Author: jenn (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Spoilers: none specific, seasons one and two in general
Codes: McKay, Sheppard/McKay
Summary: He's out of practice with dealing with John, and it shows.
Author Notes: For rageprufrock, with her weird, diseased prompts. Thanks to justabi for the beta and chopchica and svmadelyn for prereading.
*Of course*, John chose Mexico.
It's the height of summer, something Rodney forgot about on Atlantis, where it's always vaguely spring and always warm and always *indoors*. His lab, his room, the mess hall, the gym, the masochistic part of him keeping up the weekly workouts with Teyla long after he'd left the field.
A stretch of golden beach leers at him from atop the dunes, the sun bright overhead, and a million miles of the Pacific dancing as far as the eye can see. Rodney swallows hard, shoving the sunglasses back on before beginning the long trek down, sand shifting unpredictably with every step; his body is too used to still, solid floors and flat, inoffensive rugs. Stumbling onto the relatively flat line of the shore, he spots the house from the shoreline, invisible from the road, pretty and sharp and blending into the landscape, set up from the ground on granite and solid concrete, carefully shielded from sight of the road. If you didn't know where to stop, Rodney thought, you'd never find it, and that was John to a T.
Fifty feet in, he trips security but keeps moving. It's not like he's trying to hide.
His boots keep sinking into the sand, a good argument for why he should have stopped in Colorado for longer than it took to pick up directions and make the next flight out.
It's beautiful, though, and it reminds him of the Atlantis mainland, the Athosian camp, long evenings of celebration when John would grin over Athosian beer and play in the surf like a kid, bright and playful and drunk as hell; afterward, he would sprawl on his back in the puddle jumper and sing drinking songs with his head in Teyla's lap, filthy and wet and grinning into the ceiling.
Rodney wishes, suddenly and impossibly, that he could have brought Teyla or Ronon with him; this feeling of exposure isn't comfortable, as a slim figure materializes in view like a ghost, leaning against the granite of the primary supports.
Rodney would know him anywhere, slouch and careless ease and messy dark hair, longer than Rodney remembers, catching in the wind and covering his eyes. He doesn't even fucking *turn* to look, and maybe that says more than anything else.
A few lines run through his head, but nothing useful, nothing like he'd rehearsed, long speeches about friendship and Atlantis and the city that still misses him and has never stopped, about Elizabeth and duty and all the ways their lives have changed, about three lost years and maybe he'd work in a please, and in his head, he always gets the same answer, he always gets yes.
He's only a few feet away when he stops, and the speeches are gone. John cocks his head, then pulls off the sunglasses, and it's like the last time they spoke, the first, or anywhere in between. No one does ironic distance like John Sheppard.
"Rodney." John pushes off the granite, bare feet balancing easily on treacherous sand, starting toward the path leading up to the house, still expecting Rodney to follow wherever he led. A lot has changed, Rodney thinks, a little resentfully, a little lightheaded with the shock of seeing, but not that.
"That's all I get?" He's sweaty and hot and tired, too many hours in a plane to cross two countries since the last time he slept, customs, *questions* he couldn't answer at the SGC and Elizabeth's hopeful eyes when he walked through the gate. It's like it's hitting him all at once, here and now, with the peace of the surf in his ears, sand in his boots, and this annoying man walking away like they're practically strangers when they're anything but.
John turns on a heel, walking backwards, and that smile, Christ, it's been too long. Rodney hadn't known he'd been in withdrawal, starving for that look, soaking it in like a flower in the sun. It's a shock to still be that vulnerable. "Yeah."
John's kitchen is the epitome of military clean, precise geometrically perfect lines of walls and cabinets and appliances, everything in its place--it's like his feet don't even carry dirt, making Rodney feel like a slob, sloughing sand and sweat and grass around him. John doesn't say anything, just a single ironic look at the no longer pristine floor.
Rodney strips off his uniform jacket, tossing it on a kitchen stool. "Wow. I feel so welcome."
"Could have called." John gets two beers from the fridge, padding barefoot to the table and hooking a stool with a narrow ankle, sitting down with another smile.
"You don't have a *phone*."
John nods agreeably and kicks out the stool across from him, sliding the beer across the table. "There is that."
