Choices II:
The Long Way Home 

Orithain and Rina 

February 2007 

Disclaimers: We only wish they were ours. Sadly, this is as close as we're going to get.

"What the hell was I thinking?" Wearing his dress blues, Maj. John Sheppard looked around the decorated gymnasium, his gaze stopping on the huge banner that brightly proclaimed "Welcome Class of 1986--20 Year Reunion". For a variety of reasons, he'd never come to one of these before, but this year's high school reunion had fallen during his leave, and in a momentary fit of insanity, he'd decided to visit. If nothing else, it was a lot warmer than McMurdo.

But there were other reasons why this was a bad idea, and John could only hope that high school reunions weren't Rodney McKay's thing. Even thinking Rodney's name made him wince; he'd never really gotten over Rodney even though they'd lost touch after graduation. First his father had been reassigned so they'd missed out on that last summer they'd expected to have before going off to college, and then when John had started at the Air Force Academy, it had been hard to keep in contact with his... boyfriend.

John continued to stare at the banner, remembering.

"Not that tie, Dad!" Sixteen-year-old Jennifer McKay-Andrews stomped her foot in frustration and pulled the length of yellow silk from her father's hand. "Wear the blue one; it brings out your eyes."

"And where does it bring them out to?" Rodney asked snidely even as he took the tie Jennifer thrust at him and knotted it around his neck.

"God, Dad, don't be a pain tonight!" she groaned, flopping down on the bed where her twelve-year-old brother Michael lay playing a game on his PSP.

"You made me die!" he howled, grabbing a pillow and swinging it at his sister, who shrieked and pummeled him back while Rodney ignored them until the yelling reached a crescendo.

"Hey! Brats! Enough or I'll get a babysitter for you tonight--one who won't allow video games or computers or talking on the phone!"

Two pairs of blue eyes widened, then narrowed in calculation. "No, you wouldn't, Dad," Michael smirked, "there's not enough time to get one."

"So maybe I'll stay home."

"Aunt Laura would drag you out of the house by your ear, and you know it," Jennifer snickered.

Rodney scowled at the pair of them in the mirror as he adjusted his tie. "Have I told you that you're both vile, inconsiderate brats lately?"

"We love you too, Dad," they chorused, offering angelic smiles.

"I repeat, brats! Remember, in bed by twelve and if I find out you had anyone over, you're both grounded until you're twenty-one!"

"Do that and we're never moving out," Jennifer laughed, flipping her bright blonde ponytail over her shoulder.

Rodney groaned again as he picked up his charcoal jacket. "I give up! Give me a decent goodbye at least so I don't feel like a complete fool for going to this thing."

"You'll have fun," Michael promised, bounding off the bed to give him a hug.

"More fun than if Robert was going," Jennifer whispered, giving Rodney an innocent look when he glowered at her before hugging and kissing him. "Well, you will!"

"Goodbye, brats." Rodney waved as he headed to the door. "Love you." This was said seriously as he paused and looked back at them.

"Love you too, Dad."

"Where is Rodney?" Laura Beckett asked her husband as she scanned the slowly filling gym. "He swore he was coming this time."

"I don't see him yet, and I told him that we'd... Oh my Lord!" Carson's eyes widened as he stared across the room. "Tell me that's not who I think it is!"

"Who who is?" Laura began before looking in the same direction as Carson. "Oh my God, it is!"

"John Sheppard!"

The noise level was still low enough that his name attracted John's attention, and he turned his head, freezing when he saw the couple staring at him. He started to move toward them, then stopped again, unsure of his welcome. It had, after all, been more than half their lives since he'd seen Carson Beckett and Laura Cadman, who seemed to have beaten the odds and stayed together.

Dragging Carson with her, Laura cut through the milling people toward him, and the look in her eyes wasn't altogether friendly. "Well, we never thought we'd see you back here," she commented. "How's life in the Air Force treating you?"

John smiled, but the expression never reached his eyes, which remained shuttered. "It's an interesting time to be in the military," he said evasively. "But I see you two are still together. Congratulations."

Watching John, Carson frowned, seeing the differences from the cheerfully outgoing teenager he remembered. "Thank you. We did send you an invitation to the wedding," he said.

"Yeah, it finally caught up with me about six months after the date," John said. "I guess you never got the card I sent, huh?"

"It probably got stuck the same place the invitation did," Laura mused. "So where are you stationed?"

"Radek! Elizabeth!" Rodney greeted them both in the parking lot outside the gym and heaved a sigh of relief. "Thank god I don't have to walk in there alone!"

Elizabeth chuckled warmly, tucking a stray strand of chestnut hair behind her ear. "There's no one in there you don't know, Rodney." The years had been kind to the woman who'd been senior class president, the features that had been a little too strong for prettiness in a teenager making for a striking woman now that she'd grown into them. A diplomat who specialized in treaty negotiations that no one else could manage, Elizabeth spent the time she wasn't traveling with her husband of ten years in the town where they'd both grown up. "Not that you paid much attention to most of them," she admitted, remembering Rodney's standoffishness--and his near total absorption in one person their senior year, though she was one of the few people to know that.

"What was there to pay attention to?" Rodney sniffed. "I simply didn't want to be inundated with idiots shrieking about how wonderful it is to see me when we all know they couldn't give a rat's ass to that effect."

"Ahh, Rodney," Radek sighed, patting his friend on the back, "full of tact as always."

Elizabeth laughed as she moved between the two men, taking their arms as she started inside. "If there were more people like you, Rodney, I'd be out of a job... because they'd all have shot each other before they ever reached a need for me!"

"Excuse me? I've never shot anyone in my life!" Rodney protested.

"No, you haven't, but I shudder to imagine entire armies with your personality," Elizabeth teased.

"If that was the case, I'm sure you could negotiate a truce between them," Radek said loyally.

Elizabeth hesitated before saying, "My treaty negotiating days are done."

"Why is that?" Rodney asked. "Solve all the world's problems?"

"No, but I'm going to be concentrating on raising our own problem for a while." Elizabeth smiled, pure happiness all but shining from her. "I'm pregnant."

Rodney's eyes flew open in shock. "You are? Radek, you dog!"

The other man's eyes were wide, and his mouth was gaping as if he was gasping for breath. "Elizabeth! You--we--"

"You hadn't told him?" Rodney asked incredulously.

"I just did." Elizabeth smiled almost tremulously as she let go of Rodney's arm to move into Radek's embrace. "I waited until I was sure this time. We're having a baby."

Radek was still sputtering with shock and happiness as he pulled Elizabeth against him and kissed her face numerous times.

"Oh, will you two get a room," Rodney grumbled though he was grinning broadly at the same time.

"We know you're not really a complete bastard, Rodney," Elizabeth chuckled, "so stop wasting your time. Now let's go see who's made it to the reunion this time."

"If I see anyone in neon, I'm leaving," Rodney warned, still smiling as he watched Radek hover over Elizabeth as they went inside.

"You won't be the only one," Elizabeth assured him. "Now, I'm sure Carson and Laura must be here. Do either of you see them?"

Both men scanned the crowd before Radek nodded. "Yes, there they are. Who is that they're talking to?"

"Where? Oh," Rodney shrugged. "No idea."

"We need to go say hello." Elizabeth started toward their friends, missing a step when she suddenly realized why that hair looked so familiar. "It can't be," she breathed.

"Can't be what?" Rodney snorted. "Did Dex get a haircut and join the Air..." He froze for a split second, then continued, his chin rising in a defiant manner. "... Force?"

Hearing them, John turned, and he froze, staring at Rodney.

A stunned silence greeted him before Laura swept in. "Rodney!" she exclaimed, hugging him tightly. "Where's Robert?"

"Oh, he had to work tonight," he answered, cursing the unsteadiness of his voice. "It's good to see you, John."

"You too, Rodney." John couldn't have managed more than that if his life depended on it, and he simply nodded at Elizabeth and Radek, somewhat surprised to see them together.

Rodney opened his mouth again, glancing at Laura and Carson and saying the first thing that came to mind. "Elizabeth's pregnant."

Laura squealed delightedly and engulfed Elizabeth in a big hug while Carson shook Radek's hand and congratulated him. John took a step back, knowing he had no part in this. "It was nice to see you all again," he murmured, backing away more, ready to break away from the group.

"Where are you going?" Radek asked, giving him a stern look.

John stopped. "You don't want a stranger around for this. Oh, and congratulations."

"What stranger?" Carson asked. "So we haven't seen each other in a while; we're still friends."

John smiled, and only someone who was watching closely would have noticed the flinching in his eyes. "That's very kind of you." He looked around, an odd smile curving his lips. "It was a really good year."

"Yes," Laura smiled, "it was."

Rodney nodded, hoping his smile didn't look too artificial, and all but pounced on a server. "Drinks! First round is on me."

John hid a wince at Rodney's obvious discomfort.

"Ginger ale for me," Elizabeth reminded Rodney.

"Five champagnes--oh, hell, a bottle, and one of ginger ale," Rodney ordered.

"Go, big spender," Laura laughed.

John smiled. "I really don't want to intrude," he tried again.

"Where are you going to go, to sit with the pot-bellied jocks and former cheerleaders?" Rodney challenged. "It's been twenty years, John; I think we've all grown up."

John flinched back, trying to smile as he avoided meeting Rodney's eyes. "Exactly, it's been twenty years. Something like this should be shared with close friends."

"I think what Rodney was trying to say is we'd like to find out what's been going on with you," Elizabeth said quickly.

"Well, if you're sure..." He smiled wryly. "It's not as if I really got to know anyone else. I'd love to hear what you've all been up to. Well, of course, I know some of what you've done, Elizabeth. I think you actually saved my life once."

"So you were overseas?" Carson asked.

Rodney frowned at that. "I hope they at least taught you how to fly."

"That was about the only good part of it." John seemed to look at something far away and long ago before focusing on them again. "Now I'm just a helicopter jockey, doing supply runs."

Rodney watched him closely, frowning a bit before the arrival of the waiter with their drinks distracted him. "Well, let's toast to Radek and Elizabeth and all their many sleepless nights ahead."

After the toast, John regarded Rodney curiously. "That sounded like the voice of experience. Do you and Robert have kids?"

Radek snickered at that, and Rodney rolled his eyes at the shorter man. "I've got a son and a daughter."

"You alone?" The lack of details was only making John more curious.

"They were Jeannie's."

"Were? Jeannie?"

"She and her husband died in a car crash ten years ago." Rodney's tone was flat as he spoke.

"Oh God, I'm sorry." John started to put a hand on Rodney's shoulder but then let it drop back to his side.

"Thank you, but it was a long time ago."

"You never would have thought Rodney could have raised two little ones, but he did," Laura smiled, making him glower at her.

"It wasn't as if they were infants."

"Michael was two," Laura pointed out.

"I think I need a drink," John chuckled.

"At least he slept, unlike Andrew," Carson pointed out wryly to his wife.

"I think Andrew's waiting till he's eighteen to try sleeping," Laura groaned.

Radek shook his head and downed his champagne. "Tell all the horror stories you wish; you aren't scaring me."

"What about you, John?" Elizabeth asked. "Any little ones?"

John laughed. "I'm in the Air Force, and I'm gay. You honestly think I've had a relationship, let alone kids?"

"Well, since you put it that way," Laura began, before smiling at him. "Care to baby sit?"

John's eyes widened, and he took several steps backward. "The last time I babysat I was sixteen. I think I'm out of practice."

"Chicken," Rodney laughed. "Just so you know, their baby is ten."

"Ah, that's not so bad. But I wasn't really planning to stick around past the weekend. Gotta get back to base, you know." John didn't specify how long his leave was.

"Where is that exactly?" Radek asked.

"McMurdo. Antarctica. It's... quiet. I like it there."

"But you hate the cold," Rodney said without thinking.

"That was before I spent time in a desert."

Rodney flushed at that. "Oh, yes, I can imagine." He drained in his glass in an effort to keep from babbling.

"Well, perhaps we should find seats?" Radek asked.

"Yes, we should claim a table. We might even get lucky and not have anyone take the other two seats," Elizabeth said, moving toward an empty table.

"Oh my God! Is that John Sheppard?!" a woman screeched, scrambling over to pull him into a hug. "It is!"

John cast a helpless and somewhat desperate look over her shoulder at the others. "Uh, hi?"

"You don't remember me?" she pouted, causing the others to smother chuckles.

"Should I?" John looked hunted.

"I'm Chaylynn Meadows, silly," she laughed. "Remember now?"

"Uh... Oh, the cheerleader." John tried to step back, but she still had a grip on him.

"That's right! It's so good to see you; I can't believe it's been twenty years!"

"She still ends every sentence with an exclamation point," Rodney murmured to Carson.

Carson grinned quickly, but John was looking more desperate with each passing second, so he stepped forward to extract the poor man from the former cheerleader's clutches. "It's good to see you, Chaylynn," he said, while John took advantage of the distraction to put several people between them.

"Some things never change," Radek laughed as John tried to hide behind him and Laura. "She chased you all of senior year."

"I really didn't need to relive it," John groused. "God, shouldn't she have trapped someone else by now?"

"I think she was married at the ten year reunion," Laura mused. "Must not have lasted."

"Or she was overcome with lust at the sight of your uniform," Rodney said dryly.

"Well, I don't think taking it off's going to help," John grumbled, cautiously peering over their shoulders at Chaylynn. "That depends on what you want her to do."

"Unless she's going to turn into a he, nothing!"

Rodney only arched his eyebrows and took a sip of his champagne, making John frown.

"Just because I can't have what I want while wearing this uniform doesn't mean I'm going to take what I don't want."

"That must make life hard," Laura murmured sympathetically.

John shrugged. "It does, but it was my choice." Studiously not looking at Rodney, he added, "Though I might have chosen differently if I'd realized exactly what I was giving up."

"Sometimes it takes years to get what you want." Radek slid his arm around Elizabeth's waist and smiled at her.

John watched them fondly. "I'm glad you found each other. You look good together."

"They're revoltingly sappy, but since Radek's been in love with her for a quarter of a century, I don't comment on it--much," Rodney snorted. "And don't think that Jennifer is going to give you a discount on baby-sitting services when that rug-rat comes."

"I would never expect any such thing from a McKay," Elizabeth laughed.

"She wants a car, she's going to contribute to the payments," he said loftily.

"She'll appreciate it more," John murmured, breathing a sigh of relief when Chaylynn was distracted by someone and moved away from their group.

Carson was rubbing his ear when he sat down again. "I swear, you need earplugs to talk to that woman."

"She should come with a warning label," John grumbled. "It was annoying but sort of cute in an eighteen-year-old cheerleader. Now it's just annoying!"

The others nodded in agreement at that and all settled down at the table, watching the comings and goings around them.

"Lots of them are stuck in the past; high school was the be all and end all of their lives, and they can't deal with the fact that they aren't king of the world anymore," Rodney shrugged.

"I miss high school," John said wistfully.

"It was much simpler then," Carson nodded.

"Oh, like your life has changed all that much," Laura laughed.

"It looks like you got everything you wanted. I'm glad for you," John said.

"And what about you, John?" Radek asked. "Did you get everything you want?"

John smiled bitterly. "That was never in the cards."

"Lots of us didn't end up where we thought we would; you take the good, leave the bad, and deal," Rodney shrugged.

"Yeah. But sometimes the good turns bad as well," John murmured, speaking more to himself than the others.

Laura caught Elizabeth's gaze, and the women shared a moment of silent communication. "But we're all here now, so we should enjoy the moment, right?"

"You're right. After all, it's not every night we can pretend to be teenagers again and no one will think it's odd." John forced a smile, slouching in his chair in an attempt to look relaxed.

"Or odder than we already were," Carson laughed.

"Odd in a teenager is character in an adult," Laura said loyally, making them all laugh.

"Plus none of us are selling used cars or Amway," Rodney added.

"Or Mary Kay," Laura chuckled. "I'd look like hell in pink."

John snickered, unable to imagine it.

"I don't know; I bet I could have one of those Cadillacs in two months," Elizabeth grinned.

"But would you drive it?" Radek's grin was as wide as his wife's.

"Not even if you paid me," she admitted with a laugh. "But I could give it to Rodney. Doesn't every gay man need a pink car?"

He gagged, then smirked. "I'd take it; remember, Jennifer gets her license in three months."

Laura gaped at him. "She'd kill you!"

"Michael would kill you if he had to ride in it!" Carson added, watching Rodney's smirk.

"I'm such a wonderful father."

John smiled wistfully as he listened to them.

"You're a sadistic bastard... Hmm, yes, that's what it takes," Laura laughed.

Radek pulled his glasses off to wipe the tears of laughter from his eyes. "I somehow think Robert wouldn't be caught dead near such a thing either."

"Well, that's Robert," Rodney shrugged.

John frowned as he flagged down a waiter and ordered a drink.

"So, everyone's coming to the picnic tomorrow, right?" Laura asked as they walked to the door.

Amid a chorus of "of courses" and "wouldn't miss its", John hesitated before nodding slowly. "I'd forgotten about that."

"Oh, you have to come," Elizabeth exclaimed, not noticing, or at least pretending not to, everyone's unease.

"It's at the state park; you remember where that is, don't you?" Rodney asked, his tone too off-the-cuff for anyone who knew him to believe it.

John stilled, his body tensing as if against a blow. "You know, I didn't get a ticket. I probably shouldn't just show up."

"Oh, please, as if one person more will make a difference," Carson added.

"I suppose you're right." John's hesitation was almost unnoticeable that time. "So I guess I'll see you all there."

"Where are you staying? Maybe one of us could swing by and pick you up tomorrow?" Elizabeth suggested.

"You two have more room in your cars than the rest of us," Rodney pointed out.

"That's okay; I don't want to put anyone out," John said hastily. "I'll probably take a drive around to see how things have changed first anyhow, so I'll just meet you out there."

"Which means you won't come," Radek observed.

Laura glared at him impatiently. "Where are you staying?"

"No, really," John started before stalling under her irate gaze and naming his hotel.

"Rodney, you're nearest; pick John up on the way over," she ordered.

He opened his mouth, then closed it and nodded. "I'll be by at eleven--blue Toyota mini van."

"But..." Again John stopped. After a moment he chuckled faintly. "The Joint Chiefs don't know what they're missing by not unleashing you."

"Laura or Rodney?" Carson asked.

"Laura!" John shook his head, grinning openly for almost the first time all night. "She's a lot scarier than any of my instructors ever dreamed of being."

Laura's laugh was loud and full-throated. "It comes from riding herd on Carson through med school and the kids after that."

"And Radek and I whenever you could," Rodney snorted.

"She always did that," John chuckled.

"It was good practice for my coaching!" she protested.

Rodney nodded. "As Jennifer tells me time and time again."

"It sounds like you've all made good lives for yourselves and managed to stay good friends in the process. I envy you that. Between my father's postings and my own, I've never managed to stay in touch with anyone." Not that John had tried very hard after joining the Air Force and realizing what he was going to have to give up.

"Being in the same town, even if not all the time, makes it easier," Elizabeth explained. "I'd lost touch with everyone until our tenth reunion."

"When she realized what she missed in Radek," Rodney said smugly.

"I guess sometimes you do get a second chance," John said. "Good for you, Elizabeth. The girl most likely to succeed managed to do it professionally and personally."

"I was very lucky," she acknowledged.

"Well, I need to get going and see if the kids have left anything of the house," Rodney said, jingling his car keys.

"I guess I'll see you tomorrow," John said, separating himself from the group.

A chorus of 'see you tomorrow' followed, and Rodney pointed a finger at him. "Eleven. Be there or I'm sending teenagers after you."

"I'll be in the lobby," John said with an exaggerated shudder before waving and making his way to his car.

After watching him go, Carson rested his hand on Rodney's shoulder. "How are you?"

"How am I? Fine, of course."

"Rodney, we're your friends," Laura said, sliding an arm around his waist. "It took you a long time to get over John." Her eyes met Elizabeth's.

"Yes, it bothered me at the time," he grumbled. "Are we done with the armchair psychology now?"

"Good night, Rodney." Laura kissed his cheek before moving to Carson's side. As they made their way to their car, she suddenly said, "You know John's still hung up on him, right?"

"I wondered about that," he murmured. "But, as he said, you can't be gay and in the military."

"Well, obviously you can since he is, but it's not easy, and it sounds like he hasn't really been with anyone since Rodney." Laura frowned. "I was so angry with him for years for hurting Rodney like that, but now I think he hurt himself even more."

Carson nodded at that and hugged her close before opening the car door for her. "Yes, Rodney was able to move on--finally--but it doesn't seem as if John has been able to."

"He'd better not hurt Rodney again," Laura growled. "I feel sorry for him, but that doesn't mean I won't hurt him if he does."

Carson walked around to the other side of the car and got in before catching his wife's hand and squeezing it. "Rodney's in a relationship, remember? We may not love Robert, but that doesn't mean they're not content together."

Laura made a face. "Robert's so... boring. If there was the slightest chance of John staying around, I'd be helping him get Rodney back," she admitted. "Rodney was happy with him. Contentment doesn't equal happiness, Carson. He deserves better."

Once at the picnic, Rodney disappeared on some errand after settling his kids Jen, who looked a lot like her mother at that age but with blond hair, and Michael with Carson, Laura and their three children, Melissa, Amanda, and Andrew. John was sitting chatting with the Becketts, trying to hide from Chaylynn, who seemed determined to latch on to him, and watching the kids playing Frisbee when he spotted Rodney coming toward them, accompanied by... "Who's that with Rodney?" he asked, trying for nonchalance but coming closer to a snarl.

"That would be Robert," Laura said, glancing at Carson, both their eyebrows rising at John's tone. "Rodney's boyfriend." She watched the couple draw closer, comparing Robert's bland good looks with John and wondering if Rodney would do the same.

John gritted his teeth audibly before giving the newcomer a patently fake smile and avoiding shaking his hand by getting to his feet and brushing himself off unnecessarily. "Nice to meet you," he gritted out. "I promised the kids I'd play with them," he added, moving over to join them after pulling off his t-shirt and tossing it onto the blanket where he'd been sitting.

"An old friend?" Robert asked mildly as Rodney frowned at the other man's back. Laura cast Robert a brief look of incredulity. If someone had been that obvious in ignoring her, she'd have been a lot less polite about it. But then, that was Robert.

"Yes," Carson said hastily, before his wife could comment. "John went to high school with us, for our senior year, at least."

"His name is John Sheppard--Major John Sheppard," Rodney said flatly.

"Oh?" Robert asked, glancing over at the group playing Frisbee. "Is he in the Army?"

"Air Force," Laura corrected. "Flying is only slightly less important than breathing to John."

"And much more important than anything else," Rodney muttered, making Robert eye him oddly.

"He's just in town for the reunion then?"

"Probably, I haven't asked him about his itinerary."

"I think he mentioned that last night," Elizabeth said as she and Radek joined the group, exchanging another round of congratulatory kisses and hugs with the others.

"I suppose he must be planning to visit his parents," Carson said, watching John and the kids, all of them clearly enjoying themselves.

"They don't live here any longer," Rodney said before purposefully turning his back on the kids and concentrating on the adults, at the same time reaching out to take Robert's hand, causing the other man to look surprised.

Behind them, the Frisbee hit John in the head while he was glaring at the joined hands.

"Are you okay, John?" Michael exclaimed. "I didn't think you'd miss that!"

"So, how are you feeling, Elizabeth?" Rodney asked.

"Remarkably well, actually," she said with a smile. "Apparently this child's going to be a diplomat too since I'm not suffering any of the unpleasant side effects, at least not so far."

"That's good to hear," Rodney nodded.

"Have you started a college fund for the baby yet?" Robert asked seriously.

There was a moment of silence as everyone stared at Robert before deciding that yes, he was serious.

"No, I don't think we really need to worry about that," Elizabeth finally said, not about to start discussing her finances with Robert.

"It's never too early to start planning these things," Robert warned, and Rodney gave him a smile.

"Practical as always, but I think Radek and Elizabeth can handle it."

"Yes, I think planning for an education will be slightly less complicated than brokering a peace treaty in the Balkans," Elizabeth murmured, rolling her eyes at Laura when Robert couldn't see her.

"People always underestimate the importance of finances," Robert began pompously.

Laura cut him off, "For heaven's sake, Robert, the woman has been a highly sought after, highly paid consultant to half the governments in the world, and Radek has almost as many patents as Rodney. I don't think they need to worry about their finances!"

He looked wounded at that. "I was simply--"

"Showing your concern," Rodney cut in smoothly, "which I'm sure they appreciate."

"Yes, I'm sure we'll be fine, but it's always good to remember these things," Radek added.

"Yes, of course," Elizabeth said diplomatically. "It's simply that, as Laura said, we're in the enviable position of not needing to worry. But thank you for your concern."

Robert smiled at that and nodded. "Of course, any friend of Rodney's is a friend of mine."

"Oh my, Dex just tackled John," Laura laughed, pointing toward where the larger man was now giving John a hug. "It seems he's glad to see him."

"I didn't know there was tackling in Frisbee," Robert said curiously, causing another momentary silence.

"Ronon makes everything a contact sport," Carson said.

"Even his cooking," Rodney chuckled. "Remember that time he threw that sous chef out of his kitchen?"

"The poor man almost landed in our duck!" Radek chortled.

Robert blinked. "He attacked a cook?" He nervously eyed the large man now playing with the kids. "Is he under psychiatric care?"

"He is a cook," Rodney explained. "He owns Sateda downtown, and he said the man was ruining his creations. The food did get better after that," he mused, rubbing his chin.

"And that was years ago," Laura cut in. "He's mellowed since then."

"Ever since he got married," Carson nodded.

"I'm so glad I introduced him to Teyla when she came to visit me," Elizabeth mused. "They're perfect for each other, even if Teyla's people are the poorer for her loss."

"They manage to run enough fund raisers to support them--and have us all contributing to them--that I think they're richer," Rodney snorted.

"I wonder if they're investing those funds correctly..."

"You're talking investment strategies at a picnic?" John snorted from behind them, where he stood with an arm around Ronon's shoulders. "God, get a life!"

"Forgive us for not discussing planes or some other inanity," Rodney snapped.

"Two of your best friends are a having a baby, their first. Shouldn't you be talking about, I don't know, baby showers and who gets to baby sit first and names?"

"Who's having a baby?" Ronon asked, glancing around the group.

"Radek and Elizabeth," Rodney said tightly.

