that, his silvering hair and too many old scars bright in the Lantean moonlight, still makes Rodney's belly do flipflops of longing and desire. He reaches for the lube and slicks up his fingers and then presses them inside. John sighs and pushes back, restless already.

"You feel so good," Rodney tells him, because all kinds of sappy things are battering at the inside of his lips and maybe if he's talking about John's body he can resist the temptation to blurt how grateful he is: for this, for them, for being here, for the fact that they finally admitted this to each other, for the gift of growing old together.

"More," John murmurs, "Rodney, please --"

He can't resist that. He's never been able to resist that. Rodney slicks himself and John rises onto all fours and Rodney pushes inside.

"God," John groans, and lets his head fall forward.

"The walls here aren't soundproof, you know," Rodney points out, sliding almost all the way out and then pushing in again. Oh, fuck, so good he has to bite back his own moan of pleasure.

"Don't care," John gasps, clenching around him.

Oh, God, he's not going to be able to hold on. It's too good. And then John shifts his weight, holding them up on his left arm so his right hand can grope for his own erection, and John chokes out a cry, caught between Rodney's cock and his own hand.

"You like that, don't you," Rodney murmurs, and John shudders. "Come on, John." The knowledge of how good that feels, being touched inside and out like that, roars through him like a wormhole opening. "Come for me."

And John does, and Rodney can't help but follow suit.

10. Then

"Jennifer and I split up." Rodney didn't mean to say it quite so abruptly, but there it is.

John took a long pull from his beer. "Yeah. I heard." That figured; the Atlantis rumor mill was pretty active. Word had probably gotten out within a day or two. They were sitting on the northeast pier, like always, but the pier didn't look out on the Golden Gate Bridge anymore, just open sea. Above them the night sky gleamed with unfamiliar stars. Rodney made a mental note to learn the constellations over Lantea III.

"It's amicable -- I mean, I think she even still likes me," Rodney offered.

"Seems that way," John agreed. There was a pause. "You...wanna talk about it?"

"I'm married to my work," Rodney said. John made a noncommittal noise; they'd probably both heard that one before. Rodney took a deep breath and kept going. "And she thinks I'm in love with you."

That was it: Rodney felt like he was in freefall. Like the moment of jerky disjunction when you first step into a stargate. Only he didn't know where this gate was going.

"She thinks that, huh?" John set his beer down. He didn't sound angry. Or afraid.

"I couldn't be here without you," Rodney said quietly.

"You were going to send me back here without you," John pointed out.

"At least you would have been happy," Rodney argued. "You would have had the city. The jumpers. The sky. John, I saw your face when you first brought back the news -- I couldn't stand that."

"Ronon and Teyla matter to me." John seemed to be choosing his words carefully. "We started something out here that we need to finish. But not without you. You idiot."

Rodney couldn't help grinning down at his beer. The butterflies in his stomach were still there, but they were calming down. He'd said what he had to say, and it hadn't scared John away. They sat in companionable silence for a moment, drinking.

"So," John said, bumping his shoulder against Rodney's lightly. "Is it just Keller who thinks you have a thing for me?"

His tone was so perfectly nonchalant that it set off Rodney's not very finely-honed but still-functional interpersonal alarm. That was the voice of a man who was afraid to hear the answer to his question.

Rodney swallowed hard. "No," he said, almost inaudibly. "It's not just her."

John exhaled. "Good," he said, after a long pause.

Relief made Rodney giddy. "'Good'? Is that all you have to say? I just poured out my heart and all you've got is--"

John set down his beer bottle, turned to face Rodney, and reached one hand around the back of his neck to pull him in for a kiss. Rodney dropped his beer into the ocean and did not give a damn. John's fingers were cold on the back of his neck but his mouth was warm, and he kissed like he'd been yearning for this. In John's arms, Rodney felt grounded. Cherished. At peace.

The End