John watches him the entire time, not unfriendly, but a far cry from best case scenario, and it's funny that Rodney had been the optimistic one in the end, arguing he could do this, he could talk to him, find him. He hadn't expected the tanned, familiar stranger in cut-off shorts and unbuttoned shirt, and that was stupid. The hair is bothering him. This weird need to find some scissors and cut it, try to bring back someone he knows.
"With that winning personality, you must get a lot of visitors," Rodney says snidely, then bites his tongue.
"As a matter of fact, I don't." John pushes the beer across the table. "You can save the speech. No, I'm not coming back. No, I could care less what's happened. Yes, this is all a product of my silent suffering. Yes, wallowing in misery. Whatever. You've salved your conscience, Rodney. You really, seriously, don't have to break something trying to be nice." One eyebrow raises, giving Rodney a critical once-over that makes him hideously aware of the creases in his uniform and how sweat and sand have, improbably, lodged in his underwear. John's the only person on earth who can make him this self-conscious. "You look a little tired."
"You think I have a conscience?"
John grins and takes a sip of beer. "Anything can happen in three years."
It's so *awkward*. John's doing it deliberately, and he's never been the kind to do that before. "Sheppard--"
John rolls his eyes. "Look, I'm sure this is a well-meaning gesture on your part, which would, true, be a first, but I'm extrapolating from available evidence. But seriously. You didn't have to come out all this way."
"If you had a *phone*--"
John waves that away, standing up. "Give my regards to everyone."
Oh hell no. Rodney stumbles to his feet, catching himself on the edge of the table before he topples. "You think that--that--" Wow. "You just--oh no. You so aren't pulling this shit. And you're going to--" What? He's too hot to make sense. Rubbing a hand across his forehead, it comes away gritty with sandy sweat "Wait. Wait. I need a shower. Where's your bathroom?"
John's smooth turn is checked, just for a second. "You're kidding."
"You have any idea of how many miles of Pacific coast match the description I got?" Rodney's head hurts thinking about it. "Shower. Dinner. Bed. In that order. And don't even *think* about throwing me out. I will--do something."
"I’m *tired*." He's out of practice with dealing with John, and it shows. "You want something better? I can do better. When I'm not *dying of sunstroke*. So if you would--"
John looks at him, a frown creasing his forehead. "You are a little pink." And it's almost a concession, or it's just John, being annoying. Rodney's not sure which. "Come on. I can't send you back in worse condition than I found you." Putting down the bottle, John grins, a little lopsided, pushing his hair from his eyes, and for a second, Rodney wants to smile back. "I have aloe vera somewhere."
John invested in the best showers ever, with multiple massage functions and fantastic water pressure and *oh God*, it's almost better than Atlantis, even if he has to control it manually. Rodney just stands under it for a full ten minutes, soaking it in, and only comes out when it occurs to him that this could be seen as stalling.
He still can't remember a word of his speech.
Wrapped in a towel, he kicks his uniform into the corner--no way in *hell* he's getting back into that right now--and creeps into the hall. Kitchen to the left. So right, then. He listens for John, but there's no sound but the surf, so Rodney feels comfortable sneaking down two doors until he gets to what has to be John's room, as painfully neat as the rest of the house, bed and desk, computer and dresser. Going through drawers of t-shirts and jeans there's no way in hell he can fit into, he finds sweats buried beneath a painfully familiar uniform. Rodney grabs the sweats and t-shirt and shuts the drawer before he becomes dangerously sentimental. John uses emotions like weapons, and Rodney can't afford to give him any more advantages than he already has.
When he comes back out into the kitchen, John's still not in evidence, but there's coffee, and Rodney feels perfectly justified hunting through the cabinets, finding bread and creamer and sugar, and Oreos and God above thank you, Cheetos. Taking his spoils to the table, Rodney makes himself comfortable and tries to remember what he was going to say.
Right. Like this.
You should come back. The military is full of assholes, and okay, right, you'll still have to work with them, but you know, this time around you'll be one of *us* and we'll tell you how we made all their showers into salt water repositories. We'll even show you where we keep the good coffee, not that instant shit from the mess hall, and scientists have the *best* parties. You really have no idea.
Elizabeth misses you. Halling asks us about you every time we visit the mainland. Teyla is teaching me stick fighting to keep herself in practice with incompetent people so she'll be ready when you come back. Quote, by the way.
Ronon gave me permission to just knock you out and drag you through. That's Plan B, by the way. And I have a Wraith stunner in my bag. Okay, I don't, but I could get one.