"That's great!" Ronon started to grab Elizabeth in a hug, then settled for a gentle embrace that barely touched her shoulders, not wanting to hurt her. "Teyla! Come over here; Elizabeth and Radek are having a baby!"

A dusky-skinned woman holding the hand of a young girl turned, her smile wide and genuine as she walked over, a slightly older boy running after her. "A baby!" she exclaimed, hugging both Radek and Elizabeth. "That is wonderful news."

Ronon pounded John's shoulder, his grin widening. "John, this is my wife, Teyla. That's Malena with her and Tagan jumping on Carson's back."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Teyla," John said, smiling charmingly. "You must be an extraordinary woman to have taken Ronon in hand."

"It was quite the challenge, but he is most definitely worth it."

"She's the best," Ronon grinned.

"I'm glad for you both." John looked around. "Everyone seems very happy. I'm glad I came back and had a chance to catch up on your lives."

"Food's on!" came the call from the picnic shelter nearby, and Rodney glanced away from John toward the others.

"Well, we should go eat before it's all gone."

"Yes, it would be silly to miss the meal," Robert agreed, rising to his feet and fastidiously brushing himself off even though the blanket was clean.

"I really don't think they'll run out of food," Laura laughed, calling for the younger generation as they all started toward the shelter.

"Please tell me he's not always that boring," John begged.

"Robert is very... settled," Carson finally answered, keeping his voice low so that Rodney wouldn't hear his comment.

"Settled?" John repeated incredulously. "I've met spicier tapioca!"

Rodney glanced back at that, frowning mightily, but anything he might have said was forestalled by the arrival of his and the Beckett children.

"Well, here you are," Rodney commented as he pulled up outside of the entrance to John's hotel.

John started to get out, then hesitated. "Want to come in for a drink?"

Rodney glanced over at him, his eyebrows raised. "Oh, so we're being polite now?"

"How many times do I have to say that I'm sorry? He just rubbed me the wrong way."

"By saying hello?"

John shrugged. "He was just such a doormat."

"He's a nice person, and we get along well," Rodney snapped.

John snorted. "You mean he just goes along with everything you say."

"Excuse me?!"

"He's got about as much personality as vanilla pudding."

"I like vanilla pudding."

John's eyebrows rose, and his expression twisted. "I guess you've changed more than I thought."

Rodney sighed and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel.

"Guess that's a no to the drink." John shrugged and opened the door to get out.

"Why?"

John looked over his shoulder with a confused expression. "Why what?"

"Why is it you believe I've changed so much?

"You never used to settle. You knew you deserved more, and you fought for it. Robert's the kind of person you used to sneer at for not living his own life."

Rodney's jaw clenched, and his eyes narrowed. "Perhaps I've learned to live within my own limits, but at least I'm living the life I want."

John flinched. "I guess I've just always thought of you as being happy. Not this."

"I have two terrific kids, friends, a job I enjoy and a good relationship; why wouldn't I be happy?!"

"If that's what you call a good relationship now, I guess we'll never understand each other."

"I somehow doubt it, considering the fact that you live life based on denying who you are."

"Who I am is a pilot. I had to choose. I couldn't have that and y--being gay, so I went for the dream." John laughed bitterly. "Who knew that it came with corpses and bullets and sleepless nights?" He shook his head. "Twenty-twenty hindsight," he murmured.

Something changed in Rodney's expression, and he pressed his lips together. "Corpses?"

John sank back into the seat, his hand falling from the door handle as his eyes closed, his expression drawn. "I was in Afghanistan. So many different times. One time a friend and I were both trying to get back after we were shot down. I was the only one who made it. And that last time..." he trailed off.

Rodney was silent for a moment, then he nodded. "Why don't we get that drink?"

"That'd be good. That'd be really good."

"And really stupid," Rodney murmured to himself as he got out of the car and took the tag the valet gave him.

John waited till Rodney came around the car and then started inside, his gaze distant. "Bar? Or I have a bottle of bourbon in my room."

"This sounds like it's more a bottle of bourbon story."

John chuckled painfully. "At least." He led Rodney to the elevator and stared up at the floor indicator as they waited for one to arrive.

Rodney's mouth curved in a small smile. "At least there's no curfew."

John laughed harshly. "My father would have to be speaking to me for that."

"What? Why?"

"He didn't like it when I told him that regardless of what I pretended for the Air Force, I was gay and that wasn't going to change. After my mom died, we stopped trying."

The elevator arrived, and they walked inside, Rodney saying nothing until the doors closed behind them. "Your father's an asshole, but then we knew that twenty years ago."

"Good point. And you know what? Fuck Gen. Sheppard." John smiled bitterly. "Which is pretty much what he said to me at my court martial."

"Court mar..." Rodney stared up at him, his eyes wide. "But you're still in the military."

"He didn't want the Sheppard name disgraced, so he pulled in every favor he was owed. I kept my commission, but they're encouraging me to resign. Which is why I'm flying outdated equipment in a frozen wasteland. But I really do like it there. No one shoots at me; no one cares who I am or what I do. It's very peaceful."

"Jesus, John..." The elevator dinged quietly as it reached the floor, and they both walked out into the hallway.

"I guess my father was right all along. I am a fuck up."

"Would you do it again?" At John's questioning look, Rodney continued. "Whatever it was that got you court martialed, would you do it again?"

John stopped at his door, motionless. "Yes. But I'd do it faster, maybe get there before they all died and made it pointless."

"You tried; that makes it not pointless."

John opened the door and stepped in, holding it till Rodney followed him. "Somehow my superiors didn't see it that way. And neither would their families if they knew."

"Oh bullshit! You're telling me people wouldn't want to know someone cared enough to go after their sons?" Spotting the bottle of bourbon on the small desk, Rodney stomped over to it, grabbed two glasses and sloshed some of the amber liquid into each. Grabbing them, he handed one to John and raised the other to his lips.

"Families tend to be a little unreasonable when you don't bring those sons back alive. Plus it's down as a training accident. We weren't supposed to be there." John drank the bourbon in one long swallow.

"Fucking politics," Rodney murmured, downing more of his drink.

"Yeah, it's all pretty fucked up." John dropped down on the edge of the bed, slumping there as he stared into his empty glass.

Rodney pulled a chair over and refilled John's glass, then sat. "You may find this hard to believe, but for once I have no idea of what to say."

John shrugged. "No one ever does. But you're ahead of most them. They usually bolt for the door when they find out about it." He took a mouthful of his drink. "But you always did do things your own way."

"What's the point otherwise?" Rodney asked, sipping his drink while he studied John closely. "So was it good--before it went bad?"

"The flying was incredible," John said, giving a real smile for the first time. "There's nothing like it, the sky so blue and open, miles and miles of nothing but you and your plane. I loved every second I was up there."

"Your dream," Rodney murmured, downing the rest of his bourbon before refilling both their glasses.

"That lived up to everything I imagined and then some. I just never realized..." John stopped, frowning, and drank some more.

"What?"

"I didn't understand that to have it, I was going to have to give up everything else."

Rodney pondered that statement for a moment before answering. "I was under the assumption that with today's policies you could have some kind of social life as long as it wasn't flaunted."

"Today, maybe, if you're new, but fifteen years ago? And a semi-senior officer now?" John shook his head. "Maybe if I'd been better at following orders. And now, if I got so much as a jaywalking ticket, they'd use it to get rid of me. If and when I leave, I want it to be on my own terms."

"I suppose I should say good for you then."

"I think it's pure stubbornness now," John admitted, tossing back the rest of his drink.

"You, stubborn; I'm shocked," Rodney snorted as he handed the bottle over.

John poured more into his glass before giving the bottle back to Rodney. "Yeah, well, I seem to pick the wrong things to be stubborn about."

"So you deal with it and move on."

"Yeah. That seems to be the one thing I've never quite mastered. I drag things around with me forever."

"Ah." Rodney started to take another drink, then thought twice about it when he realized just how much he'd had in a very short time.

"You seem pretty good at it though." John took another gulp of bourbon.

"At not dragging things around with me?" At John's nod, Rodney snorted out a derogatory laugh. "Jeannie helped me with that, and the kids remind me of it; why keep going over old mistakes when there are plenty of new one to make--not that I do, of course."

"Of course not," John chuckled. "Okay, so some things about you haven't changed. And the kids are really great, by the way. And you're good with them. You make a good father. Much better than either of ours."

"Not that that takes much," Rodney pointed out.

"No, a corpse could probably do better," John admitted, "but you are a good father. It's obvious that Jennifer and Michael love you. You have a great family."

"Yes," Rodney's smile gentled at that, "I do."

"I'm glad for you. They're great kids." John chuckled. "Jennifer reminds me a lot of Jeannie."

"Yes, she does," Rodney nodded, "though a lot less boy-crazy, thank god. Michael's Bradley's son through and through."

"Then Bradley must have been an okay guy." John frowned slightly, thinking. "They must have gotten married almost right out of high school though if Jennifer was born only four years after I knew Jeannie. They were happy though?"

Rodney nodded as he sipped at his bourbon, his blue eyes focused somewhere other than the room for the moment. "They did; right after graduation and Jennifer was born less than a year after. He was good to her and a good guy in general; never had a problem with his wife's fag brother."

"Did your parents ever notice?" Remembering the elder McKays still bemused John even two decades later.

"I didn't know until they sicced lawyers on me after Jeannie died--apparently I 'wasn't of good moral fiber'."

"Your own parents? Jeez, they're even worse than I remembered. Obviously they failed, though."

"Jeannie and Bradley's wills both said the same thing--that they wanted me to get the kids if something happened to both of them; his parents were older when he was born and were gone before the kids were born, so that wasn't an option--apparently I was a better choice than the McKays or social services."

"Of course you were! I'd have loved to have seen your face though," John chuckled.

"The fact that I'd recently found out my sister was dead somehow negated anything comic about the moment," Rodney said dryly.

John winced. "Sorry, I wasn't thinking. I'm pretty good at that."

"It took a while for all of us to recover from it; I like to think that we helped each other recover."

"I'm sure you did. Having people around at times like that helps."

Rodney nodded at that. "Yes, I learned that."

"And now you have a family, with the kids... and Robert." John sneered the name.

"What the fuck is your problem?" Rodney snapped, glaring at him. "Because you aren't happy with the way your life turned out, no one else is allowed to be? You chose it, John; deal with it!" He stood and wavered a moment before slamming his glass on the bedside table. "This was a mistake. I need to leave."

John jumped to his feet, catching hold of Rodney's upper arms to hold him still. "How the hell can you say you're happy with that guy?"

"Because I am!" Rodney jerked back, trying to free himself, and almost stumbled.

"The hell you are!" John yanked him forward again and kissed him.

Rodney jerked back again, his face twisted in anger. "You have no fucking right to do that--or say that!" As he spoke, something broke inside him, and it was his turn to drag John into another kiss.

John groaned hungrily as he opened instantly, noting the similarities and differences from the last time he kissed Rodney.

"Bastard," Rodney gasped before plunging his tongue into John's mouth at the same time he dragged the shirt from his pants and slid his hands up John's back, his fingers kneading the warm, muscled flesh.

"Oh God, Rodney," John groaned, pressing closer as he hardened, Rodney groaning in response and dragging his hands lower to cup and knead John's ass, pulling them closer together. John tore at Rodney's clothes, sliding his hands over bare flesh and drawing him even closer.

"John," Rodney gasped, pulling back enough to drag John's shirt over his head, tossing it aside so he could run his hands through the dark hair that now covered the toned flesh there.

"God yes, touch me," John groaned, starved for touch.

"Hate you," Rodney murmured before tilting his head to capture John's earlobe between his lips, sucking on it as he re-learned the planes of John's body, committing them to memory.

"L-love how you do," John gasped, fumbling with Rodney's pants.

Rodney answered that with the edge of his teeth as he thrust his hand down John's pants, cupping his bare flesh and squeezing it as he arched into John's touch.

"Oh God yes, please, fuck me," John moaned, petting Rodney.

"Naked," Rodney gasped, pulling back to drag at his remaining clothes.

"Fuck yeah." John nearly ripped his own pants off, then grabbed for his bag, coming up with rubbers and lube a moment later.

"Always prepared," Rodney snorted, taking the lube from John's hand and nudging him to the bed.

John went easily, stretching out on his back without mentioning just how long he'd been carrying those condoms around. Rodney followed after kicking out of his shoes and stepping out of his shorts and boxers, stretching out half on top of John and running a hand down his body as they kissed again.

"You feel so good," John rasped, spreading his legs to let Rodney settle between them. His hands ran up and down Rodney's back, short nails running along his spine before John cupped the cheeks of his ass and rocked up against him.

Rodney groaned in answer, shifting to the side, rocking his erection against John's side as he flipped open the lid of the lube and squirted some onto John's hip, dragging his fingers through it before slotting them between John's cheeks, pressing inward and making him moan.

"Don't tease," he groaned, "do it. Fuck me."

"Going to," Rodney growled. "Hard and fast." As he spoke, he twisted his fingers then pulled them back, rolling to his side to tear open one of the foil packets and roll on the condom.

John watched him, knowing it was going to hurt some since it had been so long since he'd done this, but he didn't care. He wanted this more than he'd wanted anything in a very long time. "You look so good."

Rodney nodded tightly as he positioned himself between John's legs and pushed forward, pressing inside him, his lower lip caught between his teeth as he concentrated.

John gasped sharply, his back arching as he fought the urge to pull away. He concentrated on relaxing, slowly yielding to the penetration.

"Fuck, you're tight," Rodney whispered, trying to hold himself still until John slowly relaxed and he could slide in deeper.

"It's been a while," John admitted, raising his legs to wrap them around Rodney's waist.

Rodney grunted in response and kissed John again as they began to move together, the motions too frenzied to be called rhythmic.

John gasped, reaching between them to curl a fist around his own cock. "Not going to last long," he panted.

"Not a problem," Rodney rasped, covering John's hand with his and moving it more rapidly as he slammed forward, each thrust quicker than the last.

"Oh fuck." John's eyes flew open wide, and he stared up into Rodney's blue eyes as he came.

Rodney gasped and drove forward a final time before he was coming too, his whole body shaking with the force of it.

John kept his arms and legs wrapped tightly around Rodney, holding him close as long as Rodney would allow it, while Rodney just slumped over him, his eyes closed as he rested his head against John's shoulder, breathing heavily. John remained still and silent, afraid to say anything that would make Rodney remember who they were now and leave.

Rodney only sighed and nuzzled the base of John's throat as he slipped from John's ass and settled closer, pressed against him.

John sighed contentedly and turned his head to press a kiss to Rodney's temple, getting a muffled snort and an unintelligible mutter in response. John slowly relaxed, realizing that Rodney wasn't going to bolt, at least not yet, especially when the next noise Rodney gave was a low snore. John relaxed as well, shutting his eyes as he sank into sleep.

"Oh fuck, what did I..." Rodney's voice trailed off as he opened his eyes and realized where he was. "Oh fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck!!!" he whispered, carefully extracting himself from John's embrace and scooting off the bed, searching frantically for his clothes.

John rolled over, his arm reaching across the bed in search of Rodney, and when he found only empty space, his eyes flew open and he sat up abruptly. He immediately spotted Rodney, and his expression shut down when he saw that the other man was half dressed.

"This was a mistake," Rodney stated, sounding as if he was convincing himself of the fact. "Your life and mine obviously aren't compatible and--and it was a mistake." He finished dressing as he spoke and sat on the chair near the desk to pull on his tennis shoes.

"I see." John's voice was as carefully expressionless as his face. "And were you planning to say goodbye or just disappear while I was asleep, maybe leave some cash on the nightstand?"

Rodney winced, but then his chin went up, and his eyes narrowed. "Something you're familiar with, I'm sure."

John's entire posture stiffened. "Get out." His tone was clipped, but he kept his gaze down, not about to let Rodney see his eyes.

"Exactly what I was planning on doing," Rodney snapped, heading for the door. "And just think," he added as he grasped the handle and pulled it, "this time you get to say it instead of just hoping I'd go away, lucky you." The slamming of the door behind him punctuated his last statement.

John flinched from the sound, slumping as soon as he was alone with no one to see. Long minutes passed before he dragged himself out of the bed, carefully not looking at its rumpled state, and pulled on shorts, a t-shirt and sneakers to go for a long run, the ache in his ass just another pain to be ignored.

Uncaring of where he was going, John simply ran, trying to let the pounding rhythm take over and block his thoughts, but he kept remembering the night before and every moment of the several months he'd had with Rodney years earlier. Swearing under his breath, he ran faster, not even noticing when he reached a fairly affluent residential area of the town.

"I suppose it's easier to do this here than in Antartica," Laura Beckett commented as she swung in next to him from one of the driveways, running easily beside him.

John missed a step as his head jerked toward her, but he quickly recovered and nodded shortly. "Yeah, running in arctic gear just doesn't really work for me. And neither does falling into a crevasse. I figured I'd get some exercise while I can."

"Don't blame you," she nodded. "Me, I'm running from a houseful of teenage girls--just having Jennifer over turned into a group of five; I've left Carson to deal with the breakfast cleanup since I had to be the evil one getting them to bed before three in the morning."

"It sounds hectic." He ran another few steps before adding, "I'm glad I had this chance to see you all again."

She glanced over at him again at that. "That sounds like goodbye. Leaving already?"

"I think it's best. Coming here was a mistake." Unconsciously, John sped up, perhaps hoping to outrun his thoughts.

Laura increased her stride as well, easily keeping up with John, waiting him out.

"It'll be better for Rodney if I go. And for me," John finally said.

"Better or easier?"

"Both. He has his own life, and I'm not a masochist."

"Huh. So I guess it is better you leave then, unless this time you actually want to fight for what you want."

"You mean someone who was so horrified by the idea of sleeping with me that he nearly broke the sound barrier getting away? I don't think so." John laughed bitterly, stopping and jogging in place. "He wants his oh-so-perfect Robert."

Laura missed a step at that and stumbled to a stop. "You propositioned him, and he turned you down?" she asked, sounding astounded.

"Um, not exactly," John admitted.

"Then what--oh my God, the two of you slept together."

"Yeah, and then he tried to sneak out while I was still asleep, and when that failed, told me what a horrible mistake it had been," John said bitterly.

She eyed him closely. "And you're saying it wasn't a mistake for him to have sex with a man who dumped him almost twenty years ago?"

"Obviously it was, on both our parts. I don't think I've ever been left feeling so dirty in my life. Which would be why I'm getting on the first plane out of here today."

Laura's hazel eyes narrowed, and she pushed a strand of auburn hair out of her face. "Running away again? You know, I gave you the benefit of the doubt the first time this happened, but you're doing just what you did then; things get tough, and you run."

"What the fuck do you expect from me?" John snarled at her. "Am I supposed to let him rip me to shreds? There's not a whole lot left to destroy, so it wouldn't even keep him amused for very long. Don't you get it? I can't do this again!"

"Then don't do it again; do it right!" she snapped back. "Do you really think he's in love with Robert? The two of you had sex, and for all he knows, you're leaving today for the frozen south!"

"And for all he cares! I made a mistake back then, a bad one, and there's no way back from it. He doesn't love me, Laura, and as much as I... Well, I'm not going to be a convenient hole for him," John said crudely.

Muttering a silent prayer that Rodney didn't kill her for this and that she wasn't making a mistake, Laura sighed. "Jennifer told Melissa that her father didn't sleep at all Friday night; he was sitting on the couch when she went to bed, and he was still there when she got up."

John stilled, staring at her. "Don't," he whispered. "Please don't. Hope hurts."

"And you'd rather be numb?" she asked gently.

"It's easier," he admitted. "I stopped even looking a long time ago, not that Rodney would believe that."

"Sometimes easier doesn't mean better."

"It hurts a hell of a lot less."

Laura sighed at that. "I can't tell you what to do, John, but sometimes living hurts if you're doing it right."

"If I stay and try and fail, I won't have anything left, not him and not my career," John murmured. "Then again, I don't really have either of them now either."

"Then it's up to you to decide. Me, I'm going to finish my run and hopefully go back to a clean kitchen."

John suddenly grinned at her. "I have a month's leave. Maybe I will stick around for a while after all."

Laura turned, jogging in place, and grinned at him. "Six words, John: Get the kids on your side."

"You mean get them to like me better than Mr. Bland?" John snorted. "I could manage that asleep. Besides, I like them." He started running again, his mood much improved from earlier.

"Hey, Dad. Aunt Laura said they'd bring me back at eleven, but you'd better have lunch for everyone."

"So they keep you for one night, and I have to feed five of them; that's not right," Rodney grumbled. "Is your uncle around? I should find out what he wants to eat, after all."

"Sure," Jennifer laughed, handing the phone over.

"Since when do you care what we want to eat?" Carson asked suspiciously. "Your usual method is to tell us to like what you give us or leave," he chuckled.

"I had sex with John last night."

Carson choked on his coffee, coughing harshly for several seconds before he managed to squawk, "What?!?"

"Are you going deaf?" Rodney demanded.

"Are you going mad?"

"I wish I was; we were talking and had a few drinks and... ended up in bed together. I am such an idiot!"

Carson hesitated. "You're not exactly known for giving in to impulse, Rodney. Are you sure it wasn't something more?"

"What more could there be? We were both pissed, and it turned sexual. There can't be anything more than that, not that I want it to be."

"Of course not, Rodney," Carson said soothingly.

"I did not need this right now, Carson," Rodney groaned. "I'm happy with my life; it's settled and--Christ, what am I going to tell Robert?"

"To go find someone equally, erm, staid to be happy with?" Carson suggested.

"What do you mean by that?" Rodney's frown was almost audible.

"I mean you could find a mannequin with more personality to date," Carson admitted.

"And just how long have you thought this?"

"Since about ninety seconds after meeting him."

"Do all of you feel this way about him?"

"Well, yes. He's rather bland."

"Is there a reason that all any of you ever said to me was that he was very nice?"

"You seemed to like him, and that was what mattered, wasn't it."

Rodney was silent for a long moment. "The kids say nearly the same thing when I ask if they like him."

Carson had no intention of being trapped into that discussion. "That's because it's true. I'd be happy with Laura whether everyone else liked her or not. None of us wanted to make you lose someone who might be the one for you."

A bitter laugh was the only answer Rodney gave to that comment.

"We'll be over with the girls in a little while, just as soon as Laura gets back from her run. We can talk then."

"After this talk, bring lunch; you owe me."

"We will," Carson agreed. "Pizza sound good?"

"Bring extra; I need to pick Michael up at the Mitchells' in half an hour, and you know he's always hungry."

"I don't remember being that hungry all the time when we were that age," Carson chuckled.

"We didn't spend our days riding skateboards and playing sports; besides, Jo- I was hungry most of the time."

"Exercise will do that," Carson said blandly.

"Which explains Michael's appetite."

"Hopefully not for the same activity!"

"He's twelve!"

"So probably not then," Carson agreed, pleased he'd distracted Rodney.

"Just what medical school did you go to again?" Rodney huffed.

"Johns Hopkins," Carson retorted. "Don't argue with me."

"I'll argue with you if I want. Now I need to go pick up Michael, and you need to order that pizza, so goodbye!"

"We'll see you in a bit." Carson hung up and immediately called Laura's cell phone to find out how far away she was.

"Hey," she panted, "You'll never guess who I ran into."

"You won't believe what Rodney told me!"

"That he and John had sex last night?"

"How did-- You ran into John?"

"Almost literally. He's really messed up, Carson."

"And Rodney's as confused as I've ever seen him. Oh, I ended up admitting what we all really think of Robert, love. I think Rodney's ready to stop playing it safe. He never really got over John, you know, even if he did move on."

"I'm not arguing that, and I'm glad you told him; I just hope he doesn't think we're trying to throw the two of them together. I almost think we should call Elizabeth and have her negotiate a truce between them."

Carson laughed ruefully. "That's tempting, love, but Rodney's the most stubborn man I've ever met, and John's a close second, for all his laid back exterior. Besides, they got themselves into bed without our help; I'm sure they'll manage the rest as well if they're going to."

"Good point," Laura chuckled. "And on that note, I'm hanging up so I can get back. See you in about fifteen minutes."

Her blue eyes wide, Jennifer eased back from the other side of the kitchen doorway, then raced up to Melissa's bedroom. "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God."

"What's wrong? Did something happen to Uncle Rodney?" Melissa demanded, jumping to her feet.

"He slept with Major Hotstuff last night!" Jennifer whispered. "I overheard your folks talking on the phone; I think they had a thing when they were in high school." She flopped down on Melissa's bed and frowned. "Dad never mentioned him though."

Melissa squealed, then clamped her hands over her mouth, glad that their other friends had already gone home. "Oh my God, really? Wow, they're like star-crossed lovers or something. We should help them get back together. John is way more fun than Robert."

"Seriously!" Jennifer exclaimed. "Robert's so... boring! I thought he made Dad happy, but now with this... We need a plan."

"Yeah, if we leave it up to them, we'll be married before they get together. Guys are so clueless!" Melissa sat back down on the bed, frowning. "We have to get them together where they can't get away... A family dinner?"

"Maybe, but how would we get John there? Oh! Have your folks bring him; Dad couldn't throw all of you out!"

"That'll work. After all, they were all friends, and if he's in town, they should spend time together." Melissa grinned at Jennifer. "Oh, this is going to be so great if it works."

"Yes! We just need to remind Dad what they liked about each other in high school. Ooo, I know, I'm going to play the sympathy card." Jennifer smirked at that. "Tell him I want to see his yearbook to see what Mom looked like when she started high school." Her smile grew a bit melancholy then, and she shrugged. "And that's the truth too; we don't have lots of pictures of when she was young; The Idiots apparently didn't like taking them."

Melissa leaned over and hugged her. "John might have some if he hung around with them. We can ask him. And asking him about your mom will keep him around too."

Jennifer nodded at that, and she hugged Melissa back. "Good idea. Thanks, Liss. I suppose we'll have to tell Michael and Mandy; they can help."

"Andy'll just blab it, though. He can't keep a secret, especially not from Dad." Melissa frowned. "Michael can worry about distracting him. And we can get started at lunch since we're all having it at your house. You can say that all the talk about the reunion and what they did made you wonder about your mom; it'll make perfect sense to want to see the yearbook now."

"Exactly; get them talking about 'the good old days' and see what comes up." Jennifer nodded again, her expression intent. "We have a plan."

Melissa giggled. "If they already slept together, what comes up might be them!"