Zelenka cut off access to his moonshine. Well, not to everyone, but they don't know that. Did I mention the puddle jumpers are in need of someone who *won't* destroy them? And your old quarters are haunted. I think Atlantis is bitter.
Rodney stares sadly at the empty bag of Cheetos. He does his best thinking while eating.
He knows the city is bitter. He can't prove it, but he's had three years with controls that wait that infinitesimal extra second before responding, doors that open too slowly, and lights that come on with malice aforethought. Things that no number of ZPMs seem to fix, and of course he doesn't believe John's old quarters are haunted, but tell that to every person assigned to them, because no one's ever stayed a second night.
When John comes back in, he looks at the kitchen table with resignation and not a little amusement. "When did you last eat? Colorado Springs?"
"The plane. Meatloaf casserole. Somehow, when I stopped living on this planet, the food went downhill on flights."
John snorts, sitting down to fish out the last Oreo. "I see you found clothes." The dark hair hides his eyes, and Rodney finds it annoying. John doesn't need more shields from the world. He does just fine on his own.
Rodney finishes his coffee. "You're a sucky host. Also, you're out of milk."
John's mouth twitches. "I was going to go shopping, but someone tripped my alarms, so I had to handle that first. Do you want me to drive you back to town, or can I assume you can drive yourself?"
Rodney leans both elbows on the table. "Are you throwing me out?"
John tries, but he's not Rodney. He's just not that rude. Rodney can see the battle on his face, and there's so much to be said for being raised to be polite, because it just fucks you over forever and ever. "No, Rodney. How long were you planning on staying? Should I just buy out the grocery store?"
Rodney grins. He likes winning. "Maybe just half."
John is a good sport about getting Rodney's car onto the property and into the garage, watching bemused as Rodney gets out his luggage.
"You *are* going back, right?" John says as Rodney hands him the cases for two laptops and the largest of the four suitcases. "Right?" He suddenly sounds worried.
"It would serve you right if I said no." Rodney picks up two and kicks at John's unmoving legs. "Hurry. I have a lot of delicate equipment here that shouldn't be exposed to extreme temperatures."
John gives him a familiar, irritated look, then takes a patient breath. "Right. Why--"
"Unlike some people who have taken up the life of a beach bum and do nothing but work on perfect tans, I actually have *work* to do." Rodney follows John up the stairs. "Did you have to build so many stairs? And doesn't this area get hurricanes pretty regularly?"
"I have good insurance," John says, a little breathless. "And--wait. Are you *complaining* about your accommodations? Because I hear you have a great apartment in Colorado Springs--"
"Lease ran out five years ago," Rodney says breezily. "And it would be a lot harder to chat from Colorado if you don't have a phone, and by the way, what the hell is up with that? Oh God, you--you have *internet* don't you?" Otherwise, they'll be finding the closest equivalent to a hardware store and Rodney will be spending his night wiring the house. "Sheppard? Tell me you have internet. Tell me you did not retreat to prehistoric man levels. Tell me you are still *civilized*."
John snickers as they cross the kitchen. "I have internet. Guest room to the left." John steps back to let Rodney go first. "Hope it's up to your standards."
It's bigger than his quarters at Atlantis, all soft woods and bare walls and a single double bed, made with creepy hospital corners, all that rigid cleanliness John seems to have turned into a religious vocation, giving Rodney this need to make it *messy*. But the view is amazing, and Rodney drops his suitcase to walk to the wide glass doors that overlook the Pacific.
It's like the view from the mess hall in Atlantis, Rodney thinks, pushing open the door to walk outside on the balcony, taking in the smell of sand and salt.
"The balcony connects to my room. That is not permission to poke around, by the way," John says behind him, but he sounds more amused than anything else. "You want to get the rest of your stuff--"
"Could you?" Rodney asks, not turning around. "It's been a really long day, what with tramping down eight--*eight*--beaches looking for you and driving around and did I mention I flew straight from Colorado without stopping?"
Behind him, John's quiet for a second. "No, you didn't, because you never complain. You--rest there. In the sun."
Rodney leans on the balcony. "Thanks. And be careful! Delicate--"
"Equipment, extreme temperatures, yeah, got it." John's feet fade as he goes out, almost a stomp but not quite, because John was raised to be a polite host even to terrible guests. Childhood conditioning is a fantastic thing, Rodney thinks, looking down at the sand far below, the lapping waves, then back up at the ocean, stretched out before him like a clue.
He can do this, he thinks, walking back inside to check on his laptops. He just needs a little time.
Rodney finds a desk in the living room and badgers John into moving it, reverently setting it with a view to the ocean, and proceeds to make the room less terrifyingly bare. He's here to *stay* until this is resolved and by God, John had better just get used to it.
"You know," John says, watching Rodney connect his laptops. God thank you, wireless internet. "Somehow--and this is crazy--I completely forgot how high maintenance you are. Two weeks, right?"
"I'm due a lot of vacation," Rodney says easily. "I need a better desk chair. That little town--Quadera? Something?--has office supplies, right?"
John stares at him for a second, and that's so much better than the distance, even better than the cool amusement. "You want a chair?"
"Can I steal yours? It looked ergonomically--"
"You *can't* have my chair." John hovers in the doorway, looking irritated all over again. "Fine. I'll be back--"
"Oh no. Last time you left my sight, you left the galaxy for a two week vacation that suddenly turned into three years." Rodney shuts down and riffles through a suitcase for shoes. "God knows where you'll go this time. Ecuador? Just stand right there and wait."
Triumphantly, Rodney drags out a pair of worn cross-trainers that he uses during his workouts with Teyla. Sitting on the edge of the bed--and messing up the corner--Rodney pulls them on. "Besides, you have no idea what I like to eat. Or what kind of chair to get. I have a very delicate back."
"I'm surprised you didn't bring one with you."
Rodney stands up. "Weight limit on flights." Getting his wallet from his laptop case--and that still feels weird, he hasn't dealt in money for so long--he passes John in the hall, wondering what exactly a Mexican grocery store carries anyway. "Wait. Do they even *have* real food here?"
John's mouth snaps shut. "Yes. We're in *Mexico*, not a third world country."
Rodney wonders. "I mean *normal* food. I'm not going to be forced to eat, like, cactus or anything, right?"
John rolls his eyes, but at least he starts moving, fishing car keys from somewhere in the depths of his pockets. "There's a resort nearby, so there's an American grocery store in town."
"Because I get enough weird food in Atlantis." John's thinner than he remembers, but it's the same easy stroll, the same purely unconscious, liquid grace. He'd changed into jeans and another shirt at some point, but his hair isn't any less a mess, which makes Rodney wonder if there's a brush in the entire house. Maybe he should get John one, just in case.
The drive is about what Rodney might have expected, a lot like John in a puddlejumper, which is to say, far too fast and having too much fun for it to be safe, but John let down the top and for a second, Rodney can see his team leader in the easy way John drives, sunglasses reflecting the ocean and a smile curling up the corner of his mouth, and Rodney wonders when John last flew. They don't try to talk, the wind jerking away any attempts at conversation, but Rodney likes the quiet. It lets him watch, and he hadn't realized, really, how much he'd missed John, the smile and the crinkles around hazel eyes when he's happy, the long fingers wrapped around the steering wheel, the slump in the seat, all vividly familiar like it had been only days, not years.
He'd *missed* John, not just his team leader, not just their extra-special Atlantis key, missed everything, but missed this most of all, the friendly quiet that Rodney's never had with anyone else.
Something relaxes in him that's been tight for three long years. He can't imagine leaving it again.
It's not so much a grocery store as a really ambitious convenience store, and the clerk speaks no English at all. John's Spanish is pretty fluid, which argues he's been here a while, which reminds Rodney all over again of the fact that John Sheppard managed a disappearing act the likes of which even Houdini might have envied. He's tempted to ask, but John's perfectly capable of ignoring questions he doesn't want to answer. And there's *ice cream*, so Rodney adjusts his priorities and gets three gallons.
"Missed it?" John says with a smirk, picking out familiar fruit and vegetables and steering Rodney away from the dairy section with a push of his hip. "Grab some cheese, would you? And don't drool on the merchandise. It makes the clerk nervous."
Rodney frowns. "Daedalus never brings us anything good," he says, pulling two bags of potato chips to throw in the cart--Mexican label, but he figures that it can't be that different. "MREs, apples, oranges, canned tuna, you'd think they'd know by now--oh God, hot chocolate mix. This is the best place ever."