"Melissa!" Jennifer gasped. "That's my father you're talking about!" Her attempt at looking shocked was ruined, however, when she started to giggle too. "I bet Robert can't even get it up!"

"Ewww! I don't want to think about him that way! Yuck!" She smacked Jennifer with a pillow. "At least John's hot."

"I still don't want to think about him and my dad doing anything--any more than you want to think about your mom and dad doing it!"

"Doing what?" thirteen-year-old Amanda asked, popping her head into the room.

After glancing at Jennifer and getting a nod, Melissa explained, "It. We're trying to get Uncle Rodney and John together. Back together. They used to go out in high school."

"Are you serious?" Amanda goggled at them. "Cool! It's like a movie!"

"Just don't tell Andy," Jennifer warned her.

"We don't want him scaring Uncle Rodney off before we get them together. And we won't have to pretend to be interested in the stuff Robert talks about any more," Melissa added with relief.

"Thank God!" Jennifer groaned, making Amanda frown.

"Wait a minute, don't we have to get Uncle Rodney to break up with Robert before he can go out with John?"

Jennifer and Melissa exchanged a glance before Melissa said, "I don't think that's going to be a problem."

"Why not?"

"Because they've already had sex."

"Uncle Rodney and Robert? Ewwww!"

"No! Well, maybe," Melissa said after a moment's thought. "But that's not what we meant. Uncle Rodney and John."

"But, but when?" Amanda sputtered.

"Last night. Jen heard Mom and Dad talking about it on the phone."

"I don't think it ended well though," Jennifer added. "Which is why we need to do something."

"Yeah, if I'm going to call someone uncle, I'd rather have it be John than Robert," Melissa said, wrinkling her nose.

"Ewww!" Mandy exclaimed, making the other two girls laugh.

"Girls, Andy!" The call came from downstairs. "It's time to go."

"Coming, Dad," Melissa yelled back, getting up and checking her hair before heading down, followed by the other two who were almost run over by Andy when he came barreling out of his room.

"Have a good run, Aunt Laura?" Jennifer asked, noting that she was freshly showered.

"I got a lot out of it," Laura said, smiling faintly. "Now come on, your dad's expecting us."

"Hey, Dad?" Melissa plopped down on the couch next to her father and propped her feet on the ottoman beside his.

"What's up, love?" Carson put an arm around her shoulders.

"Were you and Maj. Sheppard good friends in high school?"

"Our last year, yes. John moved here the summer before, and he lived next door to your Uncle Rodney and his family. We all became friends that year."

"He was looking at Uncle Rodney a lot at the picnic."

Carson hesitated for a moment before admitting, "They dated. But you know John's in the military, so you can't tell anyone that."

"I know that!" Melissa sat up enough to look at her father. "Uncle Rodney was looking at him a lot too, lots more than at Robert."

"I suppose it was difficult for them, seeing each other again after so long," Carson said carefully.

"I think they still like each other."

"And I think you're a very observant young lady. But I wouldn't mention it; neither of them is admitting it."

"Why? If they like each other, why stay apart?"

"Sometimes it's not that easy, Lis. There are other issues. But John is planning to stay for a little while, so they might find each other again," Carson murmured, momentarily forgetting that he was talking to his daughter.

Melissa tilted her head to the side and studied him. "To do that, don't they have to see each other?"

"That's somewhat difficult to manage," Carson muttered, sounding a little frustrated.

"Why?"

Carson peered at her. "Why are you so interested?"

"No reason..."

"Melissa..."

"Daaad," she shot back, before grinning. "Okay, okay, we just think he's a lot better for Uncle Rodney than Robert is all."

Carson stared at her then started to laugh. "It seems that everyone thinks that except Uncle Rodney."

Melissa grinned at that and hugged him. "Don't worry, Dad; we have a plan."

"Laura!"

"Yes?" she called from the room they used as an office.

"Come talk to your daughter!"

"Dad!" Melissa laughed.

"I already did the facts of life conversation; whatever it is now is all yours!"

"She has a plan to set up Rodney and John!"

"Well, good for her!"

Melissa gave her father a triumphant smile. "See? And it's not just my plan; Jennifer helped come up with it."

Carson groaned and got up to pour himself a scotch. "I think I'm going to hide in the basement for the next few weeks."

"Da-ddy!" Melissa pouted. "It'll work; all you have to do is bring Maj. Sheppard along when we have dinner at Uncle Rodney's."

"Fine, fine, we'll bring John. Though I feel like I should warn the poor man."

"Don't you dare!"

"Only because I think they'd be much happier together." Carson sighed. "Conspiring with a pack of women against my fellow men. What have I come to?"

"You're the best, Dad," she laughed, bouncing up to kiss him on the cheek, then darting out of the room past her mother, who was also chuckling.

"You are the best, Carson," Laura murmured, crossing over to him and sliding her arms around his waist before kissing him. "The very best."

"That's why I got you." Carson looped his arms around her.

She kissed him again, this time more lingeringly. "Exactly."

"Remember that at bedtime," he chuckled.

"I will," she promised, taking his glass from his hand and sipping at his scotch. "Don't get distracted."

"Only by you." Carson kissed her again, tasting Laura and scotch.

"Mmm, too bad the kids aren't going to be in bed for hours," she murmured.

"We could always leave them at Rodney's and come home for a bit," he suggested, nuzzling her throat.

"And he won't think it's suspicious that we were there for lunch and are already back?"

"Do we care?" Carson murmured. "We're married; it's not like we have to hide it that we have sex. Or we could just send the kids to a movie."

Laura chuckled at that. "Have I mentioned lately how much I love the way you think, Dr. Beckett? Make you a deal; you get them there, and while you're gone, I'll run us a bath."

"I married a woman as brilliant as she is beautiful."

"Robert hasn't been around for a few days. Is everything okay?" Jennifer asked her father, watching him closely.

"With Robert?" Rodney asked, looking up from the journal he was reading, then setting it aside. "I'm... not sure."

She frowned. "What does that mean?"

"I told him something that upset him, so I'm not sure if he's going to be back or not."

Jennifer hugged him. "You'll find someone better," she said loyally.

He hugged her back and shrugged. "Actually, I think I'm going to avoid the whole dating rigmarole for a while; considering the fact that none of you liked Robert, my standards must have been slipping." He glanced at her mildly as he said the last, and she winced.

"It wasn't that we disliked him," she tried to explain, "but he wasn't comfortable around me and Mike, and well, he was about as interesting as tapioca."

Rodney gave a half laugh at that, then sighed. "Someone else called him vanilla pudding. I suppose I just didn't want to see it."

"I'm kinda glad you do now. I want you to be happy, Dad, and you need someone who challenges you." She grinned quickly. "At least that's what the Cosmo questionnaire I filled out for you said."

"Please tell me you're kidding," he begged. "Tell me my life hasn't been reduced to a questionnaire in a magazine that also tells you how to please a man--and what were you doing reading that any way?!"

"Finding out what you needed in a man," Jennifer replied, laughing.

"Brat," Rodney laughed affectionately before growing serious. "Are you all right, Jen? I know we don't talk about your mom and dad that much, but when you were asking about her Sunday, I realized maybe we should--if you want."

Jennifer perched on the arm of his chair, chewing her lower lip. "We don't have very many pictures of them. I have no idea what Mom looked like when she was my age. Could we maybe look at your senior yearbook so I could see?"

"My..." Rodney pulled back to look at her, then nodded. "Of course, if we can find it; I think it's in the basement, but hers would probably be better."

"I'd like to see that too, but I want to see her when she was my age. And that's in your yearbook. Or hers from the same year since they'd be the same." Jennifer just hoped that they found her dad's first since she wanted to see what was written in it.

"Fine, fine, we'll go look; we'd better get your brother as well because who knows where the box is, and we'll need someone to call 911 if we get lost or buried."

"Geez, Dad, you can be such a drama queen," Jennifer groaned.

"Are you calling me a queen, young lady?" he gasped.

She giggled. "Would I do that?"

"You just did! That's it; I'm getting your brother to help me take you down. Michael!"

"Yeah?" he called back. "What?"

"Get down here and help me control your sister!"

The sound of pounding feet preceded him into the room, and Michael dove at Jennifer, who yelped and ducked behind her father.

"Oh no, no protection when you call me names!" he laughed, ducking out of the way so that Michael could catch Jennifer around the waist and try to tickle her.

Jen twisted free and pinned the lighter boy, turning the tables by tickling him instead.

"No fair! Dad, a little help here!" Michael shrieked, trying to squirm away.

"What? You mean like this?" Rodney asked, plucking an ice cube from his glass of tea and dropping it down the back of Jennifer's t-shirt, making her screech and leap to her feet. She yanked the shirt away from her skin, dancing around until the ice slid free.

"Go, Dad!" Michael laughed, hopping up and ducking around Rodney's side, away from his sister.

"No fair ganging up!" Jen laughed. "It's a good thing I have Melissa a lot of the time. I need another girl in the house!"

"Sorry," Rodney chuckled, "I'm not getting pregnant, and I'm not bringing home a woman just to make things even."

"Well, darn." She grinned at him. "And please don't bring home a queenie guy either; I don't think I could survive that."

"Me either," Michael shuddered.

"How about I not bring anyone home?" Rodney slung an arm around both of their shoulders and turned them toward the door to the basement. "Now, we've got a mission: to find the trove of historical documents from the 80s that your mother so handily boxed up when she and your father moved into this place--though where it is, I have no idea."

Jen looked at him. "You know we have an attic too, right?"

Rodney groaned. "Maybe we should call your Aunt Laura; I'm sure she has hers somewhere accessible."

"We could go over there for dinner," Jennifer suggested, knowing from Melissa that the Becketts had already invited John.

"That'd be easier, Dad," Michael chimed in. "Plus Aunt Laura promised to work on my diving headers with me."

"No ending up in the hospital," Rodney groaned. "Again."

"I'll do my best," Michael grinned. "So we're going?"

"It might be nice to call and see if they have plans..."

"Aw, come on, Dad," Jennifer said, "you know they never say no. Let's just go. I really want to see those pictures of Mom."

"If they're out, you can pay for our take-out," Rodney grumbled though he was smiling.

"Deal." Jennifer hugged him. "Come on, let's go."

"Give me a second to grab my iPod!" Michael hollered, racing back upstairs.

"Your second's up," Rodney called after him as he followed Jennifer out of the room, turning out the light as he left.

"Can I drive?" she asked. "I have my permit in my purse, and you're right here."

"We'll take the car then, not the van."

"Jen's driving?" Michael groaned. "I'm getting my helmet!"

"Brat," she growled. "Watch it or I'll stuff you in the trunk!"

"You do that, I'll rewire the tail lights so you get a ticket!"

"Keep it up and I'm going to leave you both at home..."

"We'll be good, Dad," the kids chorused, grinning. "Besides," Jen added, "you'd be afraid of what you'd find when you got back if you did."

Rodney shuddered at that and tossed her the keys. "Good point. Drive, child; at least your uncle can give me CPR when we get there."

"Oh very funny! If I turn out to be a nervous driver, it's going to be all your fault."

"Nervous means safe, so I'll be very happy." They all headed out to the garage, Michael climbing into the back seat of the gray Subaru, already plugged into his iPod, while Rodney settled in the passenger seat.

"Nervous means causing accidents by being a bad driver," Jennifer retorted, settling behind the wheel and adjusting everything before starting out.

"You know, there are times that I very much regret the fact that the both of you have high IQs," Rodney finally commented once she had them on one of the main streets.

"You mean you regret not being able to talk around us," Jen laughed. "But if you could, we'd drive you nuts."

"Is that something another of your Cosmo quizzes told you?"

"Nope, that's something that knowing you told me."

"It's pretty obvious, Dad," Michael said.

"Bah!" Rodney grumbled though he was grinning as he looked over at the two of them.

"Love you too," Jennifer said, turning onto the street where their friends lived.

"I hope they have something good for dinner," Rodney commented as she pulled into the driveway and parked.

"Aunt Laura always has something good," Michael laughed, bouncing out of the car and up to the front door, banging on it before darting inside.

Jennifer followed on his heels, yelling, "Got room for three more for dinner? We're here!"

"Hi, Jen!" Melissa beamed, jumping off the stool she was sitting on and dropping the carrot she was peeling before darting to the other girl's side. "They're out back; John's playing catch with Andy." She grinned widely at the last.

"Carson? Laura?" Rodney called as he came inside as well. "Don't tell me you arranged this so I'm watching all these little monsters while you go out!"

"Rodney?" Carson paused on his way into the kitchen for more beers for the adults. His eyes went to the grinning teenagers, and he sighed faintly. "Well, come on out then. We're attempting to tire Andy out."

"Have him run a marathon," Rodney suggested, glancing at the tight huddle of Jennifer, Melissa, Amanda and Michael and frowning slightly before shaking his head. "I really don't want to know," he commented, plucking a beer from Carson's hand. "Jen wanted to look at a yearbook from our senior year to see her mother, and we thought it was a better bet that Laura knew where hers was than trying to look for mine or Jeannie's."

"Having seen your basement and run in terror, I have to agree," Carson chuckled. He was half impressed and half terrified by how easily Jennifer had manipulated Rodney and wondered how often Melissa did the same to him. "But you need to go out and say hi to Laura first or we're both dead men."

"Heaven forbid we do that." Rodney shuddered at the thought. "I talked to Radek today; apparently Elizabeth's started with morning sickness--or started letting him know about it at any rate. I think he's proud of the fact." He took a sip of his beer and snorted in amusement as they headed for the back door.

"I think the man's happy that they're finally having a child," Carson said, falling back to let Rodney preceded him through the door.

"I think the man's insane," Rodney grinned back at Carson before turning to head out the door. "We've descended to eat you out of house and ho-," he called to Laura before registering that there was another adult in the back yard and stuttering to a stop upon seeing who it was.

"You didn't tell me you had a guest," he said tightly to Carson.

"He's a friend too, Rodney, and we're about the only people he knows in town. Were we supposed to ignore him?" Carson winced when he saw John notice Rodney, immediately followed by John getting hit by the ball he forgot to catch.

"Hey, Maj. Sheppard's here, cool!" Michael shouted, scooting around the two men and trotting out into the yard to grab the football where it lay on the ground. "You okay?"

"No, of course not," Rodney said faintly, not moving from where he stood at the top of the steps down to the yard. "I wouldn't want you to."

Laura came over and hugged Rodney, grinning at Jennifer and Melissa over his shoulder. "Come on, you can tell me what brought you here while Carson does his manly thing with his barbecue."

Behind her, John was reassuring the boys that he was fine, and they started tossing the ball again.

"Hey, Dad, come play and we can have a game against Andy and the major!" Michael called.

"I keep telling you, the name's John," John scolded laughingly.

Rodney managed to smile though he was gripping his bottle of beer tightly. "If you want a real game, you should ask your aunt to play, not me."

"Oh no," Jennifer chimed in quickly. "Aunt Laura's got to get her yearbook for me!"

"Come on, Dad," Michael begged. "It'll be fun. It's been ages since we all played."

"I seem to recall that ended up with you with a sprained finger," Rodney sighed even as he set his beer down on the edge of the deck and started toward the small group, finally nodding to acknowledge the other man there. "John."

"Dad and Robert broke up," Jennifer whispered to the others as they all surreptitiously watched the drama taking place before them.

"Oh thank God," Laura breathed. "Now we just have to keep throwing them together and let nature take its course."

"And pray it doesn't turn into an explosion," Carson murmured. "I guess spraining things while playing games runs in the family," John observed.

Rodney flushed slightly, and Michael glanced over at him, grinning.

"You never told us you played any sports, Dad."

"Frisbee isn't a sport; I stepped in a hole attempting to catch it and sprained my ankle."

"So don't anybody step in any holes," John warned.

"As if Dad would let there be a hole in our yard!" Andy laughed. "He'd take it personally."

"Or your lawn service would," Rodney snorted, watching Michael toss the ball from hand to hand. "So just what are we doing?"

"Tag football?" Andy suggested, the turquoise eyes that were a mixture of his father's blue and his mother's hazel peering hopefully at his uncle from under longish strawberry blond bangs.

"Sounds good to me," John agreed, glancing over at Rodney questioningly.

"The first person who tackles me gets to pay my hospital bills," Rodney sighed, shaking his head at them before reaching out to catch the pass Michael threw to him.

"We flipping for possession?" Michael asked, grinning at the others then up at the small crowd on the deck.

"We could flip you," John offered. "Look, you have it right now, so why don't you just start, Rodney. I'm sure Andy and I will get it back soon, right, Andy?"

"Flipping Andy would be easier," Michael shot back before trotting over to Rodney. "Okay, Dad, let's fake them out; go long."

"Go long?" Rodney groaned. "Just don't throw it toward the pool."

"You can swim," Michael laughed. "Go on, Dad."

"Any year now," John yelled.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Rodney called back, setting himself to hike the ball to Michael, then scooting around Andy to head toward the end of the yard.

"Go, Dad, go!" Michael yelled, ducking under John's grab and spinning before throwing the ball toward his father.

"Get him, Andy!" John shouted, sprinting toward them. He dodged sideways to avoid Michael and crashed into Rodney, making them both stumble.

"You're tackled, Uncle Rodney!" Andy hooted.

"So I noticed," he groaned, rubbing his hip.

"That was a stumble, not a tackle... as you well know," John added the last in a mutter.

"Semantics."

"C'mon, you two!" Andy yelled. "Next down!"

"Oh my God, what do your parents feed you?" John pretended to groan as they got into position. "Cool it on the sugar and caffeine, kid!"

Michael smirked as he lined up behind his father. "Or maybe you're getting old, Maj. Sheppard."

John narrowed his eyes threateningly. "You're going down!"

"Threatening my son, John? You're going down," Rodney shot back.

"Ha, dream on!" John grinned challengingly, his hazel eyes sparkling mischievously.

By the barbecue, Laura smiled at Carson and murmured, "Now that's the John I remember.

He nodded and glanced at the girls, who were all watching the game with rapt attention. "Now we just have to hope they keep smiling once the game's over."

When Michael called the play, instead of running for the pass, Rodney stood his ground, blocking John while Michael scooted around him, trying to outrun Andy.

John laughed and caught hold of Rodney, trying to move him.

"Run, Michael!" Rodney laughed. "Go on without me; don't look back!"

"I'll win in memory of you, Dad!" Michael called.

"So self-sacrificing," John snorted.

"I'd do anything for them," Rodney shrugged, smirking when Michael dodged both Andy and Amanda, who'd run out to help her brother.

"Good," John said simply, causing Rodney to glance at him, realize just how close they were together, and step away from him.

"Touchdown!" Michael whooped, trotting back to them. "Your ball, Maj--John."

"Come on, Andy, it's our turn next," John said, slinging an arm around the younger boy's shoulders.

The game continued with Jennifer and Melissa watching avidly, whispering together whenever Rodney and John interacted.

"Okay, you two," Laura cut in, "the burgers are almost done. Enough plotting, go help Mandy get the plates and silverware; we'll eat out here."

After another look at where John and Rodney were both trying to catch the ball, the two girls headed inside for the dishes, and Carson moved up behind Laura, linking his arms around her waist and resting his chin on her shoulder. "You realize that Rodney's going to kill us all if, no, when he figures out what's going on, don't you?"

"Possibly, but hopefully he'll be too happy to do more than actually threaten us with it, and if necessary, we'll hide behind Jen and Michael."

"Good plan. At least we know John won't mind. He just wants to get a second chance. And if you'll notice, Rodney's not pulling away as quickly now."

"Possibly because he's distracted by the kids, but there's no way he would have slept with John if there wasn't something still there," Laura nodded, sliding her hands over Carson's arms as they watched the game wind down.

"I only hope we're not making a mistake by encouraging this. It's been a very long time, and John has a life away from here. It'll take a lot of compromising on both their parts, and neither of them is very good at that. Still," Carson said, "they do look good together, don't they?"

"Almost as good as we do," Laura smiled, leaning back against his chest. "I suppose we'll just have to hope for the best."

John noticed the girls coming back out with the plates and silverware, and he called, "Last play, guys. It's almost time to eat."

"Oh, thank god," Rodney groaned, making a face at Andy when he snickered.

"You like it, Uncle Rodney!"

"You always do once someone gets you to start," John chuckled.

"That's exactly what happened when we went to Hawaii and we made him try surfing," Michael snickered.

"Carson!" Rodney yelled. "I need a beer."

John's face lit up. "You surf?"

"Dad did really well once he forgot to be scared," Jennifer put in, nodding enthusiastically.

"Yes, well, there's not much surfing here, is there."

"There's great surfing in California," John pointed out. "And it's a great place for a vacation."

"We went to San Diego last year for one of Dad's conferences," Michael added.

"It's fun there. I lived there for a couple of years," John said, getting into position. "Okay, let's do it."

"Ready, Michael?" Rodney asked, setting himself when he nodded, both of them focused on their opponents.

John and Andy stared back, John throwing in a growl for good measure.

Rodney couldn't help it; he snickered, making Michael and Andy laugh while John tried to keep a straight face. Michael took advantage of the distraction to start the play, taking John and Andy by surprise and allowing Rodney to slip past them running for the other end of the yard.

"Yay!" Jennifer yelled. "Way to go, Dad!"

"He hasn't caught the pass yet," Laura murmured.

"Aunt Laura! He will," Jennifer said loyally, just as Rodney grabbed Michael's pass. "Told you!" she exclaimed before running down to hug her dad.

Laura looked at John knowingly as he joined her and Carson on the deck. "Amazing how you got so much worse at football, John."

"Isn't it?" He grinned crookedly at her.

"Okay," Rodney panted as he walked up to the deck, an arm around each of the kids, "I'm in serious need of a drink and a chair."

"Getting soft there," John chuckled.

"Dad plays squash with Uncle Radek all the time," Michael argued, making Rodney smile.

"Maybe one of them will teach me," John said easily.

"Well, Dad's going to have a lot of free time after this weekend, at least for two weeks," Jennifer said brightly. "Michael has Scout camp, and I have soccer camp."

"And I have work," Rodney snorted.

Several hours after the kids had left for camp, John arrived on Rodney's doorstep, a desperate look on his face. "You have to save me! Laura and Carson are having a romantic tryst, Elizabeth and Radek are baby shopping, and Chaylynn's hunting me!"

"And I'm supposed to be sympathetic to this, why?" Rodney asked as he leaned in the doorway, blocking the entrance to the house.

"Oh come on, you wouldn't leave a fellow male to her mercies? I'm willing to beg."

Rodney rolled his eyes at that and moved out of the way. "God, you're pathetic; scared of a thirty-eight-year-old divorced cheerleader."

"If she was after you, you'd be scared too! In the dictionary under 'man-eater', there's a picture of her." John reached back to push the door closed and lock it.

"Trust me, even if I was straight, that wouldn't be the case." Rodney turned and walked back to the den. "I'm in the middle of reviewing a paper, so if you want something, find it."

John grinned and followed him, and Rodney paused at the entryway to the den. "What?"

"You told me to find what I wanted."

"I meant food or some sports show," Rodney snapped.

John shook his head slowly. "I don't want those."

"Well, that's all you're getting here, so deal with it."

"Can I give you a hand with anything?" John asked, not acknowledging Rodney's remark.

"Oh yes, please help me critique an article on advanced devolutional wormhole theory, I'm sure your remarks will be most helpful."

"Sorry, can't help you there... My degree's in n-dimensional, non-Euclidean geometry," John replied blandly, admitting to his degree for the first time in years if Rodney had but known it.

Rodney spun around at that, his eyes widening before he managed to recover. "I had assumed your degree was in flying."

"My masters was in aeronautical engineering, if that makes you feel better."

"Actually, it doesn't."

"Sorry, would it help if I pretended my IQ was the same as my inseam?"

"Oh, please," Rodney snorted.

"You're a hard man to please." John perched on the edge of Rodney's desk, seemingly settled in for a while.

Rodney sighed as he sat as well and rustled the sheaf of papers in front of him, attempting to ignore John but not doing a good job of it.

"He has an error in his math that invalidates his whole hypothesis," John said helpfully, showing that he hadn't lost his skill in reading upside down.

"What?" Rodney's head snapped up, and he stared at John before looking back down at the paper. "Where?"

"Right here." John pointed at the spot in the equation.

Rodney stared at the equation, his eyes moving back and forth across the integers, a smile slowly growing as he spotted the error John had identified.

"It's interesting though."

"Well, of course it is; it's based on some of my old research."

"You didn't continue with it?" John picked up the next page, scanning it quickly before frowning thoughtfully.

Rodney shrugged at that. "I left my position to come back here; while I can't work on the project, I still get perks."

"You worked for the military? And don't tell me it wasn't; no one else is doing anything like this."

"For about a year." Rodney's eyes took on a faraway gaze. "But I'm doing good work here, and I can even publish it."

"And you have. Your last paper was good. You're going to get that Nobel you wanted someday soon."

Rodney looked at him skeptically. "You read my last paper? I had no idea The International Journal of Theoretical Physics was delivered to Antarctica."

John shrugged, not about to admit that he kept up with Rodney's career and ordered any journals that published his articles. "See, you learned something new."

"So it seems." Rodney pressed his lips together as he looked down at the stack of paper on his desk. "Where did you do your graduate work?" the question was almost gruff.

"McGill." John watched for the reaction.

"Impressive."

"I enjoyed it." John shrugged.

"I can imagine you would have been in heaven there."

"You can't imagine the night life. And the hot men." John grinned. "I had some fun for a while."

"Ah yes, Canada is so much more accommodating to deviant lifestyles; of course, southern California isn't far behind in that."

"Sounds like you enjoyed your college years too."

"Most of them."

"Me too," John said, leaning back slightly, bracing himself with his palms flat on the desk behind him. "That was when I decided to concentrate on the Air Force."

"I'm thrilled for you." Rodney picked up a pair of reading glasses, put them on, and went back to his perusal of the paper.

"Of course, it took me a while. You probably had your doctorate before you were twenty-five." John could see that he'd lost Rodney again, but he didn't know why.

"Hmm, yes, the first one anyway." As he spoke, Rodney noted a few comments in the margins at the side of the article and continued reading.

"So how many do you have?"

"Just two, the second is in logic and the foundations of mathematics."

Looking startled at first, after a moment John nodded. "Yeah, I can see where that would interest you."

"Somehow I doubt that," Rodney snorted.

"Why? We used to talk about some wild stuff."

"Yes, we did, though I ended up studying that because I thought sometimes there are more answers to new questions in the past than in the crap people are spewing."

"The past can be very important to the present," John agreed.

"I had quite a few ideas related to the project I was working on, but confidentiality and all that lovely paperwork means I can't do anything with them now." Rodney shrugged at that and tapped his pen on the scribbled on blotter under his papers.

"So find another way to go at the problem. You know there's more than one route, and I'm sure you're smart enough to find the alternative."

"What does it matter to you?" Rodney finally asked in exasperation.

John met his gaze. "I just don't think knowledge should be restricted. And you shouldn't have to hide your accomplishments."

"I have enough of them that one or two being out of sight doesn't matter."

John was startled into a laugh. "Lack of self esteem definitely isn't one of your problems."

"Indicating I have others?" Rodney asked archly.

"Of course not, I thought you were God."

"I somehow think the Pope would disagree."

"I somehow think I do too."

"So you admit you were lying when you said you thought I was God?"

"It's called sarcasm, Rodney. I'd think you'd be familiar with that."

"Yes, I hear it enough from my children."

"Gee, I wonder where they learned that."

Rodney looked up at John again at that. "If you wanted pleasant company, perhaps you should have let Chaylynn catch you."

"I never said I didn't like it. And I'd rather catch an STD than her!"

"Lovely image."

"Thanks." John eyed him steadily before saying, "So, now that you know my brain hasn't atrophied, is there something I can do to help?"

Rodney sighed and reached into a drawer to hand a folder to John. "Have a field day."

John took it and finally moved off the desk to settle in the comfortable La-Z-Boy, already reading. After only a few minutes, he was totally focused on the paper, occasionally scribbling on a pad on his lap before nodding and continuing.

Rodney pretended to be doing his own work, but from time to time he looked over at John, looking confused and disconcerted.

After a while, when he was about a quarter of the way through the paper, John looked up. "Am I supposed to pretend not to recognize your writing style or the fact that this is decades beyond any college student?"

"Did I say it was a student's paper?"

"You didn't say it wasn't," John retorted.

Rodney pressed his lips together and took a deep breath. "Fine, I didn't. Would you rather see one of my students' work?"

John glared. "You are not getting this back till I'm done!"

"Greedy," Rodney snorted.

"Fascinated. You're really pushing the boundaries here. You're one hell of an impressive guy."

"Just not as..." Rodney shut his mouth with an audible snap and nodded. "Of course, it got me where I am."

"Not as what?"

"Nothing."

John looked unhappy, and his eyes fell back to the paper, and Rodney growled. "What?"

"Nothing."

"I don't need this," Rodney muttered to himself.

"Tough. I'm here and I'm staying."

"Oh really?" Rodney's eyebrows rose as he spoke, and he glared at John.

"Yup." John brandished the paper. "I'm reading, remember?"

The noise Rodney made was somewhere between a growl and a groan, and he slammed back his chair and stalked out of the room.

"Well, at least he didn't try to throw me out," John muttered before starting to read again, scribbling notes and comments as he went.

Rodney headed for the kitchen, reaching for the phone, then slowly hanging it up with a sigh and banging his head against the wall until his reading glasses slipped from his nose and fell to the floor.

The noise gradually penetrated John's concentration, and he called, "Is everything okay in there?"

"Just peachy," Rodney hollered as he bent to retrieve his glasses.

"Great. Could you bring a beer or pop or something when you come back?"

Rodney slowly straightened and stared at the door way, his complexion turning redder and redder as he struggled to keep from exploding then and there. Opening the refrigerator, he took out a beer, popped the top, and carried it back to the office, deliberately drinking from it as he sat again and went back to work.

It was a minute or two before John registered his return, and then he looked at the beer next to Rodney and the empty table beside his chair. "Guess that's a no then." He shrugged and went back to the paper.

"I am not your fucking maid," Rodney said flatly. "I'm not your fucking anything."

John looked up at him, the hazel eyes unwontedly serious. "Don't bet on that."

"I bet on it once; I lost. I never make the same mistake twice."

"Neither do I."

"Lovely."

"You'll believe me eventually."

"Is that before or after you go back to your planes?"

John hesitated before saying, "Maybe I'll just get a plane where I am instead."

"How thrilling for you."

"It might be. It just might be."

Rodney drummed his fingers on the table and took another deep breath. "If you're done reading that, I'd like it back."

"And I'll give it back... when I'm done." John smiled faintly and went back to his reading.

"Well, leave it on the desk when you're done; I'm going outside." With that Rodney stood again, grabbing the beer and leaving the glasses on the desk, and headed out of the room.

John smiled faintly once Rodney was gone and decided not to push his luck by following. Instead he continued reading, working through the math as he did, and after he was done, he dozed off in the comfortable chair.

Several hours later, fed up and fuming at the invasion of his home, Rodney came back inside, fully prepared to tell John exactly what he thought of him and what he could do with himself, but the words died away when he saw the other man asleep in the chair.

"I really hate you," Rodney whispered to himself, picking up the loosely piled papers on the corner of the desk and carrying them over to the burgundy leather sofa, and stretched out on it to see just what comments John had made.

Some time later, he yawned and glanced over at John, who was still asleep, and he sighed again. "Wonderful, if I wake you up and kick you out, I'm an asshole, and if I let you stay, I'm an idiot."

When John didn't provide an answer, he shook his head and stood, leaving one small desk lamp on as he turned off the main lights and headed upstairs to his bedroom.

Hours passed, and as John's exhaustion ebbed with the restful sleep, he began to dream. It began the same as always, with him, Mitch and Dex arguing over whose turn it was to buy a round, and then suddenly John was alone in the desert, looking for them, calling their names. And then they were there, but they were dead, asking why he hadn't saved them, and John shot up in the chair, wide awake, dripping sweat, and knowing he wasn't going to get back to sleep. At least this time he hadn't woken screaming.

He made his way into the kitchen, leaning his forehead against the cool stainless steel of the fridge before opening it to get a bottle of water.

After draining most of it in a long swallow, John started wandering around the house, flicking on lights to get a better look at pictures. The wall of the hallway was covered with several, showing Rodney, Jennifer and Michael over the years, growing from children to the young adults they were now. He also saw a picture of Jeannie and a man who must have been her husband, and he smiled. He made his way upstairs, absently noting that the house was clean but a little messy, lived in rather than a showplace.

He hesitated at Rodney's bedroom door, but he finally pushed it open, his eyes going to the man sleeping in the bed. He watched Rodney, remembering when he'd been able to do this whenever he wanted and knowing it was his own fault that he'd lost that right. He took another step forward, not realizing that the moonlight through the slightly parted drapes illuminated the tense, almost haggard expression on his face.

"Wha--Michael, is something wrong?" Rodney asked sleepily as he sat up and blinked, stiffening when he recognized John and saw his expression.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you. Michael's at camp, remember?"

"Oh, yes, of course." Rodney rubbed at his eyes and nodded. "What are you doing?"

"Being nosy and checking out your house," John admitted, slowly relaxing as they talked.

"Oh." Rodney seemed at a loss for words.

"It's nice."

"So you're an interior decorator as well as a pilot?"

John shrugged. "It's been a while since I've seen a real home."

"Carson and Laura might not agree with that."

"Okay, they have a home too, but it's not as if I was wandering around wherever I felt like. And this is yours."

"Is there some reason you are wandering around my house at--" Rodney paused and looked at the clock, "three in the morning?"

"Dreams," John replied succinctly, looking away.

"About... corpses?"

"They weren't always corpses. Once their names were Mitch and Dex, and we liked to go someplace where we could surf when we got leave."

"Oh," Rodney said again. "I'm--I'm sorry."

"Not your fault." John shrugged again, shoving his hands in his pockets. "I should let you get back to sleep."

"Are you going to be able to?"

"Eventually." John chose not to explain that he meant in a day or so, not minutes or even hours.

Rodney sighed and shook his head as he climbed out of bed and grabbed a robe. "I'll put some coffee on."

"I didn't mean to get you up," John protested half-heartedly.

"Either way, I'm up, so it doesn't matter." Belting the robe around himself, Rodney started toward the door to head downstairs.

"Thanks." John stepped aside to let Rodney out of the room and trailed after him, glad of the company.

"Well, it's not as if I was going to go back to sleep anyway," Rodney huffed as he pulled out the coffee and filled the pot with water.

"I'm still grateful." John leaned against the counter. "I don't think I've ever had anyone around to talk to after one of these," he mused.

"You haven't?" Rodney looked plainly surprised.

"No one was too interested in spending time with the guy who disobeyed orders. I think they all figured I deserved a few nightmares."

"Oh, so because you tried to save your friends, you're a pariah?" Rodney asked, shaking his head as he added the filter and grounds then turned the machine on. "You would think they'd want someone like you on their side if they were the one out there."

"I didn't actually manage to save anyone," John pointed out.

"Did you know it was futile when you left to do it?"

"Of course not!"

"So you thought you could save them?"

"That was the plan. But it didn't work out that way, and I disobeyed orders with no results, at least none anyone would want." John saw what Rodney was getting at, but he didn't think it was relevant.

"Yeah, well, things don't always work out the way you want them to; does that mean you shouldn't have tried them?"

"Not always, no, but in this particular case my superiors definitely thought so." John paced around the kitchen restlessly.

"And what did you think?" Rodney leaned against the granite countertop as he watched John's restless movements.

"I thought I had to try to save them, that they deserved better than being abandoned, and in the same circumstances, I'd do the same thing again. Which is why I'm in Antarctica and the brass is campaigning to get me to quit."

"And you're digging in your heels and staying."

"Until I have something to leave for. I'm not running away."

"Staying with something that makes you miserable--very admirable, but, oh, there's flying."

"I'm not miserable. And so far I really don't have anywhere better to be. I need to find that before I start changing my whole life."

Rodney shook his head in response to that and turned away again to pull two rust-colored mugs from a cabinet. Watching him, John finally sat down in one of the chairs, his gaze intent. "But if I find it, I won't miss my chance at it."

"And if you never find it?"

John gazed back steadily. "I don't think that's going to be a problem."

"I'm sure you'd like to think so."

"Yeah, I would." John watched him for a moment longer. "Is one of those for me, or are you planning to drink them both?"

"A neat trick considering there's nothing in them yet," Rodney commented before filling the mugs and handing one over to John.

"It got me some, didn't it?" John grinned at him, though his eyes were still shadowed. "Thanks."

"Welcome," Rodney grunted, setting his mug down to open a cabinet and pull out a package of Oreos, tossing them on the counter between them.

"Oh wow, I haven't had one of these in years."

"The kids like them," Rodney shrugged, not admitting he remembered how John liked them as well.

"I used to love these... and I still do," John added with a blissful smile after he took a bite.

"Yes, I suppose the penguins don't stock many."

John shrugged. "They're not good for much other than fish. And I just never think to buy them."

"You should stock up before you go back."

"It's not like I can take everything I miss." John watched Rodney over his coffee, and the other man looked away to pick up a cookie.

"You have the empty blue sky; what more do you need?"

"You might be surprised."

"It seems to have stood you in good stead this far."

John looked around the kitchen, his eyes pausing at the pictures stuck on the fridge with magnets. "As far as it goes."

"Exactly."

Tired of dancing around the issue and knowing it was his own fault, John asked, "Are you going to give me a chance?"

"Oh yes, because it all ended so well the last time," Rodney snorted.

"Look, I know I screwed up. Royally. But I'd like to think I learn from my mistakes."

"As do I, and I have almost two decades of experience to draw on."

"I'm not the same person I was then." Realizing what he'd just said, John laughed bitterly. "Then again, maybe you're right."

Rodney sighed and looked down in his mug before raising his gaze to meet John's. "I'm nowhere near the same person either; you're basing this all on knowing a kid for less than a year almost twenty years ago."

"Some, but I also like the man who lives in this house, who raised two great kids." John hesitated, then added, "The guy I never stopped loving."

Rodney froze at that and carefully set his mug down before glaring at John, his eyes steely blue slits. "Twenty years too late, Major Sheppard."

"Ain't that the truth." John looked moodily into his coffee, not wanting to see the expression in Rodney's eyes any longer. "I made the wrong choice, and I guess sometimes there really aren't second chances."

"And now I'm supposed to feel sorry for you and take you back? Fuck you, John!" Rodney snapped. "How convenient that your 'wrong choice' surfaced after you have a problem with your chosen life."

"I realized I'd made a mistake sixteen years ago!" John snarled back.

"Yeah, well, for me it went even farther back."

John flinched and then carefully set his mug on the table. "Sorry. Thanks for the coffee and everything." He stood up, not looking at Rodney.

"You don't want to hear how wonderful my life was that first summer after you dumped me--oh wait, you didn't even have the fucking guts to do that, did you?"

"I'm sorry," John said again. "I couldn't. I just couldn't. I figured you'd forget about me," he added with a painful half shrug.

"I was seventeen and in love for the first fucking time in my life!" Rodney shouted, his right hand moving to his left wrist and rubbing the skin there restlessly.

"I was nineteen and in love for the last time in my life," John murmured.

"Sorry if my lack of sympathy is overwhelming."

"I wasn't expecting any," John admitted heavily. "I know I fucked up. I just wanted the flying so bad, to get away from my dad and be free; I never realized what I was giving up."

"And it's fine that you getting your dream almost cost me mine."

"No, it's not. But by the time I realized how badly I'd fucked up, a couple of years had passed, and I figured it was too late, that I'd just hurt you more by trying to explain."

"Yes, the scars were rather fresh then," Rodney murmured, continuing to rub his wrist.

John frowned, finally picking up on the mannerism. "Scars?" he asked carefully.

"Emotional scars."

John nodded, but he was still frowning. "What did you mean it almost cost you yours?"

Forcing himself to let go of his wrist, Rodney picked up his mug again. "Shall we say my mind wasn't quite on my studies that second semester?"

John groaned, realizing he'd made an even bigger mess of things than he'd thought. "I really am sorry," he said helplessly.

Rodney slumped against the counter and sighed. "So am I."

"Yeah, I guess you must wish you'd never met me." John picked at a loose thread on the hem of his shirt, avoiding Rodney's eyes.

"I don't recall ever saying that. Maybe at the time, yes, but to miss out on it all? No."

John looked up in surprise, finally smiling slightly. "I'm glad. I wish..." he trailed off with a shrug.

"I'm going to regret this but, you wish what?" Rodney asked, picking up his mug to keep from rubbing his arm again.

"I wish I'd been smarter, realized sooner, never made that mistake. I wish it was a perfect world, and I could have had you and flying too. I wish I'd made the right choice back then. I wish you'd give me another chance to make the right one."

"I wish you had too or at least that you had told me why you did what you did." Rodney purposefully didn't address the last part of John's sad musings.

"I really did think it would be easier for you this way," John said. He got up again and began prowling around the kitchen restlessly. "Although looking back, I'm sure part of it was that I didn't think I could walk away if I saw you again."

"Easier?" Rodney asked incredulously. "Spending every day hoping against stupid hope that there would be a letter, a call, something, was easier? Obviously it was though--for you."

"I thought you'd forget about me, get pissed and forget." John turned to face Rodney, his eyes dark with remembered pain. "And it wasn't easier for me. It was never easy, never enough."

"But at least you knew!" Rodney drew himself up and ran a hand over his face, his fingers momentarily digging into his face, leaving pale indentations in his flushed skin. John winced at the pained cry, his eyes falling shut momentarily.

"I'm sorry," he whispered again, and Rodney sighed.

"I really wish I was a sadist so that I could enjoy this."

John raked a hand through his hair. "Coming back was a mistake. I almost didn't; I don't really know why I came," he mused.

"And you think I do?" Rodney poured himself more coffee and watched John over the mug.

"Obviously not. And if it was fate, well, then I'd have to say she has a sick sense of humor," John said wryly.

"You hadn't noticed that before?"

"Not this bad, no. I'd actually reached the point where I could go a few weeks without thinking of you."

Rodney sipped at his coffee while he watched John, his expression guarded.

"I missed you," John said quietly.

Rodney closed his eyes and pressed his lips together before shuddering. "What do you want me to say?"

"That you'll give me another chance."

"You left me once, and it almost killed me," Rodney whispered, his eyes still closed. "Jeannie helped me survive, and she's gone now." His voice was hollow and lost as he spoke.

"I don't want to go anywhere. Give me a chance to prove it."

Rodney hunched in on himself, dragging in deep, shuddering breaths. "And when you leave again?"

"If I have a reason to stay, I won't," John said, his voice shaking.

"The kids..." Rodney protested, his voice sounding weak to his own ears.

"Like me, and I like them."

"You can't hurt them; they've been hurt enough." The words were a rough whisper.

"What would make you think that I would ever hurt those kids?" John demanded, insulted. "Not intentionally, but when--if you go looking for the sky..."

"I'm not going anywhere unless you push me away," John said.

"I keep trying, but it doesn't seem to be working."

"Maybe because neither of us wants it to." John took a step closer.

Rodney automatically tried to back up but was hemmed in by the counter at his back.

"Say yes," John urged softly, moving closer. "Give us a chance."

"John, I--" At a loss for words, Rodney could only stare at him as John leaned in and kissed him. Rodney gave a soft, broken noise and raised his hands to John's shoulders, holding him into the kiss, not pushing him away.

"Rodney," John whispered his name, wrapping his arms around Rodney and drawing him even closer.

"If you leave..." Rodney whispered, fisting his hands in the soft material of John's t-shirt.

"I won't. I'm not going anywhere."

"Promise?" For a moment, Rodney sounded as young as he'd been when they first met.

"Promise. I'll write and send my letter resigning my commission in the morning."

"But--flying?"

"I'll find a local flying club and join. I'll take you up sometime."

"Flying?" Rodney pulled back and stared at him.

"You'll love it."

"In a tiny plane?"

"Maybe we'll work our way up to that," John chuckled.

"That's a good idea," Rodney said quickly.

"Maybe for our tenth anniversary."

Rodney blinked at that, then gave a tentative smile.

"And every ten years after that."

"I missed you too," Rodney blurted.

"Would it be really awful of me to say I'm glad?"

"I hated you for what you did."

"I hated me too." John looked at him searchingly. "Do you still?"

"I wanted to; when I first saw you, I told myself I did, but... no."

"I'm glad." John's arms tightened convulsively around Rodney, and he let out a long, shaky breath which Rodney echoed as he carefully shifted to move his hands from John's shoulders to around his waist as well and lean against him.

John suddenly let go long enough to pinch himself, and then he let out a sigh of relief.

"What?" Rodney asked, before yawning, not bothering to cover his mouth.

"I used to dream about us being together again. I had to make sure I was really awake."

"Well, I'm glad you didn't pinch me to prove it."

"I figured you'd hit me if I did," John admitted wryly.

"And you'd be right."

John smiled faintly. "You're tired; you should go back to bed."

"Are you going to be able to sleep?"

John shrugged. "There's no reason for you to be up all night."

"Do you really think I'll sleep knowing you're sitting up?"

"Well, unless you're prepared to stay up for the next couple of days, you're going to have to."

"Couple--couple of days?" Rodney's eyes widened.

"I'll catch a few minutes here and there, but I can't sleep after one of those. I jerk awake every time I start to nod off."

Rodney was silent a moment, his fingers moving restlessly on John's sides before he looked up again. "Would it help if you weren't alone? Not for anything lewd, I mean, just for the company?"

"I... don't know. I've never had a chance to find out. Maybe. Probably."

"Well, come on then; we might as well find out." Using bluster to get himself through his nerves, Rodney gently pushed John away to set their mugs in the sink, then looked over at him. "Well?"

After a searching look, John nodded slowly. "Thanks." He followed Rodney back up to the bedroom, then hesitated next to the bed.

"My god, John, I'm not going to jump you!" Rodney protested.

"You think I'd object to that?" John laughed harshly. "Aside from the other night, it's been a very long time. I just wondered if it was okay for me to strip down to my boxers."

"Oh." Rodney pressed his lips together before just what John had said registered, and he blinked several times. "I've got sweats you can borrow if you want."

"If it'll make you more comfortable. I usually sleep in the buff."

"Actually, it would." As he spoke, Rodney went over to an oak dresser and pulled out a pair of much-washed, faded blue sweatpants and handed them over to John.

"Thanks. I, uh, I'll go change in the bathroom." John vanished into the other room, returning moments later wearing nothing but the low slung cotton pants and his dog tags, nestled in his chest hair.

Rodney turned from hanging up his robe and simply stared for a moment, unable to speak. John hesitated next to the bed, watching Rodney hesitantly.

"It doesn't do much good if you don't lie down," Rodney commented, flushing slightly before sitting down on the side of the bed.

"Good point." John sat down, then stretched out on his back, lying stiffly.

Rodney did the same after reaching over to turn the light off. After several moments of strained silence, he let out a snarl. "This is insane."

"No arguments here," John muttered.

"So what are we supposed to do?"

After a moment of silence John rolled to his side and pressed up against Rodney's side, laying his head on Rodney's shoulder and one arm across his chest while a knee rose to drape over Rodney's thighs. Rodney lay there stiffly for a moment before sighing and letting one arm curve around John's side to hold him close. John slowly exhaled in a deep sigh, relaxing as he inhaled Rodney's scent, still familiar even now.

Swallowing hard against the sudden tightness in his throat, Rodney moved his other hand to cover the one John had on his chest, twining their fingers together. John inhaled sharply, a brief tremor wracking him before he tightened his grip on Rodney's hand and then loosened it again.

"Thank you," he whispered.

"I--you're welcome," Rodney answered quietly, not noticing he was rubbing his thumb over the palm of John's hand.

John was surprised to realize that the tension from his nightmare was slowly ebbing from his muscles as he lay against Rodney. "This is good."

Rodney nodded, not trusting his voice at that moment, and took a shuddering breath, feeling himself relax as John settled closer, lethargy sweeping over them both.

John made a soft sound as he settled comfortably, slowly sinking into a light doze. Rodney stayed awake a bit longer, stroking John's back until he too fell asleep, clinging tightly to the other man the whole time.

After a while, John began to shift restlessly, frowning as his eyelids fluttered rapidly. He started to sweat, groaning deep in the back of his throat like a wounded animal.

The sound drew Rodney back to wakefulness, and he started to sit up, gasping when the weight on his chest held him down. Another low groan made him gasp and crane his neck to try to look at the other man. "It's okay," he said soothingly, trying to act as if he was calming one of his children. "It's okay; I'm here."

John moaned and curled into Rodney, burying his face in the curve of Rodney's neck and clinging to him with desperate strength.

"It's okay," Rodney kept whispering, rubbing his hand over John's back, hoping to calm him from the dream.

Gradually, John's muscles relaxed again, but he continued to clutch Rodney, pressing tightly against him. "Rodney," he murmured, the faintest of smiles touching the corners of his mouth.

"Yeah, I'm here and you're here; it's all good," Rodney promised, giving in to temptation and kissing the top of John's head. John sighed and his fingers flexed on Rodney's chest, causing Rodney to stroke his hand and back again, keeping the motions slow and rhythmic, finally breathing a sigh when he felt John relax against him again.

John mumbled Rodney's name again as he sank into the most restful sleep he'd had in months.

As John's breathing evened out, Rodney sighed and relaxed back against the pillow, staring up at the ceiling, finally falling asleep himself as dawn lightened the sky.

It was the warmth of the sun on his face that finally woke John, and he stirred, grumbling a complaint at having to wake up. But then his mind caught up, and his eyes shot open as he realized that he had actually slept soundly after climbing into Rodney's bed... "Rodney!" He managed to keep his voice low, but he broke into a smile when he realized that Rodney was beside him, an arm actually around him.

"Wazzit?" Rodney mumbled, lifting a hand to rub at his nose.

"Good morning." John waited for him to wake up enough to realize how they were tangled together.

"Too early to--John?" Rodney came fully awake at that and opened his eyes to stare at the other man.

"Yup, that's me. And thank you. I actually did sleep last night."

"You did?" Despite his shock at waking up this way, Rodney smiled. "Well, good."

"It was. I haven't felt this good in a long time." John smiled crookedly, rubbing his cheek on Rodney's shoulder.

Rodney bit his lower lip and nodded. "Me either," he finally admitted.

"Thank God I came to the reunion."

"Yes, if you hadn't, I'd still be with Robert," Rodney commented dryly.

"If you're waiting for me to apologize for that, don't hold your breath."

Rodney snorted and tried to glower at John. "I won't try."

"I'm much more fun. And I meant what I said last night. I'm not going anywhere."

"Better not or I'll sic the kids on you, and then you'll be in deep shit."

"Good thing that's not going to happen then." John propped his head on his hand, looking down at Rodney. "God, I've missed this."

"Me too," Rodney admitted, "more than I knew."

"I'm glad I waited to have it again," John said softly.

"Hmm?"

"I, uh, it's been a very long time for me."

Rodney pulled back to look down at John. "Just how long do you mean?"

Looking embarrassed, John mumbled something that sounded like "signor".

"Signor? Are you trying to tell me you had an orgy in Spain the last time you had sex?"

"Sixteen years!" John growled.

Rodney stared at him, his eyes wide. "But, but, McGill..."

"I still have eyes, Rodney. Window shopping's fun."

"But--sixteen years?! Jesus, I could have really hurt you the other night!"

"Oh, uh, well, actually that's been twenty years," John admitted sheepishly.

"What?!"

"Well, I'm not saying it again!"

"You mean you never..."

John shook his head. "I never trusted anyone that much again."

Rodney swallowed hard at that and nodded. "I suppose that given your circumstances, it wasn't easy to even look."

"That's why I stopped trying. It was easier just to pretend and get along."

"Christ," Rodney muttered, shaking his head.

"At least I finally figured out that I made a mistake and needed to fix it." John turned his head enough to press a kiss to Rodney's shoulder.

"And it only took twenty years; are you sure you have that PhD?"

"Math's easy. Emotions are a little more complicated. But I got here. Right back where I started and where I belong," John said with deep satisfaction.

"So you know, it hasn't been twenty years for me--or sixteen," Rodney admitted.

"I did sort of notice Robert."

Rodney snickered at that. "Sex with Robert?"

"Not so good?" John tried not to look smug and failed miserably.

"Not so there," Rodney admitted.

"You went out with the guy for weeks and never had sex?"

"There's no reason to sound so smug about it," Rodney snapped. "It's not as if I want to have men stay over at the house just any old time."