"Haven't you come back at all in the last three years?" John asks, looking surprised, and Rodney has an almost irresistible urge to slap him. Grabbing extra Cheetos, he tosses them in the cart while John very seriously studies the selection of ground beef.
"Coffee. We need--"
"I get my coffee somewhere else," John says absently. There's something surreal and kind of hot about John judging different sizes of ground meat and eyeing packages of chicken with an acquisitive eye. It's domestic, in that way that John's never been. Rodney watches him frown over quarters as opposed to breasts and read prices like someone who goes shopping every week.
Rodney can't even *remember* the last time he went shopping for anything.
"What?" John says, and Rodney shakes himself, getting the package of chicken John had been eyeing and dropping it in the cart.
"Starvation setting in," he says, and John's mouth quirks. "Long day, no rest, this complete *asshole* got himself lost and it took forever to find him. Come *on*."
John's mouth flicks up. "Right. I'd hate to be responsible for your untimely death." Steering the cart, he picks up some cans that Rodney can't read, then goes toward the cashier, who watches John with the same wide eyed adoration that he seems to get from any female in his immediate vicinity. "Pizza okay tonight?"
"They have *pizza* here?" And the best part is when John starts to laugh.
They do--not Pizza Hut, but it's cheese on bread with piles of meat and vegetables and Rodney gives up on good manners when John drops the box on the coffee table and says "Knock yourself out."
He does give John just enough time to grab napkins and beer and have a seat before he opens it, and oh God. *Pizza*. "You know, the messhall tries, but even botany can't make the tomatoes the same."
"Hybridization," John says absently. At Rodney's look, John rolls his eyes. "I was ranking military officer, but I did keep up with what was going on with our food supply. Hydroponic tomatoes didn't have much flavor, so they crossbred with something the Athosians had."
Huh. He'd read the reports, but honestly, he'd never been interested enough to ask. "Tomatoes should be *red*, not purple.."
John nods, taking a drink of beer. He doesn't eat, but Rodney can count the number of times on one hand that he's seen John actually in the process of eating something. Beer dangling between his knees, slouching against an ancient (but not Ancient), overstuffed couch, John watches him with wide, carefully blank eyes. "I'm not going back."
Rodney waves a hand, briefly considers waiting until he's finished chewing, but John knows him and manners are a waste of time anyway. "I'm *eating*."
One eyebrow raises sharply. "And you think my answer will change when you're done eating?"
"I don’t think I've had a chance to bring out my best arguments."
John rolls his eyes, taking another drink. "Rodney--"
"*John*," he says, slipping out so easily that it's almost like he's always used it when he never has before today. "Eating? Save the stoic denial for later." The pizza is half gone. Rodney licks tomato sauce from his fingers. Everything tastes better--maybe there's something to be said for three years of eating food that's always so subtly *wrong*. It makes even what's probably mediocre Mexican interpretations of pizza taste *amazing*. "How long have you been here?"
John glances down at his beer, hair back in his eyes. It's--weirdly sexy, even if it's annoying as hell. "A while." He takes another drink, then sets the bottle aside. "Rodney. It's been three years. Don't tell me after all this time, that suddenly there's some desperate need for me there. You have your scientists, you have your security, you have tons of ATA genes, and you have managed just fine without me."
"How would you know, unless you've been keeping up?" It's a shot in the dark, but O'Neill had always been a little squirrelly when they'd asked. "Oh. You *have* been keeping up, haven't you?"
John's irritation is almost funny. "If you all died, someone would have told me."
"If they could *find* you," Rodney hears himself snap, and he really, really hadn't meant to let John know about *that*. John's head tilts, putting the empty bottle aside, hands resting quietly on his knees. "Not that someone who was so desperate to get lost was all that easy to find."
John's mouth opens, then shuts. "You were looking for me."
"You thought we'd wait this long to get in contact?" Jesus, what the hell is *wrong* with him?
It's a visible effort, but John pulls back into himself, and Rodney remembers this little trick too well to be fooled, not by the way John shrugs, or the way he turns away, picking up his own empty bottle and the bottle that Rodney hadn't known he'd finished. "I never expected you to try." Turning away, John wanders out of the room, like he said something totally normal and not the stupidest thing Rodney's ever heard in his life.