"I hope I'm going to be an exception to that."

"Jen and Michael like you," Rodney said simply.

"I like them too. They're great kids."

"Which is amazing, considering."

"Not really. They had a good example."

"Not really; that was more fly by the seat of my pants and hope to hell I didn't fuck them up," Rodney admitted.

"Well, you did a great job. And I don't think you give yourself enough credit." John laid his head back on Rodney's shoulder, perfectly content to stay there for a while longer before getting up.

"That would be because I'm terrified of doing something to mess them up," Rodney shrugged.

"I really don't think you need to worry. They're great, and they obviously love you a lot. You're already doing a hell of a lot better than either of our fathers did."

"Sadly, that doesn't take much; it's been a learning process for all of us. I think Michael had it easier than Jennifer--he doesn't remember a lot about Jeannie and Bradley."

John stroked Rodney's chest comfortingly. "But both of them are willing to talk about their parents and ask questions; you're the one who made them comfortable with that. And as far as they're concerned, you're their father. You did good, Rodney. Just accept the compliment."

"It's hard," Rodney sighed after a moment of silence. "Anything involving my brain, fine, I'm sure of everything, but them? They're the most important thing I'll ever have a hand in, and most of the time I'm terrified I'll fuck them up."

Raising his head, John looked into his eyes. "If we survived our fathers pretty well intact, I guarantee that any kids with you for a father are going to do great."

Rodney fell silent for a moment before sighing. "Intellectually I know you're right, but it doesn't stop me from worrying--and don't placate me, it's a parental right."

John chuckled. "You know you're nuts, right?"

"I'm a parent; it's mandatory."

"I think I need coffee to continue this conversation."

"In other words, it's time to get up," Rodney murmured, beginning to sit up but waiting for John to move.

"If we don't, I think I'm going to get myself in trouble."

"Then we'd better get up."

"Too bad." John gave Rodney a wry grin as he sat up, then got to his feet, stretching.

"Not for my sanity," Rodney muttered under his breath though his eyes stayed locked on John's body as he stretched beside the bed.

"Didn't we just establish that you'd lost that a long time ago?"

"Obviously," Rodney snorted, rolling out of bed and reaching for his robe.

John eyed him. "Did you just insult me?"

Rodney blinked innocently as he tied the robe's sash around his waist. "Did I say that?"

"Yes, I think you did." John chuckled as he padded toward the door. "Now I really need coffee."

"And something to eat," Rodney nodded, following John out into the hall and down to the kitchen where he set about throwing out the leftovers from their late night coffee and making a fresh pot. "There should be bagels in the bread box," he offered, glancing over at John.

"Sounds great. Tell me you have cream cheese and I'm yours."

"Look in the fridge."

"I'm not going to find any science experiments in there, am I?" John was already pulling the door open before Rodney could reply. "Cheese or butter for you? Or both?"

"If the kids left any of that honey almond spread, I'll take that," Rodney called as he put two bagels in the toaster.

"I see you still have that sweet tooth," John said, grabbing the spread and the cream cheese. "And still a purist about your cream cheese. You should try some of the flavored ones."

"Why, when I can mix things together that I want?" Rodney asked, taking down another pair of mugs, these with pictures of Jennifer and Michael at younger ages.

"Because I don't feel like roasting garlic and trying to mix it into the cheese. It's a lot easier to pull the top off the flavored cheese and just spread it on."

Rodney chuckled at that. "That's why I prefer to mix sweet things with the cream cheese."

John made a face. "Cream cheese should not be sweet."

Rodney's eyebrows rose at that. "At least it doesn't leave me with bad breath."

"Toothpaste, mouthwash, sharing..."

"Not eating it..." "You have no idea what you're missing."

"Neither do you," Rodney chuckled.

"Not big on sweets. Isn't that coffee ready yet?" John watched it avidly. "It smells great."

"Good things take time, John," Rodney said mildly, pulling the bagels from the toaster and putting them on plates.

"Yeah, but when I see something I want within my grasp, I don't like to take the chance of letting it slip away."

"I highly doubt someone is going to steal your coffee." As he spoke, Rodney reached for the cream cheese and sweet spread, mixing them together on his bagel.

John leaned against the counter, just watching him.

"Get your cream cheese, John."

"I guess that'll do. For now." After another moment staring at Rodney, John finally straightened up and spread cheese on his bagel.

Rodney nodded, continuing to watch John while he poured them both coffee and carried the mugs over to the table, setting them down at adjacent multicolored placemats.

"Are you still okay with this, with us, in the light of day?" John asked, needing to know.

"Yes. Not that I'm not sick to my stomach when I think about it, but yes."

"Okay, I'm not really thrilled with the idea that I make you ill, but I guess I'll take what I can get."

Rodney shook his head at that and reached out, grabbing for John's hand. "It's not you--well, maybe part of it is--but most of it is me; it terrifies me how much I want this."

"Oh." John smiled almost shyly. "Me too. Oh, I need to use your computer after breakfast."

"My computer?"

"I need to send an email. To my CO."

"To your... oh." Rodney looked down at his coffee, then back up at John. "All right."

"Maybe then you'll feel a little less sick. I know I'll feel a lot better."

"Then I suppose we'd better find you that computer--after we're done eating," Rodney amended quickly.

John nodded. "And then? A movie?" he suggested, remembering their first date.

"A movie?" Rodney asked slowly.

"It seems fitting, don't you think?"

Rodney nodded after a moment. "We--we'll have to check the paper to see what's playing."

"I'm sure we can find something. I have fond memories of that theater."

"It was demolished years ago."

"Well, that sucks!" John looked pouty for a moment. "I was really looking forward to going back there."

Rodney shrugged slightly. "Time change places, John. Nothing we can do about that; I'd like to think the company is more important than the place."

"Of course it is. But I think I need all the help I can get, and I'm not above trading on nostalgia."

"If you think I'm getting on my knees and blowing you in the theater, you're insane," Rodney chuckled.

John laughed. "No, not even my dreams dare go there yet. But I'm perfectly willing to get on my knees," he added with a sidelong glance.

"This may sound stupid, but..." Rodney sighed and took a sip of coffee. "I'd rather wait."

It was a moment before John said, in a carefully expressionless tone, "Until you're sure of me?"

"Until I'm sure of me."

"I see." John wondered if he was flushing his career down the toilet for nothing, if he was going to end up just as alone when all was said and done, but it was worth the risk.

"I don't think you do," Rodney countered. "We've had sex already for all the wrong reasons, John; now--God, I feel like something out of Jen's magazines--I just want to wait until it's right."

John smiled crookedly at the comment about the magazines. "I guess I'm just afraid that you're going to change your mind," he admitted. "I know I fucked up royally last time."

"Not arguing that," Rodney murmured before finishing off his bagel. "And as far as I know, I'm not going to do that; I just need some time to get used to this."

"I'll give you as much time as you need. Just... just don't freeze me out?" John finished almost pleadingly.

"Did you notice the fact that we were in the same bed together this morning?" Rodney asked sardonically.

"Yeah, but I also noticed that you don't really trust me not to hurt you again," John said, staring into his coffee cup. "I understand why; I just don't know how to fix it, other than time."

Rodney shrugged slightly. "I wish I could change it..." He paused and shook his head. "No, actually, I don't, even if it pisses you off. I want to believe you, and most of me does, but there's a part of me screaming in fear, and fuck me if I ever thought I'd ever be that introspective."

After a moment, John sighed faintly. "I'm sorry. I wish I could say I'll stop pushing, but I'm so close to having what I've wanted for so long and never thought I'd have..." He shrugged unapologetically.

"You see, that's it," Rodney muttered. "You've wanted it for years while I've done all I could to try to forget about you--hating you--and now you're here, and I want it so badly, but it terrifies me at the same time."

John winced. "Do you still hate me?" he asked again.

"Jesus, John, if I hated you, it would be easy. I love you. I've always loved you even when I hated you; that's what makes it so damn hard."

John's breath escaped him in a huge gasp of relief. "Oh thank God."

Rodney finished off his coffee and rose to get the pot, refilling both their mugs. "If I hadn't, do you really think I would have been that angry?"

"Well, I hoped not, but I'm not taking anything for granted. This matters too much."

"That's why we need to take things slow, John. It's not just me any more; it's the kids, and I can't concentrate on them when all I see and feel is you."

"I'm not asking you to ignore your family; I wouldn't. I like them, a lot. I was kinda hoping I could become part of that family."

Rodney nodded at that. "I'd like that as well."

John finally smiled. "Then I guess we're moving in the right direction."

"Right now, I'd say the right direction would be to the shower for both of us."

"Together?" John asked hopefully even while knowing what Rodney's answer would be.

"No." Rodney said so firmly. "You can use one of the kids' bathrooms."

"You can't blame a guy for trying. Besides, everyone needs help washing his back."

Rodney shook his head, but he was smiling slightly. "For today, you can wash your own back."

"You realize you just opened the discussion for tomorrow, right?" John's natural good humor was reasserting itself.

"You forget, I can be as stubborn as you."

"That's just going to make it even better when you finally say yes."

Rodney shook his head and drained his coffee. "Shower, John, we have plans."

"Slave driver." John got to his feet, pausing to put his mug in the dishwasher.

"Tell it to the kids," Rodney snorted, doing the same and hesitating for a split-second before kissing John on the jaw, making John smile happily.

"I'll meet you back down here to pick out a movie."

Rodney's smile turned slightly wooden, but he nodded. "Sounds good."

"What's wrong?"

"Hmm? Oh nothing, shower time."

"Rodney, I think we'll make better progress if we don't lie to each other."

"I'm not--I just--" Rodney took a deep breath to steady himself. "I'm trying to be rational here."

"I really don't care if you're rational or not. Just tell me what upset you because something obviously did. And the sooner we sort this out, the sooner we can get our showers and pick a movie so I can get that email sent."

Rodney's relief was visible, and he rubbed his forehead with a shaky hand. "The email. You hadn't mentioned it again and..."

John gawked at him for several seconds. "Rodney..." He shook his head. "You were the one who kept telling me to get the shower. I'm sending that email. I'm not leaving you again."

"It's just, the movie, and... Never mind, now I really sound like one of Jen's magazines," Rodney sighed.

John drew Rodney into a hug. "What?" he said again.

"I'm nervous as hell, all right?"

"You're still ahead of me. I'd go with almost paralyzing terror, personally."

Rodney laughed weakly at that. "You always were more descriptive than I."

"Good thing I like to read, huh?"

"Literary freak," Rodney muttered.

"Science elitist," John countered, grinning.

"So did you ever finish War and Peace?"

John laughed. "I fell kind of behind schedule my freshman year, and after that, I never had the heart to start it again." He smiled wryly. "Maybe I should try again."

"Expecting to be bored?"

"Far from it. But it won't depress me anymore."

Rodney smiled at that and hugged John close. "Good."

"Let's not do this in front of Jen. She'd never let us live it down."

"Actually, she'll think it's sweet. Michael will be the one to gag."

"I think I'd prefer the gagging to being called sweet!"

"Hrmm, good point; we really don't need Jen, Melissa and Amanda cooing over us."

"Oh my God, are you trying to emasculate me?"

"Wimp," Rodney snorted. "You can fly things that shouldn't get off the ground without a thought, but the idea of some teenage girls sends you into hiding. Want to hear scary? Try talking to a twelve-year-old about her first period."

John shuddered. "I'd rather be shot down again!"

Rodney froze and stared at him, his eyes wide. "You were shot down as well?"

"Uh, yeah, that was a couple of years ago. My friend and I had to try to walk out. I made it. He didn't." John's entire body had tightened at the memory.

"I'm sorry," he whispered.

John managed a painful smile. "Thanks. I still feel guilty about it sometimes, you know. That I'm here and he's not. But I'm glad I am. Now."

"I'm glad you are too, and I'm very glad you're not going to be in that situation again," Rodney murmured, pulling back to look at John seriously.

"I'm glad I have somewhere else to be and someone to be with," John said quietly, taking Rodney's hand.

"Why don't we get those showers, then perhaps we can see about getting to know each other again."

"Still determined on separate showers, huh?" John tried to look injured, but he was grinning too widely for it to work. "But yeah, getting to know each other again sounds good. I want to know everything about you and your kids."

"The pout won't work; that's the first result of having kids," Rodney snorted, though he was smiling as well.

"Well hell, how am I supposed to wrap you around my little finger then?" John laughed before he started toward the door. "I'm going, I'm going! Meet you back down here in a few."

"Don't forget to get your clothes!" Rodney called, cleaning up the dishes to allow John time to get in the shower--and to keep himself from temptation.

"Foiled again," John called back, laughing.

It was a much cleaner, happier John Sheppard who sat down at the kitchen table fifteen minutes later to wait for Rodney to rejoin him. He'd found his way home again, and he wasn't going to do anything to mess it up.

"I've got the paper in case you still want to try that movie," Rodney called, walking in carrying a scrapbook as well as the paper and freshly showered and shaved.

"Actually, I should probably get my resignation sent to my CO first. I was thinking, since I'm on leave and the Air Forces wants me gone anyway, we might be able to get it all settled during my leave, and I might not even have to go back, aside from signing some paperwork."

"Do you think I'm going to argue with that?" Rodney asked incredulously.

"No, not really. I just didn't want to start poking around your computer without you." John stood up, one eyebrow raised inquisitively.

Rodney set the items on the table and nodded toward the doorway. "That would have meant you would have cracked my password."

"It was much easier just to wait for you so I can log into my email account."

"Smart man," Rodney offered, giving a crooked grin as they walked back to the den and he booted up his computer.

"Most of the time," John agreed. Once Rodney had entered his password, John sat down and quickly composed his letter of resignation. After a final read through, John nodded sharply. "Okay, ready to send." He looked over his shoulder at Rodney, who leaned in and kissed him.

"Go for it."

John looked into the blue eyes for another moment, and then he clicked send and let out a huge sigh of relief. "It's done."

"You look like you could use a drink."

"I could use you." John swiveled the chair around and wrapped his arms around Rodney's waist, leaning against him while Rodney stroked a hand over his still damp hair.

"I'm here," he said shakily.

"And so am I." John chuckled shakily. "I finally got it right."

"We," Rodney murmured, "we got it right."

"Yeah, we did." John raised his head to smile up at Rodney. "I like that word."

"We?"

"Yeah, that's the one."

"Me too," Rodney admitted, continuing to stroke John's hair.

"This is nice," John murmured.

"Nice seems too small a word for it."

"I don't think there is a word for it."

"Probably not," Rodney whispered.

"Whatever it is, I'm glad we found it again."

Rodney nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

"So let's go see a movie." John smiled crookedly without releasing his grip on Rodney.

"Any idea which one?"

"No war movies," John said emphatically. "Any fantasy or sci fi playing?"

"No idea and the paper's in the kitchen." Rodney paused for a moment. "We could stay here and watch something."

John smiled slowly. "Got any popcorn?"

Rodney snorted at that. "I have a twelve-year-old son; what do you think?"

"That he might have eaten it all and not told you," John chuckled.

"Good point. We could go check and see..."

"I suppose I'm going to have to let go eventually." John released his tight grip around Rodney's waist and got to his feet, stealing a quick kiss.

"There's always the couch," Rodney offered.

"The best part of movie watching."

"So let's find the popcorn, and you can look at the kids' baby pictures while it's popping," Rodney offered, steering them back to the kitchen.

John laughed. "Why do parents insist on embarrassing their kids by showing their baby pictures?"

"It's the only revenge we get," Rodney answered easily.

"Besides which, they really are cute," John said. "So, popcorn?"

"You sit," Rodney gave him a push toward the table. "I'll see what I can find." "I'll just enjoy the view."

"I thought you were going to look in the scrapbook," Rodney chuckled.

"That too." John grinned at him. "I can multi-task."

"Just don't go drooling on the kids' pictures," Rodney warned, fishing a bag of corn kernels, oil, and a pot from various drawers.

"Wow, I expected a microwave bag," John said, looking up from the pictures of a very young Jen and Mike with their parents.

Rodney shuddered and shook his head. "That tastes like the bags you pop it in; this is worth the time and effort." He measured out oil and corn into the pot and set it on a burner before turning to the fridge to get a stick of butter.

"The good things usually are."

Rodney glanced up from slicing the butter into manageable pieces and gave a crooked smile. "Exactly."

"I guess I should be grateful that you've never been afraid of hard work."

"Calling yourself hard work?"

"I think I have been, but I'm going to do my best to be easier from now on."

"I'm not going to argue with that." As the oil began to sizzle, Rodney slid a lid on the pot, holding it in place while he shook the handle. John watched with interest, his eyes intent on Rodney's hands.

"I thought you might approve," he said with a hint of self-deprecating humor.

"I'm all for easiness," Rodney commented as the kernels began to pop, a sharp accompaniment to their conversation.

"I'll do my best to accommodate you with that 'cause I'm sticking around, and I'd really like you to enjoy that fact."

Rodney quirked a crooked grin at that. "Just don't think I'm going to be apologizing all the time this time."

"Thank God!" John grinned back. "Though it did get to be fun stopping you."

"I'm beginning to think you egged me on to do just that..."

John gave him an overly innocent look. "Would I do that?"

"You never were good at playing innocent."

"There are much more fun things to play."

Rodney chuckled and shook his head. "Why does that not surprise me?"

John's eyes turned serious even though he continued to smile. "Because you really do know me."

"Better than I knew myself back then," Rodney admitted quietly.

"And better than I knew myself. You knew what I really needed, but it took me a while to figure it out. And I'm sorry for that," John said again.

Rodney was silent, concentrating on getting the last of the kernels to pop before taking the lid off the pan and transferring the popcorn to a heavy ceramic bowl. "So am I," he finally said as he sliced slivers of the butter he'd gotten out earlier over the popcorn.

John came up behind him and wrapped his arms around Rodney's waist while resting his chin on the other man's shoulder, watching him work. "I'm glad we got a second chance."

This drew a deep breath from Rodney before he leaned back against John, closing his eyes for a moment. "We're both lucky."

"And I even get a ready-made family." John's arms tightened.

"You won't be as happy about it when they're screaming at each other."

John chuckled. "Sure I will. I'll hide in our room with you."

"Not quite what the good parenting book says to do," Rodney said dryly, reaching for the salt.

"But probably a lot more fun."

"Until one or both of them come barging in."

"We're getting a deadbolt!"

"I'm not a hands' off parent, John," Rodney warned.

"I know," John said, sobering. "And I wouldn't really want you to do what I just suggested. But you have to admit that it's fun to think about."

Rodney smiled slightly at that. "And I'll admit there are times I wished I could do just that."

"It'll be our secret." John kissed Rodney's ear.

"Good answer, now let's get something to drink so we can go watch the movie."

John let go of him and moved over to the fridge. "Cola okay? I'm guessing caffeine and sugar are still two of your favorite food groups."

"Though it's diet half the time or I have to buy new clothes."

John made a face. "Please tell me you have non-diet in the fridge."

"I said half the time, didn't I?"

"That doesn't mean this is the right half," John pointed out, opening the fridge to see for himself.

"Look in the door, John," Rodney advised as he pulled glasses down from one of the cabinets and filled them with ice.

"Got it." John pulled the two-liter bottle of soda off the shelf and carried it over to pour into the two glasses Rodney had gotten ready. "Now I really hope you have a good movie," he said over his shoulder as he put the bottle away again.

"Well, that depends what you call a good movie," Rodney mused. "Jennifer has anything ever filmed with Orlando Bloom or Heath Ledger while Michael tends toward those with The Rock--any preferences?"

John grinned. "Brokeback Mountain?"

"If I never have to sit through that thing again, it'll be too soon--she liked to tell me I'd find love like that--but without the death by tire iron."

John's grin widened, and his eyebrow rose.

"What?" Rodney frowned.

"She was right."

"Ah." Now Rodney smiled as well, though it was quicksilver fast. "Well, I hope she's right about the lack of tire irons as well."

"I promise no tire irons." John grinned at him quickly. "I have plans for the next few years."

"I'm glad to hear that because I do as well." Rodney picked up the bowl of popcorn and nodded at the glasses. "Why don't you look through what we have and pick something out."

"That works. Though if you don't want to see Brokeback again, maybe it's the right one to watch." John gave him a comical leer.

"Not planning on watching?"

"It's the best way to watch a movie, don't you remember?"

"John..." Rodney warned, the tone a reminder as much to himself as the other man.

"Rodney?" John replied innocently.

"Pick a movie we'll watch."

"You are no fun at all," John laughed, carrying the drinks into the living room.

"Keep it up and I'll find a Pokemon video," Rodney snorted as he followed, setting the bowl down on the heavy Shaker style coffee table, and dropped down onto the dark brown leather sofa.

"You wouldn't inflict that on yourself," John retorted, grinning. "But fine, I'll be good... and keep it above the waist."

"Oh, go pick a movie; they're in the cabinets under the television," Rodney chuckled.

"Still demanding. I like that." John stole a quick kiss before crouching down to rummage through the movies. "In the mood for any particular type?"

"Anything but a slasher film, not that there are many of those in there, thank god."

"They're not really my thing either. Oh, hello. You have Top Gun." John beamed over his shoulder at Rodney.

"Tom Cruise freak," Rodney sighed, though he was laughing at the same time.

"Hey, he was hot in it. And the planes..." John smiled happily.

"Your two favorite things."

"Well, two of my three favorite things."

"The third being raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens?" Rodney chuckled.

"The third being Rodney McKay."

"Sweet-talker."

"I have a lot of time to make up for."

"We'll have plenty of time for that. Now, can you figure out the controls, or should I do that?"

John looked down his nose. "I can fly a plane; I think I can manage a DVD player."

"Then go ahead, be my guest." Rodney waved a hand toward the console.

"I will." A few moments later John sat down beside Rodney and pressed the button on the remote to start the movie with a smug look on his face.

"Show-off," Rodney snorted.

"Do I get a reward?"

"Have some popcorn."

"Not quite what I was hoping for."

"All you're getting right now, so enjoy it."

John pouted, and Rodney groaned before leaning over to kiss him.

"I never could resist that look, and you know it."

John's grin said that he did indeed know it... and love it. "Watch the movie."

"Look who's being bossy now," Rodney snorted, though he did just that.

"I learned from the best," John said with a faint smile, sliding an arm around Rodney's shoulders.

"So I see." Rodney sighed but relaxed against John's side after pulling the bowl of popcorn toward them.

They watched in silence for a while, and then John said quietly, "I missed this."

"So did I," Rodney murmured, taking a handful of popcorn and offering it to John, who nibbled it from his fingers. John's eyes were warm as he watched Rodney while lightly stroking his shoulder.

"You're missing Tom Cruise and planes," Rodney pointed out. "I like looking at you better."

"Again with the sweet talk."

John smiled crookedly. "I have to keep you happy."

"You're here, aren't you? Even when we're arguing, I'll be happy."

John's smile widened, radiating pure happiness. "You are so stuck with me now."

"You do realize that goes both ways, don't you?"

"I wouldn't have it any other way."

Rodney smiled at that, then shook his head before pulling John in for a kiss. A little later John leaned back, his head on Rodney's shoulder and their hands laced together, and they watched the movie again.

"So, feel like taking a walk or something?" Rodney asked as the end credits rolled.

"Yeah, that would be good." John stretched and stood up, picking up the empty glasses and bowl from the popcorn.

"I said a walk, not a run, just so that's clear."

"I wasn't planning to put a leash on you and drag you around," John laughed.

If you did, I would put a deadbolt on the bedroom door--with you on the outside!"

John burst into laughter. "Okay, noted, no BDSM."

"Good answer."

"It's still not my thing either. I like straightforward pleasure."

"And knowing you, a lot of it."

"Of course." John grinned at him.

"Oh, get your shoes on so we can go."

"Demanding," John said again, chuckling as he went to get his sneakers.

"Which you don't have a problem with, as we've established."

"Just remember, I don't do submissive," John called back, still laughing.

"Thank god!" Rodney shuddered as he pulled on his own shoes and grabbed his keys.

"No secret desire to see me in a leather halter and chains, kneeling at your feet, huh?" John stood at the door, waiting for Rodney.

"If you make me throw up, you're cleaning it up."

John laughed, putting an arm around Rodney's waist. "I promise to be either naked or wearing jeans next time I'm kneeling at your feet, and you won't give a damn about my wardrobe."

Rodney groaned, biting his lower lip at the thought. "Are you trying to give me high blood pressure?"

"No, I'm trying to seduce you."

"Walk, John."

"Woof."

"Poor baby."

"Are you ready to take pity on me yet?"

"And have sex with you?"

"Of course." John grinned at him.

"And this is going to go on for how long?"

John thought about it for a few seconds as they walked. "Well, considering that we're both pushing forty, I probably can't manage more than fifty or sixty years."

Rodney had to smile at that though he told himself it was one of exasperation. "So I'm going to hold out for that long, am I?"

"God, I hope not!"

The smile grew even wider, then Rodney was laughing, finally having to lean against John to keep himself upright.

"I don't remember you being a sadist," John grumbled, and Rodney sobered at that.

"I'm not trying to be an ass about this, John," he said seriously.

"Sorry, I was trying to make a joke. Obviously I need more practice." The arm around Rodney's waist tightened and relaxed again. "Take however long you need; I'm not going anywhere, and I know one of these days you will say yes."

"I will," Rodney promised, sliding his arm around John's waist as well. "And if it helps, it's probably as hard for me as it is for you."

"Yeah, that helps. It makes me think you'll say yes sooner." John gave him a sidelong grin.

"One track mind," Rodney muttered, though he was grinning again.

"I try."

"So think of something else."

"But I like thinking about you, naked and wrapped around me, moaning my name..."

"To quote my children, 'Lalalalala I can't hear you'!"

John burst into laughter. "Should I talk louder?"

"Only if you want to be arrested!"

"Would you come and give me conjugal visits?"

Rodney seemed to think it over, then sniffed. "It depends how big your cellmate is."

"You'd abandon me to some guy named Bubba?"

"Would you rather I arranged his shanking?"

"My hero," John laughed.

"That's me, action hero material all the way."

"Yeah well, you only get one romantic interest in this movie!"

"And it isn't the buxom blonde."

"Damn right!"

"I much prefer the lean brunette if you must know."

"I'm glad to hear it. I get to keep my service revolver, you know!"

"Threatening to kill me already?!"

"Not you, idiot, the blonde!"

"And now he calls me an idiot; I love the man, why?" Rodney grumbled.