What. The. Hell? "You think--Christ, what am I saying, you *never think*. That's a stupid question." Getting to his feet, Rodney hastily wipes tomato sauce off fingers and mouth, following John into the kitchen, noticing at some point, John had cleaned again, removing every trace of Rodney's messy descent into his life. Like he does everything, Rodney thinks resentfully, and he hadn't known he'd been this bitter, either. "You are so lucky that right now I'm filled with goodwill from all that pizza, or your ass would *so* be on the floor right now."
John turns to face him from the sink, in his little circle of personal space and privacy that Rodney's never been more tempted to invade. "Rodney--"
Hands clenched, Rodney feels something snap, probably a fingernail from the feeling, but it could be his temper. "You--you gave up on *us*. Don't you fucking *dare* make this about--," Rodney stops short, catching himself before he says something almost as stupid as anything John could come up with. "I'm going to go get some work done before I accidentally poison you or rewire your little burglar alarm to go off every few minutes, but later--oh, we are going to have a long talk about mind-boggling stupidity and--and--see? You've ruined my ability to even formulate a good rant. Is there more beer?"
Looking almost chastised, John points to the refrigerator, and Rodney feels perfectly justified in taking two and slamming the door after. "I--" Rodney says, feeling like he can be generous, since obviously John's had some kind of deep mental trauma at some point. There's no other explanation. "I will see you in the morning. And don't try to use the connection, I need all the bandwidth you've got. Night." Feeling magnanimous and higher road, Rodney turns with dignity and retreats to his room.
Just for that, he's so using all the bandwidth John's got, Rodney thinks spitefully as he boots up.
Rodney wakes up to the smell of coffee and realizes he has, and on *vacation* of all things, fallen asleep on his keyboard. There's a steaming cup of coffee on the desk beside his head and a note beside it.
*Breakfast is on the stove. Try not to commit any acts of violence against my stuff. Be back later.*
Dawn's barely cracked the sky outside, an indecent time to wake up for anything other than an imminent attack, and Rodney pries himself out of his new and extremely comfortable chair with difficulty, taking the cup to the balcony from habit long established in Atlantis.
It's a really eerily good view, and Rodney wonders how long John looked for it, in how many places. The SGC hadn't been able to keep up with him in any useful way, but the scattered reports always placed him near the sea.
John was always a morning person, Rodney recalls: military training, maybe, but also that thing he did where Rodney would find him at five in the morning, when Rodney forgot to sleep and was herded to bed by Elizabeth, on a secluded balcony with a Power Bar and a thermos of coffee, watching the water with wide, awed eyes. He'd never joined him--one of the few times Rodney recognized someone's need for solitude without an explicit statement--but he went looking more than he really wants to admit to himself. John's quiet awe was the reminder that Rodney needed, that Atlantis was more than the technology that they could barely understand, the relic of the Ancients that Elizabeth worshipped, more than halls and rooms and history, circuits and ZPMs and artifacts.
Seeing Atlantis through John's eyes, even for just those few minutes, reminded him how much more it really was.
Leaning into the railing, Rodney thinks of John in the kitchen--that space around him like a shield. It had always been there, always, since the first time Rodney met him, even if then, he'd barely recognized what he was seeing. Time and exposure had worn at it, but this, this is what John was before Atlantis, tightly wrapped inside himself, distant and content to stay that way.
Maybe moreso now, and it's a tiny, constant jab, that he'd gotten past that, gotten the parts of John that he kept protected, and here he was, locked out again like a stranger, worse than strangers, because John's showing him nothing that he wouldn't show anyone else, and more than anything else, Rodney wants that back.
Breakfast is actual eggs--the unpowdered kind, the kind that had a passing acquaintance with actual *chickens*, little round sausages that might have actually been from real *pigs*, and Rodney falls a little in love with John's coffeemaker, smooth steel, hot to the touch, and whoever he has to kill to get this coffee, totally worth it. Rodney shuts his eyes on his third cup and just savors the sheer perfection of properly made coffee.
John doesn’t show any evidence of showing back up, but Rodney doubts he left the country just to avoid him, so he takes his cup and a spare back up to his room, moving the laptop onto the balcony. The wind from the ocean and the early morning make it cool enough to work, and while Rodney hates mornings with a passion, the view is almost inspiring.
More inspiring is his next glance up, some time later, between a report to the SGC on new discoveries on Stargate mechanics and finishing an email to his sister, to see John's figure coming down the beach, carrying a surfboard, shirtless and wet and of course he goes surfing alone in the morning, *of course* he does. John never met a risk he didn't propose marriage to and set up housekeeping with. Even from here, Rodney can see the peaceful look on his face, the loose stroll of pleasant exhaustion, the way the salt is drying his hair every which-a-way. He takes the stairs two at a time, and Rodney has a panicked second to try and remember if he left him coffee. Checking both his cups--empty--Rodney logs out and carries everything back inside, because if there isn't any left, Rodney will make more and it's always easier to make strong arguments while properly caffeinated.
They spend two days like this, and Rodney discovers patience is a highly overrated indulgence of someone with far too much time on their hands to waste. It's very, very irritating.
He puts his notes where John can see them--propulsion studies on different Pegasus space ships, plays dirty leaving specs for new weapons beneath, discovery of an Ancient sort-of armory with weapons they still can't quite use. The coffee table has a puddle jumper fusion design that Zelenka has been working on to integrate some of the more interesting Wraith technology, with a closer interface and a speculated addition of a hyperdrive. Just for the hell of it, he leaves his second laptop open to convenient mission reports from the SGA databases.
John gives him suspicious looks and walks by them like he has no idea what they are, but later, the papers have shifted, a smeared finger-tracing of the new puddle jumper design, and access times on the reports show recent activity. Rodney thinks this could count as progress.
"You are so transparent," John says while cutting up chicken the fourth night and leaving Rodney with a cutting board, a knife, and a pile of peppers in red and green and yellow and deep orange that, apparently, he's going to have to do something with. An unfortunate side-effect of finally catching John in the kitchen before he can escape onto the beach is that he's been pressed into manual labor.
"I've never claimed to be subtle," Rodney says truthfully, picking up a banana pepper and tentatively beginning to chop. "Any way you want these?"
"Not important, just chopped." John's doing something with the chicken and red pepper that makes Rodney extremely hungry, despite two mid-afternoon snacks and the bag of cheetos. It's the salt air and all this time outside, he thinks--he can't honestly remember the last time he went outside the confines of the city. Making a neat pile of chicken, John washes his hands and wanders back to the table, bringing a second knife with him and expertly decimates the peppers.
Rodney wonders when cooking became quite so hot. "When did you learn to cook?"
John flashes him a bright smile. "My mother. I took rotations in the mess, same as anyone."
"On Atlantis?" No, Rodney would remember that. And mock it.
"Never any time." John chops like his fingers are in no danger whatsoever, and it's still hot, but also kind of nerve-wrecking, to watch a blade move that fast near bare skin. "Smaller than that." The handle taps the back of Rodney's wrist. A pause. "How is everyone?"
Rodney hides his smile. "Halling has a new son--he got married again, or whatever the Athosians call it." From the corner of his eye, he sees John's mouth soften. "Cute kid, as kids go."
"That's high praise from you."
"He's less stupid than most of the people I work with." Rodney pauses, pretending to think, which turns into actual effort. A lot has changed, and not much at all. "Ronon and Teyla are--well. Still are. And so are Carson and Cadman, off and on." Rodney spends a lot of quality time trying to never discover anything about anyone's personal lives. In the long run, it saves him a lot of small talk he's bad at anyway. "Bates got a promotion when he got back. Radek's still got a crush on Elizabeth. We still haven't stopped the Wraith."
John's eyes are fixed on the peppers with a level of concentration more appropriate to brain surgery. "I heard you're building a ZPM variant of your own."
"You read it on my computer, which I conveniently left open for you to read." Rodney grins at John's flush. "And trying is the operative word. Of course I'll succeed, but I want to make it more easily rechargeable than the current ZPMs are."
"Which is to say, you still don't know how they did it."
"And you'd *think* they'd leave something that important somewhere on the database, wouldn't you? The traditional mating dance of the wild Ancient duck, that we can find, but can I get some *directions*? No." That still rankles. The Ancients had some weird priorities, and Rodney's opinion on their freakishness hasn't changed over the years. He cuts into another pepper, a little more viciously. "Caldwell is still an ass, but he's not interfering with my people, so it evens out and he just makes Elizabeth miserable. Lorne's bonding with the puddle jumpers in a way that most of us find disturbing. It's really something I don't want to think about, so I don't ask."
John's still cutting peppers. "Good for him."