"Because I'm very lovable... and you know I love you."

"Which makes me lose all bargaining leverage." Rodney hugged John as they continued down the street, their strides evenly matched as if it had been only days since they'd last been together, not years.

"Except that we're in the same position," John pointed out, looking around the town and noticing the things that were still the same and all the changes as well.

"Good point, so we'll both be saps, I suppose."

"Your kids are going to laugh at us," John said with a wry smile.

"As are Carson and Laura's and probably even Radek and Elizabeth's when it's old enough to understand."

"You know what? I don't care. In fact, I kind of like it since it means we'll be together for them to laugh at."

"And we can do the same to all the little brats when they fall in love," Rodney chuckled.

"And spoil their kids rotten and fill them up with sugar and then send them home to their parents," John added with an evil grin.

"Damn right: having grandchildren is something I look forward to with extreme pleasure. Visiting Grandpa Rodney and Grandpa John will make the little ones scream with glee and their parents scream with horror."

John beamed. "That sounds very, very good."

Rodney glanced over at him, his expression growing serious, and nodded. "It sounds wonderful."

"It also requires living together," John hinted broadly.

"I'm sure we'll manage that by the time Jen and Michael have children."

"Why put off till tomorrow what you can do today?"

"Because, and that's all the answer you're getting."

"You can't blame a guy for trying."

"No, I can't, and one of these times you bring it up, I'll be handing over a key," Rodney promised.

"You realize that I'm going to bring it up about every five minutes now with that for an incentive, right?"

"If you do that, it's going to get you a smack on the ass and not in a good way!"

"Oh, I don't know," John mused, "it could be fun."

"Keep dreaming, John," Rodney snorted.

"Rodney, I have twenty years of dreams to fulfill."

"And we will. You just--I feel like I've been through a mix-master these past few days, and I need to get my head straight because I really don't want to fuck this up, John." John smiled crookedly although there was as much pain as mirth in the expression. "No, that's my thing, and this time I'm not going to do that. I'm here, and I'm staying, and I'll wait as long as you need to, but I'm going to do my damnedest to make you want to shorten the wait."

"Thank you," Rodney murmured, glancing up at John and pressing a kiss to the corner of his mouth as they continued on their way.

The walks became a daily ritual for the two men as they got to know each other again, learning about their lives for the last twenty years and sharing all the details they'd each missed. It was nearly a week later, and their quiet time before the kids came home was drawing to a close.

"Not that I don't like the kids because I do," John hastened to reassure Rodney, "but don't you want our first night as a couple again to be without worrying about keeping quiet?"

Whatever Rodney might have answered was lost as Chaylynn suddenly appeared, seemingly out of thin air, and wrapped herself around a stunned John.

"John! Where have you been?" she pouted, not letting him go.

"Avoiding you, obviously," Rodney growled.

John tried to extricate himself, but Chaylynn was clinging like a leech, and he cast a desperate look at Rodney. "Staying in town for a while longer was a last minute decision," he said in answer to her demand, still trying to free himself from her surprisingly strong grip.

"Well, why didn't you let me know?"

"Because he was busy," Rodney growled, reaching out and dragging her hand off John's arm. "With me."

Once freed, John hastily sidestepped, putting Rodney between him and Chaylynn. "Very busy," he agreed.

"Doing what?" she protested as Rodney blocked her attempts to get around him.

"Getting to know each other again, just stuff," John said, not really wanting to share details of his life with her.

"Planning our lives," Rodney muttered, but Chaylynn talked right over him.

"Well, I'm having a get-together tonight, and I was hoping you could come, and then we could catch up as well."

"Sorry," John said with total insincerity. "I can't make it." He sidestepped again when Chaylynn tried yet again to get around Rodney.

"But why?" Her tone was fast approaching a whine, and Rodney glanced back at John, not willing to answer for him.

"Because Rodney and I have a date," John said, starting to sound impatient.

She giggled at that. "I'm sure we could have a lot more fun than the two of you could."

"Only if you grew a dick," Rodney muttered under his breath.

"I really doubt that since I happen to be in love with Rodney, not you," John snapped.

"Wha--what?"

Irritated with her persistent obtuseness, John gave her a narrow-eyed look and repeated, "I love Rodney, so no, I won't be going to any of your parties. I plan to be very busy for the next few decades."

"In simple terms, we're both gay--and that's the same reason he wasn't interested in you senior year either," Rodney added.

She gaped at them, her mouth opening and closing unattractively before she snapped it shut. "Well, you could have said so!" She tossed her head and flounced away, leaving John staring after her in disbelief.

"I just did," he muttered, shaking his head.

"Air-headed idiot," Rodney grumbled, turning to study John.

"I really hope you meant her and not me," John chuckled, relaxing now that she was gone.

"Of course I meant her!"

"You were looking at me," John pointed out. "But I have to agree. Hopefully that put her off finally. Now I know how deer feel in hunting season."

"I suppose it's a good thing she isn't a hunter, or you'd be trussed up in her bedroom."

John shuddered. "You'd be amazed how fast I can run with the right incentive."

Rodney chuckled at that and wrapped his arms around John's waist, pulling him in for a kiss. "Well, she's gone now, so don't worry about it."

"My hero." John grinned against Rodney's lips.

"Why don't we head home, and we can discuss that in more depth?"

"Home sounds good to me." John stepped back, keeping an arm around Rodney's waist as they started back.

"You were right, you know," Rodney said suddenly. "About what you said before regarding the fact that it would be more relaxing before the kids get back."

John stumbled slightly on his next step. "I know I was," he said, hazel eyes looking searchingly at Rodney. "I'd be happy to prove it to you."

"I don't think it's something that needs proving."

"Demonstrating?" John suggested hopefully.

"I would hope that this would be more than one-sided."

"Oh, it's going to be very mutual," John promised in a voice gone dark and husky.

"Good; lying there and thinking of England is not in my sexual repertoire."

"Which is why you're much better off with me than you ever would have been with Robert." John still put an immense amount of disdain into the name.

"Don't start that again, John," Rodney warned, his eyes narrowing slightly.

"Naw, I don't need to. I got you." John smiled smugly, his eyes warm as he looked at Rodney.

"And I have you; now hurry up, or we'll never get back."

"Oh yes, we will! We have plans." But John picked up the pace, and Rodney kept up with him, wrenching the door open when they reached his house and slamming it shut behind them, pushing John up against it and kissing him hungrily.

"Oh God," John panted a little later, "say yes so I know you mean it." He rubbed against Rodney almost desperately, not caring that they were humping each other in the hall like a pair of horny teenagers.

"Yes," Rodney gasped, burying both hands in John's hair as they ground together. "Yes, I want to be with you--now, tomorrow, forever."

"Fuck yes," John groaned, shuddering from the surge of pure pleasure caused by Rodney's words.

"I want you, John," Rodney whispered. "I always have, even when I told myself I was over you. I want to be in you and have you in me, to go to sleep every night knowing you'll be there when I wake up."

John shut his eyes, leaning his forehead against Rodney's. "That's what I want too," he choked out, his hands tight on Rodney's upper arms. "And that's what we're going to have."

Rodney nodded and took a shuddering breath as he let his hands slide downward to trace the angled planes of John's face, memorizing the contours.

John simply stood there, his eyes locked on Rodney's and his own hands slowly gliding up the strong arms they'd been grasping to stroke Rodney's chest and shoulders. "I love you," he said quietly.

"I love you too," Rodney whispered, staring into John's hazel eyes, his own unguarded, baring his emotions.

John slowly smiled, the wide, open, happy smile so familiar from their teenage years and so rarely seen now. "Then maybe we should go to bed," he suggested.

Rodney nodded again, an answering smile lighting his expression as he took a step back, his hands trailing along John's arms to twine their fingers together, and John took a step forward, not letting Rodney get far from him.

"I want to feel you in me again," John rasped.

"Without the anger."

John nodded, not surprised that Rodney had understood what he meant. "The way it'll be from now on."

Rodney smiled at that and let go of one of John's hands to lead him up the stairs and into the master bedroom, where he turned back, pressing his lips together as he looked up at John, nerves, hope and love shining in his eyes.

"I'm not going anywhere," John promised. "I'll be here in the morning, and every morning after that." He stepped forward, sliding his free arm around Rodney's waist to draw him close, inhaling the scent of him.

"I'm going to hold you to that," Rodney swore, resting his hand on John's chest to feel the steady beating of his heart. "As well as hold you period." As he spoke, his hand moved lower, easing under the shirt's hem and tracing over the warm skin beneath it.

"Good," John said, reaching for the hem of Rodney's shirt to tug it free of his pants, needing to touch him as well, causing Rodney to gasp at the light pressure of John's hand against him. He gasped out John's name, then kissed him again, eating at his mouth.

John slowly backed Rodney toward the bed without ever breaking the kiss, his hand running over the warm flesh of Rodney's back, and when they reached the edge, Rodney twisted, bringing them both down to the mattress where they moved together, somehow both getting their shirts up and over their heads without losing contact.

It was John's turn to twist, stretching out on his back and pulling Rodney down with him, and he let out a deep breath of contentment when he felt Rodney's weight pressing him into the mattress. "Perfect," he murmured, spreading his legs to let Rodney settle between them.

"God, yes," Rodney groaned, rocking slightly into the cradle of John's hips.

"I will never get tired of hearing you say that," John said with a faint chuckle.

"God or yes?"

"Ass," John snorted. "Yes, of course."

"Ahh," Rodney grinned before kissing John again and rubbing against him.

"Okay, that's good too," John said breathlessly as his hips jerked upward to meet Rodney.

Rodney gasped and shuddered. "I think we need to lose the rest of these clothes."

"You really are a genius." John squirmed under him until he could reach the waist of Rodney's pants, which he began unfastening.

"You doubted it?" Rodney asked breathlessly, sucking in a breath when John's fingers grazed his waist.

"Not even for a second." John pushed Rodney's pants open and reached in, freeing his cock from his boxers and lightly stroking it.

"God, John, stop or I'm going to be done before we start," Rodney gasped.

"We're never going to be done," John chuckled throatily though he did stop petting Rodney, at least for the moment, in favor of continuing to undress him while Rodney shifted to undo the button to John's jeans and slide the zipper down, his movements jerky in his haste, making John flinch slightly.

"Careful there, I think we're both going to want that in one piece," he breathed against Rodney's ear.

"Most definitely." Rodney pulled back to stare down at John, then tugged at his jeans, dragging them down with his boxers, leaving him bare, and Rodney groaned at the sight before leaning in to kiss his flat stomach.

A faint ripple ran down John's spine, and he raised a hand to comb his fingers through Rodney's hair. "More."

An almost animalistic sound ripped from Rodney's throat as he dove in, kissing, licking, and biting at the taut flesh, moving lower until he had the head of John's cock in his mouth. John gasped sharply, his hips jerking involuntarily before he lay flat again, and he piled the pillows under his head so he could look down and watch Rodney.

"Taste so good," Rodney whispered as he pulled back before taking John deeper, his senses awash in the smell, taste and feel of his lover.

"You feel so good," John murmured in reply, his fingers lightly kneading Rodney's scalp as he fought his desire to move.

Rodney pulled back again to lick his lips, his eyes dark with need. "Move if you want, John," he whispered. "Don't hold back."

"Don't want to hurt you," John rasped, his own eyes widely dilated as he watched Rodney hungrily. Despite his words, his hips were twitching, and he groaned as the cool air of the room touched his damp flesh.

"You won't." The words held the ring of certainty in them, and John nodded jerkily and let his hips rise, nudging Rodney, who took him back into his mouth, holding still for the moment, his very quietude urging John on.

John moaned and slowly began to thrust, whimpering at the sensation of his lover's mouth on his cock, and Rodney hummed in answer, taking him deeper, dropping down to meet each thrust, one hand reaching for John's balls so that he could play with them.

"Jesus, Rodney," John gasped, "not going to last!"

In answer, Rodney sucked harder, desperate to taste John after such a long time, and John cried out wordlessly, pushing forward and fucking Rodney's mouth. His fingers slid down to Rodney's shoulders, where they gripped him hard enough to bruise as John suddenly stiffened and yelled Rodney's name as the first wave of his climax burst through him, Rodney swallowing each pulse down with desperate hunger, only easing his attentions when John shuddered beneath him.

"You taste perfect," he whispered, dipping his head to nuzzle John's groin, then crawling upward to kiss him.

John could only moan and return the kiss, too shattered to move.

Rodney stroked a hand over his hair, each move full of tenderness as he murmured nonsense words of comfort.

"I love you," John whispered when he could speak again, hazel eyes opening to meet the blue only inches away.

"I know." Rodney answer was low and raspy, and he swallowed hard to clear his throat. "I love you too."

"Good 'cause I want you in me now." John smiled up at him while ghosting his fingers down Rodney's spine.

"Now?" Rodney asked, managing to quirk a crooked smile though he was arching up into John's touch.

"Now," John repeated emphatically, raising his legs to wrap them around Rodney's waist and pull him closer.

"Getting the pants off would help," Rodney gasped, unable to keep from rocking down against John.

"So what are you waiting for?"

"A little control." Rodney shuddered and finally pulled back, shimmying his shorts down over his hips and off.

"Control is overrated." John licked his lips as he looked at Rodney.

"Not if I come before I get inside you!" Panting heavily, Rodney leaned in to kiss John, eating at his mouth as he fumbled in the bedside table for lube and condoms.

"Don't do that." John caught hold of Rodney's head, holding him into the kiss, not that either of them was trying to get away.

"What?" Rodney murmured, pulling back just enough to speak.

"Come before you get inside me. I want you in me."

"Ah, well. I'm doing my best." Reluctantly, Rodney leaned back, resting on his knees as he spilled lube out into his palm, dragging his fingers through it before pressing one against John's ass, then inside.

"Yesss," John hissed, arching up to take Rodney's finger deeper while moving his own hands to grasp Rodney's shoulders again.

"Slow down; I'm not going to hurt you," Rodney ordered, the word 'again' unspoken.

John gave him a look of disbelief and grabbed the back of Rodney's neck to drag him down for a hard kiss. "You're not hurting me." "And I'm not going to," Rodney said stubbornly, circling his finger over John's prostate before adding a second, feeling the tight muscle stretch around them. John groaned at the sensation, feeling a twitch of interest from his cock, but it was still too soon for him to achieve another erection.

"So damn tight," Rodney whispered, trying to fumble the condom open with his free hand while still staring down at John.

"It's been a long time." John looked up at him, the hazel eyes darkening again as he waited to feel Rodney slide into him.

"I know." This was whispered as Rodney slowly drew his fingers back and rolling the condom on, then slicking himself up.

John eyed the condom with disfavor but let it slide this time in favor of drawing his knees back and grabbing hold of them, opening himself for Rodney.

"John..." Rodney whispered, staring down at the other man as he set himself at the tight circle of puckered muscle and pushed forward, sucking in a breath as the clinging heat surrounded him. "Oh God, yes," John moaned, pulling back on his knees to open himself still more, wanting Rodney as deep inside him as he could get, and Rodney dove inward, burying himself as deeply in John as was possible and holding himself there, deep, shuddering breaths wracking his body.

John gasped, releasing his knees to wrap arms and legs around Rodney, clinging to him with desperate strength. He clenched down on the thick cock filling him, groaning his pleasure at the sensation.

"So--oh fuck, I can't hold still," Rodney gasped, driving forward before starting a stuttering rhythm, his hands fisted in the comforter beside John's head.

"Who said I wanted you to?" John laughed breathlessly, arching up to meet every thrust.

"No one, but I'm trying to be a considerate partner here." As Rodney spoke, his thrusts grew even more erratic.

"Rodney." John raised his hands to cup Rodney's cheeks, gazing intently into the lust-dazed blue eyes. "Fuck me."

Another full-body shudder raced through the other man, and he let go, his expression twisting into a grimace as he pounded into John, finally letting out a low cry as he came. John held him close as Rodney collapsed on top of him, wrapping him in arms and legs and murmuring soft words of love as he took pleasure from Rodney's climax.

"I may never move again--or at least until we have to pick up the kids," Rodney muttered, nuzzling John's neck.

"I don't have a problem with that," John replied, the smile audible in his voice.

"Good."

"Does this mean I can stop paying for a hotel room?" John asked, turning his head to nuzzle Rodney's ear.

"I--I want you here, but I have to talk to the kids first." The answer hurt, but Rodney wasn't going to sugar-coat the truth, not when it was this important. "Having them come home to you already moved in... I can't do that to them."

"Oh, of course. I'm sorry, I didn't think." John raised Rodney's hand to his mouth to kiss the wrist and suddenly stilled, his eyes widening. "Rodney?"

"Hmm?" Rodney asked, his tone relaxed as he rested on top of John, too content to move.

"What's with the scars on your wrist?" John asked carefully, wondering how he hadn't noticed them before. Then again, they were pale with age, only noticeable now since Rodney was flushed with exertion.

All of the relaxation fled as Rodney tensed. "At the time it was something else I fucked up."

John stroked his back, trying to sooth him. "Is that my fault too?" he asked.

"No," Rodney finally answered. "It was mine for thinking I didn't have anything left."

John winced. "I'm sorry somehow doesn't seem adequate."

"It wasn't you; it was me," Rodney sighed. "And obviously it didn't work--I never could go through with it, so it worked out in the end."

"Thank God!" John exclaimed, tightening his arms around Rodney, who nodded, burying his face against John's neck, holding onto him just as tightly. "We'll get it right this time," John added more gently.

"The kids don't know, and I'd rather they not."

John nodded. "I'm not going to tell them. The teenage years are bad enough without giving them ideas like that."

"Exactly, and they have enough issues without adding that to the mix."

"Are they going to have a problem with us? With us being an us, that is," John tried to explain.

Rodney paused to think about it, then shook his head. "I don't think so--or I hope not; they never have before, but then, I've never been as distracted as you make me."

John grinned. "Good."

"At least we have a few days to get some of it out of our systems."

"No offense, but I really don't want you to get me out of your system."

"I mean this constant need I have to be touching you right now," Rodney sighed.

"I kind of like that, actually. And it's entirely mutual."

"I feel like I'm a kid again; I haven't been this... needy in years."

"I like it," John repeated, stroking Rodney's back.

Rodney nodded at that. "I do too, but it still scares me to death."

John's hand hesitated before resuming its movement. "When it doesn't, then I'll know we're really past my fuck up."

"I'm looking forward to that day," Rodney murmured, shifting to the side so that all of his weight wasn't on top of John.

"Me too." John kissed him lightly. "But I know we're getting there."

Rodney nodded again before sighing and settling against John's side, more than happy not to move until he had to.

"Get some sleep," John murmured. "I'll be right here when you wake up."

"Mmm, good idea," Rodney sighed, wrapping an arm around John's waist to hold him close, and John kissed him again before closing his own eyes and letting himself fall asleep, knowing that he was exactly where he wanted to be.

The ringing of the phone woke Rodney, and he groaned, fumbling for it, his eyes flying open when he almost smacked John in the face. "Sorry! You okay?"

"I will be if you answer that damn phone and make it shut up."

"That I can do." Stretching, Rodney grabbed the handset and clicked the talk button. "Hello?"

"Dad!" The volume of the yell made Rodney wince and had John eyeing the phone balefully. "Did you miss us? You remember we're coming home tomorrow and you have to pick us up, right?"

"Who is this?" Rodney asked, sounding confused but grinning.

"Da-aa-ad!" Jennifer whined the word in that way unique to teenage girls.

"Sorry, Jen, I'm not sure I can pick you up; I may be at the hospital getting my eardrums put back together."

"Oh, very funny," she said, sounding remarkably like Rodney. "So, you won't forget us this time?"

"Excuse me? When have I ever forgotten either of you?"

"You do remember last year, right? You were reading that article on some physics experiment, and you lost track of time, and you showed up half an hour late to get us?"

Able to hear Jen quite clearly, John was trying to muffle his snickers.

Rodney poked him in the side and tried to glower. "Which you both made me pay dearly for."

"Darn right. What's that noise?" Jen asked suspiciously. "Is Robert there?"

"No, Robert's not here," Rodney said quickly. "I explained to the two of you what happened with him."

"Well, someone's there," Jen said tenaciously. "I heard someone laughing." She clearly wasn't going to give up until she had an explanation.

Rodney sighed and glanced over at John, who was still trying not to laugh. "It's John," he finally admitted. "He's here."

There was a moment of dead silence, followed by an ear-shattering whoop. "YES!"

"Excuse me?"

Jen's voice was muffled for a moment, but she could still be heard explaining what was going on to someone in the background, who let out a cheer of her own. She came back a moment later. "Sorry, Dad, Liss was going to tug my arm off if I didn't tell her what you said. And what do you mean, 'excuse me'?"

"I'm just trying to comprehend just how or why that fact has the both of you cheering."

"Oh, come on, Dad! The star-crossed teenage lovers who find each other again years later and make it work? It's so, so romantic!"

"And just who told you that story?" Rodney squawked, ignoring John's renewed laughter.

"Aunt Laura, of course. It's so wonderful," Jen said dreamily.

"Tell Melissa that her mother is a dead woman," Rodney growled. "And you hush, you laughing baboon," he hissed at John.

"Is that any way to talk to your Romeo?" John chortled.

"I'm going to be ill, I really am," Rodney groaned before turning his attention back to the phone. "Does your brother know about this?"

"Well, not that you finally did something about it, obviously," Jen said, "but the whole high school thing? Yeah. Everyone does except Andy. We figured he'd blab if he knew."

"Knew what? That all of you knew?" Rodney asked, his eyes narrowing slightly.

"That we were trying to get you back together, of course."

Rodney groaned at that. "We're going to have a long talk when you get home, young lady." As John was still laughing, he had to speak up to be heard. "If I had any sense, I'd just let the two of you talk right now and put myself out of my misery."

"That's okay, we'll talk tomorrow. And after that." There was a slight hesitation before Jen continued, "He's staying, right?"

John reached over and pulled the phone out of Rodney's hand. "Yeah, I'm staying. I think your dad's pretty great."

"We think he is too, and we're going to have a long talk too when we get back, got it?"

"I thought you might feel that way," John said, fending off Rodney's attempt to retrieve the phone. "That's fine. I'm not going anywhere."

"You'd better not, and don't let Dad drive you away either."

"I heard that," Rodney shouted.

John chuckled. "We'll see you tomorrow," he said and handed the phone back to Rodney.

"Anything else you care to tell me? Any other plots you have brewing regarding my life?"

"Nope, everything's just about perfect now," Jen said smugly.

"Glad to hear it; now go do laundry so I don't have to when you come back."

"Sorry, we're going on a hike this afternoon. Gotta go, love you, bye!"

"She had to go on a hike," Rodney snorted. "This is teaching her better soccer skills?"

"It's their last day," John pointed out. "Maybe they're enjoying the great outdoors."

Rodney eyed him with disdain. "Are you going to get to be the good parent in all of this?"

John tilted his head, thinking about it. "Well, I think I have to be. I'm the new guy, don't want to antagonize your kids."

"Oh wonderful," Rodney sighed. "I get my life planned by my children and have to be the ogre parent as well."

"I like their plans, and you gave every indication of enjoying the results a while ago."

"I'm not arguing the result of them, but the fact that they were making them gives me chills--as a matter of fact..." Rodney hit the speed dial, waiting for the party at the other end to pick up. "Just what were you telling our children?" he demanded.

"And hello to you too, Rodney. It's always a pleasure to hear your dulcet tones," Laura laughed.

"That is not an answer, and if you start laughing again, I am going to smother you with this pillow," Rodney answered, directing the last at John.

"Me, laugh? Never." John grinned at him.

"Pillow? Tell me more, Rodney," Laura demanded with interest.

"So you can tell impressionable teenagers? I think not!"

"You wanted me to lie to her when she asked me point blank?"

Rodney paused at that and sighed, shaking his head. "No, no, I didn't, but they were plotting."

"They love you, Rodney. They want you to be happy."

"Well, I am." Rodney cut a glance at John and gave a lopsided grin. "I am."

"So I can safely assume John's the one you were just threatening to smother, apparently in bed?"

"No, it was Carson and Radek; we've been having a torrid threesome all these years, and you never knew."

John and Laura both burst into laughter. "Oh, I'm going to have to tell Carson that just to see the shades of red he'll turn," his loving wife chuckled.

"And you can tell me just what he says over dinner tomorrow tonight; we are all getting together tomorrow night, aren't we?"

"That all better include John too," Laura said. "And yes, dinner's here tomorrow so we can let the kids run wild while we hide."

"Yes, it includes John," Rodney admitted. "All of the invitations from now on had better."

John rolled to his side to press a kiss to Rodney's cheek and wrapped himself around the other man.

"I'm glad to hear it. It'll be good to see everyone happy."

"And on the note of everyone being happy, I'm getting off the phone now--let me know what I can bring tomorrow, but do it later!" Rodney hung up and tossed the phone away so that he could hug John. "We were set up."

John grinned. "I know; they were pretty obvious. But since I liked what they were doing, I wasn't going to complain."

"You knew?!"

John shrugged. "I needed all the help I could get. And it was a relief to know that your kids didn't mind me being around."

"You know, I can't even be annoyed about it," Rodney sighed, "though the thought of my children plotting my happiness in a relationship is somewhat terrifying."

"Well, we like where we are now, so that's what really counts, don't you think? It's not as if they're going to do it again."

"And if they did, I'd ignore them."

That got Rodney kissed as John rolled over on top of him, and Rodney wrapped his arms around him. "So, planning on doing anything while you're up there?"

"Well, it's been twenty years since I've been inside you," John murmured against Rodney's lips.

"Then that's something we should remedy," Rodney sighed, smiling up at him.

John smiled as well. "Before we do, there's something I'd like to talk about: condoms. I think we both know I'm clean, and I don't believe that you'd ever have taken a chance with your health."

Rodney caught his lower lip between his teeth and nodded. "You're right; I never have, other than with you."

"So...?" John waited, wanting this but knowing he had to let Rodney decide.

"You trust me that much?"

"Yes," John replied simply. To him, it was that simple. He trusted Rodney. Period.

Rodney closed his eyes and stilled beneath John's body, but when he opened them again, they were full of love and trust. "So we don't need anything between us."

John's smile widened, and he had to kiss Rodney again, pressing down as they both hardened, Rodney groaning as he hooked his legs around John's hips while their tongues slid together.

Gasping, John reached over to the nightstand for the lube, pulling up and swearing when he knocked it to the floor. "Don't go anywhere," he rasped as he leaned over to try to find it.

"Wild horses couldn't drag me away," Rodney promised, sitting up enough to run a hand over John's ass.

"Jesus, if you keep that up, I'm going to fall on my head." John grabbed the edge of the bed to keep his balance.

"Then I'll have to kiss any injuries and make them better," Rodney purred, continuing to stroke the taut flesh.

"God, it'll be worth the fall." John shivered and pushed back against Rodney's hand before leaning forward again to reach for the container.

"The only place you're going to be falling is into me."

"Fuck yes," John rasped, straightening up again and dropping the lube on the pillows. "I may never want to come out."

"I won't argue with that--at least until tomorrow afternoon," Rodney chuckled, kissing him again.

John laughed as well. "Okay, yes, it would be better not to be joined when we see your kids. But we have a lot of time between now and then."

"We may have to order in oysters tonight," Rodney chuckled.

"Oh, I think we can manage on our own," John laughed. "You inspire me."

Rodney nodded at that, rocking upward to let John know just how inspirational he found him.

John smiled and slid down, licking Rodney's throat and nibbling gently on his Adam's apple while stroking his chest.

"Mmm, feel so good," Rodney sighed, stroking his hands over John's back and upward to run through his hair.

John nodded. "Better than anything in twenty years," he whispered against Rodney's throat.

"Yes," Rodney whispered, allowing himself to admit the fact as well.

John raised his eyes to meet the blue eyes he'd seen every time he flew in a sky that had never been so bright or clear. "We'll just have to make up for lost time."

"And we have plenty of time to do it in," Rodney promised.

John nodded. "I plan to hold you to that. I expect to see our great-grandchildren playing in our yard someday."

"While we sit in rockers and spoil them rotten."

"Exactly. And then we'll dodder off to a quiet corner to make out and scandalize the kids, who think old guys have no sex drive."

"We'll own stock in Viagra," Rodney chuckled, sliding his hands down to John's ass and pulling him closer.

"For the rare occasions when we can't manage on our own. Which might happen occasionally in our nineties," John laughed, grinding down against Rodney's erection.

"Nothing wrong with that, though we certainly don't need any help now."

"Nope, quite the contrary." John squeezed some of the lube onto his fingers and slid them between Rodney's cheeks, lightly stroking him, causing Rodney to groan and arch upward, offering himself.

"God, you're gorgeous," John whispered, watching Rodney react to his touch. "Just as hot now as you were then and all mine." He lapped at a nipple while circling Rodney's entrance with one slick finger.

Rodney nodded, his eyes going half-lidded with pleasure as he shifted restlessly beneath John, pushing down, trying to get more of John into him.

"As someone said to me recently, slow down; I'm not going to hurt you." John blew gently on the wet nipple he'd been licking, drawing a full-body shiver from Rodney.

"Perhaps, but it's been much less than twenty years for me; you don't have to be quite so careful.

"True, but it's fun." John grinned wickedly before turning his attention to the other nipple.

"And you call me a sadist," Rodney muttered, his fingers digging into John's shoulders as he writhed beneath him.

"Oh, like you're not enjoying it too," John scoffed, letting the edge of his teeth scrape over the hardened nubbin, and Rodney let out a gasping laugh, his whole body convulsing as John played with him and a needy whine escaping his lips.

"God, I love the sounds you make," John rasped, finally pushing a finger into Rodney and drawing a gasp from him.

"I'd make more if you were in me," he grumbled, though he was laughing.

"Patience, grasshopper," John laughed, enjoying the sheer fun of sex with Rodney, and added another finger, pushing deeper until he nudged Rodney's prostate.

"Last I looked, you weren't bald or a kung fu master." The words were meant to sound annoyed, but they just sounded needy.

"Well, I have had martial arts training, but no, definitely not bald," John chuckled, pulling his fingers free and positioning himself with his cock just pressing against Rodney.

"Thank god," Rodney sighed, relaxing and looking up at John, reaching for the lube and pouring some into his hand so he could stroke it over John's erection.

"Flattering but just John will do." He grinned down into Rodney's eyes as he slowly pushed forward, groaning as he felt Rodney's body yield to him and slowly close around him.

Any answer Rodney might have given was lost in his deep-throated groan as he arched upward, his hands closing on John's back to pull him closer, the slight burn of penetration as welcome as the pleasure to come.

"Rodney," John groaned, forcing his eyes to stay open to see every nuance of expression on Rodney's face. "Oh God, so good."

"Now look who's calling who god," Rodney gasped, tightening down around John's cock and rocking his hips in an effort to get John to move.

"We're both gods," John panted, pushing deeper until he couldn't go any farther and then drawing back again to repeat the whole thing, Rodney meeting him eagerly as he sought John's mouth, thrusting his tongue inside as he clung to John with arms and legs. John suckled on Rodney's tongue, groaning while they rocked together, their rhythm gradually speeding up as the pleasure mounted.

"John," Rodney gasped, trying to hold back, wanting these feelings to last as long as possible, needing the connection.

"You feel perfect," John moaned, his hands moving feverishly over Rodney's body.

"Slow... want it to last... been forever."

John nodded jerkily, forcing himself to slow down as they both tried to prolong it. "Never going to stop."

"Fine by me," Rodney whispered, stroking his hands over John's arms and back.

"Someone can bring us meals," John chuckled raspily, laying a string of biting kiss along Rodney's jaw line, causing the other man to sigh with pleasure.

"Minor issue of us having to get the kids tomorrow."

"Damn, we can't start off by sending someone else to get them," John groaned, pushing deep and stilling, feeling Rodney grip him.

"Actually, I may have to get them alone," Rodney said hesitantly, even as he rocked up beneath John.

John gritted his teeth, forcing himself to remain still. "If that's what you think is best, but we need to face them together at some point. And after that call, I think they're probably going to expect to see me somewhere."

"Jen at least--oh fuck, this is a horrible time to be discussing this, I know--but I need to talk with Michael."

John laughed shakily. "Rodney, I remember you stopping in the middle of fucking me to grab a notebook to write a physics formula that came to you. And yeah, you do. But let's talk about it a little later, okay?"

Rodney nodded and nuzzled John's throat. "Later's good; very good in fact."

"Glad you agree." John arched his back, pushing against Rodney's ass, then slowly pulled back, feeling Rodney's body clinging to him. "You feel so fucking good."

Rodney nodded and clenched his ass muscles, tightening down around John as he pressed inward again, his erection rubbing against John's flat belly.

"Oh God, I can't," John groaned, his thrusts speeding up again. "Need you, need more."

"Do it, take me," Rodney whispered, his fingers digging into John's back as they rocked together, desperate to feel the other man come in him.

"Rodney!" John nearly whimpered, practically slamming into Rodney now as he felt his climax rising.

"Yes, oh fuck, yes." Rodney's movements became spastic, and he got a hand between them to jerk himself off.

John groaned deeply, staring down into Rodney's eyes as he jerked and came, wave after wave of pleasure flowing through him, Rodney's eyes going half-lidded as he watched John's expression twist with pleasure, and then he was coming as well, spreading warm liquid between them.

John collapsed on top of Rodney, not minding the sticky wetness on his belly. In fact, he loved it, loved knowing that he'd made Rodney come and could do again whenever they wanted.

Rodney smiled sleepily and twisted his head to nuzzle John's ear. "If we keep having this much sex, I'm going to be in the best shape of my life soon."

"Which means we'll be able to have even more sex. I like the way that works."

"Carson's going to wonder at how my blood pressure's gone down at my next check up."

"I'm a wonder drug."

"Viagra and Lopressor all rolled into one."

"Damn, I'm good!"

"And as humble as I am."

"See, I told you we're perfect for each other."

Rodney smiled at that and nodded. "Not arguing that one bit."

"Finally!" John grinned at him.

"And what do you mean by that?"

"You really do believe that now." John's smile widened. "You believe we belong together and I'm not going anywhere."

"I'll be relieved once the Air Force releases their hold on you, but yes, I believe you."

"It shouldn't be too long. Just a couple more weeks." John kissed Rodney lightly.

"So that means once the fall term starts, you'll be here for good."

"And looking for a job."

"You mean you don't want to be my boy-toy?"

"Oh, I expect to be that, but I kind of need a paying job too. That one's just for our fun," John replied with a grin.

"Besides, can you be the boy-toy of someone younger than you are?"

"Being a slut is a state of mind, not dependent on the number of birthdays," John replied, looking down his nose before starting to laugh.

"So you're planning on being a slut now?" Rodney asked, his eyebrows arching upward. "Not in front of my children, you aren't!"

John rolled his eyes. "Only for you and only in private. You're just an idiot sometimes!"

"You didn't just call me an idiot, did you?" Rodney growled.

"Yup," John replied cheerfully. "But that's okay since we both know I'm one too, and this way, you put up with me."

"More than put up with you," Rodney admitted,

John beamed at him. "You have no idea how happy I am to hear it."

Rodney nodded and leaned over to kiss him, making John's smile widen even as he returned the kiss. When Rodney straightened away again, John suggested, "We should probably think about a shower sometime soon before things start getting itchy."

"Good point," Rodney chuckled. "And change the sheets; later, I've got to get to the grocery store as well."

The mention of food was enough to make John's stomach rumble, making them both laugh. "Food's a good idea," John agreed.

"Breakfast or," Rodney glanced at the clock on the bedside table, "lunch?"

"Whichever you prefer," John replied easily. "I like both."

"Why do I think if you had your way, we'd be having pizza," Rodney snorted.

"Pizza is the perfect food," John replied solemnly. "It includes all of the food groups, is great hot or cold, and can be eaten for any meal."

"If you tell my children that before they're on their way to college, I will kill you," Rodney warned.

"Rodney, they're teenagers. I'm sure they've already figured it out."

"Yes, but there's a difference between that and a parent telling them that fact." Rodney climbed out of bed and stretched. "So, shower?"

John lay in the bed, his eyes wide. "I'm going to be a parent. Oh my God, what if I mess up?"

Rodney watched, his lips pressed together in a thin line, before turning away, his shoulders shaking.

After a moment, John's eyes narrowed on Rodney's back. "Are you laughing at me?"

Rodney shook his head vigorously, though now his whole upper body was convulsing.

"You are! What's so damn funny?" John demanded indignantly, getting up.

"You," Rodney sputtered.

"I?" John came up behind Rodney, his hands going to the other man's hips.

"You sound..." Rodney gasped for breath, "just like I did at first!"

"Oh, great." John finally laughed as well, realizing that he sounded just the way Rodney often did when John ended up reassuring him. "We can be neurotic together."

"It does get easier," Rodney assured him, turning to loop his arms around John's waist. "That feeling never totally goes away, but you do get used to it."

"Can't we just skip ahead to them being adults whose kids we can spoil?" John asked plaintively.

"Hah! You didn't have to deal with first periods and bras and Michael's best friend dumping him in third grade..." Rodney snorted.

John groaned. "God, Jennifer's going to want to have sex. I need to keep my gun!"

"Just wait until her boyfriend comes back from working in Canada for the summer," Rodney sighed. "At least it'll cut down on the cell phone bills."

"Boyfriend?" John repeated faintly. "I know I promised you fifty years, but I'm not sure I'm going to survive the season!"

"Her fourth," Rodney said dryly. "The bald patches started with the first--no, the bald patches started with Michael's first trip to the hospital--there have been five of those."

John whimpered.

"Let's see--broken arm falling off the jungle gym when he was five, stitches in his head falling off his bike when he was seven, broken leg playing ice hockey at eight, fractured collar bone from football at ten and more stitches from a bad dive in soccer last fall--still want to be a parent?"

"I hope you know CPR because I think I'm going to need it. Often."

"Just wait until Jennifer comes home late from a date--I needed an ambulance after prom night; at least this way we'll have each other to worry with."

"I don't think neurotic panic is an emotion that benefits from being shared," John muttered, shaking his head. "God, how do you do it? How am I going to do it?"

"You survive; you try not to smother them or ignore them but to let know they're loved and they'll always have a home," Rodney shrugged.

"God, don't let me mess this up," John begged.

"Hey," Rodney said gently, lifting a hand to tilt John's chin upward, "if I managed without screwing them up too badly, you'll do fine--they like you, remember?"

"Well, of course they do," John said, trying for usual cocky attitude. "What's not to like?"

"I'll remind you of that when you're whimpering at them bickering," Rodney snorted.

"You're the bad guy dad; you deal with it," John retorted, slowly relaxing.

"And if I'm not home?"

John swallowed hard. "Do you think they'd take pity on me if I cried?"

"They'd eat you alive."

"That's what I was afraid of. I'll try to channel a sergeant I used to know."

"Just don't bark at them; that doesn't work," Rodney warned.

"You're eliminating all the easy answers."

"That's what being a parent comes down to, dealing with the hard ones."

"That's what I was afraid of. I can do this. I have to do this. People have been doing it for centuries."

"And if worse comes to worse, do what I did, whimper to Laura and Carson."

"Naw, I'll whimper to you."

"I've developed armor against guilt complexes," Rodney warned.

"As long as you're willing to make comforting noises and distract me after they're dealt with, I'll be good."

Rodney chuckled and brushed a kiss over John's lips. "I think I can manage to do that."

"Then I'll survive. Though not if we don't get that shower you were talking about."

"Is that a hint?" Rodney asked, catching John's hand and leading him to the bathroom.

"Damn right. We're sticky." John smiled crookedly as he followed Rodney to the shower.

Leaning against the side of the mini-van and making idle small talk with the other parents waiting for the bus to return their sons from Scout camp, Rodney forced himself not to fidget. John was over at Radek and Elizabeth's, and Rodney hoped they were proving more distracting than the near-empty parking lot at one of the local churches.

"There they are," one of the mothers called out, pointing at the bright yellow bus turning into the parking lot.

Rodney avoided the first crush of parents trying to greet their sons, simply waving at Michael when he saw his son's blond hair in the crowd.

"So, no tying up the scoutmasters for knot practice?" he asked, giving Michael a hug.

"Geez, Dad, it would be totally lame to repeat something from last year," Michael said pityingly as he returned the hug.

"So..." Rodney asked, leaning back to look down at Michael, his eyebrows raised, and Michael returned an innocent gaze before bursting into laughter.

"We used them to practice our first aid techniques on this year."

Rodney groaned at that before turning to reach for his gear so they could carry it back to the van. "Should I ask how long it took them to get out of the wraps?"

Michael snickered. "Not if you don't want to be able to testify against me."

"Am I going to get sued?" Rodney groaned.

"Naw, they calmed down eventually. After all, we just immobilized the injured areas, like we were supposed to. How could they blame us for that?"

"Obviously, they couldn't, but the first time you practice on me, you're losing computer access for a week." They carried Michael's backpack and duffle to the van and tossed it inside.

"Like I would. You'd probably do it back to me while I was asleep," Michael laughed as he got into his seat and buckled up. "So, what did you do while we were away?"

Rodney was silent as he started the van and turned on the air. "I spent some time with John--Maj. Sheppard," he finally answered.

Michael's head swiveled around to fix his father with an intent stare. "With John? So you two are... friends again?" The hesitation was almost imperceptible.

"I know that you and your sister know about our past," Rodney said gently, "and we've had a lot of time to talk over the past couple of weeks."

"And?" Michael stared at Rodney, willing him to say what Michael was hoping for.

"It seems your plot has proven fruitful." Rodney waited a beat, watching Michael's expression change from 'yeah!' to 'oh shit'.

"Plot?" Michael tried for innocent confusion.

"You know exactly what I mean, young man."

"It was Jen's idea," Michael said, throwing his sister to the wolves.

"So it's her I should be thanking then," Rodney mused. "I wonder what kind of car she'd like..." Michael's jaw dropped. "Dad! That's not fair!"

"What isn't fair about it?"

"Melissa and Amanda and I helped!"

"That's not what you said before," Rodney said innocently, unable to keep from snickering.

"You're a sneaky, evil man!" Michael grumbled.

"Which explains just where you and your sister got your tendencies."

"We're going to go far."

"In which case you both can support John and I in our old age."

"So he's sticking around for your old age?"

"So he says and I--I believe him," Rodney murmured. "I promise this won't change anything with you, Jen and I though."

Michael eyed him oddly. "He's not moving in?"

Rodney returned the look, frowning slightly. "No, I needed to talk to you and Jen first; no matter your plots, reality is a lot different."

"Dad," Michael sighed. "In a few more years, I'll go to college, and Jen will already be gone. If John's not going anywhere, what's the problem?"

"The fact that I'm concerned about the two of you and I want you to be all right with this."

"Um, Dad? We worked to get you together with him. Of course we're all right with it."

Rodney studied him closely, then gave a grudging smile. "You two are going to be the death of me."

"Nope, we'll keep you young."

Rodney chuckled again leaned over to pull Michael in for a rough hug. "C'mon, let's go get you something to eat before we pick up your sister; after you've cleaned up, you can grill John all you want."

"He's going to be at Aunt Laura's and Uncle Carson's? Cool!" Rodney cleared his throat at that. "Actually, I was hoping the four of us could talk before we descended into the madhouse."

"You mean about you and John being together and him moving in? What's to talk about?" Michael turned an inquiring look on his father.

Rodney goggled at him for a moment. "Well, it's just that this is a huge change--for all of us--and I don't want you or your sister to feel ignored or slighted."

"Daaaad," Michael sighed. "For a genius, you can be a real dummy sometimes. John's cool, and we like him. If we could deal with Robert, we sure won't have a problem with John."

Rodney sighed at that though he also looked relieved. "Am I going to be hearing about Robert and how horrible he was for the rest of my life?" he groaned. "Naw, he's pretty forgettable. Well," Michael seemed to have second thoughts, "maybe from John. From the way he acted at the picnic, I really don't think he liked Robert at all. The rest of us just thought he was boring."

"I think we'd all be better off not to mention Robert in front of John," Rodney said hastily as he pulled out of the parking lot. "So, do you want to get something to eat before we go wait for Jen's bus?"

"You had to ask? I'm starved. Pizza?"

"Why did that answer not surprise me? And sure, we have an hour before Jen's bus is due in, so we should have time for you to inhale a pie or two."

"Great! Lots of meat and cheese and no vegetables!"

"Another shock," Rodney snorted, "though I should take a hose to you first; did you forget what soap was?"

Michael rolled his eyes. "I went swimming yesterday."

"In a mud puddle? I think I'm going to have to take the van in to get it detailed once I get you home."

"Yeah, right. I'll take a shower when I get home. Happy?"

"The horror of your life makes my heart bleed for you."

"Sarcasm is the refuge of small minds," Michael replied loftily.

"As is plagiarism," Rodney retorted with a wide grin.

"But quoting is a compliment."

"You're angling for ice cream as well, aren't you?"

"Is it working?" Michael's grin matched his father's.

"What do you think?"

"I'm hoping to benefit from the John effect."

"Oh, really?" Rodney asked wryly as he pulled into the parking lot of their favorite local pizza place, Mama P's.

"Yup. Gotta take advantage of it till you get used to having him around." Michael got out and waited for his father to come around the van before starting inside.

"Wonderful, I've raised a little con artist," Rodney grumbled.

"I learned by example," Michael said with a smug grin.

"Two little con artists then." Rodney waved at the girl behind the counter, recognizing her as one of Jen's friends.

"I wasn't talking about Jen," Michael chuckled, sliding into a booth.

"Those damn Becketts..."

"Good try, Dad, but... Well, actually, yeah, Aunt Laura too."

Rodney smirked victoriously.

"But my real inspiration has always been you." Michael's smirk matched Rodney's, and his father growled.

"Brat."

"Hi, Dr. McKay, Mikey, what can I get you?"

"Kate! Pizza, fast," Michael exclaimed, letting the hated nickname go unchallenged in his urgent need for food.

"Hurry, before he goes wild and starts gnawing on the table leg," Rodney chuckled. "Any kind of meat you have and double cheese, plus two Cokes and the number for my cardiac surgeon."

Kate laughed. "Sure, Dr. McKay. I'll bring the Cokes right away."

As she walked away, Michael craned around to watch her.

"Careful or your eyes might pop out," Rodney murmured, trying not to smile.

Michael jerked around again, blushing. "I don't know what you're talking about. I was just... watching to see if she was coming back with the Cokes."

"Uh huh." Rodney nodded sagely. "So she's mastered teleporting, has she?"

Michael gave him a sullen look, and Rodney shook his head.

"Hey, if I went for that, I might be looking too, and oh my god, did I say that to my son?"

Michael burst into laughter. "John really has had a big effect on you. You'd never have said that when Robert was around." He snickered. "And you should worry more about jailbait, Dad."

"Sending your father to jail, I'm feeling the love." Rodney looked up when Kate returned to the table, carrying their drinks and setting them down on the red and white checkered tablecloth, giving them each a bright smile before heading back to the counter, her dark ponytail swinging behind her.

"Well, forget about Kate then." Michael made a face at his father over his soda.

"Son, I explained the facts of life to you and that there are people who just aren't interested in the opposite sex a few years ago; did camp rot your brain?" Rodney was smiling slightly as he spoke.

"Some people like both," Michael retorted.

"A good point but that doesn't include me."

"Or John, so it works out pretty well."

Rodney nodded at that and sipped at his soda. "Much better than I ever dreamed," he murmured.

Michael gaped at him. "You're sappy!"

"I am not!" Rodney protested.

"Are too."

"Brat."

"But you love me."

"And I'm very glad you know it."

"Dad! Just because you finally found someone doesn't mean you're going to stop caring about us. We know that."

"Well, excuse me; I've never had to deal with this before!" Rodney protested.

"I know. Dad, it'll be fine. Single parents get remarried all the time, and everyone's fine."

"Fine, I'm fine, you're fine, Jen's fine and John's fine--fine?"

Michael shook his head. "You're weird."

"This is news to you?"

"Not at all." Michael beamed at Kate when she brought the pizza, and he already had a slice in hand before it had settled on the table.

"Enjoy!" she grinned, reaching to ruffle Michael's shaggy blond hair but changing her mind when she noticed how grungy it was. Instead she smiled at him again before walking away.

Michael stared after her and sighed.

"Give it time, kiddo," Rodney advised. "You'll find the right person to appreciate you when the time is right."

"I don't want to wait till I'm as old as you!"

"I'm not ancient!" Rodney protested before grabbing a slice of pizza and biting into it.

"You're not exactly young," Michael retorted heartlessly.

"And you're not exactly going to live to see thirteen if you keep it up."

"Ha! You resorted to death threats; I win!" Michael crowed.

Rodney scowled at him as he took another vicious bite of his pizza then gave in, giving a tomato-y smile, and Michael grinned back.

"So, is John living with us yet?"

That question made Rodney blink, and he shook his head. "No, we wanted to wait until you both came back and we talked to you."

"You mean you did."

"Fine, I did."

Michael shrugged as he reached for another slice. "So we can all help him move in."

"Well, he can't move all the way in until he's out of the military, and that may take a few weeks."

"Well, that sucks."

"Not arguing that with you one bit," Rodney sighed.

"It's not for long," Michael offered.

"So how did you end up being the one comforting me?"

Michael shrugged. "I guess it was my turn."

"So are you saying that's my one shot?"

"Well, I wouldn't want you to get used to it..." Michael grinned again.

"Oh shut up and eat your pizza," Rodney growled though he was grinning, and Michael obediently took a bite.

"We should probably head over to pick up Jen soon," he mumbled.

"Hrmm, is that defeat I'm scenting?" Rodney mused as Kate came over to see if they needed anything. "Just a box for the leftovers and the bill."

"Not defeat, self-preservation. She'll be pissy all week if she has to wait."

"A good point, she reminded me yesterday that I'd better be on time." When Kate brought the bill, Rodney paid, adding a nice tip for her as Michael slid the remains into the box she'd provided as well.

"Well, last year was pretty bad," Michael said as they headed out to the car, though he paused to wave at Kate, who didn't notice.

"It was half an hour; I apologized profusely; and you both got electronics to assuage my supposed guilt," Rodney grumbled as they headed back to the van.

"Dad, you forgot us."

"And who left me waiting an hour while he played 'just one more' video game?"

"You're the parent; you're supposed to be the responsible one."

"Since when have I ever followed rules?" Rodney chuckled as they climbed into the van. "Good point. But Jen'll still make you cry if you do it again."

"Don't remind me!"

Michael snickered. "You could always hide behind John now."

"Hrmm, a good point, he can deal with her. Remind me to reward you suitably--within reason."

"Define reason," Michael immediately replied.

"Under twenty-five dollars," Rodney shot back.

"That won't even buy a game!"

"Boo hoo, use your allowance to cover the rest."

"Scrooge," Michael grumbled.

"And damned proud of it." They pulled in at the high school, and Rodney was relieved to see that the buses hadn't arrived yet.

"Lucky," Michael laughed.

"I knew we had plenty of time."

"Uh huh." While they were waiting, Michael let his eyes close, and he rested his head against the window.

"You're going to clean that grease spot off the glass once we get home," Rodney warned him.

"Huh?" Michael turned his head, finding that there really was a head-sized smear on the window. "Yeah, fine."

"And you may want to get a nap before dinner--you can crash in the back if you want."

"Naw, I'm good. Jen'd just wake me up again anyways."

"Probably in a way you wouldn't like."

"Definitely in a way I wouldn't like. So I'll just stay awake till we get home."

"And then no nap until you take a shower," Rodney chuckled, glancing down when his cell phone rang.

"I'm more interested in seeing you with John, Dad. And is that him or Jen?"

"John," Rodney admitted, glancing at Michael, then at the phone.

"Aren't you going to answer it?"

Rodney sighed and did just that. "Yes?"

"How'd it go?"

"Do you want to ask Michael that?"

"Well, that you think he'd talk to me is a good sign, right?"

"Trust me, he's dying to have you moved in."

There was a moment of silence, then John laughed. "I love your son."

Rodney sighed. "So how are things going with the incredible gestating duo?"

"Radek hovers until Elizabeth loses patience and sends him on an errand. It's sorta funny."

"So has many has he been sent on in the two hours you've been there? Oh, and you need to be back home in an hour so we can all talk before we go to Carson and Laura's."

John chuckled. "I lost count. And should I be worried about this talk?"

"Only if my children decide to ask us about our sex life," Rodney sighed, glancing over at Michael, who flushed.

"If that happens, I'm hiding behind you!"