"Elizabeth--" In all his speeches, Rodney's always stopped here. "Elizabeth is still in charge. But you know that, if you've been keeping up--"
"Rodney." The warning is clear.
Rodney slices a pepper crosswise. "You gave up, we didn't. You don’t want to hear about it, you should have fucking been around it live, instead of fucking around through half of East Asia. Which is the last time anyone at the SGC could locate you, by the way." Rodney turns the pepper for another slice.
John doesn't answer, just keeps cutting with a surgeon's precision, steady hands and calm expression. There's a very inappropriate desire to smack his hand with the butt of the knife--if nothing else, it would get his attention.
"Instead, our last word from you was a note from Jack O'Neill telling us how you've taken off for more hospitable climates and well, maybe one day you'd get around to *telling us* yourself that you lost interest--" And that came from somewhere Rodney hadn't expected, the bitterness sharpening his consonants, and John's head comes up sharply, eyes wide. Then they flicker down and widen more.
"Rodney!" A hand is clamped around Rodney's wrist, jerking him up and around the table to the sink, and it takes a few seconds for Rodney to catch up to the fact that his finger stings and then John's running cold water over the cut.
Watching the blood spiral down the drain, Rodney thinks, tiredly, that maybe he's just a little too emotional to be allowed weapons. "That hurts."
John snorts softly and turns off the water, patting it dry with a paper towel before making a pad of a second one and pressing it over the cut. "Kind of delayed reaction there." Letting go, John takes his elbow. "Come on, let me get something on that. I'm just surprised you didn't get pepper in it, or trust me, you'd be noticing a lot more."
In the bathroom, he lets John spray it with something smelly that says it's an antibiotic and bandage it, though it's almost stopped bleeding. Staring at the mirror, Rodney sees himself as John must have--maybe not the same as memory, paler from a purely indoor life now, maybe not quite as pudgy, what with Teyla's enthusiasm for pounding him into the ground. John leans back against the sink, almost unchanged and changed, too, in the way he looks at Rodney, even that impersonal touch that means something, though Rodney's afraid to admit what it is.
In three years, Rodney has run through a hundred different possibilities, but it had never quite occurred to him that John might have moved beyond them, beyond Atlantis and the war they fought, beyond his friends there and his life there and *three fucking years* had passed, and yet somehow, Rodney had thought that time stood still.
"Why didn't you try?" Rodney asks softly, and John turns his hand over, like he's checking the bandage, but he's field dressed enough wounds not to doubt himself.
"We know why. Well, we figured out why. I just want to know why you didn't even try."
John's hands pull away, leaving chilled skin behind. Rodney lowers his hands, clasping them behind him. They're not shaking. He thinks. "I don't want to talk about this. And if that's what you came here for--"
"You know exactly why I'm here. Three years of sulking is a hell of a long time. Get the fuck over yourself and explain to me why we weren't even worth the effort to say good-bye to."
For a second, Rodney thinks John's getting pissed, and that's the sort of thing that shouldn't make him almost weak with relief, but it's more than he's gotten so far. He opens his mouth, but John's pushed by him out of the bathroom.
"John, don't you fucking *dare*--" But John's already too far away, even if the space can be measured in feet. "Don't you fucking *dare* walk away again," but it's too late for that, because John's not here, no matter where his body is, and the words trickle off, and he's weirdly exhausted. John watches him from a few feet away and doesn’t say a fucking thing.
John waits a second, then nods, like Rodney had agreed with him. "I better check the chicken before it burns." He waits, like this piece of useless trivia is the most important thing in the world, then turns away, light controlled step, walking back down the hall to the kitchen, and Rodney stands there, half in and half out of the bathroom, feeling stupid, throat tight.
When he goes into the kitchen, John's pouring the peppers into the pan and asks what Rodney wants to drink, and Rodney sits down and takes a beer and doesn't say a goddamn thing.
He packs twice that night--getting up from restless, useless sleep to shove everything into bags (he's *moved on*, Christ, why are you doing this to yourself?), drag it back out with a glance out the balcony (this is *John* and he's a moron, what the hell does he know?), back to packing and when dawn crawls grey and sickly pink over the edge of the balcony, he's half-asleep over two half-packed bags, zipper hard against his cheek, laptop half-falling from his lap and wondering if he could learn to hate John for making him feel like this.