"In your dreams!"

"You'd rather I told them?"

"Are you planning on doing it?"

"God no!"

"Exactly what I thought," Rodney chuckled. "And there's Jen's bus; we'll see you at home."

"I'll meet you there."

"I can see things are going to be a lot more interesting at home," Michael observed, watching his father put the cell phone back in the holder on the dash.

"And what do you mean by that?"

"You never talked about sex with Robert."

"And you listened to my conversations with him?"

"I'm not deaf, Dad. You talked to him in front of us lots. You never seemed to need privacy."

Rodney sighed and looked out the windshield. "That relationship was different, Michael."

"No sh--kidding," Michael snorted.

"Nice save."

"Thanks." Michael grinned then pointed. "Hey, there's Jen."

"Good, make yourself useful and get her bag." Rodney grinned at Michael and climbed out of the van, going to greet his daughter with a hug.

"Hi, Dad." Jen returned the hug, kissing his cheek before looking around. "Hey, brat. Where's John?" she asked, looking back at her father.

"Nice to see you too," Rodney grumbled.

"You haven't chased him away already?"

"Naw, he just talked to Dad on the phone. He'll be back at the house by the time we get there," Michael put in.

"So should I drop you both off and go get a drink while you all talk?"

"No, you should get us all home so we can welcome John to the family."

"I meant so that you two could talk to John," Rodney chuckled as he took her duffle bag from her.

"We can do that with you there, Dad. In fact, it'll be more fun that way." Jen have him a sweet smile.

"You're plotting something else, aren't you?"

"Would I do that?" Jen ignored Melissa's laugh as her friend ran past on her way to her own mother, who waved at them.

"Go make dinner!" Rodney yelled at them before glowering at his daughter. "And you know the answer to that, young lady." "That's why you're a genius, Dad." Jen grinned at him as they all got into the van.

"It doesn't seem to be doing much good when a pack of teens can plan my life behind my back," he murmured, starting the engine and pulling out of the parking lot.

"Are you complaining about the results?" Jen shot back while Michael dozed off.

"If I was, you'd know it."

"Yup. So just enjoy it."

Rodney had to smile at that. "If you're hungry, there are a few slices of pizza from Mama P's in the box there."

"Yes!" Jen grabbed for the box as if she hadn't seen food in months. "'sgood," she mumbled.

"I thought they fed you at that camp; was I wrong?"

"Not Mama P's pizza!"

"Well, you'll be happy to know that John likes it too."

"I knew he had good taste." Jen grinned at him. "You let Michael order, didn't you? This needs mushrooms and peppers."

"You know the rule; first one in gets to choose. Next time we'll be all healthy and get what you want," Rodney promised, turning down their street.

"Hey, I like the meat too; it just needs more."

"Well, I'm glad I raised you to appreciate variety."

Jen looked at him, raised her eyebrows, and tried not to laugh.

"I didn't mean it that way, and you know it, Jennifer!"

"You should always be precise, Dad," she retorted.

"Yes, I should; now, do you want to wake your brother up so he doesn't growl at me?"

Jen grinned, wadded up a napkin, and threw it, hitting her brother square between the eyes.

"What--huh?" Michael sputtered, half rolling off the bench seat before opening his eyes and blinking owlishly, then glaring at Jen. "You should have stayed at camp."

She laughed at him. "I love being the older sibling."

"I am so going to tell Jeff that you hugged his picture every night while he was gone!" he shot back while Rodney simply shook his head as he pulled into their driveway.

"And I'll tell Kate you have a crush on her!"

"You do that and you'd better never sleep again!"

"John is going to run screaming if he hears you two going at it like that when he gets here," Rodney commented as he pulled his keys from the engine and climbed out of the van. "Don't forget your stuff--laundry in the laundry room, things that aren't fit for human exposure in the garage."

"We didn't bring bio-toxins home, Dad," Michael snorted.

Looking at him, Jen shuddered ostentatiously. "Have I told you how much I love you for getting a house where we each have our own bathrooms?"

"Only several hundred times," Rodney chuckled, "and as for you, young man, I'm wondering if and when things are going to eat through your bag and start on the floor."

"Do you really want me to stand here explaining that it's just dirty clothes, or should I go take a shower before John gets here?"

"Too late for that," John said, walking into the garage after parking his rental car in the driveway. "Damn, you are impressively grungy."

"I think he got a badge in dirt collecting," Rodney smiled, reaching out to ruffle Michael's hair before thinking better of it.

"You touch that hair and you'd better disinfect your hand before coming anywhere near me," John laughed.

"Speaking of that, when are you moving in, John?" Jennifer asked brightly.

"Jennifer..." Rodney growled.

"I haven't been asked yet." All eyes turned to Rodney.

"Can we please discuss this inside?"

"After we clean up," Jen added, putting a little more distance between her and Michael.

"Sounds good to me," John agreed, following them inside.

After bags were unloaded in the laundry room and the kids had run upstairs, the sound of water running sounding quickly in their wake, Rodney leaned against a kitchen counter, looking decidedly nervous. "Want a beer?" he asked.

"Nope. I want..." John moved in front of Rodney, placed his hands on the counter on either side of him, and leaned in for a kiss.

Rodney sighed and slid his arms around John's waist, pulling him closer and kissing him, feeling some of the tension leave him at the contact.65 "Your kids will start laughing at us." "I'm used to it, and your tolerance will grow, I promise."

"I'm looking forward to it." John smiled crookedly before kissing him again.

"And just so you know, you don't have to answer every question they're going to throw at you--if it's too much, just tell them, and they'll calm down."

John chuckled. "I do remember what it's like to be a teenager, Rodney."

Rodney chuckled at that. "So you say now..." There was the sound of slamming doors and the pounding of feet on the stairs before Michael appeared in the doorway, his damp hair dripping on his t-shirt.

"Making out in the kitchen?" he asked, grinning.

"Yup. Get used to it," John replied, grinning over his shoulder at the pre-teen while Rodney groaned.

"I really need that beer now."

"C'mon, Dad," Michael snickered, "you never even kissed--urmmm, never mind," he concluded hastily at his father's glower.

"Good!" John said with deep satisfaction before stealing a quick kiss and then moving to lean on the counter beside Rodney, both of them facing Michael.

Rodney shook his head though he was grinning slightly. "All right, I'm not having this discussion in the kitchen; get whatever you want to drink, and hopefully Jennifer will be down soon."

John went to the fridge and got out two beers, turning to ask Michael what he wanted only to find the boy reaching under his arm for a soda. "I guess we're good."

"Get a diet for Jen," Rodney warned as he reached in a cupboard for some potato chips then poured them into a large bowl.

"You all had better not have started without me!" Jennifer yelled from upstairs.

"Then don't take so long!" Michael yelled back. "We don't care about your makeup."

"Welcome to my life," Rodney murmured.

"I like it better than the alternative."

"Yeah, me too."

"Hurry up, Jen!" Michael yelled. "You're missing the mush!"

"We are not mushy!" John said, sounding insulted.

"Lemme see!" Jennifer raced down the stairs and into the kitchen, a hairbrush in one hand and headband in the other.

"Den. Now!" Rodney demanded, trying to get some kind of control over the situation.

"This whole family's nuts," John said, sounding more amused than worried by the fact.

"No, we aren't; we're creative," Michael grinned, grabbing his drink and the bowl of chips and carrying them into the den.

"Exactly," Jen nodded, plucking her soda from the counter and following after him.

"You're going to protect me from them, right?" John asked as he and Rodney started after the kids.

"You must be kidding," Rodney snorted, plucking a beer from John's hand and giving him a quick kiss. "Remember, don't show any fear."

"Great, suddenly I feel like a lion tamer."

"Rawr," Michael said agreeably, grinning.

Jennifer looked at them from her perch in the recliner. "So, John, what are your intentions toward our father?" she asked, her blue eyes sparkling.

"Grounded until you're one hundred," Rodney growled.

"Hey, that's one I can actually answer," John protested, laughing.

"So?" Michael asked.

"Strictly honorable," John replied succinctly.

"Which means?"

"Which means I plan to be around for the next fifty or sixty years."

Rodney reached out and caught John's hand, squeezing his fingers, and Jen nodded. "Good. So, what's your position on curfews?"

"The same as your dad's," John replied instantly, not about to get caught in that trap.

Michael snickered and threw a chip at Jen. "He's too smart to fall for that."

"Thank God," Rodney chuckled.

"I definitely don't have 'sucker' tattooed across my forehead."

"What kind of movies do you like?" Michael offered.

John shrugged. "Pretty much anything if it's good, but action, comedy, and sci fi best."

"Sports team?"

"Which sport? And have you considered a career as an interrogator?"

"Not enough money in it and football, of course." Michael rolled his eyes at the last comment, and Jen and Rodney shared a smile.

"You're going to go on about that one game now, aren't you?" Rodney sighed.

John grinned at him. "Would I do that?"

"What game?" Michael demanded.

"What game?" John repeated incredulously. "Rodney, what have you been teaching this boy?"

Rodney just looked at him, his eyes narrowing slightly, while John ignored the look.

"It was the greatest game in football history," John told Michael. "Miami versus Boston U."

"I like Syracuse," Michael said loyally.

Jen snickered. "He bleeds orange and blue."

John laughed. "It's good to be loyal to a team."

"Hey! Maybe you could sign up to be a coach for my team!"

"Let's take this one thing at a time," Rodney warned, taking a gulp of his beer.

"We'll have to see how it goes," John said. "It may take a while for me to finish up everything I need to do to get out of the Air Force, so I might not be available for the start of the season."

Jen leaned forward at that. "So how long do you think it's going to take--and what are you going to do once you move here?"

"I don't know yet. It could be as little a three or four weeks or as long as three months. I'm hoping for the shorter term, obviously, and it's more likely, but there are never any guarantees. As for afterward, well, I'll have to see what's available once I'm free. I'm hoping for an opening in the math department at the college."

"You have a math degree?" Now Michael was leaning in as well, and Rodney had to smile.

"Watch it, they may start quizzing you."

"A couple of them." John watched the kids warily. "You didn't really think your dad would go for an idiot, did you?"

"Well..." The siblings looked at each other.

"So you thought I was what, dumb but pretty?" John eyed them.

"We weren't thinking about you," Jen protested.

"Oh?"

Michael eyed his father warily. "Nope, not you."

"I have never dated idiots."

A muffled snort escaped John as his lip curled into a sneer.

"Shall I just leave the three of you here to discuss my apparent bad taste in men?" Rodney asked, his tone deceptively calm.

"Nope, we can all discuss your wonderfully improved taste in men," John replied.

"Oh really?"

"C'mon, Dad," Jen laughed, "teasing!"

"You don't think I'm an improvement?" John asked, pouting at Rodney, which made Michael make gagging noises.

"If I didn't, would we all be sitting here?"

John beamed at him.

"You guys are so cute together," Jen exclaimed.

"Sappy!" Michael interjected.

"I'll remember this when you have a prom date."

"I'll have to remember to wear my sidearm for that," John mused.

"You wouldn't!" Jen protested, and Rodney chuckled.

"Actually, I was speaking about Michael, but that might not be a bad idea either."

John grinned. "I think I'm going to like this parenthood thing."

"Good, you can referee the next time they're trying to kill each other." Rodney leaned back on the couch and rested an arm behind John's back as he took another drink from his beer.

"Sadist!" John muttered while Jen and Michael laughed.

"This is news?"

"No!" all three of the others chorused, making everyone start to laugh.

"So, any more soul baring or can we start putting together whatever it was I promised to take over to Carson and Laura's now?" Rodney asked, though he was smiling contentedly as he looked around the group--his family.

"How are you planning to make it if you don't even remember what it is?" Jen asked, shaking her head.

"Because John was supposed to remember what it was."

"They always have you bring potato salad, Dad," Michael laughed.

"Which would be why we peeled and boiled all those potatoes earlier," John agreed, looking amused. "It shouldn't take long to finish up."

"Yes, yes, make fun of the man who has been on edge the entire day, why don't you; it's a wonder I didn't need a defibrillator."

Jen rolled her eyes. "I told you we were okay with this, Dad. Or did you think we'd have tried to hard to get you two together just so we could split you up? You're such a goof sometimes."

John was trying very hard not to laugh, and Rodney frowned.

"I'll remember that remark the next time you want to drive, young lady."

She batted her lashes at him and came over to hug Rodney. "I love you, Dad."

He grumbled and hugged her back but whispered, "Your feminine wiles don't work on me, sweetie."

"Thank God!" John exclaimed, grinning at them. "But I might be able to intercede for you."

"No fair!" Michael protested.

"You're too young to drive," John pointed out wryly.

"Yeah, but I... um... want to see R rated movies."

John snorted. "That's going to depend on the movie and what your dad thinks. Usually there's a good reason for those ratings."

"Good answer," Rodney murmured.

"A lot of this is just common sense," John realized, smiling with relief.

"Something that has saved me more times than I care to think about."

"You do a good job, Dad," Michael nodded, moving over to join them as well.

"We have a good family," Jen added, expanding her hug to include a startled John, who tentatively hugged her back, causing Rodney to blink suspiciously and clear his throat when Michael joined in.

"I'm lucky to be part of it," John whispered.

"So, when's the wedding?" Michael piped up before wincing when Jen hit him on the back of the head.

John looked wistfully at Rodney. "Just as soon as the state of New York legalizes it."

"Which means not any time soon."

"So don't call it a wedding, call it something else," Jen offered, still glaring at her brother.

"How about we get through this first day all together and go from there," Rodney suggested.

"Yeah, we can discuss commitment ceremonies and Canadian weddings after we get settled into me being here," John said.

"Potato salad," Rodney cut in. "We need to get to work on it."

Jen got up from his lap and headed into the kitchen. "If you two don't show in five minutes, we're coming back for you," she warned, drawing Michael with her.

"But what--" Michael protested as he was dragged from the room.

Once they were gone, Rodney glanced over at John. "So..."

"So... I meant what I said, you know."

"That you like football?"

"About wanting to marry you. I do."

"Just so you know, I'm sitting here on the verge of a panic attack," Rodney said conversationally. "Not because of what you said, but because of how much I want it."

John released a huge breath of relief. "Oh, thank God! I was so afraid you'd be freaked."

"Only if you tell me you want me to wear a dress."

John snickered. "That might be a deal breaker for me."

"Notice I haven't said what I want you to wear..."

"You... we have kids; a nude wedding isn't going to cut it."

"I was thinking more Hawaiian shirt and khakis myself."

John gagged. "I should never have let you watch Magnum PI."

"And what do you want to wear, leather jackets and white t-shirts with jeans, Mister Top Gun fanatic?"

"Hmm, that might be fun one Saturday when the kids aren't home. But for the wedding, how about your basic suit? You look good dressed up."

"Tuxes," Rodney countered.

John's eyes ran up and down Rodney hotly. "Sounds good to me," he agreed throatily.

"And don't get that look in your eyes; we have to go make potato salad and then spend the evening with our good friends."

"I'll be looking forward to dessert."

"We can pick up the rest of your things on the way back."

"Good plan." John gave him a purely happy smile that turned to laughter when Jen yelled, "Two minutes!" from the other room.

"Two minutes," Rodney mused, setting his bottle on the floor by the couch and glancing at John.

"We can manage a pretty good kiss in two minutes." John placed his bottle next to Rodney's and leaned closer.

"Exactly what I was thinking." This was spoken before Rodney's lips closed on John's and his arms wrapped around John's waist, dragging them together.

"Love you," John whispered an instant before his tongue swept into Rodney's mouth, eagerly exploring him. Rodney groaned in answer, his fingers tightening against John's back, kneading the warm skin beneath the thin layer of his polo shirt.

"Time!" Jen yelled from the kitchen. "Get yourselves in here, or I send Michael in!"

"We've been told," Rodney chuckled, slowly pulling back and taking a deep breath to compose himself.

"No more sex in the living room and kitchen," John said sadly.

"How will we ever survive?"

"Bedroom breaks," John chuckled, getting to his feet before Jen really did send Michael after them.

"And frequent sleepovers," Rodney nodded as they walked into the kitchen. "All right, why aren't you two finished yet?"

"Because we're not slave labor and you need to do your share too. Both of you," Jen retorted, pushing the celery and cutting board toward them while she continued chopping the cold potatoes and Michael shelled hard-boiled eggs.

"Welcome to the family," Rodney murmured, smiling crookedly as he picked up the celery to wash it.

John smiled broadly, knife in hand as he waited for Rodney to hand him the vegetable to chop. "This is nice."

"Being abused by children?" Rodney asked though it was clear that he didn't mean it.

"You hold the corner on that market, Dad," Jen called.

"And I'm quite happy to leave it that way," John said hastily, smothering a grin. "But no, I meant being part of a family."

"We like it too," Michael chimed in, dumping his eggs into a bowl. "Having you as part of the family, I mean."

"Remember that the first time I'm the bad guy parent," John suggested, smiling.

"Darn, Dad," Jen laughed, "couldn't you find a fun guy who was also a pushover?"

"I think the two terms are mutually exclusive."

"And even if they're not, you're stuck with me now," John put in, sliding a possessive arm around Rodney's waist and pulling him closer.

"Sappy!" Michael called.

"In a good way," Jen said quickly, elbowing her brother and causing Rodney to chuckle.

"In the best way."

"Better get used to that too," John advised Michael, kissing Rodney lightly before turning his attention back to the celery.

Michael thought about it, then shrugged. "So you'll be like Uncle Carson and Aunt Laura all the time; I can live with that."

"Good thing because this is one thing I hope doesn't change," Rodney admitted as he pulled bottles of spices down from the cabinet.

"It won't," John reassured him, glancing up to give him a tender smile before looking down again to make sure he didn't inadvertently chop off his fingers.

The four of them worked together and soon had a large bowl of potato salad packed in a cooler and ready to go.

"Jen, call over and make sure they don't need anything else, will you?" Rodney asked as he put the last of the clean utensils away.

"You always say that, Dad," Jen sighed, "and Aunt Laura always answers that she'd have called if she did. Yeah, yeah, I know, call anyways." She picked up the phone, muttering about adults.

"Having fun yet?" Rodney asked, glancing over at John, who smiled slowly.

"Yes!" He moved behind Rodney, wrapping his arms around Rodney's waist and resting his chin on his shoulder as they listened to Jennifer's side of the conversation.

"I could hear Aunt Laura rolling her eyes, Dad!" Jen announced after hanging up. "She said all you need to bring is the potato salad... and John."

"I think I can manage that," Rodney murmured.

"You're stuck with me now," John said. "Even your friends are on my side."

"They're our friends."

"Yeah, they are." John beamed happily. "So let's go to dinner at our friends'."

"So," Rodney commented, his tone subdued, "are you sure you have everything you need?"

"Well, I have everything I'm allowed to take," John said, his hands behind his back so Rodney wouldn't see his nervously clenched fists. "This should only take a few days, a week at the most," he said for at least the tenth time that morning.

"I know, and I should be glad because I've got a lot of work to catch up with, but..."

"Just promise me you won't change your mind once I'm not here." John finally voiced his real fear.

Rodney's eyes widened, and he stared at John as if he'd grown another head. "I think the kids would kill me. Don't you go falling in love with your planes again."

"I never fell out of love with planes. I just love you a lot more," John said before Rodney could start to worry.

Rodney took a deep breath, then broke and pulled John in for a desperate hug. "I love you," he whispered.

"Then keep my spot in the bed warm, and I'll be back in a few days," John said, holding him tightly.

"Okay, you need to go, or I'm not going to be able to let go." Rodney forced himself to release his hold on John's waist and take a step back, trying to smile.

John smiled crookedly. "When I come back, I won't be in uniform, so don't look for it." He took a step back as well, picking up his bag. "See you soon."

"You can count on it," Rodney whispered. "You have the snacks the kids packed?"

"Of course. I tried to find a way to pack the kids, but they didn't fit."

"Good thing, they might have been quarantined." Rodney took a step forward but stopped himself, and John smiled brokenly.

"I don't want to go," he whispered.

"I don't want you to, but you have to if you're going to stay," Rodney sighed.

"I hate it when you're logical," John muttered. "Okay, you're right." He took another step back. "I'll see you next week."

Rodney nodded at that and took another step backwards. "Stay warm."

John nodded too, not having anything else to say but neither of them wanting to say goodbye.

"Go get in the car, or you're never going to get back!" Michael yelled from an upstairs window, breaking the tension of the moment, and John chuckled.

"Your son has no sense of the moment. See ya soon." He gave Rodney a crooked grin, raised a hand to wave at Michael and Jen, and got into the car and drove away.

Rodney stood on the porch and watched until the car turned the corner and vanished, then he sat heavily on the steps. He heard the screen door creak behind him, then Jennifer and Michael were sitting beside him, each with an arm around his waist.

"He'll be back soon, Dad," Jen promised.

"He loves you," Michael added, leaning into him. "You can see it whenever you're together. He's not going to decide he wants to stay in the Air Force."

Rodney wrapped an arm around each of them and hugged them close. "What would I do without the two of you?"

"Be with Robert," Jen said, making a face.

"Probably not for much longer."

Michael laughed. "Too boring even for you, huh, Dad? You outdid yourself with him."

"I'm really feeling the love, you know."

"We know, Dad," Jen laughed.

"You love you, even though you dated the Anti-John," Michael chuckled.

"You know, I'll remember this when you ask for the newest version of one of your games..."

"Hey! It's not my fault you dated the guy!" Michael protested.

"But it is your fault you keep bringing him up," Jen laughed.

"You're the one who mentioned him first!" Michael glared at her.

"Enough, you two, how about we order Mama P's and not mention Robert, all right?" Rodney suggested as he gave them both a hug and stood.

"Sounds good to me. But not just meat toppings!" Jen said.

"We know," Michael groused, bounced to his feet and ran inside to grab the phone before his sister.

"Make sure you order them then!" Jen yelled, chasing after him while Rodney shook his head and followed them inside after sparing one final glance down the empty street.

John hadn't let Rodney know when he would be back, not wanting to get Rodney's hopes up in case he missed a flight, so it was a tired former Air Force officer who pulled up in the driveway of the house they now shared at a little after midnight eight days after he'd left.

It had been a long week, not improved by the Air Force's obvious eagerness to wash their hands of him. When he'd arrived at McMurdo, the paperwork was all done except what he had to complete himself, and everything had been pushed through as rapidly as possible. While he wanted out, it was still more than a little depressing to have the institution to which he'd given the last two decades of his life so anxious to be rid of him.

Still, he reminded himself with a tired smile, he had what he wanted. He was free, and he had Rodney.

"Hey, honey, I'm home," he called quietly as he let himself in, not wanting to wake the kids.

A startled half-snore, half-yelp was the answer he got, and it was a moment before Rodney stumbled out of his office, his hair a mess and crease marks on his face. "John?" he asked, blinking as if he didn't trust his own eyes.

"I really hope you still want me here," John said, standing motionless in the hall and watching Rodney, his expression thrown into shadow by the light behind him, "because I'm out. You see before you a newly unemployed, technically homeless man."

"I've heard those make the best boy-toys," Rodney whispered before flinging himself forward and hugging John convulsively. "Thank god you're home."

"I am," John said, holding Rodney equally tightly. "I really am." He pressed his face against Rodney's throat, inhaling the scent of him.

Rodney shuddered and stroked the back of John's head, his fingers tangling in the dark, messy hair. "It's you; you're really here," he choked out.

"And I'm never going anywhere without you again," John murmured, aware that he was clinging to Rodney but not caring.

"Am I supposed to think this is a problem?"

John laughed. "I guess not. We're going to be that couple everyone snickers about because we're so totally obsessed with each other."

"We're entitled," Rodney shrugged.

"We have a lot of time to make up for," John agreed. "What say we go do some of that in our bed? I need to make sure you're interested in plain Dr. John Sheppard now that the major's gone."

Rodney pulled back to look up at John. "Plain Dr. John Sheppard's the one I've always loved; it was Maj. Sheppard I had the problem with." As he spoke, he nudged John backward toward the stairs.

"Then I guess I could have tossed the dress uniform instead of bringing it back with me," John said, smiling slightly as he let Rodney steer him.

"We'll get you a tux."

There was a faraway look in John's eyes for a second before he nodded. "Though I think a normal suit will do fine. I don't expect to need a tux very often."

Rodney frowned, stopping their motion. "Okay, what was that about?"

John shook his head slightly as he shrugged. "That's just going to take a little getting used to. The uniform, the medals, they showed who I was and what I had done. It's a little weird to think all of that's just wiped away."

"It isn't wiped away, and you're still who you always were; the uniform doesn't define you, John."

"I know that. Just bear with me sometimes, okay? After twenty years, some things are ingrained, and it's going to take a little while to remember that I don't have to do it the military way anymore."

Rodney nodded and tightened his arms around John's waist again. "Gotcha, and I'll try as long as you remember I've been a single parent for ten years and I'm used to doing things my way."

"We'll all adjust together." John smiled sensually. "I like adjusting to you."

"Hmm, I can feel you're doing a bit of adjusting now."

"Maybe you should check more closely to make sure I'm going to fit in."

"Maybe we should get upstairs before we start so neither of us slip and break our necks."

"That would be bad," John agreed, chuckling. "And even worse when Jen and Michael came to find out what happened." He backed up the stairs, keeping a grip on Rodney.

"And even worse would be the way our so-called friends would laugh at our predicament once they heard about it. Laughing at paraplegics, that's horrible."

"And worst of all, sex would be damn difficult for a pair of paraplegics."

"Even worse if we were quadriplegics."

"We'd find a way! But this is a hell of lot easier, so let's stick with it." Reaching the landing, John backed down the hall toward the master bedroom, laughing hazel eyes intent on Rodney's blue.

"Shh," Rodney hissed, glancing at the kids' doors and breathing a relieved sigh when they remained closed. "I'll share you in the morning, but tonight you're mine--and did you bring any luggage?"

"It's in the car. I rented one at the airport. We can get it in the morning. Tonight, I don't give a damn about unpacking."

"Should have called," Rodney grumbled as they stumbled into his--no, their--bedroom. "We would have picked you up."

"It was late. And I needed to come to you myself," John added, so quietly it was almost inaudible.

Rodney paused and shifted so that he was cupping the sides of John's face. "You're here; that's what matters."

"I love you," John whispered.

"I always will," Rodney answered, pulling John into the darkened bedroom and shutting the door behind them.

END

 

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